Saturday, 24 February 2024 15:59

The Workers Consider the Strike as Serota Observes the Richter

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in Poetry
The Workers Consider the Strike as Serota Observes the Richter

The Workers Consider the Strike as Serota Observes the Richter

by James O'Brien

The undertaker appeared rooted, transfixed as a glare,
As rigid as a fire poker in front of a thin scraped canvas.
The workers congregated, against standing orders,
But the business of the day could not be unsaid.
He was in that penumbra of deracinated focus,
A lifetime of mistaken identity in front of the glacial.
He moves to Death: Ulrike Meinhof. Series “Oct 18, 1977.
The workers watch his inscrutability as he hazes into reverie.

They weigh up their demands and likelihood of victory,
Like Ulrike, I suppose, damned if they do, damned if they don’t,
A simultaneous suicide made the strikers laugh bitterly,
A strike can never be suicidal only transcendental to our goal,
And all of its concomitant delusions but never abandonment,
The implausibility, is the stanchion, addled to perfection.
Richter ran to Warhol, selling his past for coupons,
Serota should have known better, shuffling 1%, less than zero.

So the workers called him the undertaker,
A solemnised rake in his black Crombie,

A hangman’s shroud, garrotted, a starched priest’s collar.
He averted his gaze, a last review of his mutinous crew,
Dug in, in a foxhole, oblivious to raffish policy,
Cooked up by idiots with evangelical euphoria,
Sprayed violently by dwarves who sold out the vision,
Liquidated buildings without heart, workers without hope.

His face reflected a hopelessness contingent on the workers,
Abandoning him now as he held a last redoubt,
The Plebeian’s rehearsed the bitter uprising,
Brecht stood accused of betraying the revolution.
Gunther Grass took umbrage and excoriated the director,
Grass, himself, to be later accused of been a Stasi grass,
We stood with the Comrades relentlessly pounding home,
Self-evident truths, to fight, incrementally but brave,

Serota looks at the Richter as the workers plan the strike,
I scrutinise his glance, vice-like and blinking, void, insensate.
And ours, granite, with a deep sense of hunger, of grievance,
Of pantomimics, splayed colour separated by evasive broad strokes,

Amidst the moody watchtowers of a boxed-in Thames.
Rigid as an obelisk, his face creased like a pauper’s grave,
Was he destined to inscribe the headstone heresy of visionaries,
A poverty of idiots between the banal and strychnine,

Between the injustice of labour, the furies of bafflement,
The tanned women in HR, mocked our gaunt pallor,
An audience of corpses, scraped to the level of a transport,
Bleached to an entitled heart counting out the clams,
As indifferent as the sun is to the moon,
We weren’t going to lie down in deference with a sigh
Workers know how to kill gargoyles, he knew where to bury them,
They came to kill us but we weren’t going to die.

Read 453 times Last modified on Saturday, 24 February 2024 16:04
James O Brien

James O'Brien is an award-winning playwright, poet, filmmaker and political activist. He was made an Honorary Member of the N.U.M. during the Miners Strike, 1984-5. He was the PCS Branch Secretary at Tate Modern 2000-16 and led a series of strikes against austerity and attacks on workers' rights and pay.

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