An Elegy to Sheffield for 2016
This is a poem I wrote around 20 years ago – having visited Meadowhall today and experienced again the emptiness of what is, to all intents and purposes, a temple to consumerism I was reminded of this piece. It came from a walk with a wonderful man named Inderjit Bhogul around the Don Valley. He walked us from the Flower Estate, an area at that time with real deprivation, to Meadowhall and then on down the Don. It was such a shock to see how many are excluded from this palace of capitalism, in fact without rampant consumerism the whole edifice would fall, even though it creates constant bubbles that rather like champagne leave you with nothing but a hangover. Unfortunately a hangover that hits those who cannot drink it the hardest. The sculpture is still on the river Don if you want to see it, and having seen it 20 years ago – straight after the glitter of the shops I couldn’t shake off the saying of Jesus about a camel and a needle. Happy New Year to anyone who reads this and here’s hoping we can find a fairer way to run our world in 2016.
The Needle on the Don
The needle’s eye blinks through the rain.
Falling now, falling yesterday, long before
its needling made a pointly finger
in the parting beeches standing round.
Once the cloud’s scalded tears swelled
the Don, stung by the great blasting
furnaces of Atlas, the steel world on
his shoulders. The smelters are melted
now, gone the way of all iron to the
scrapping merchants in their rusted lands.
The Don streams on, the only sign of
a steelworked past, the fig trees sprouting
from excreted seeds. Germinated in Vulcan’s
steaming urine that gushed in heated torrents
to foul and warm the sweet waters of Rivelin
and Sheaf. The fig bears no fruit now,
and its leaves cannot cover our trespasses.
But we are still Danu’s children, not the Cossacks
she mothered in Russia, where the Don
quietly flows. Not Danube’s azured offspring as
her balm heals the lands of once war-torn Europe.
We are the grime-stained survivors from
a blasted city, our industrial Gods culled
as the deicidal iron lady rode north.
But Danu is older than false Boudicca
and has rusted her callous chariot.
Now we must go to the birthing Pennines
whose springs are a cradle of kindering.
To be born of her crucibling womb, cast in
her image, flowing stoically to the disused
anthracite plains, carrying our lost to the sea.
Her mothering is not craven like London’s
towering ravens, whose panaceas are call centres.
Reaping revenue from retail replicas and
streets that look the same from Pittsburgh to
Pitsmoor. The needle blinks on through the rain.
The blinking eye sees all.
Litter and rough sleepers, cider bottles,
cheek by jowl to pavestone pilgrims
bound for the meadow’s hall.
A cathedral in green cupolas,
man hand made it, we consume it.
What the needle’s gaze sees is that
we have unsighted ourselves, we are blind;
great Vulcan and Atlas are eyeless in Brightside.
No seeing child will lead them temple wise
to put their Samson backs against
the false pillars of mammon and push.
Instead Danu’s children pour into the basilic maw
to the glittering plenitude of the horns of making.
The worship of these goods mars and scars them,
each homecoming a fruitless consummation.
The speakers blare muzak and messages
declaring us all rich now – rich in credit,
rich in debt, rich in things but not in living.
Downriver, the brambling of ruined houses,
electricity off, disconnected and sealed shut.
Where flowers grew in wide estates
riders have no joy, burnt out in scorched abandon.
The needle’s eye blinks on the rain-washed
wilderness, a silent invitation to another path.
Make the smooth places rough, the high places low;
callous up the fleshy hand with the labour
of another birth. The work of handholding
through the dark, of candle making with local
tallow, of carving with peaks of stone a new
city for Danu’s children. A place of creating
and not consuming, of the commerce of our characters,
not our goods. Of a life assayed and hallmarked
made in Sheffield, a dream of steel and stature.
The river’s arms are full of divining
compassion that nurtures our dignity
and fashions a freeing cast to our steel.
The shoppers return on bus and tram;
when the shopping is done, what then?
A city of steel but no alloy,
can we heat the crucible again?
The needle’s eye blinks on the Don,
But who will pass through it?
Written after seeing the sculpture The Eye of the Needle by David Nash on the bank of the River Don near Meadowhall in Sheffield. The Don derives its name from Dôn (or Danu), a Celtic mother goddess.
From The Call of the Unwritten – available at My Website