Firetraps, by Rose Drew

I: 1983
My substandard housing
was ground floor.
The fire alarms failed,
but I ran out into the rain.

II: 2001, 2017
That infamous September,
the summer before Daesh:
No,
those weren’t birds swooping, plunging.
We squinted at TVs, as people felt the flames,
held hands,
stepped off.

Is it fair to compare terror to terror
as homes deemed safe enflame
the eyesore hiding cladding
now your casket,
a crematorium delivered to your door;
an inferno you didn’t sign up for
when you inked the lease —

III: 1911, 2017
A hundred years ago,
the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire
was all girls and women
from browner countries.
………………………….[No sprinklers, one staircase,
——————-………….fire ladders & hoses falling short.
…………………………..Laws were passed. Even New York’s wealth
…………………………..were horrified.]
This tower also single mums, entire families,
brave migrants starting again with a bag
of hopes.
The fortunate flee
without even these:

social cleansing
scorches clear
a Notting Hill corner.

IV: 1983
After my old flat was cleared,
all debris hauled to a dumpster,
insurance paying for
new floors, new walls,
new kitchen goods
and me long gone,

my former landlord raised the rent.
So I’m told.

Notes from a fire, by Rose Drew

Hauling possessions back
to those who lived, the driver
points out the building:

smutty stubby middle finger
still stabbing the Notting Hill sky,
a half-burned matchstick
proclaiming FUCK YOU
to everyone:

elites happy to swagger past gardens
thru lobbies with smiling staff
while their lesser neighbors
ease by bins,
rattle keys into dented metal doors,
ride up the swaying service elevator:

some residents more equal than others.

I rather wish they were not
picking it apart,
floor by damning floor,
removing evidence:
erasing shame.

Leave that charred body tied to its stake.
Leave it grim,
a reminder
cheap cladding is more expensive than
one can bear;
that funds slashed for fire fighting
or for sprinklers BEFORE the fires must be fought
are not expenses.
They are the price of being human.

A Raging Migraine by Rose Drew

I feel rage coming on like a migraine,
thumping, thump thump thump,
steady,
the beat of 25 quid not all can spend
just to vote.

This what Murica does right?
The free vote,
the easy signup to a party,
the precious bit of paper
(denied to felons, and the mislabelled dead who still live)
(try sorting that one out)
the invite to the polling station
(that is moved or breaks down)

your name on a list, listed by street,
just check you off,

unless you need gummint ID (new laws)
and unless this ID cannot be gotten
without buses taken to far off offices
not on bus routes,
not often open,
requiring birth certificates you can’t find
for an at-home birth in a sharecropper’s hut
in 1925.
(try sorting that out)

Age 90, can’t see
and the courthouse burned down and anyway
you was housekeeper for the judge
don’t they care anymore
(no).

So maybe not so different
and the Tories pay too, we’re told
but this is a poll tax slapped up fast
cos most in power
don’t like Corbyn.

I feel a dull and spreading ache
the sort that closes high streets and leaves
empty windows a shiny black
until someone cracks them
and inside, discarded shelves
and always tons of paper
everywhere, piled up,
even in abandoned delis and nail salons and sandwich shops,
always paper, and boxes.

Real stores left ages ago,
high street rents fit for London not covered in Thirsk
and work is pubs and Argos,
maybe the Council or maybe not,
or the dying hospital.

And the thump thump trump rage
was stamped onto the
ONE FREE BALLOT
we’ve had of late,
with hate
and promises on buses saying
a billion a month for NHS
and no more languages you don’t speak in the empty market.

And those were lies.
The NHS starved by banksters,
and a country filled by idle hands
that could build the houses and the schools
and shops
and work them;
but all that takes faith and leaders.

We can point our fingers every which way
but til money covers babies, and the old;
and those who need a job have it,
and those who can’t handle one aren’t shamed and starved;
til a roof is over heads
whether house or hospice;
til bad health is bad luck, and rare,
blame won’t fix what’s broken

and the trump trump trump,
the migraine, god the pain:
it just won’t go away.

Austerity by Rose Drew

Austerity is such a spacious word:
Au
stare
it
ee.
Surely too many vowels?
Profligate use of letters
when few are needed.
We must cut waste where possible.

Austere:
Now, THERE’S a proper word:
Grim. Unsmiling. Harsh. Rigid. Severe.
Cold as an unheated apartment,
unsmiling as death from an empty belly
(in this land of plenty. Not talking about sand dunes)
rigid as sanctimonious sanctions, designed to
humiliate,
put peasants in their proper place,
obedient
grateful for crumbs.

We’re too wealthy to suffer
from any tiny downturn
post Brexit
(though, how to blame impoverished angry yoof for the next bomb?
if we slash all aide?)
but
too poor to share with Europe:
the doublespeak spins my mind,
headache builds,

hospitals close;
autistic lad hungry, his benefits cut
cos he missed an unexpected JobCentre visit;
amputee forced to walk
to the non-bus stop (routes eliminated)
after her Mobility car removed;
Bedroom Taxed and benefit capped
refugees from cities
forced out of lifelong support systems;

and we wonder why no one cares.

Those who might care
are busy dealing with paperwork
and searching for crap jobs,
or, head down, licking boots to keep
the job they have

the rest
sigh happily, flick on lights
in large houses,
sit in comfort, calm and safe
in their stress free lives,

saving displeasure for those lazy cheats
on Benefits Street.
The TORYGRAPH crinkles selfrighteously.
News is watched
grimly, coldly,
without smiles, brow rigid.
Austerely.

Je n’ais pas les mots by Rose Drew

I do not have the words of comfort
for raped and massacred Yazidi
who merely lived. They were in the way.

I do not have the words to capture anger
whatever deprivation that goads one to kill….. everyone

I do not have the words to sooth
the anguished dad, the grieving mom
who let their child go out for music

I do not have the words to thank
the chef for that last meal,
the one enjoyed…. almost….until ultimate
last course

Thing is, the rage and impotence
articulated by bombs and bullets
are genuine:
but so are loved ones
who simply lived their lives
and went to dinner, to a game, to hear some BlueGrass

Neither poverty nor a night out
deserve a death sentence

I do not have the words to pray
to a bronze age skygod
who lets us get on with it

Perhaps the time for words is past.
But like a wildfire,
angry embers smoulder
til the next conflagration.
It cannot be stamped out.
It cannot be contained.
Must be treated with care, concern,
the dry and damaged pruned, the ancient protected,
the young permitted sun

Waving Hate in Our Face by Rose Drew

The Confederate Flag flies over the State Capitol of South Carolina, scene of June 17’s massacre of 9 African Americans by an avowed white supremacist. The murderer depicts this same flag on various social media sites.  

 

An angry X calling for secession:
at its most benign a cry to rip a nation apart;
at its most visceral
a demand to maintain slavery,
continue building wealth for a family
on the bodies
of other people’s children.

How can this be justified
in a land that proclaims
brotherly (not sisterly but I digress)
freedom, right to pursue (if not claim) happiness,
equality under the law, if not in front of a cop’s gun,
(or beneath her neck-squeezing fingers. sorry. digression)
and the right to pay tax, die in war, go to school.

This is, one hopes, America,
the World Cop,
the Nation Builder,
the bringer of Peace and Weapons of Mass Distraction,
the Instiller of Democracy;
the Deciders.
We must decide whether a flag of Secession,
of Chattel Slavery, of oppression and hate
should be waved in our faces.

This is a flag burning event if ever I saw one.
For fuel we have hate,
when we should be reaching for twigs and Ever Strike matches,
and putting a bad past to the stake.

After the women are freed by Rose Drew

You talk to me
about equality
and how we’re now all basically free,
you say you don’t need
that feminist crap
ugly man hating women who are stuck in the past

Yeh that’s opinion but it’s not fact
It’s a rape culture world and men run the racket:
What was she wearing, Was she
out on a date with him?
Not reliable
sober
or maybe she just lying ‘bout him

So the fights are over now, everyone won
Feminism’s obsolete the battles are done
Then tell me, why is it, statistically speaking
a woman will be killed just while I am reading

A female job is valuable just try and find a nurse
or a teacher
or an admin, yet the pay is just two-thirds what a man gets
for work about the same skill
Why is he more valued, does he really pay more bills
Is a builder really better
than the one who takes your temperature
and that’s just if you figure
that a nurse is only female
and a joiner
never
is

So tell me:
what kind of world will it be
What will life be like after the women are freed

Not talking ’bout slut shaming
though:
just put on a coat
Don’t see men with peckers out
in see-thru shorts
And casual sex? That’s how some of us roll
but he will be a PLAYER and we all a bunch of HOs

I’m talking to YOU boys now it ain’t up to the girls
Rape is not about high heels and skimpy little skirts
It’s for power and control you are missing from your life
You take it out on someone else to boost you up inside!
If you wanna stop a rapist
it’s not down to the booze
Teach your sons not to rape! Easier to do
No means no, no matter what you perceive:
Some kissin’ and some drinking isn’t gateway to your needs

And rape CULTURE, what the fuck is that
We had roofies in the 70s but now they hunt in packs
And the little bastards film it and they post on the web
so the victims raped AGAIN AGAIN it’s messin’ with her head
Next thing:
kills herself
Now your victim’s dead

Women are your equals we aren’t better than you
don’t need a pedestal
or damn doors held open too
Open doors to JOBS and Opportunity
Equal skills, equal pay and see what ALL achieve

Then
we all put on our sexy shit
Go dancing til the dawn is red
This game of king? I’m sick of it!
Planet needs all of our skills to hope to save what’s left of it

You say the fights are over now, and everyone won
Feminism’s obsolete the battles are done

Then tell me, why is it
statistically speaking
in this world, a woman has been killed
just while I was reading

What kind of future world can it be
what could life be like if the women were freed

The God Squad by Rose Drew

Please don’t try to save my soul:
it is not lost;

please don’t hammer me with your views,
they aren’t mine;

please do not hound me down the hospital hall,
with cries of “I prayed for you!”,
claiming Holy Credit for my health.

Please do not pull up chairs beside me,
removing the New York Times
that I was reading,

so you can ponder my emptiness,
my scary nights of no
Big God Mommy
come to tuck me in, salve my wounds,
put cool cloth on my brow,
stop it!

Go burn the sacred texts in some poor village,
knock down another False Idol that comforts heathens
whom you wish to save so they will not
burden you;
go remove all trace of the God of Peace, Good Yams,
Safe Motherhood, Plentiful Game, and install
your own God—

until the next God Squad
removes your spreading lichen views,
and chisels your Saints
from re-named temple walls.

Eye of the beholder by Rose Drew

people rise to the occasion
or fall from frustration
on you are treated
by everyone:
police
school
shopkeepers
librarians
taxi drivers
pedestrians
anyone you just
happen
to
walk
by.

see, it occurs to me
Winchester might be crime free
cos people aren’t guilty first
suspected first
then exonerated–
if you happen to know them.
must build up,
all this trust,
doled out evenly
to all makes and models of folks,
these high expectations,
presumption of good intentions,
the allowance for small sins,
a lapse of drink, or pride.

now
reverse that:
paint yourself brown
try to exist in a small white town
with suspicion clung to you,
like a bad smell.
now, thrive.
feel joy at being alive
walk easily to the store, wave at friends,
joke
maybe have a fake fight.
no, maybe not.

argue with someone.
no, maybe not.
browse store aisles, thoughtfully,

for that perfect present,
no,
maybe not.

feel closed in.
under surveillance.
end up stuck in rundown neighbourhoods,
where liquor stores outnumber veg stands
where there are few bus stops,
and the factories bellow smog.
where the local restaurant’s Mickie Dees
and the shops have metal grates.
where money is hidden,
made on the sly,
and the landlord doesn’t hurry
to replace pipes or patch holes.
try that for a lifetime.
see how claustrophobia suits you

now, draw a facile comparison
of residents
as if everything but skin’s the same.
I haven’t even discussed
cops with guns and a grudge.

I rent a small room in Winchester (England), where I am completing a PhD (taking for ever) and occasionally lecture.  I marvel at the differences in ‘crime’ and in ‘punishment’ in Winchester versus London, versus Oop Nawth (I actually live in York) and in gun-worshipping ’Murica (I am originally from Florida and spent many years in Connecticut).  I have decided it’s how we’re treated, and how we’re viewed. 

A few dead Republican girls by Rose Drew

A few dead girls.
That’s what it’ll come to,
after Roe v Wade
is overturned completely:
a few botched abortions
a few dead daughters   (the more beautiful the better);
golden children of rich Republicans
undone by their parents’ plans.

But not toooo rich,
a platinum card buys a lot of doctoring;
a private jet can fly someone anywhere —
to France, say, where Gramma goes
for Alzheimer’s stem cell therapy,
or Switzerland,
where the Old Man himself
is said to travel for Parkinson’s.

Just rich enough;
just loved enough,
a female Isaac whose Abraham dad
becomes appalled,
stricken by grief,
repents.

Already, multiple States have multiple laws
outlawing choice,
stayed only by reluctant Federal hands:

hands now untied,
fists curled to demand Obedience,
slamming blows on shameless sluts across the world,
to send them, weeping,
to the compassionate arms of their Savior…..
…….Well, that’s the plan.

Like bowls of colorful condoms
now removed from college halls
so sexed up kids can just shower in cold water
and tough it out, dammit;

like scrips for The Pill unfilled
by ethically compromised pharmacists
who shouldn’t bring Religion to work in their lunchpail;

like ‘Pledges’ and ‘Promises of Chastity’
sworn before dad in the livingroom
yet forgotten by the bike shed;

like all plans to legislate human sexuality,
and yet forget that humans are involved—

this plan will ultimately fail,
fall victim to too many victims,
an overturn doomed to being overturned.

And except for those
unfortunate daughters,
who find themselves in bad circumstance,
with no medical help,
no legal recourse,

in a decade or two of the dying
things will go back to what they were.

All it takes are a few
dead
Republican girls:

woe be to them.

This appeared in the Occupy Wall Street book of poetry in 2012. I do not have additional publishing information.

no vote by Rose Drew

you don’t want to play along
it’s a trick a trap
the candidates don’t stand
for anything you believe in
stand proudly for stuff you fight against

but tuning out can’t be the answer
if you don’t show up they pick who they want
sometimes the other guy really is worse

say what you want about ‘Bam
he spies on us, wants to frack up the country
drones out human rights
but can you say Romney was better?
and one was going to win

first day in office
HIS FIRST DAY
GW ‘Coke head’ Bush signs an order
gagging NGOs from even
tacking condom info posters on the wall
they lost funding, tiny rural clinics
for offering rubbers
(cos every sperm is sacred)
and the desired babies lost too
and mothers in difficult pregnancies
and people just sick
with malaria
needing medicine

that’s the game GW played,
his religion a death sentence for thousands of women
mass Gynocide his very first day
quite a feat
beat only by bombing Iraq

in the UK the Toryban sucks,
and Nick Cleggover a lying sack
but you think as PM he’d have fired
all the mental health nurses in Oxfordshire?
be bedroom taxing old lady cripples
from stowing the extra wheelchair
in a closet
calling it a BEDROOM?
really?
his cave-in on tuition is crap til you realize
not everyone needs Uni
not everyone needs debt
why is one mortarboard better than the other
one you wear for a single day cooking your skull
the other holds cement and builds things

if you hate them all then YOU need to run:
it’s all the small contests,
stupid board of education seats,
the tiny mayor chairs
itsy bitsy town clerks who became Red power in the States;
you start small and next thing
you’re appointing Judges
who maybe hate women and
think school sport is for boys
and i don’t know
maybe their god says abortion’s bad.

you don’t like to vote, then don’t wonder why
the stadium left your town bisected
or complain about empty buildings
left fallow
by absent land barons
(who get tax breaks)

you gotta be in it to win it.
just vote for the locals
that affect your neighbourhood.

i vote.
too many suffragettes died
or lost teeth
to ensure i can.

This is a very American-centric poem, but that is the system I know best. However, voter apathy and indeed the conscious decision NOT to vote (in some sort of powerless ‘protest’) is rife here in the UK. But hey, you know what? EVERY vote was important in Scotland and maybe the YESs should have turned out in greater numbers. 

Classic example by Rose Drew

An arcing rainbow of a wound,
pulsing purple-yellow-red,
rising to salute this failure
of choice in men,
of alcohol as mental-health management,
of careers.  Does she gaze into her rum&cokes for answers,
does she startle when her spotty boss
disrupts her thoughts
of music and of angry men
and landlords banging on the door for quiet!

She has not pressed charges,
refuses orders of protection,
puts him on the phone to speak for her,
unable to explain to anyone
why she is unimportant.

She circles round the backyard with the shopping trolley,
wishing for a decent car
and knowing he will never let her have one:
He’s in charge,
and shows who’s boss,
and bosses her until she’s just too drunk
to care
he does not care.

Folded in upon herself,
an origami girl of paper plates and paper cups,
sadness drowned with hate and shame
at fevered skin—
pulsing, purpled, welting,

unredeemed by fan or alcoholic coma
where in dreamless desperation
she fends him off forever.

 2003  Palimpsest Literary Magazine (Yale)
2011 Temporary Safety (Fighting Cocks Press)
Rose Drew is based in York, where she runs an open mic on the first Tuesday of every month.
http://www.yorkspokenword.org.uk/