Where the streams come from, poem 4…

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Here is the fourth poem from my new book ‘Where the streams come from’, available here.

I chose to share this one because our newspapers in the UK are full of stories of how our government has established policy and culture within the Home Office that has resulted in terrible injustice being done to immigrants who have lived in this country, in some cases, for decades. The centre of this has been talk of the so-called ‘Windrush Generation’ of black people of Caribbean extraction who were invited over to the UK to fill a labour shortage in the aftermath of WW2. The government seem to have created a deliberately hostile environment to all immigrants in the country in order to placate all those Brexit voices that blamed all sorts of woes on ‘the other’. It is an utterly repugnant policy, playing to the basest of racist fear- stoking it even for political advantage.

I found myself asking how all this started? Where we always like this- tribal, given to fear and loathing of the other, the outsider? Is there really no hope of how things could be different?

The poem below was written for Greenbelt Festival several years ago. The theme of the festival was ‘home’, and the poem explores a story at the beginning of the bible in the book of Genesis describing how Cain and Abel fell out. It perhaps records the point when tribalism and the ‘property’ first began to get us in to trouble.

It is possible to see these early passages of the Bible as a record of the rise of man;

from hunter-gatherer

to farmer

to accumulator

to town dweller

to city builders who raised up Babel-towers

…and eventually onward into the struggle of successive empires who rise and fall, each one with its own winners and losers. Each one making its own refugees as it clears more space for its own avarice. Read this way, the stories at the beginning of the Bible are an ancient warning of how far we might have come from what we were meant to be.

Home becomes defined not only as ‘mine’, but crucially as ‘not yours’. In this way, like Cain, we remain to the East of Eden.

City of London, construction

 

 

A place called wandering

 

There is this story from the beginning of us

Of brothers who started to measure their relative success

It began with small things –

the domestic injustices, the long silences

 

One brother loved the wild places

The freedom of the forest – to hunt the deer and gather the low fruit

He could bear no borders

 

The other was a man of industry

He fenced the land

and turned the earth to fields

And the land was bountiful

His store houses were overflowing

In this he was vulnerable

 

Somehow these things became a wall between them –

Leading to violence

And death.

 

We think we were the first to ever feel

 

The first to dream of higher places

The first to fall

The first to scream at sharp things

The first to feel that indescribable sting

called love

 

The first to make music

The first to feel shame shrinking

our callow souls

The first to seek the promised land

The first to eat from the tree

Called puberty

 

We were not

 

Long before light could be conjured

by a switch

Men and women sat around fires and

dreamed of starflight

They rose high above the flat old earth

Pregnant with new possibilities

Favour rested on their fields

 

But every generation grows and leaves home

We make and break and forge our own magnificence

And these palaces we build need solid doors

To protect what is mine

From what you will never have

And we wander – marked like Cain

East of Eden

 

Sometimes it seems that you and me

Have spent forever

Looking for a way

Back

 

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