A vignette, perhaps, from Edward Hopper
Transplanted to an anaesthetic land.
An etherised face, staring and alone, beneath
The incandescence of electric gas.
Shunning the light, shattering the night,
Blanked by the eyeless windows
Of midnight, rattling a chromed carapace over
A dereliction of crushed cans and pavements,
Shaking my armoured hide through a labyrinth now
Cracked apart in the stray hours: this dark, deserted city.
Mine is the last bus, the empty bus,
The one before the day that never came,
Propelled, An Schwager Kronos, towards the sickly-sweet,
Chemical salvation of oblivion. Mute as Camus’ Sisyphus,
I’d drive it on, eyes fixed, firm in my futile plan:
Resolute, because there’d be
No-one left to see: obedient to inconsequential purpose, and
Unbowed by the great weight of the sky. I’d stand elected
(Unopposed) as captain of the stricken vessel of my life.
Heroic in anonymity,
Defying the silence of humankind
(The pettiness of them, the ignorance of them),
And revelling, steadfast, in the isolation
Of all determined, little men.
But just to let old Goethe know:
This is no reckless hedonist who speeds past
Your envious and fastidious gaze,
Exhausting life’s licence, plunging from the sky
From boredom, far more than debauch –
All appetites sated, curiosity quelled.
My life was as sterile as your underworld,
Inert as Piccadilly neon.
My hell is a dark box, and the stink of burning metal.
Stephen Jackson (October 2003)
‘An Schwager Kronos’ is a poem by Goethe, depicting a defiant plunge into Hell. (It is best-known for its musical setting as a Schubert Lied.) I felt that romantic heroism was apt for life in dear old Hackney (may the place rot in Hell) – how easy it is to be a hero: faced with insurmountable injustice or grand, existential despair. But when your only enemies are the welfare people and the bizarrely-misnamed Sanctuary Housing Association, against whom is there to make a stand? Welcome to life amongst the Tesco shopping trollies at the bottom of the canal. Tell you one thing: it’s bloody quiet.