After Grenfell by Mandy Macdonald

Wiry, precise, like a wading bird —
egret, perhaps, or avocet, or stilt —
an elderly man in the coach queue
bursts out: ‘We were lucky! We had jobs!
Not to have a job was shameful; to lose
your job, a bloody disgrace!’ Startled by
his urgency, other grey heads nod agreement:
to be young now’s not much fun at all.

Round the corner, by the crossing lights,
the same young man, mud-coloured, sits each day
with his begging beanie, his hopeless, dreich politeness:
‘Spare any change?  … Have a nice day then …’
When the rain comes he’ll slip under cover, resettle
at the stairs’ foot, take up his chant again.

On the coach, two ladies of a certain, uncertain age
talk in whispers; each wears six shades of beige —
blouse, jacket, trousers, shoes, plus skin and hair,
treading so palely on the earth, they leave
hardly a glint of brightness, a plucked edge
of sound behind. Do they fear I’ll overhear
their news of gardens, grandchildren and prices?
Yet these mild presences are dangerous: you cannot tell
what they’re thinking, how they might vote, what hushed
and smothering force they could exert on the nation’s fate.

Rain on the window whispers back to them.
Fields fall away, we glide on flyovers
between Glasgow’s high-rise sentinels. And suddenly
clouds part for a moment, the afternoon sun flares
unbearably bright along the upper windows,
and now
everyone is talking about tower blocks.

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