POLITE SAFETY NOTICE

Somewhere near you, a man in late middle age will be sitting on a bench
with his head on fire like a safety match.
On buses and trains, other men will smolder suddenly roaring into flame
from the neck up. I’d be surprised if you haven’t seen them.
They would cry out but with no mouths, teeth grind away inside their faces.
Do not approach them. Like eucalyptus in forest fires, they burn
too fiercely to be extinguished, black oil pumping from a fossil heart,
their limbs so wickery and feet already stone.
It’s too late to intervene. You must step away. Let Nature take its course.

Somewhere near you, a much younger man will be gripping a school desk,
as his life rockets into the void.
His brains will spill over the mocking examination paper then slop down
into the Victorian sewer system of which we are still so proud.
All he has ever learned is what’s expected of him. Show no comfort.
No doors out. No path back. No window except his peeping phone.
What once quivered now pushes up his gullet like a great white swan of pain.
It’s too late to intervene. You must step away. Let Nature take its course.

Somewhere near you, the men in between will be wearing rubber flippers
running a marathon over razor blades carrying babies.
They’ll do anything for attention.
Others barricade themselves inside and watch furiously through sand bags
or cling to flagpoles or bury themselves alive in golden man pits.
Value your sympathy. Don’t waste it. This was all hard-wired from the start.
Never is power more toxic than when it is almost spent.
Come back in 100 years. None of this can be saved.
It’s too late to intervene. You must step away. Let Nature take its course.

Third place in the UK National Poetry Competition 2018

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