My May Day Call
By David Erdos
Act One: As We End?
SCENE: April 2020, with the day itself as a stage, the writer sits in his garden. He types on an old child-size laptop what he wishes his fellow comrades to hear. He is resolute but concerned and keen to strike a fair balance between accepted fact and perspective. At a time of conjecture the form of a poem as a direct address seems to suit, even as he wears a vest. The startling heat too concerns him; is it a gift or distraction as the shadows beyond get to work?
It was Harold Pinter who wrote in his masterly
Nobel Prize mission poem that ‘the simple dignity of man’
Was the purpose not only of his and our life, but of Art.
So, on May Day we look across the sun scarred skies
That feel broken for a new point of promise with which
To celebrate Morning Stars. They still appear of course,
But are masked by the Covid cloud that surrounds us,
And while we may fear the rain yet to stain us – as there
May be microbe and plot in what’s cast – there will still
Be a means to redeem each coming day
Through perception, prizing it, through earned effort:
A true labour of love, one might say, in which
The political fight and the personal light reconfigure,
To honour all of those lost to struggle, and to defy
Cummings’ chaos and the mire that shields Johnson’s way.
(He pauses and thinks, trying to restrain his suspicions, but his thoughts turn to fire as the features of these men spark each thought.)
Act Two: The Plot Broadens
The same. He continues to write, rage and think.
What really happened last year? It feels reasonable still
To deny it: a complete misunderstanding of what is being
Done in our name. As British Socialism was seen
To sadly stumble, or slip, impossibly marred
By J. Corbyn, as former hinterlands turned to winter
Whilst in plump country, the completely misinformed
Fed on fame. The celebritised oaf had his way as the ghost
Of Tony Benn shook all timbers. And the English grass
Began screaming this time before it was cut.
Walked through years past by both Blake and Clare,
Chasing vision, those former meadows under the current
Control wilt and shut. Some may say sensibly, and yet
The mind wanders, not only across that barred landscape
But beside the soured streams and ransacked rivulets
Of the true. The elite now tell us that this is for the common
Good. We accept it. And yet we do not have the heroes
And leaders of a once grander age. Truly progressive
When seen from this current time of reduction,
With nobody fighting the need to survive scars time’s
Page. But I hear the flesh and the feet of the socialist
Walkers I’d honour: William Cobbett, Jim Connell,
William Cuffay, and Jack Jones. Along with the other
Great reformers of course, from Annie Kenney,
To Gladstone, Tom Paine, Hannah Mitchell,
And Lloyd George, too; they sought Thrones
On which all could sit as we made The Welfare State
A true nation, albeit one that now, strained and stricken,
Like the NHS, stands alone. But that isn’t even the point.
The point right now is that the public devour deception.
They cast the slickened stone without seeing,
And while still being told what to fear.
They neither anticipate change, or know the proper way
To deal with it; theirs is not a general stance stoked
By vision, but a mangled politics of the ear;
Something they have either overheard, or picked up,
Or which someone else recommended;
We watch as our panel show fame crufted pups
Deride Bore-is, but then he is still allowed
His full tread. For simple derision can’t help,
If it is unassisted by vision. Humour and bland
Bread alone cannot heal us, as separated, the uncommon
Cold rages wildly, and the Tories underline each day’s
So, May Day marks a point of crisis this year,
And a point of principle, also. On May the 1st
And all moments the freshly Laboured Day must resume,
Especially as people have become more aware
Of the need for dignity while they’re ravaged,
As friends lose both jobs and others,
Let some brand-new arrangement of The Internationale
Set the tune: A melody that both shapes and sings
Of the past but which has a moderrn Socialist Party line
Twisting through it; a resonance mixing keyboard
With drum and hope and dub bass, all while a guitar blast
Shrieks forth, giving proper vent to frustration,
As the common call commands Chorus and helps
To unify each trapped place.
Will people hear?
Did they hear in 1886 in Chicago?
The Haymarket bomb-blast was a form of ‘Who Moved
The Stone?’ But instead of Christ, crisis then,
Rivering through the ages, taking in Orgreave’s
Battle, the Miners’ Strike, and of course Peterloo.
For each time of change will clamour to shape
Unique signals. And so, stunned, we must answer
If we are to revive buried truths.
Orwell’s prophecy now surrounds as the book
Of the year loses pages, and each entry equals
As we grow scared, or weak behind thought.
And yet what we see as despair could still become
A source of unity for us;
A socialism that breaches the distance
Which is already being controlled and enforced.
The past has been revoked, then ignored
Under the startling coincidence within Covid;
Snagged on the first bar of Brexit, the prison gates
Closed with each door. And now our cells swelter
In heat, and with the particular need to make fire,
Not from rubbing sticks or by prism, but from
A conflagration to come, in the heart.
The selfsame one that pumps blood around
The political system and which makes the rest of us
Chartists as our fall and fate suits their graph.
But the truly socialist values compel
The atrophied flesh of the nation
To rouse themselves from back benches in either
Secret garden or park, in order to recognise the reveal
That the right wing hopes to keep hidden.
This need not be a lockdown at all, more an entrance
Through which a second human race can restart.
And yet on May Day this year each pagan pole
Will lose purchase. The milky white Morris Daughters
And their dancing Dads will stand numb.
The sun scorched squares and hamlets run dry
As no bell shakes for the spirits of the distant time
They still echo. So I ask: is tradition lost or truncated
When not ushered in by a drum?
The Government’s signal flare, free of sound
And illumination falls shallow. It admits no path,
Means, or method with which to emerge from the dark.
But that dark is designed and has been delivered
Straight to us. Brief questions put receive answer
But are quickly blunted down to the chart.
Those deathly Statistics each day, including a 5pm
Call from various Emissaries of the Reaper,
Denoting societal ills, testing balance, along
With the fractions of fear within flesh.
Primed, promised, poised we let gloved and hidden
Hands make us puppets. By accepting the strings
That restrict us we seek to contain
What comes next. Perhaps a new Plague,
Or Dark age, with its new Dark Age Generation.
Generation X-ed, one might call it;
Redacted, withdrawn and locked down.
And locked out too, it would seem,
As about what goes on, we know nothing.
The passed Parliamentary Covid Bill is pure
Orwell, but how many of us touch the gown
Of those who judge us, or lead, or meet
In private port, pouting congress.
What is happening now in closed meetings
As we all wait within and conform?
Things Yet To Come, by way of Laboratory.
Exits, Cummingsed. But as I consider May Day
Now, ending April, I know as you all do, very conscious
That what true Socialists do is inform. In the past
The Unions have forced pace for what the Labour Party
Advanced or advances: chiefly, the rights of those
Who are working and who will continue to work
When they can. This should make us all Socialists,
Particularly at a time of Socialistas; those pale
Pretenders to provision and connection;
The Iron Bird’s Iron Babies, who, preened
And polished will in dreams at least
Rust once damned.
(He pauses, reflects, savouring the ideas as they strike them. In weighing them, there’s a balance between preaching to the converted and offering up a new prayer.)
Act Three: Resolve, Resolution and the Start of a Solution, resumed
The light burns like the harshest spotlight, under the pressure he tries to unite ties that bind.
Of course, May Day also represents
A rebirth. In the public sense
That’s what’s needed.
I think of the death of John Smith as a pausing
Before the blur of Blair interfered.
Imagine a British PM with that name!
It would have been beyond perfect!
A housing frame for the nation
In which one man’s nomenclature held all dear.
Smith’s astuteness, and strength should not be forgotten.
At a time without proper Statesmen or women,
Particularly when one considers the violence of Priti
Patel, it’s his face, his spent force that takes on
The kind of currency I’d call beauty,
Travelling now through convention, to show
In reflection the brighter roads we’ve avoided,
Along with all of those unrisked and missed
Open doors. The European Union for one, instead
Of being a Liberal Bankers Club, should have been
A Communism of sorts across countries,
A means to feel both bound and beholden
To a siblinghood which survives
The fair and fouled day at all points
As the veins that form the world’s rivers
Feed calm and farmer to show what just one field
Of labour in the fully active sense can provide.
We need that work. We need pluck, but of course
That bulldog screed was pure Tory;
Churchillian bombast, but which got us all
Through a war. But not through a peace.
Of course, dribbling in the House of Lords
Didn’t help him, and yet like all troubled heroes,
There were weaker shades no-one saw.
I think of some of Labour’s former challenges
On this day: such as Clement Atlee’s compromise
And James Callaghan’s Thatchered reason.
I think of Gordon Brown, so ill-suited
To a media age, yet so right. As an economist
Alone, he’d have carved a different shape
Out of Covid, as its slick substance covers
Each deceitful breath and fused light.
As we carry on in our caves, fresh feudal Lords
Construct fiefdoms that will make us all
Peasants, that’s if we weren’t before in their eyes.
So let this ransacked May Day now announce
A new form of ritual for England.
As we pole and dance through closed gardens
Let us struggle on and work here, on the page
And through screens (as we can’t fight or even
Meet on the beaches): for the medium’s still
The message. The privileged patronise
And prefect us but there is still a playground
Out there to fight for. And so my May Day
Call now resounds. If the air itself can’t be comrade,
We can touch a screen, as a shoulder,
And form, while we’re marching
A fast-moving queue to hope’s door.
(No Blackout. Just day, framing the small house as theatre.
In the silence that follows David’s end of curtain speech, now implores):
This has been a Three Act Play-Poem call
In which the cast are still to audition.
It is down to you as the reader to know the parts
You must play. Entr’acte or Exeunt,
Another door has been opened.
May each call you take make your comrade
And like Harold Pinter’s noble Nobel
Poem Treaty, bring to bare your sweet
Action and allow the heart and soul
Their full say.
(He exits, at last, to seek shade.)
David Erdos is an actor, writer, director with over 300 professional credits. He is a published poet, playwright, essayist and illustrator. He has lectured on all disciplines in theatre and film for leading performing arts colleges, schools and universities around the world.