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Reality Demands

Poem by Polish poet, Wisława Szymborska (1923 – 2012). In 1996 she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Reality Demands

Reality demands
that we also mention this:
Life goes on.
It continues at Cannae and Borodino,
at Kosovo Polje and Guernica.

There’s a petrol station
on a little square in Jericho,
and wet paint
on park benches in Bila Hora.
Letters fly back and forth
between Pearl Harbor and Hastings,
a moving van passes
beneath the eye of the lion at Chaeronea,
and the blooming orchards near Verdun
cannot escape
the approaching atmospheric front.

There is so much Everything
that Nothing is hidden quite nicely.
Music pours
from the yachts moored at Actium
and couples dance on the sunlit decks.

So much is always going on,
that it must be going on all over.
Where not a stone still stands,
you see the Ice Cream Man
besieged by children.
Where Hiroshima had been
Hiroshima is again,
producing many products
for everyday use.
This terrifying world is not devoid of charms,
of the mornings
that make waking up worthwhile.

The grass is green
on Maciejowice’s fields,
and it is studded with dew,
as is normal grass.

Perhaps all fields are battlefields,
those we remember
and those that are forgotten:
the birch forests and the cedar forests,
the snow and the sand, the iridescent swamps
and the canyons of black defeat,
where now, when the need strikes, you don’t cower
under a bush but squat behind it.

What moral flows from this? Probably none.
Only that blood flows, drying quickly,
and, as always, a few rivers, a few clouds.

On tragic mountain passes
the wind rips hats from unwitting heads
and we can’t help
laughing at that.

Wisława Szymborska

The Publican

This sixteenth century epitaph is on the tomb of Humphrey Gosling, in St John’s, Westminster.

Here lyeth Humphrey Gosling of London, vintner,
Of the Whyt Hart, of this parish, a neighbour,
Of virtuous behaviour; a very good archer,
And of honest mirth, a good company keeper.
So well inclined to poor and rich,
God send more Goslings to be sich.

On The District Line

From Anarchy, number 107 , January, 1970.

0n the District Line
Peter Reilly

Tube trains on the District Line are not usually full at ten o’clock in the evening. The theatres and the pubs have not yet turned out their customers and the evening class students are already home. Last Monday evening there were only four people in my section of the carriage. In the seat next to the narrow door at the front end of the carriage a youngish man, dark-skinned, possibly an Indian, sat with his legs, crossed holding an umbrella. A middle-aged man sat opposite him and another middle-aged man opposite me at the other end of the row of seats.
Shortly after the train pulled out of Whitechapel Station a number of youngsters entered through the doors connecting with the adjacent carriage. They came in aimlessly, shuffling, talking, until one of them noticed the dark face in the corner. Immediately they slumped into the seats next to and opposite him. There must have been eight of them because there were not enough seats in our section so two went on and sat further down the carriage. The boys were about fifteen or sixteen years of age-probably still at school. Their hair was short but not cropped, they wore jeans and boots but not the rest of the skinhead uniform. Perhaps they were “Peanuts”. I don’t know.
One of the group, a fat, pink boy, asked the man in the corner if he had a half-a-crown piece. The Indian shook his head.
“Let’s have a look at your umbrella.”
“What?”
“Let’s have a look at your umbrella.”
“No.”
The fat one’s hand reached for the thick cane handle but the other held the umbrella firmly.
“Sure you haven’t got a half-a-crown piece.”
“No, I can’t help you.”
There was a shout from further down the carriage,
“Ask him if he’s got a half-a-crown piece.” Six heads turn.
“We done that already, you git.”
“He reckons you’re a queer.”
“What?”
“He reckons you’re a queer.”
“Yes, he says you’re a queer.”
“He says you’re as queer as him”-indicating the fat boy-“and that’s saying something. Ha, Ha, Ha.”
One boy has pulled his mac over his head and is peering along his nose and over the edge of its collar. Another says, “Let’s try the next carriage.”
“No point, we’re getting off at Mile End.” (Sometime we must have stopped at Stepney Green. I had not noticed.)
The two return from further down the carriage and stand, strap hanging, in front of the man. Their backs mask his face but I see their hands pulling at his umbrella. A thin-faced, dark haired boy is staring at me. I stare back.
Surly, chin jutting, he says, “What’s the matter?”
I pause but can think of nothing better than, “A good deal by the look of it.”
We are nearing Mile End. More of the boys stand up crowding around the man, the corner, and the door. I can now only see his feet; which one of them is kicking! I half stand holding the arm of my seat. The handle of his umbrella appears as one of them pulls it, jerking its owner forward. The doors open and the boys leap-off. A sudden punch is aimed at the Indian’s face by the last to leave. They are gone. But the doors are still open and one is back, throwing a punch around the glass partition, and gone again.
I notice now that the other two men are also standing. Boys leap on and off. Now the Indian is waving his umbrella as the boys taunt him from the platform aiming kicks at him through the narrow door. Another taunts us-standing whites-from the other door, and one of’ the men moves swiftly towards the door. The doors close. And then open. The boys crowd forward again.
Two uniformed London transport men struggle through them to get on the train. The Indian thinks that they have come to investigate and expostulates. “They are trying to get me. . .” But London Transport doesn’t want to know. “Nothing to do with us”, they say and pass down the carriage away from us. The doors close andI sit down.
The doors open. The dark haired one is threatening me from the platform. “Come on, you want to have a go.” I remain seated and wave him away. “You just go and change trains” The doors close. We three are seated now. The Indian stands, turning, bewildered, to each of us, “Did you see. They were trying to get me. . “His hands, one holding the umbrella, are half raised; his voice incredulous.
We are embarrassed. One says, “They’re a disgrace to the mothers that bore them.” The other, “They’re the same lot that caused trouble at Aldgate East the other night”. I say nothing. The Indian sits. We all sit; in the same isolated silence that existed before the incident.
Afterwards. I felt a mixture of embarrassment and fear. Fear-I was afraid with the stomach sinking feeling of personal danger. But further, deeper, I was afraid of what it might mean. I saw recently a book called The Yellow Star. In photographs it traces the history of the Nazi persecution of the Jews from “Juden Raus” to the final solution. I was afraid that I had seen the first photograph in a new book.

Tony Marchant

Tony Marchant is a working class playwright from Wapping. He got his start in writing as an 18 year old when some of his poems were published by Paul Weller’s Riot Stories. Marchant says he is inspired by, “the DIY ethic of the Jam and the Clash.” He was also a London boxing champion and boxed for England.
This review is from Speech & Drama, Vol 39 No 2, Autumn 1990. The magazine was published by the Society of Teachers of Speech and Drama and this issue was a spoken poetry issue.

Drama Studio, London Calling by Tony Marchant

The Drama Studio recently gave a studio performance of London Calling. The cast consisted of three young actors two of whom were experienced in stage and television work; the youngest was still at school, although attending acting classes at the Questors Theatre.
Two of the youngsters had attacked a policeman whilst engaged in theft and the crux of the play showed them hiding in a derelict building discussing, if their utterances can be thus elevated, their lot as unemployed members of society. Joined by a coloured youth, an element of racism was introduced. The dialogue was unpleasant but it is no doubt typical of that used by the uneducated and hopeless.
The end of a large room formed the actin area with the audience sitting on raised seats which offered good visibility. Pace was maintained, timing was satisfactory and the cast of three worked harmoniously together. The acting space and the situation gave few opportunities for interesting movement, nevertheless the director (a participant of the Directors Course at the Studio) made the best of the limitations to provide a semblance of interesting realism.

Doreen Fisher