The Plumbing Cantos: Canto XV

scaffolding

The concrete river’s mist makes harder work
of walking through the burning sandy plain.
Carcinogens in concrete tend to lurk

for days and lodge in paranasal veins.
But nothing else protects us from the fire.
It barely keeps our narrow route maintained.

The dams of Holland’s Delta Works are higher
than flood protection anywhere UK.
You think the past few Cornish floods were dire,

you wait till London’s Chelsea floods one day.
From Ranelagh Gardens up to Holbein Place
and Eaton Terrace – flood plain all the way.

But still – there’s more protection there than here.
We’ve next to nothing keeping us from burns
(The forest now has all but disappeared),

when from the fire another group emerge,
and one guy in particular affects
a mocking campness as my stomach turns

in recognition. Just how I’d expect
he taunts: “Ooh ‘Allo, Curly!” (though my hair
is straight and Curly’s not my name), detects

my obvious discomfort, smirks and asks me where
I’m going. We don’t have a choice. He comes
along beside us. Hiding my despair

with lack of interest, he starts to run
ahead “You shouldn’t stop here. If the coals
land on your head it fucking ‘urts, old son.

You plumbing still these days?” I start to fold
my arms and tell him yes, and now am lost
somewhat before he cuts across me cold:

“It’s Dog Eat Dog, mate.” Does he give a toss?
I think. He strides ahead, his shoulders straight,
exactly as he was until he crossed

from life to death, as if we’ve made him late,
like we’re the ones who can’t keep up with him.
“I’ll sort out anyone who tries it, mate.”

His cold eyes blink as coals land on his skin.
“I said to one guy “I will fuck you up
the arse” and then…” (the coals sink further in)

“…I knocked him out.” I hope that we’re not stuck
with this bloke that I knew too well, but stop
and looked around as Patrick has slowed up

without a warning making my jaw drop,
unzips and takes a leak right there and then.
The other guy has cocked his head and knocked

me on the arm. “This fella – He’s your friend?
So is he gay? No, is he? Is he gay?” I can’t
help thinking that his punishment won’t end

because he has an unexamined slant.
He keeps on saying “That’s so gay.” As though
to insult people by it. Then this plants

a thought he wouldn’t want his wife to know
and I’m too scared to say in case he flips.
“Well when you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go!”

says Patrick, running, trying not to trip
to catch us up. My mouth is dry, but wide
and open, leaving concrete dust to strip

the moisture from my throat. I have to try
and ask a question. “Don’t you wonder where
you are?” But though he doesn’t break his stride

I know this bloke reflects on being there.
“No. When you’re dead, you’re dead. I don’t know what
all this shit is.” He scratches at his hair

and flicks a cinder out. “No, that’s yer lot.
You’ll learn.” He doesn’t look at me, but stares
at something far too far away to spot.

“But what d’you think it is?” I think I’m spared
an angry snap. He sees three people come
towards us. “Oops, I’ve got to go.” He tears

himself away. “Learn lots. Ta ta.” He runs
the other way from them. Amazing how
a man can move like gilded lead from guns

as soon as someone bigger can be found.

Social tagging: > > > >

Leave a Reply