Peter Knaggs (British Working Class Poetry)

Peter Knaggs is the author of four books of poetry, including The Slow Moustache and Tolstoy on a Horse. His poems have appeared in The Morning Star, The Rialto, Echo Room and The North. He has had a varied career. Amongst others he has worked as a removal man, Smartie painter, Polo hole driller, bookseller, Notetaker, DIY store COVID doorman and a coleslaw shoveller. These unpublished are from Shiznit – currently seeking a publisher.

 

I Work in Artificial Light

 

They take away my thinking cap,

Then ask me to use my brain; Voltaire

 

I hand them my brain and they rinse it

press it in the brain press, twist the torque

vice it until it’s a cube. I am at work.

I work all day in a giant box. I work

in artificial light. I log my password into

the cell on the monitor using the boxy

manufacture of the keys on the keyboard.

I read the updates and instructions.

The content on screen, on my monitor,

is all graphic tiles, tablets, rows,

straight edges, horizontals and verticals.

 

I assemble cartons, blocks and cubes

and I track the parallel lines of the shelves,

the verticals of the stock, the boxes and books

the cartons, the lot spirit level flat,

straight, I shelve and merchandise, align

and display- stock, making sure of its linear

progress. Go back to my monitor, to the frame

of the spreadsheet, the rule of the sidebar.

Thus, I gaze across the height of the door,

the horizontal of the lintel underlining

the flatline of the ceiling, its polystyrene tile

check like a chessboard with no blacks.

Just before 12:00 I’m passed over the rectangle

of a loyalty card. I swipe it, pass it back, then

I’m up the stairs down the corridor, take my

lunch box out from the grid of the lockers

eat my rectangular sandwich.

 

 

 

Here in the staff room, at the long table

I look through the window at the slant

of the building opposite, all these manmade

lines, the right angle architecture of that box

of concrete, the walk of the slabs topping

the wall, the crosses of aluminium

hashing the windows, shaped for a game of,

but empty of any noughts and crosses. 

I go to work. I am at work. I work

in artificial light. I work all day in a big box,

not a curve, a wave, a circle or a petal in sight.

My rota is on a clipboard and all my tasks

and checklists are in oblong boxes,

I build cubicula cubes in a cubicle

and rectangular cartons, I check them,

that they are straight. Despite the conditioning

of this square world, sometimes my brain

remembers another life, I sing to myself,

or hum, “I’m Living in a box,” that song

from the album, Living In A Box,

by the band, Living In A Box. I check them,

that they are straight, level, that the perfect

oblongs meet the guideline angles.

 The manager is speaking with a square mouth.

I am in a meeting. He is asking me something.

He is asking me to think outside the box.

 

The Bats Didnt Show Up For the Bat Walk

Part One

 

Take two men, back to the basic ingredients. 

Take one, put him on a council estate, a hard working

cleaner for a mother, a bully and a drunk for a father,

a dustbin man for an uncle, relatives across factories

and tea rooms. For horseplay, put the drunk father

on the dole. Give him a gambling habit.

 

Take the other, uncle head of the English Department

in a City University, father in banking, mother in clover,

deal him out private schools, birthday in September.

Give him the advantage of good looks and lankiness.

Send one to the factory at sixteen, turnover half his wage

to the parents, deal him out splits and holes in his knackered

out cords, get him taping up card insoles to make his only pair

of worn out trainers last longer. For the gag, make him intelligent

enough to see these things and driving lessons, haul him out

of bed early with a knob head for a tutor, let him pay his own

hard-earned way, let him have a small bit of elation.

Let him pass his test first time.

 

The other, let him put his feet up on the chaise long,

perusing the Uni guides. Pay his whole way through.

Pay for his driving lessons.

Hell, why not buy him a car. Give him soft hands,

bracelet his wrist with a watch handed over

by spruce snob, a daily user of a nostril trimmer.

 

Give one time, give the other no time.

 

Get one writing letter after letter after letter, get him

scanning the situations vacant column week after week

after week. Make him absolutely determined to make

his life better and when his useless father dies,

send our lad to university too.

 

Take two men. Are they the same? One knuckling down

to a degree, one arsing around Europe on daddys credit card.

For the one at university make this very thing occur.

Make him determined, but skint, feed him Thatchers bullshit,

that if you work hard you can make it. Give him a Yorkshire

stubbornness. When he runs out of money

and hes still taping up cardboard insoles for his trainers,

give him three days with an empty cupboard

but for three slices of bread and a Pot Noodle.

 

Then for a jest, in class put another student swaggering in, 

in a beautiful new wool coat, a coat worth a month’s wages,

break our boys heart when the other guy says, with glee,

My dad bought it for me. Fill our boy with jealousy and guilt

for feeling jealous, send him home, to half a slice of bread.

 

Give him his degree.

 

The Bats Didnt Show Up For the Bat Walk

Part 2

 

Fifteen years later, send them, both at the same company,

to a redundancy interview. The one, fifteen years service,

all head down and hard graft, taking every chance he can

to move up. For a laugh, give him the tenacity to keep going,

to keep going and give him never ending hope, never ending

belief that one day hell get that lucky break, that one

lucky break. Its all he needs.

And its gonna come any day now. Its all he needs.

 

Give all his lucky breaks to the already privileged.

Pile them up with flukes and happenstances based

on handshakes in the right clubs, dole out to him,

all that middle class confidence. For him,

first job given by uncle, second job future father in law,

give him the lugubrious canoe

of the middle class, to paddle through

the lubricated gravy train.

But its time, yes, to give him a black cloud,

set him down at that table,

head on the redundancy line.

 

Send them both out one night with their families,

to go bat spotting and star gazing. Give one a night so warm,

the insects are out in swarms and bat after bat feeds itself up.

Give him a telescope, so he can yawn and look at the boring stars

and drive his wife and kids home. And the cloud of redundancy,

silver line it. For making cretinous, wrong-headed decisions

that any buffoon can see are ludicrously xing ridiculous.

Give him a big pay off, a massive stack of cash,

enough to buy, say, two houses.

 

The other, on the night out with his family, bat spotting

and star gazing. Make it so cold the insects stay put and curl up

in their roosts, nithered. Root his holed and worn out shoes

to the freezing ground and  settle his head in those

ever so distant crazily beautiful dream-filled stars.

Make him cry sometimes at the cruel non=arrival of his lucky break.

But keep his faith in it. Its there round the next corner.

And if youre the kind to do the maths, work this out.

He worked so hard he was saved from redundancy

and a pay off big enough to buy a good pushbike,

including lights.

 

He knows this.

 

The one made redundant got the equivalent of twenty-five years

of the others salary, and he was utterly shit at his job.

That is the truth of it.


1 comment :

  1. Like an arrow, straight to the brain and the heart. More please.

    ReplyDelete

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