And to make up for the brevity of ‘Poem’, something more extensive. When James Whales’ Frankenstein reached Belfast in 1932, the Corporation sent a delegation of aldermen to assure themselves that the film was wholesome and suitable for viewing by the population of an industrial city in the grip of the depression.
Of course, they found the movie ‘an insult to the brain’. Two years later (and I like to think at least partly in response to the petty bourgeois puritanism of the censors) the working classes of the town fought back against the abysmal conditions of those on ‘outdoor relief’ with marches and riots…
(The ‘Wee Yard’ was Workman’s shipyard on the northern shore of Belfast Lough, as opposed to Harland and Wolff’s much larger yard across the water. Die Erbsünde is original sin.)
The Wee Yard in the ice age. The slips are concrete
glaciers plunged in the Lough. You expect
the oily water to flash-freeze, or boil and rage,
but nothing happens. Cranes like laboratory
clamps or lightning-catchers bristle overhead
but the cloud is limp. Yes we have no bananas
no money no piano in the parlour but at least
there is no poverty under the blankets.
We make love to breed more idle hands,
of course we do. There is safety in numbers.
The indoor bathtub bathes a hoard of coal
while our children go barefoot and foul-mouthed
in the cinderbowls of last year’s bonfires.
They flock to hear the mad scientists of the gospel
preach the Good News: if God had ever loved us,
He would have made us wealthy men, elsewhere.
Whose hand is this? When was it branded D
for deib? Why have I woken
in this town of smoke and open drains
whose citizens gather at churches and dead
manufactories enraged by something
I seem to have done in a previous life.
Die Erbsünde. I have inherited the inner
organs of beggars, traitors, insolent apprentices.
My right eye is the brown eye of a heretic,
my left an atheist green. When I break free
of the crowd and make for the estuary,
I sink waist-deep in mud under the weight
Of the head on my shoulders, the burden
of other people’s crimes. I drag my unhealed sutures
towards the slum liberties of Ballymacarrett
where the poor lever up pavers from the street
and pile them like dark apples, eggs
fresh from the furnace, and baked black.
‘[He] shall not reveal any of his Master’s Secrets, nor conceal his loss or prejudice when known to him, but shall in due time discover and do his utmost to prevent the same. He shall not be guilty of drinking, nor accessory to any riots or tumults on the street, nor haunt idle or debauched company. He shall not walk in processions. He shall not commit fornication, nor contract Matrimony within the said term…but shall in all respects promote his master’s interests, and behave and acquit himself as becomes a faithful and diligent apprentice and shall during the whole Term aforesaid, provide all the Tools and Implements necessary for learning and practising his said Trade.’
– from the Harland and Wolff apprentice’s oath
God’s is the last word on the Police Committee
but He casts His vote by proxy. We
settle our rumps on maroon velour and feast
our eyes on the hand of dusty light,
the horror on the wall. A few minutes only
makes up our minds: we must spare the citizens
this insult to the brain, and Christ this garbled
version of the Word, this anti-resurrection.
While the unemployed riot, disdaining the work
-house, raging at the means test, we narrow
our eyes our eyes our eyes rather than pluck
them out. Mene mene tekhel upharsin.
We padlock the picture house, but not before
we see the monster die, the screen darken,
and take this secret back to our villas
in Belmont and Strandtown, Malone, Stranmillis.
Life is a matter of electricity and original sin.
Is body-parts. Ye must be born again.