The shipyard painter, political activist and razor-sharp cartoonist Bob Starrett has just written a new book The Way I See It on his eventful life and times. Below we reprint one of his stories and review an essential read
Ludwig Guttmann gathered them from the War.
You can gather yourself, go on holiday, watch
from abroad. Gradually learn the best formations,
where to be stationed for the games’ beginnings.
Explore L’Eixample, enter La Sagrada Familia.
Suddenly see this other sentimentality. Remember
being younger, practicing divided loyalty:
Team GB / Spain, Team GB / Spain. The former
didn’t qualify, fine, you supported the latter. You
won’t know where to station yourself here either.
Wheels will involuntarily shriek as they negotiate
all of the temple’s trembling surfaces. The holy
tree’s arches rise to the first rung, and as Gaudi
planned, bend into pairs. Go with them into the air.
Don’t write down the details. Enter the basilica.
Absorb its never-completely-straight preciseness.
A modern St. George looms from the far-end wall,
patron saint of both England and Cataluña. Forget
the conventional order, go there first. Find a place
under his tipping Easter-island face. This lesson
is so much smaller than could carry a building,
sorry. There’s no other way to say it: you will be
allowed in free, you and a carer. The government
investing nothing into the building is the same
sending Spanish athletes out to grace the games.
Get patriotic, even for a second. The sunlight
glorifying these windows’ blue mosaics, cutting
rounded shapes out of these cave walls, is yours.
Tensions binding the games will make you feel
you’re being taken to the Sacred Family seats.
Your political paranoia means that all men
will sound like David Cameron till you’ve seen
their face. If a young boy looks at a pirate,
sees an athlete, that’s his wisdom. You yourself
looked at a Saint, saw a tribal statue. Light
a candle for all Atos victims. Some of them children.
Read about Coldplay illuminating the closing ceremony.
Random cavalry choirs will sing: para, para, para… Lift
these hymns. Some will try to cripple you further for it.
Forget them: finally, wheelchairs spin in the cultural sky.
With your inner kid whisper: He only has one leg,
he must be an athlete, finding the eye dead-centre.
The sponsor controls the competition
but you control your own game.
“Game”, “match” and “kick-about”
are all perfectly valid words for what
you do. “Job” doesn’t come into it.
If at first you don’t succeed, adapt
your sport slightly.
If they want to send your chair
flying several feet in the air, take the tackle;
they can’t disable you twice.
Never lose your determination. They don’t
make prosthetic determinations.
You won’t always get even; relax,
tell yourself you are already equal.
Propel yourself forward and campaign.
The fight for equality isn’t a sport only
because they couldn’t cut enough medals,
raise enough impromptu altars to your victories.
Let yourself off sometimes. Maybe this is
the water-pressure of our freezing country
filling you like a balloon, and everything will
burst soon, let you sleep. Maybe Coldplay didn’t
screw the closing ceremony like a realistic-doll,
and it wasn’t as wince-inducing as you wrote.
Atos’ bulldozes closer towards you, true,
but your situation may improve such that
you can afford to play statistic again. Say
the red-button function’s about to change.
When the Paralympics end, you may
do more than mourn the wheelchair
basketball scoreboard. Clearly, it would be
raining this morning, wouldn’t it? “Global
warming”, “climate change”, both terms
for what you are experiencing: symptoms
of the day after, the new autumnal paradigm.
Cold weather pains come in two instalments.
Apart from in your hands, hold your head
at funny angles from your television,
to keep any cerebral shunt black-outs at bay.
Console yourself, saying that if you’d heard
the medal-giving ceremony theme
one more time, you might be dead. Be glad.
Mark Burnhope was born in 1982 with Spina bifida and Hydrocephalus, and often writes from a disabled perspective. His work has appeared in Magma, Horizon Review, Wordgathering, Ink Sweat and Tears, Nth Position and Stride, as well as featuring in anthologies The Robin Hood Book, Lung Jazz, Bird Book II and The Best British Poetry 2011. His pamphlet collection, The Snowboy, was published by Salt.
Well Versed is edited by Jody Porter
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