early morning low winter sun stirring from sleep stirring coffee I'm almost in the clouds up here I'm almost a new god your apartment is heaven my angel sleeps in the next room she lies under her eiderdown clouds I'm standing by the window looking out over the road looking out over the prom looking out over the beach huts looking out over the sea beyond I'm reminded of Chicago 1986 the Doral Plaza on N. Michigan another apartment on the 25th floor we swam in the pool on the 38th floor clouds and days drifted by another angel in another lifetime now I'm down on the prom a man standing his ground his back to the waking town his eyes fixed on the horizon ready to make the walk between the beach huts over the shingle into the sea title taken from Shadowplay by Ian Curtis / Joy Division - words inspired by a photo by Caroline Collett
On that big kitchen counter there are no stains
the antibacterial cleaner has wiped your conscience clear
On that big kitchen counter there stands the coffee pot
perspiring aromas of Africa, Asia and Latin America
the sweat of darker skins percolated out by distance
The coffee beans have been gathered
cherry-red like your lipstick smeared mug
the united colours of coffee culture love
The colour of your labourer’s blood
Ask any of your friends
rushing to work with a takeaway cup
in the warm air of the underground station
It is all of us waking early to commute
It is all of us buried inside our phones
carrying our cares and insecurities
overburdened by deadlines and diaries
a bad boss, a backstabbing colleague
competition to look the best
Who is the servant
that grows the orange flowers in your vase?
– and who?
Who pays the wage to buy your clothes
your home, your car, your overseas vacations?
On whose head falls the true cost?
Someone, somewhere, makes it all possible
someone, somewhere, fills your belly
The songs in your earphones
the trains that take you to your destination
the warm air in the underground stations
drown out the answer:
– Servant . . . !
Oh, at the least let them climb out of servitude
Let them taste the freedom of ownership
and forget in perpetuity the state of poverty
Servant . . . !
I am currently reading The Penguin Book of Modern African Poetry (New Edition – published 1984).
This poem is an attempt to echo back to the poem Monangamba by Antonio Jacinto from Angola which was originally published in 1961. Monangamba means servant in Portuguese.
How many of us in rich countries owe our high living standards to the cheap toil of poorer people in less well off countries? Climate change, corruption, violence, economic poverty and the persuasive power of people traffickers and drug gangs is fuelling the rise of migration from many of these poorer nations. It’s a great shame that people feel such a need to leave their native lands for such reasons. Richer countries need to do more to ensure such vulnerable people feel safe, have meaningful employment and stronger human rights. One way that this can be achieved is through fairer global trading practices and one thing we can all do is to seek out products that bear the Fairtrade or similar marks.
My poem takes the form of the original poem but flips the subject to the wealthier consumer. It questions the assumption that we no longer have servants in the 21st century and that our lifestyles have been made possible by only our own hard work. The reality is far from simple as much of our prosperity is still gifted to us by the invisible poorly paid and educated workforces around the world. We have much to be thankful for and perhaps rarely do we acknowledge the privilege of our good fortunes to have been born in a rich country.
To read Monangamba by Antonio Jacinto please follow this link:
angles upon high rise blocks
cubes against low hung clouds
yellow highlighted balconies
blue sky thinking is
thinking out the box, are
windows and recesses
will you walk in hallways?
talk in elevators? talk, TALK
button down your minds with muzak
push buttons, office suits, ties
telephone intercom conversations
will the sun reflect your hopes?
will the night hide your fears?
pigeons that rest on ledges will
contemplate the urban landscape
record your unimportant thoughts
whilst a drone passes overhead
they are dropping propaganda leaflets
again, you will say
to yourself, alone
hot air blown from underground
will the trees wilt only, is
flowering memories fade by
shadows mask your / their indifference
locked in your cells waiting here
staring at mirrored walls, ceilings
opening and closing refrigerator doors
stalking your own forgotten effigies until
until daybreak sets you free once more
with automatic curtains
coffee percolator smells
you wanted her, didn’t you?
the neighbour, you wanted her?
to knock on your door
and offer you her body
like a porn shop dolly come alive
with gaping holes
pull the chord
choke on it
cornflakes and milk instead
hot buttered toast, marmalade
a dullness that bleeds on the brain
is something missing?
didn’t they tear down the something?
replaced it with a zer0
now you don’t know
which way to turn
when you leave the building
because you are a servant, blind
tracing angles upon blocks
cubes against clouds
this and that
this city is for walking and yes
we are crammed down narrow streets
leather bags and silk scarves hang in import
export emporiums vying for attention next
metal hooks for cured meats and bejewelled trinkets
we pass through gated alleys into hidden courtyards
that dwell in cigarette smoke blended with ground
coffee and exotic aromas from the four corners
where North Africa meets Far East and promises
lovers will meet their lovers under moonlight
the police sirens will chant a constant on y va!
a hurry up come here let’s go clamorous call
climbing twisting stairs to lowly rooms we lean
on a balcony and I smell your hair but don’t know
your name nor you mine which makes us equals
in this city which is a souk or a caravanserai
your eyes more dark mystery than a fortune teller
I can’t help but lose myself in this story
a humble poet with nothing better to do than
fill the pages of notebooks with his dreams
I’m left to empty the dishwasher
Now that you are gone . . .
Your last knife and fork
Spoon and plate and bowl . . .
And there upon your coffee cup
The outline of your lips . . .
I take it . . . and wonder . . .
Did I forget to put a tablet in
the sea was romaine lettuce green
the sky a blueberry blue
the clouds were patterned coffee cream
the boats a lemony hue
the day was bleeding beetroot red
the night black liquorice glue
the moon was buttery brioche bread
the dough of mornings new
Airman ‘Little Boy’ Bradley was very tired
Last night he had fought with his wife Mary
She desperately needed a vacation to Hawaii
He was desperately needed to fight the War on Whatever
Airman Bradley rubbed his tired little eyes
He blinked at the bank of screens in front of him
He tried to focus in on the day’s top secret mission
A group or two of terrorists in 🔲🔲🔲🔲🔲 or somewhere
It wasn’t that he didn’t want to go to Hawaii
It was just that he didn’t want to go with Mary
For all she ever did was tan her bloated body
Or feed his earnings down the throats of Vegas slots
Bradley drank another insulated cup of black coffee
He was trained to be disconnected to the enemy
This disconnection spilled over into his private life
And the boredom filled his head like the caffeine
He spent too much time inside this metal container
Air-conditioned inside but blistering desert heat out
Life it seemed was an assault of extremes
Us and them and him and her and this and that
He guided the unmanned drone on its silent way
“Was always good at video games” he would brag
Flying over a beach, what was it he could see down there?
Was that a woman sunbathing, lying on the sand?
He banked his killing machine and circled around
Hand on his joystick and her life in his hands
His co-pilot was out of the room taking a piss
Airman ‘Little Boy’ Bradley tugged at his trigger
And watched his missile send sand, sea, flesh and bone
In a million ejaculating pleasurable projectile gifts –
He flew on – successfully completed his 100th official mission
Returned home late and found his wife Mary
had shot herself dead
man in motor
supermarket car park
staring out the window
waiting for his missus
she’s doing all the shopping
chatting with all her old friends
blocking up the aisle ends
BLAH BLAH BLAH
Doris has a bad back
Derrick’s had a prostate check
only popped in for some milk
condolence card, pack of mints
blue badge comes in handy
less to walk and less to carry
a Lidl bargain every day
HA HA HA
sitting with his iPhone
not a clue how it works
son bought it for his birthday
prefers the tele anyway
mainly watches BBC
two remotes and DVD’s
WAY TOO MUCH TECHNOLOGY
what’s she up to silly moo
been sat here half the afternoon
here she comes thank God for that
home in time for Bargain Hunt
Flog It, Pointless, worth a punt
and coffee in his Corrie mug
but wake him up before it’s bed
SNORE SNORE SNORE