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Cost of Life    
by Andrew Motion - Poet Laureate       

"there was a poem there to be written"

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Cost of Life
The Poet Laureate remembers the victims of the Paddington tragedy

Poet Laureate
Andrew Motion, Poet Laureate

Andrew Motion, the Poet Laurate composed a poem that remembers those that died in the Paddington rail tragedy. Saying that he had been touched by the tragedy he said "I felt the poem was something I could do as Poet Laureate but also there was a poem there to be written and it was something that I wanted to do."
The poem which deals with the moments leading up to the impact between the GWT IC 125 and the Thames Trains commuter train and the aftermath. It was first published in the Independent

Cost of Life
Andrew Motion

Imagine that autumn dawn coming to grips
with a country station: the way light slips
along the silver stitch-mark of the rails, first,
then strikes the waiting-room and lets its colours burst.
Imagine next the people waiting for their train -
cold feet scuffing the Tarmac's faint frost-grain,
that man there with a Kleenex-snippet stuck
on his shaving cut, this woman here with a fleck
of lipstick on a front tooth, and no one talking
yet, but nodding, or half-smiling, or slow-walking
to stare off the platform's end into open country:
cattle still in their yards, fields lush and empty.
Then imagine the train lashing its hard bend,
the track tingling, doors clunking, someone lend-
ing a hand to someone, taking care with the gap;
remember the palaver, the brisk insistence, the drop
into a seat - mine! - then the cast-away gaze
out through a cloudy window at the dripping maze
of hedges ruffling in the slip-stream, the wet cars
burrowing in lanes, the now-here/now-gone regular whack of a farm, or an allotment-quilt. Imagine
the sun full-on at last, and clouds melting from
the Cotswolds into the Thames Valley, villages
unravelling into towns, more stops, the carriages
jam-packed now, and papers crackling, the bass line
of a Walkman, a laptop, a mobile phone,
and the brick terraces crushing closer, their black walls
swirling graffiti, damp-dribbles, quick shadow-spills
from fly-overs and scaffolding, then opening ahead
towards the city, its slate-acres hammered out like lead.

Then imagine what happens after - but not for long.
Imagine a single nipped-off second hung
between one moment and the next - a time-dot
in which train, carriages, everything is flung out-
side the world's hard limits of mass and space
and rises up weightless, torn from its proper place.
Then imagine all this weltering down
through gravity onto the earth again;
sleek carriages now sealed chambers where
windows hold tight, ghost-people clamber
so wild and desperate their whole expression is O,
where furious quick dust-storms smear a dry dew-
fall on what survives of tables, chairs, head-rests,
where daily lives doing no more than their best
to stay daily, and continue by daily laws,
are shredded or simply threshed open by fear
which solves nothing, where the unearthly stink
rises of what no one will want to name or think about later, where even a puffed-up speckled cloud
cannot hide or drown the continuing flame-slides
and metal shrieks, the heartbroken animal cries,
the pop of strong wood giving way, the thin fly-
away whip of cables snapping, the reedy phone
still weeping in the ash-mess hiding human bone.

In the end
imagine how large a silence will descend
as the track is cleared - silence like familiar clay
turned into a mist which stays
Invisible but works its way
back up the rails along the valley floor, and so
enters the towns where one strand or another goes
off by itself to fill the vacant space
which recently was someone's lived-in place.
And yet the mist appears
to grow the more it travels - swelling where the rails
slice back across a lattice-work of lanes
until it finds the Cotswolds and thins out again -
this whisp here escaping underneath a bolted door, that one slipping
through a bed-
room window left ajar, and there, that third
one, slumping at a kitchen table where
a man sits down alone, and stares
like everyone alone will stare
and see no more than featureless
and wasted air.

The Paddington Tragedy - Resources

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This file last updated: Tuesday, 12-Oct-1999 18:37:55 EDT
Copyright © David Fry 1999