by Mike Gallagher
Different pictures in my Sunday paper:
Morant Bay, Jamaica, Seventeen Fifties,
in close order a line of black women
file up a ship's gangway, overladen
panniers of coal balanced on their heads.
From an upper deck, a white overseer
looks down on the scene; no doubt, he fumes
when the woman slips, spills her load
onto the floor below; no doubt, he takes
appropriate action just as I would in Achill
all those years later when the donkey got
stuck in the bog, lashing out with whip and clog
at my own clumsy beast of burden.
West Hartlepool, Nineteen Sixties, on a hard
winter day, a line of unemployed men scratch
the shoreline for nuggets of coal, shipbuilding
gone, steelworks moved on to cheaper climes.
Balanced on the bars of Rudge or Raleigh bikes,
jute bags hold half-crown promises; Woodbines
dangle from bottom lips; half hidden under the
peaks of cloth caps, cowering despair scowls
its irresistible, irredeemable fate.
Different? Hardly! Just different perspectives
on nationhood, on history, on gender, on race,
ploys used by an unscrupulous elite to divide us,
to persuade us to hate, to slaughter each other
while they, the bankers, the arms brokers,
the ministers, the moguls, the rapacious
minority rob our Earth of its resources; by choice,
will starve to death eleven million children
'in this one year alone', through their predator instincts,
their sick obsession with profits, will lead us into wars,
into famines, maybe annihilation, lure us, slavishly
to the insatiable trough of commerce,
where we feed and, in turn, are devoured;
where, unlike animals at the waterhole
that walk away when sated, we wait
to gorge, then gorge again, choosing
to forget that each drop consumed beyond
our need further swells the stomach
of a starving child, robs a mother of her right
to nurture, slits the throat of a father stripped
of hope; makes us even more unequal.
Greed makes all of us poorer.