Gardiner's Corner is faded, as is ye olde department store. The junction
is there, the name is gone. There's nothing to say what happened, to
commemorate the arena where British Fascism was blockaded by a people's
army of red Irish, red Jewish, red English, underdogs who – according
to one academic – “shared exclusion from unconditional whiteness”.
There's a rich traffic of black cabs and cars, red buses and tubes, neon cyclists
and pedestrians. Tram barricades are faded.
News is revised, acronyms are reshuffled. Evening Standard
banner headlines say UKIP not BUF.
In newsreels, the Union Jacks fade to grey.
Isaac Rosenberg is invigilating, smoking in Angel Alley, ghosting the beat.
There was talk of foreclosures but Rosenberg said no. He paints the air,
he writes on wind, like a plane-tree he inhales venoms.
The last I saw of Mosley and his blackshirts was a flight of cormorants
mustering on the Thames, black in suit and claw, surveilling the surface
for any opportunity, waving their wings to one another in salute, preening
Racism, the mood-music of world-poetry.
“Then why do they sneer at me?”
Cable Street is shipless, marooned on dry cement. The cables of today
are those of the DLR, blazing high en route, humming, sparking.
The street is elongated. A handful of 'listed' slum-dwellings persist.
The Jews are gone, north by north-west.
The mural itself is a battleground between left and right, the most moving
public artwork in London. If only the women depicted in it could empty
the contents of real chamberpots, real piss and shit, onto the heads of
It's evening. The empty street is a stadium with a capacity of 100,000.
Dock Street, the Irish navigators are well out of it, west by north-west. The
docks, the ships have sunk from view. A red plaque beacons.
Academics write of “ethnic fade”.
Some say the Irish with their unwritten Tara and the Jews with their written
Torah are one and the same race, that Hibernians are the lost Hebrews.
The diasporas move on like bands of rain. They fled from pogroms and the
not-so-Great Starvation to these few inches of the A to Z.
Memoirs of a fishman: “I was moved to tears to see
bearded Orthodox Jews
and Irish Catholic dockers
standing up to stop Mosley.
I shall never forget that
as long as I live.”
Memoirs of another fishman: “So we stood there,
packed like sardines...”
Your house in 65 New Road – HQ for the anti-fascists – has only one notice:
The Party is over, slowly blown away when the meteorology shifted to
Things 'fade' (in the way Kim Philby used the word 'fade', espionage parlance
for defect.) Is the east turning? Your network of spotters no longer has eyes.
I can't see you. Like Rosenberg, you have joined the invisible guard.
Phil Piratin was the ‘red commander’ of the Battle of Cable Street and a Communist M.P. His street informers were called ‘spotters’. For more information on the background of this poem, read McDevitt's article here.
Niall McDevitt is the author of two collections of poetry, b/w (Waterloo Press, 2010) and Porterloo (International Times, 2013). He is an urban explorer who specialises in the revolutionary poets of London, particularly Shakespeare/Blake/Rimbaud/Yeats. He blogs at poetopography.wordpress.com