Friday, March 27, 2009

Detective III

Her grin used to stretch as wide
as the lake in Port meadow, used to override
the rules and flood the banks of her cheeks
with warmth. But now it was tired,

a punctured tyre of a smile, a half curl,
a quick muscle tap, like the flick of the finger
on a cigarette dropping ash, draining the dust
of the past.

Her filofax was full of ex
boyfriends' numbers, flagged up
like busstops and as on a tea-stained map
you could run the route of her life with your nail,
trace the heartbreak signs around London
to that boyfriend on Hampstead Heath - with the Mini
and the massive bank account - who was hers last year,
whose money woudn't stretch
as far as a family or kids. And so she left,

to wrinkle and stain her teeth with sour coffee
that kept her eyes awake
but couldn't resuscitate
the faint beat of her heart.
A year on yet
her pulse would pump again in a culprit's clutch,
a big-time thief who would rob her memory bank
of sadness, stand her back on her own two feet and leave
his tender fingerprints on forehead,
bring her hot tea in the mornings
and sweeten her smile to the tulips
that she blossomed now as far as her sparkling
eyes, seraphin-style.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Detective: II

He'd searched
for clues too many times
not to spot the signs.

The shimmering fishscale smile in her eyes
swooped to the surface of the iris-pond,
swirling like light on lilipads
was as clear a clue to him as any footprint

her new dress might as well have been a shred
of clothing caught on a rusty nail or hung
on the body; for her body, though unbloodied,
was the scene of the crime.

He didn't need hard evidence
to read the story right - the sight
of her soft back in bed
her shoulders turned to him
left him startled, suspicious, bereft-

enough clues to look back. So that when she left
with that other man he was already there,turning it
over in his mind, their bodies in the sack,the
broken love, the knife stuck
in the back.


Our society is not a just place. We live in a hierarchy whose flexibility is superficial – a hierarchy which crushes the brightest of kids and elevates the laziest, sometimes – a hierarchy which makes numerous mistakes. We elevate some people and lower others: even a perfect meritocracy has to have a scale, yet if we think we can rank people according to any set yardstick then we are blind to the human condition. For the value of people is in their diversity; any yardstick we measure people by will shove some good, decent, hopeful people to the bottom of the pile, and put some greedy, dishonest, indifferent people at the top. Hierarchy is inaccurate; what’s more, it’s the ultimate tool of prejudice against individuals, since your place in the hierarchy is often decided by your parents’ place. Moving up or down is like swimming against the tide: nigh on impossible.

Yet even that statement does not express my meaning: it suggests that the hierarchy is inefficient, inaccurate, that the hierarchy sometimes keeps ‘the wrong people’ in the slums. It’s not that the hierarchy’s flawed process is immoral: the hierarchy itself is immoral. There are no ‘wrong people’ and ‘right people’; nobody should be in the slums, nobody should feel like they’re at the bottom of the pile, should have to feel worthless or disrespected, even if they are really stupid or lazy. Everybody should be treated like a human being. Everybody deserves respect, because everybody has feelings and hopes and dreams and emotions; nobody else has a right to crush these.
Yet my ‘respect’ is not the same as the system’s ‘respect’. When somebody like Tony Blair talks about ‘Respect’, what they mean is: you should have respect for us. You rabble, you ‘scum’ (as Sarkozy so despicably put it) should have respect for us politicians. What they mean is: you should have respect for the system that put us at the top and you at the bottom. What they’re saying is: you should believe in a system that thinks you’re worth next to nothing, that pays you next to nothing, that will deliver you next to nothing in terms of ambition or education – and you should respect and uphold this system. Essentially, the ‘Respect’ agenda equates to politicians asking poor people to agree with and partake in a system that places them at the very bottom – to agree that they should be at the bottom, to be complicit in their own poverty.

The problem with the political ‘Respect’ agenda is, that it doesn’t work both ways: the police aren’t seen to have respect for muslim and black people or protesters when they deliberately target them on the streets; the politicians don’t have respect for young, poor people as a voting demographic. Their policies appeal to middle class morality, not people in poverty. They say, if you don’t adhere to the rules, we will limit your freedom further. They don’t say, why are you acting like this? What are the problems in your life? How can we solve them? Fair enough, in a smooth-running society with limited funds and limited interest. Yet by enabling police to stop anyone they deem suspicious, and by imposing ASBOs and thereby criminalizing young people who have committed no criminal offence, politicians are intervening in people’s lives, are taking an interest, are spending funds – but in a negative way, in a way that treats people as worthless, in a way that denies them a backstory and therefore deals with them more like a number than a human being. Human beings have backstories, problems: numbers don’t. Thus politicians toting the Respect agenda – from Margaret Thatcher in the 80s to Blair in the new millennium - have effectively created a society in which young people, poor, black and asian communities are treated as potential offenders, as alien threats, as ‘them’ against the ‘us’ of society, often arrested without sufficient evidence. That’s not what I call respect.

Entre les murs: The Class: a film by Laurent Cantet, adapted from the novel. Really interesting on social class and the clash between (school) institutions and young people, and the extent to which their destinies are predetermined by their class, and by the way society treats them, dismisses them, writes them off.