Where the decay begins, the sun
Through barred windows
Falls to its knees. We turn
The key two floors below
And walk towards the smell:
It is not the smell of death
Or of violence or even of Hell;
It is the odour of having no hope,
Of lying late, of being itself alone.
Trapped on the landing, a sea
Of cabbage air is pushed
To furrows with the turning key.
The tower collapses, rushed
Past the falling flower and its sound;
We retch involuntarily,
For our stomachs have found
The common taste of filth,
We are the thinking flesh left on its own.
One family lives in the one room
Whose door is never open,
But the wireless and children quietly boom
Alive behind its walls; when
Armageddon on the stairs
Muffles the company and steals
A winding whisper through its ears,
Then can all the eaten meals
And dirty clothes come into their own.
On the street it is flag day—a flag
For a coin is conscious charity,
But here where charity begins,
A Home is home enough to be
Our street of Victorian fronts,
Our refuge from the acid rain,
So we may hurry from the yellow fog
To the dead life on our stairs once
More ourselves in ourselves alone.
© Peter Porter