London is the Capital of Great Britain
To get inside you have to climb the ladder.
The rungs, a greasy pole; your hands are sore.
A back window will suffice if there’s no other,
a loophole makes a door a portiere.
For now, from wall to wall you take your steps:
a case of no belongings, stashed under the bed
and ready to begin the whole rabid
rat race at a hat’s drop, when the music stops.
The music always stops and never does.
Jostling, the rats through chute and dingy tunnel
make the round journey through their weekdays.
And capital, the great god who stands as sentinel,
watches the city sleeping, houses haunted by
their untenanted emptiness, the ghosts of tomorrow.
You pray to him, ask that he might see you through
to next month, next room, wherever that might be.
Note: A little poem about the property situation in London, and how it’s so difficult for many people – particularly younger people at the bottom of the property ladder – to buy their own place. They get caught up in the endless cycle of renting, not knowing when they will have to move out and find somewhere else. The well-known phrase ‘rat race’ is suggested by the poem’s title, which is meant to be a renter’s justification for living in such an expensive city (though obviously ‘capital’ is doing a lot of work here); this in turn suggests the idea of rats running along the tunnels of the London Underground, much like the commuters taking part in the financial ‘rat race’. The shuttling between alternate rhymes and enclosed rhymes in the quatrains was meant to convey the sense of constant uncertainty, as well as the idea of being trapped in a life of renting. How successful this part is, I’m not sure.
This poem © Oliver Tearle 2021