No 4: As if: After Manchester, London Bridge, Grenfell Tower

Fiona Willaims pays tribute to victims of terrorism and the Grenfell Tower fire with her poem As If.

by Fiona Williams

 

For weeks I’ve been grabbed by the throat:
deep sobs that hijack the roll out
of sleep, gasping for air
as if those dying were mine
as if the mums and the daughters were mine
as if I’d gone blind
to the bright of mid-May
deaf to its music
jaw locked in the shock
of knowing the sentence
they’re about to commence.
My luck is that I’m on reprieve
until it happens again and I’m back
with the Australian father, the Canadian sister
the French cousin who can’t sleep for
the raging bull of a van
with daggers for horns
gasping for air.
And then an election that
rustles a murmur of hope
until the children are there
now waving, now burning alive
at the top of a tower
that screams on our screens
burnt to unidentifiable deathness
on   our   screens
charred as the souls of
those who ignored them
of a press that spreads wild fires
of hate that ignite disunity
of politics that reviles impecunity
as if they were the ones to berate for austerity
as if they bombed Iraq
as if they speculated whole nations’ security
as if they cut the benefits
as if they did the deal on the cladding
to hide their homes from the neighbours
as if they warmed their hands by
blazing pyres of red tape, of experts’ advice
as if they did the landlords’ bidding.
These were the ones who asked questions
that nobody listened to
who stayed put when told to.
These are – we are –  the ones to inhale
acrid fumes of betrayal
gasping for air,
as if grasping a chance
to divine hope from despair.

Fiona Williams is Emeritus Professor of Social Policy at the University of Leeds, Honorary Professor at the Social Policy Research Centre at the University of New South Wales and Research Affiliate at COMPAS (Centre on Migration, Policy and Society) at the University of Oxford.  She is also a member of The Wharfedale Poets.

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