not long ago my love and I took a walk south of the river on a sunny windy autumn day. We found ourselves in the crawling streets at your feet, in your shadow. Walking down to Borough High Street, there is no escaping you. You drew our gaze upwards. It is clear why people speak jokingly of the Dark Lord Sauron's blazing eye - squint, and I could almost see it suspended between the jagged spikes at your top. It does not take much imagination. But there is something else, something more subliminal, a suspicion felt in the gut. As we kept walking south, leaving the fine coffees and artisan breads of the new Borough Market to one side, we stopped and turned back towards you. And there one could hear it faintly, voices circling on the wind, a phrase that tried to surface in my consciousness since we came up from the underground station. You stood there, more than just tall. It is not that you are not beautiful. The autumn sun reflected from your glassy skin, highlighting the elegant angles of your symmetry. It is not you. Like Frankenstein's monster, you did not make yourself, but were formed by the imagination of your masters. But unlike that tragic creature, yours is a terrible beauty, that does not wear the grotesque parts of your masters' souls on its very flesh - it hides them under a shiny, glittering facade. And still the words were circling, flying up suddenly with the fallen leaves from the ground, and the voices on the air finally spoke: You are lording it over us.
Shard, I realised then that this is what you do. You are lording it over us. Your name an image, so blatant, so trivial that I'm reluctant to say it, but cannot not: the broken parts of the world reflected in your violent gesture that cuts the river air like a shard of glass.
Yours is a booming voice, that broadcasts to us a message of our hubris as much as of our insignificance. Or more to the point, of our significance only as small cogs in the machine of our grand undertaking. Yours is a terrible beauty, clinical, aloof, with no relationship to the living things around. I wanted to say that you are dead, but you don't radiate at all the messy, earthen, organic truth of actual death. What shines from you is the cold horror of non-aliveness, the majestic indifference that does not truly care about anything that lives.
Eventually, our eyes found their way to the ground again, we turned our backs, and we kept walking further south....
we turned left beneath a railway bridge, no bustle here, no fine coffees or artisan breads, only a derelict yard, barbed wire, and then you. Your iron gate laden with ribbons, with photos, notes, toy animals, plastic jewellery, flowers, trinkets of any kind, a bicycle wheel, a vodka bottle, poetry, sadness, humour, laden with life and death.
Behind the gate, trees, bushes, small spaces, small gestures of the heart. Standing here, we could hear the grief of mothers and fathers, the raucous laughter of the drunks, the pain and the jokes of the prostitutes, the regret for bad decisions, the adventures and disappointments of the tearaways, the dreams, the dread, the violence, the shared lonlinesses, the loss, the missing, the fighters, the will to live. Some things old and wild, many things unspoken, many things unspeakable.
You told us stories while we hung out with you and yours. We smiled and laughed, tears welled up in our eyes. We said "Look at this!" and "Come over here!" and "Have you seen this bit?!". We touched the ribbons, we felt the presence of the dead and of the living who insist on not forgetting them. Who consecrate over and over this unconsecrated ground to honour those whose trajectory was different, whose lives did not fit into the patterns marked on the hard ground, who may have had nobody weeping over them.
Crossbones Graveyard, yours is a small and messy beauty that draws our eyes to the ground, to the inside, to each other. You speak with many voices, some barely audible, some loud and angry, some an anguished scream. You have room for the painted and broken faces, the trampled dreams, the rebel spirit, the out of control, the desperate, the quiet, the beating, kicking, breathing life. Once a rotten slum, you are prime land now. One can almost feel the tentacles of the shiny buildings further north groping for you, their relentless desire hovering over you. You barely cling on to your patch, helped by some of the living who care and all the dead whose resting place you are, and those many others for whom they speak. Your right to be here is absolute.
Crossbones Graveyard, next week when we walk in the street to honour the dead with dance and song and masquerade,
it is your outcast dead I will remember,
your inalienable right to speak for them,
the things they tell us about the outcast living in this time,
and about the outcast parts of ourselves that we are asked to deaden to the world.
With love and appreciation.
Please go and visit Crossbones Graveyard in Southwark. http://www.crossbones.org.uk/