Posted by: David Harley | July 6, 2013

Streetscene

streetscene

abandoned Viva
plundered of its tyres
near-window strewing the pavement with crystal
note from the Council
nestling behind its wipers

a leather-jacketed Mohican
watching me avoiding watching him
feet tapping to the fours
leaking from his Walkman
eyes
electrodes
patched into the pulse
of the city

he too is ostentatiously unobserved
by five black teenagers
washing round my white self
casually contemptuous
an oil slick near-missing a seabird
seeking sanctuary at an oil temple

their words are innocuous
but their intonation says
‘No-go zone…’

I know the rioter with the Molotov cocktail
will not spare my front door
because I never buy South African fruit*

as surely as I know
that my admission at the Pearly Gates
is not assured by my O-level in Scripture Knowledge**

my street-cred here is no higher than that
of the bewildered xenophobe
who doesn’t know Haile Selassie
from Hayley Mills

the flames of New Cross bite deep
fanned by the SUS laws

the rantings of the National Front
feed on dead, black flesh

and this is Brixton
in the early 1980s
and there will be a reckoning

Published in Vertical Images 3, 1988. Copyright David Harley, 1984. Coming back to these verses in 2013, and living a long way from London, I’m startled to recall how much racial tension impacted on the lives of all Londoners at the time I lived there. Other writing of mine presently on this site that also mirrors that tension includes Babylon and Via Media, and also the song Heatwave.

* reference to the 20th century boycotts of South African fruit, culture et al. I guess these hastened the demise of apartheid, but it’s a matter of debate whether the damage they did was worth the not-so-short-term hurt caused to the oppressed non-white population. Not a debate I plan to enter into here.

** Yes, I am old enough to have O-levels instead of GCSEs. And yes, I do have that particular qualification. I hope St. Peter will be impressed.

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