The Human Elephant (in the inhuman room) by Niall McDevitt

‘I was in his soul as if inside a palace that had been deliberately emptied so that no one as ignoble as myself could be seen in it’ – Rimbaud

for the socially cleansed

(Note: this 'concrete poem' was inspired by the Heygate Estate in Elephant and
Castle and was first performed in situ at an event organised by Urban Forest)

it is come, the time of our decanting. goodbye to the interconnecting,
anti-gravity walkways with their strips of frosted glass, hello to regular
paths and irregular paving-stones. goodbye to our streets in the air, hello
to pound shops and charismatic chapels. we had mystical mansions, we
had 1000 keys, so they jealously took it away, who cannot understand
our tribal croaks, our medicine men, our ghetto aromas, our pirate
smiles. six castles of communism loomed worryingly large for them. six
ships we sailed into bureaucratic, pea-soup seas. six rectangles of Hel

only Glasspool is left, his one white car, an unnamable on the 10th floor,
and the decanted old woman who comes back to walk her decanted dog.
our houses, our shops were illumined by the original planners who had
based everything on light, on sunlight, and we could buy anything,
the spices of earth, from neighbours who lived in the same lighting,
whose living-rooms were also chemists, launderettes, hairdressers,
shebeens. ‘environmental determinism’ says Glasspool. verily, the
overclass envies the underclass, covets what the other doesn’t have

when the communal heating system stopped, we resorted to small
convector heaters. they trash any commune, any communing. the big
dystopia kills off little utopias. when the communal heating system
stopped, we felt the Cold War creeping back under our psychedelic snake
draught-excluders. did you know the anti-pyramidal city had been built
by gypsies, riding on Indian elephants? Ganesh was our foreman, trunk
stuffed with bhang-lassi. the river Saddhus were out-of-it, Kali
was disarmed. no slum dogs, no millionaires could touch us then

nor were we decanted politely. no pinkies were extended to us. the war
on brutalism was brutalist. savagely they gentrify (never once suspecting
how nice we are). the streets in the air are an empty estate, a flotation
jerusalem. our fathers and mothers were buried here in a 60s tab of
orange sunshine and a free love climax, even as the big-fellow chief
dubbed us ‘the forgotten’. we fondly remember the vomit running up our
oesophagi, his tigrish chrism. but as his hug was the beginning of the
end for Gaddaffi, his eulogy was a kick in the balls of Cockaigne

here the human elephant (inhuman castle) in a graffiti-rich greyness, a
welcoming Hel, empty rooms in the endangered species, showroom trials,
rigged judges, juries, developers, developers, the development’s in the
detail (so the thesis goes). national salvation, sociopolitical failure, the
40-year day, an affordable toilet, a criminal idyll, more robinhood than
neighbourhood (so the thesis went). the elephant – child of the mammoth –
is invisible to those who only see tusks, see ivory, and aim their sights.
‘darling, how can you miss?’ a giant graffito: SAVE OUR ESTATE

we’ve been decanted and pepperpotted – in spite of because of our iconic
status – from our gridded elevations, from our streets in the air, having
refused to hand in identities, or give DNA samples. oh the flushed ova!
‘shooting an elephant’ wrote Orwell, a guilty authority. we have been
dispersed, all he go one one, we shan’t see ourselves for miles, for years.
we’ll live. they are only killing our living-rooms, amazing as they were. let
the ill-affordable houses come, clad in trespa, and let those who can ill
afford them piss into ladyporterloos. let the regrouping be unforeseen

Poetry: Niall McDevitt
Photography: Max Reeves

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