For any poet who has any interest in social commentary and/or our cities, last summer’s riots were an essential topic. I tried to do two things with this piece – to play with the stereotypes we have – just who are the people we should be frightened of, who are the gangs ripping through our cities? Second, and a theme my political poetry comes back to again and again, is the importance of meeting oppression with non-violent dignified protest.
There are monsters on our streets.
I’ve seen their footprints,
Seen hints of them behind smoked glass
And glints on paths
Like shards of broken condoms in the aftermath.
I’ve seen houses boarded,
Seen hoardings placarded with warnings,
And heard stories whispered on street corners.
I’ve seen the evidence they leave,
The detritus and the dross each morning,
The lonely and the lost,
The whores who count the cost in doorways
Scoring from the boys they babysat
Before their joy was drawn
Through the eye of a rich man’s needle.
There are monsters on these streets.
They roam in groups that loot and vandalise
And look their victims in the eyes
And spit their lies
But the only thing that’s broken
Are the dreams they choked,
Flames of light put out like candles trailing into smoke.
They took arteries of hope and opened them
And watched a generation bleed out on the streets
And let its body rot like meat
And fester in the summer heat
While they discretely pocketed its cash,
And then called in the police.
There are monsters on these streets,
High priests of greed
In cashmere robes and tweed,
The seed of Adam Smith
Feeding myths of freedom
And the creed that the future of civilization’s in their gift.
There are monsters on these streets
But I will not be one of them.
When they see my hood
They may see an animal in me
But when I see their suit
I’ll see more than criminality.
I’ll see more than the brutality
And I won’t be blinded by banalities
Like The Common Good and Shared Humanity.
There are just a billion individual histories
From the unreported to the unperturbed
From those distorted and disturbed by laziness
To those whose twisted thoughts we’d rather label craziness.
You see, the only monsters on these streets
Are those we choose to see.