The Plumbing Cantos: Canto 9

Tyburn Mouth

I must admit it’s hard to trust a guide
whose face is drained of colour just like that
as if your fears are also justified

As nervously he smooths his coat down flat,
then seeing how he’s worried me, perks up
“I’m waiting for the messenger…” says Pat

“Do people get through here?” I interrupt,
“from further back along the route we’ve been?”
“Not often, But I’ve done it once before.

Yes, someone that I’m not sure if you’ll see…”
Before he’s finished talking I break off
the conversation. Up above, a scream

From Furies; shrieking, blood stained noisy coughs
and firstly (though I jump a bit), I calm
myself and then I make the journey stop.

“So here’s a thing I just don’t get.” Disarmed
by this, old Troughton stares and waits for me
to carry on, but nervous rub my palms.

The Furies pause as well, though testily.
“The Furies in the stories always seem
to be a woman: Vengeance, Endlessly

and Jealous. Ancient authors often dream
up women just to load them up as tropes.
They’re just portrayed as jealous vengeful screams.”

“Are solecisms coming soon?” Pat jokes.
“My grammar’s not as bad as that. But still.
I want to write a poem that, I hope,

is not for denigration or for thrills.”
As if on cue Medusa then appears
“Don’t look at her! One glance alone will kill..”

“…me to stone, yes, yes, they’re fears
from myths I know. But this just proves it’s true…”
“Oh Zoe, please don’t look” says Pat in tears.

“My name’s not Zoe! Look it’s just like Who.
The women screamed and ran from everything.
I want to write this differently. Don’t you?

I bet Medusa doesn’t really sting
us all by turning us to stone. It’s time
to look.” And slowly, carefully, I bring

my head around to see her face with mine.
She didn’t turn me into stone at all.
I looked and blinked through London’s mist and grime.

Instead I saw her face. She stared. I stalled
my male gaze for once, and realised
she’d taken on the brunt of being called

an Evil Woman. Why was I surprised
she looked so tired? But then I looked again:
a human being buried by our lies.

I saw we didn’t have the right as men
to judge her on appearance or describe
her, criticise her look, or clothes and then

I realised I’d stared at her, and tried
to make it seem less awkward but instead
she looked at me a while, then laughed and sighed

“For fuck’s sake…” she smiled and shook her head,
and strode away without a further word.
We heard another sound that stopped us dead.

Another woman came and then I heard
her saying “I have agency, I’m not
a cipher just to move the plot – some “bird”

appearing randomly. I’ll tell you what:
I’ve got a load of jobs on, but I can
just grind these bars out. Careful while they’re hot.”

She ground the bars with glove protected hands,
controlled the angle grinder like a boss,
and leaves the bars exactly where they land.

And off she tramples through the Thames bank moss,
the hi-vis vest she wore said “Mercury”
I watched the logo disappear across

the water’s edge. So now our way was free
of obstacles (at last) to Circle Six,
with yet more tortured people left to see.

“These – I suppose, you’d call them Heretics.”
said Troughton, pushing on, “They make a show
of being good at plumbing, but their tricks

for cutting corners/cheating: most don’t know
about the orthodoxy tradesmen say
they have, while they explain the rates of flow

unvented cylinders will need. It’s all display
to charge a little more, and then ignore
all that and do it different anyway.”

An England flag is lying on the floor
amongst the sewage, burning hot near tombs.
And I could hear the cries of pain were raw

and open screams, and tombs like open wounds.

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