Night on the outskirts.
Slowly the light’s net is lifted
Out of the yard, and our kitchen
Fills with darkness
Like the hollows deep in a pool.
The scrubbing brush creeps to life,
Above it, a patch of wall
Hesitates, hangs, not sure
Whether to stay or fall.
A night that wears oily rags
Heaves a sigh,
Halts in the sky;
Then settles on the outskirts,
Waddles over the square
And lights a bit of moon to see by.
Like ruins the factories loom.
But inside them a denser gloom
Even now is being produced. It sets,
A foundation for silence.
Through the windows of textile mills
Fly moonbeams in sheaves –
Moon thread till morning weaves
On motionless looms a fabric
Of girl workers’ dreams.
Farther on, like a cloistered graveyard,
The foundry, bolt makers, cement works
Echoing family crypts.
Too well these workshops keep
The secret of resurrection.
A cat’s claws on the fence;
And the simple night-watchman sees
A ghost, a flashing signal.
The beetle-backed dynamos.
A train whistle blows.
Dampness seeps into
The shadows, the boughs
Of a fallen tree.
The dust on the road grows heavy.
In the street a policeman,
A muttering workman, pass.
Now and then a comrade
Flits past with leaflets –
Keen as a dog on the track ahead,
Listening, cat-like, for noises behind him;
avoiding the lamps.
The tavern door belches out
A tainted light, its windows
Vomit, leaving puddles.
Inside, a half-stifled lamp
A solitary labourer keeps awake.
While the inn-keeper snores and wheezes,
He bares his teeth at the wall,
His grief climbs the stairs. He weeps,
Cries out for the revolution.
Cold metal, the water clinks.
A stray mongrel, the wind
Wanders. Its great tongue hangs
To touch the water, and laps it.
Straw mattresses are the rafts
That drift on night’s currents.
The warehouse’s hulk is aground.
In the foundry’s iron dinghy
The smelter dreams red babies
Into the metal moulds.
All is damp, and heavy.
Mildew draws a map
Of misery’s regions.
And there, on the dry meadows,
Rags and paper litter
The ragged, papery grass.
How they would whirl and fly!
They stir, but inertia holds them.
Night, your sluggish breeze
Is a flapping of soiled sheets.
Like frayed muslin to cord
You cling to the old sky,
As wretchedness clings to life.
Night of the poor, be my coal,
Smoulder here on my heart,
Melt the iron in me, to make
An anvil that never will split,
A hammer that clangs and glints,
A smooth blade for victory, night!
Grave this night is, and heavy.
I too shall sleep now, my brothers.
May our souls not be smothered by want.
Nor our bodies be bitten by vermin.