A poem for the day – Banning Frankenstein

At the height of the Great Depression, with tens of thousands on the broo and the ODR strike on the horizon, Belfast’s city fathers took action – and banned the film ‘Frankenstein’ from picture houses in the town.

Banning Frankenstein

Belfast, 1932 

1.
The Wee Yard in the ice age. The slips are concrete
glaciers plunged in the Lough. You expect
 
the oily water to flash-freeze, or boil and rage,
but nothing happens. Cranes like laboratory
 
clamps or lightning-catchers bristle overhead
but the cloud is limp. Yes we have no bananas
 
no money no piano in the parlour but at least
there is no poverty under the blankets.
 
We make love to breed more idle hands,
of course we do. There is safety in numbers.
 
The indoor bathtub bathes a hoard of coal
while our children go barefoot and foul-mouthed
 
in the cinderbowls of last year’s bonfires.
They flock to hear the mad scientists of the gospel
 
preach the Good News: if God had ever loved us,
He would have made us wealthy men, elsewhere.
 
 
2.
Whose hand is this? When was it branded D
for deib? Why have I woken
in this town of smoke and open drains
 
whose citizens gather at churches and dead
manufactories enraged by something
I seem to have done in a previous life.
 
Die Erbsünde. I have inherited the inner
organs of beggars, traitors, insolent apprentices.
My right eye is the brown eye of a heretic,
 
my left an atheist green. When I break free
of the crowd and make for the estuary,
I sink waist-deep in mud under the weight
 
Of the head on my shoulders, the burden
of other people’s crimes. I drag my unhealed sutures
towards the slum liberties of Ballymacarrett
 
where the poor lever up pavers from the street
and pile them like dark apples, eggs
fresh from the furnace, and baked black.
 
3.
‘[He] shall not reveal any of his Master’s Secrets, nor conceal his loss or prejudice when known to him, but shall in due time discover and do his utmost to prevent the same. He shall not be guilty of drinking, nor accessory to any riots or tumults on the street, nor haunt idle or debauched company. He shall not walk in processions. He shall not commit fornication, nor contract Matrimony within the said term…but shall in all respects promote his master’s interests, and behave and acquit himself as becomes a faithful and diligent apprentice and shall during the whole Term aforesaid, provide all the Tools and Implements necessary for learning and practising his said Trade.’
– from the Harland and Wolff apprentice’s indenture 

4.
God’s is the last word on the Police Committee
but He casts His vote by proxy. We
 
settle our rumps on maroon velour and feast
our eyes on the hand of dusty light,
 
the horror on the wall. A few minutes only
makes up our minds: we must spare the citizens
 
this insult to the brain, and Christ this garbled
version of the Word, this anti-resurrection.
 
While the unemployed riot, disdaining the work
-house, raging at the means test, we narrow
 
our eyes our eyes our eyes rather than pluck
them out. Mene mene tekhel upharsin.
 
We padlock the picture house, but not before
we see the monster die, the screen darken,
 
and take this secret back to our villas
in Belmont and Strandtown, Malone, Stranmillis.
 
Life is a matter of electricity and original sin.
Is body-parts. Ye must be born again.