Grenfell Tower

This poem just happened. i have been so angry about this, the senselessness of it & the cruel irony that some of these people immigrated to England for a better, safer & more secure life & then this happened to them, when a few basic requirements would have averted the tragedy. This is what greed does. This is the bare face of it.

Grenfell Tower

Perhaps, at that time, around midnight,
a Jamaican woman, preparing her family’s
lunches for school the next day after a late shift;
English pensioners listening to radios, watching the tele;
a West Indian chap listening to music;
a Syrian lad trying to Skype his friend
or brother still trapped in Aleppo;
a Muslim reading the Koran, a Hindu reading the Vedas;
a Bangladeshi father studying his bills
while his wife finishes off ironing & yawns;
teenagers messaging friends on Facebook
or posting pictures on Instagram
when they should be sleeping;
or somebody painting, writing or reading
— for most, the crumbs of the day,
coalescing into the uneasiness of dreams
the anxieties & worries of poverty.
120 homes, full of memories, a few possessions,
full of the chatter of families, the thrum of life,
full of the comforts of each other, stock phrases
from that time & of better times yet to come
simple but direct language
—life taken, as it should be, for granted,
so much of each other putting distance
between them & any consideration of death,
waiting around the blind corners of chaos.
How infuriating: a little extra purchase, a few quid
& this would have been a minor hiccup
for just a handful, or maybe a single person;
maybe a lick of paint, a bit of a fix up,
a bandage, a bit of ointment for a burn or cut,
a brief visit from the fire brigade, or just
the sprinklers to douse the flames &, done.
Forgotten as quick as it came, an anecdote
to tell the neighbours, something to forget.
Not, the realization something is wrong,
the incoherent noise of panic, feeling heat rise
as the floors below caught fire, the sense
that something is wrong, but not knowing
as you cannot see it coming, all the while
the flames catching the incendiary materials
like a Chinese whisper— it was too late
once the outside had spread up the cladding,
the heavy amalgam of unknown scents,
the fear of the unknown, so many new
confrontations in so short a span of time;
for some, it brought piecemeal, jittery
flashbacks of a past escaped from, done with,
back home in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Eritrea,
Somalia & the cruel irony of that escape
come to haunt, just as the fire began
engulfing the windows, the fire exits,
any hope, all packed with flames without
regard for the material blocking its path
the hell of Holy Books ripping habits apart.
Giving yourself up to prayer, in desperate moments,
where there is no longer choice, but only
the inevitability of what is to happen to you.
i hope despite all your prayers,
you never became discouraged, that you
continued to believe, God would see
you through the ordeal in some way;
that your inability to understand the terror
& silence became the reason everything was illuminated.
Did you think or became thankful for the life you had,
could you keep it together for the sake of others?
It’s ok if you didn’t, you’re only human.
A death so complete, it is scored in the mind
as a total absence: no body to mourn over,
nothing to fill a grave or urn, nothing to shroud
& weep over, nothing to remember a loved
one by, no item, nothing.
Just Grenfell as monument, ineradicable
like your memory & love for the dead.
But how brave to trust your child
to the capabilities of a stranger, how brave
for stroking the forehead of your child
& telling them everything is going to be alright,
hushing them to calm, as the fire took control
of your right to pick another narrative;
how brave of you to knock on doors, to raise
the alarm, though the fire spread with such ferocity,
to wait until the last possible moment;
how brave to walk into that oven of teeth
& fight it, square on, to salvage, any life;
how brave of you all to endure & try & stick
by each other though culture diversifies you.
Grenfall, i never visited you, i don’t
know you, i only learned of you when
you suffered; so i cannot take responsibility
for this poem, it is yours, you wrote it
& it may not do or be much, but when systems fail
us & we only have our influence to see & love,
we must realize that strength & explore it,
even though a minor poem, it is a recognition,
for words are what separate us from the animals,
they are in tandem with love, our means
to express sincerity, our sorrow & anger, to rebel
against those that seek to take from us
& use us to their profit, words help us destroy that.
This is all i have to offer
& nothing will ever be enough.

13 Comments Add yours

  1. notamigrant says:

    can’t get over the horrific experiences of ‘helpless modern communication’ that people could call to their relatives from the brink of death. I heard today that an Egyptian man kept ringing the Police on his mobile and was told by an officer at 3am? (this is nearly 3 hours after the fire has started! that the Firemen were coming to help him….but of course…he is still missing today. It’s like imagining people making near-death calls from the gas chambers in the Dachau or Auswitz.

    1. You can’t imagine receiving or sending that final text to a loved one as the flames breach & the hopelessness sets in. i just read here https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/jun/17/grenfell-tower-government-councils-fire-safety how preventable this was, an extra 5000 pound. Nothing really. This is as much the fault of those complaining about immigrants, its is partly their pressure that makes governments cut corners & contractors from giving a crap about human life.

  2. kvennarad says:

    It is extraordinary that your friend above mentioned the gas chambers, because the first thing that went through my mind was the much mis-quoted phrase of Theodor Adorno, “To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric.”

    When we use our art to document something, especially a disaster, we assume a laureate. Almost we appropriate it. It’s not easy to do justice, particularly at arms length, to the sufferings of others. But Adorno subsequently revised his statement: “Perennial suffering has as much right to expression as a tortured man has to scream; hence it may have been wrong to say that after Auschwitz you could no longer write poems.” But of course even this revision is out of its original context.

    One of the better poems to do this was Sean O’Casey’s ‘Drums Under the Window’. Now, I am completely at odds with O’Casey’s brand of Irish Nationalism (whilst defending his right to it, and to express it in poetry), but this verse – speaking about the people caught in the crossfire of the civil war in Ireland – is direct, pointed, and moving:

    Quiet, comrades, quiet.
    It was necessary that you should die for Ireland too.
    You didn’t want to die.
    I know, I know.
    You signed no proclamation;
    you invaded no building;
    you pulled no trigger;
    I know, I know.
    But Ireland needed you all the same.

    There is much in your poem which, whilst a world away from O’Casey’s sentiment and intent, has something of the same honesty of rhetoric. I don’t want to offer a textual analysis, but I would just like to say that I hope someone remembers this poem as long after the event as O’Casey’s is after his time.

    1. Thank you. i didn’t think much about writing it, it really did sort of happen to me. & after, i thought, before i tagged the ending on, what are words for in this context if not to show we care in our way. i cannot help them, there are people there with them, but as an observing member of public i can say that i am with them, i can use my words to create a solidarity, to acknowledge, plainly. What else is poetry for if not to register as much as possible in words, the sensory experience in all its multiplicity. It is what separates us from the animals. It is what makes us human.

  3. Bonsai says:

    Thank you for bringing this to my attention. I had not been in touch with the news a few days. Hearing about it through your poem was a much better way to learn of this tragedy vs. a news blurb.

    1. Thank you. i am g;ad it is impacting on people & performs a function, no matter how minor. It has affected me oddly, but also seems to be a breaking point after years of so many terrible things happening to innocent people all over the world. i think that tower, with all its people from different walks of life, symbolizes something & that is the reason for the impact it has had on me.

  4. Roger Bussey says:

    An interesting description of events taking place. You would think with modern systems installed this would never have happened. One thought that goes through my mind, maybe its time to stop building high rise tower blocks, for those in the upper floors have little chance of escape.

    1. Roger, i apologize for my late reply. You’re quite right, but i don’t think the building of high rise are the problem it is the construction & how willing contractors are to make them stable & safe. If sprinklers had been installed, this would have been confined to one flat. But, greed & deregulation have led to this tragic scale of events. Thanks for your input & again sorry for the late reply.

  5. Daniel, this is an incredible poem. Send it in to Rattle’s “Poets Respond.” If it doesn’t make it there (and I feel it will) send it to New Verse News. It needs to be read by so many people.

    1. Thank you Sarah due to the pull of sleep on me i’ll get on to sending it tomorrow. Your encouragement is greatly appreciated.

  6. Daniel, a very and moving powerful piece, well done. ❤

  7. Daniel, a very moving and powerful piece, well done. ❤

    1. A tragic thing to happen, i’m glad it landed with people & stirred something. It isn’t much but it is at least a token, it is at least a mark of paying attention.

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