It is my pleasure to present these poems by Caroline Gilfillan with photographs by Andrew Scott – dating from the early seventies when Caroline & Andrew were squatters in the East End
Spitalfields Street Sweepers
Council issue donkey jackets slung over saggy suits,
the street sweepers get to work,
broom heads shooshing over concrete and tar,
herding paper and peel and fag ends into heaps,
strong fingers grasping the broom handles,
knuckles big and smooth as weathered stones
moving easy in their bags of skin, watchful eyes
on you, your finger-clicks, your lens.
Shoes shined, trilby brushed, ears scrubbed
clean as a baby’s back, he chugs through the
sun drops and diesel clag of Aldgate.
No crumbs in his turn-ups, no fluff in his pockets:
the wife, at home in one of the new flats
over by Mile End, keeps him spruce.
He’s on his way to meet Solly at Bloom’s
for gefilte fish and a chinwag. We flew
past him in a dented van, croaky from
last night’s pints, hair in need of a good cut
and ears a good wash behind. And No,
we didn’t notice him, but he was a good
father to his sons, if inclined to sound off.
His wife went first but his sister cooked for him
after, and the nurses at the London
did him proud when the time came.
Us? We played our gigs and tumbled on,
leaving scraps of quavers and clefs
scattered across the pavement, the kerb,
the bang, rattle and clank of Aldgate East.
Stoneyard Lane Prefabs
Two ticks and the fixer of the Squatters Union
has done the break-in, courtesy of a jemmy.
The door creaks in the fish-mud breeze blowing up
from Shadwell docks. Here you are girls.
Faces poke, glint through curtain cracks.
A man comes back for his hobnailed boots. Stands lit up
by orange street lights, his meek face
breathing beer. We got behind with the rent, he says,
muddy laces spilling over knuckles.
Thought we’d leave before the council chucked us out.
The next morning two hoods from the council break the lock,
bawl through the drunken door, Clear out or we’ll
board you in. Bump-clang of an Audi brings bailiffs.
The fixer flies in, fists up to his chin.
Has words. We hunch on the kerb with our carrier bags.
Mile End Automatic Laundry
Natter chat, neat fold, wheel carts of nets, sheets, blankets, undies, pillow-slips,
feed the steel drum, twirl and swoosh, dose of froth, soaping out the Stepney dirt.
Say hello to the scruffs from the squats off Commercial Road, more of them now,
breaking the GLC doors off their hinges, and I don’t stick my nose
where it’s not wanted, though you can tell a lot by a person’s laundry,
can’t you? That girl with the hacked-off hair, no bras in her bag, and no
fancy knickers, though the boy brings in shirts, must go to work
somewhere smarter than the street where they live and that
pond-life pub on the corner. Speaking of which,
walking home the other night I heard music,
a group, with drums, guitars, the lot,
so I peeped in and there was
the girl, earnest as a nun, singing
You can get it if you really want
and I thought
just you wait
Poems copyright © Caroline Gilfillan
Photographs copyright © Andrew Scott
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This post first appeared on Spitalfields Life | In The Midst Of Life I Woke To, please read the originial post: here