Saturday, 10 December 2011

Three queues

Another slightly dated poem, this; the date this time being 1999.

The queues reported in sections (i) and (ii) of the poem were both on 17 November 1998, though on looking again at a contemporary account I see that I may have erred in linking the second queue to the Lolworth fire. The fire broke out at around 11:00, and the report updated 19:00 mentions tailbacks as far as the M11. The tailbacks would have needed to be twice as long, or more, to stretch into Cambridge itself. But the Cambridge gridlock was -- I have just checked my 1998 diary -- definitely on the evening of that same day.

Wikipedia has a page devoted to the "camera somewhere in the Department", which was a famous web landmark in its day.

The poem was published in Perimeter 7, 1999, p. 16, and again in Streetwise 68, Christmas/New Year 2007-2008, p. 19.



The first queue was for new computer passwords,
two, perhaps three, a minute. The queue stretched
from the counter, through the double doors,
past the lift, down three sides of stairwell, out
into the freezing afternoon. In front
of me a girl read a film history –
Birth of a Nation and Intolerance.
A camera somewhere in the Department
networked news worldwide of how coffee stood.

An outsider had hacked the system, for fun,
or to find traces of their own existence,
or out of naked spite, doing less harm
than spite dressed up, but gratified with that.


And the second queue,
evening of that frozen day,
gridlocked the city
road on road. Bikes could not slip
safely round it for the ice.

It was the result
of a crash ten miles away.
A lorry careered
into a petrol station.
Less bad than it might have been:

someone as she fled
remembered to flick a switch,
isolate the tanks.
There was one death, a man locked
in the toilet at the time.


The Anne Frank House in Amsterdam is full.
The stairs lead through the bookcase to the back.
The queue stands long, eerie, improbable.
Hate caused the prison, turned the loving black.

The queue pays its respects, fifty years on,
mixes incomprehension, fear and shame,
where one dead represents six million.
Europe’s other edge smoulders into flame.

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