Tate Local Writes 2012: Inua Ellams

Tate Local Writes community event at Tate Modern 2012

© Tommo Photography

Renowned poet Inua Ellams has spent met a variety of people working on the Tate Modern Project from the security co-ordinator manning the site entrance to one of the architects working on the new building. Inspired by these various conversations and time spent exploring the site he has written three poems that draw out and celebrate the characters that are helping to create the next exciting part of Tate Modern’s future.

He will perform these poems in a variety of locations including people’s homes as part of the Merge Festival 2012.

The rough with the smooth.

The last one to leave this Monday night, 
Lee enters the portable bathroom and 
tries not to think of impatient delivery men.

It’s after dusk and the site is hushed, 
computers hum silent in the calm 
and lightly bent over the sink, he twists

the tap till a clear stream plays out across 
his palms, cooling, constant and steady 
as if to say to the scattered smattering

of dried mud, clipboards, dust, hard sweat, 
security checks and streams of questions, 
this is Lee’s time now; that’s his breathing

lifting over fluorescent lights, through 
air vents to the building site: a complex 
cartography of concrete, climbing…

Right now, Lee wants to think of only 
this liquid spiraling down his palms, 
how the rough meets the smooth here.

Beyond the stilled wonder of this room, 
beyond scaffolding laced like metal fingers, 
beyond steel crane still swaying,

far beyond the clashing south London traffic, 
an architect redraws the complex maps 
bent over drawings, a head full of math.

The Employment Manager’s Laptop.

Over her shoulder, the photograph glowing
on the screen is of an airport’s new terminal 
and folks in transit; a brunette in pink swings

an umbrella over the polished marble floor. 
In the foreground, two others wheel luggage 
towards the check-in desks. Three attendants,

their lanyards laden, talk relaxed beneath 
the soaring arched ceiling as so much light fills 
the just-unwrapped brilliance of the building

and in the middle, one man stands behind 
his stacked bags, facing the departure lounge, 
perhaps he thinks of flight. And it’s all I need

to imagine past her shoulder, blur the screen, 
this contractor’s office stuffed with boxes, 
scuffed boots, hard hats, and see into the years

from now, how these drawings littered like 
white leaves have grown into the building, 
how the planned asphalt and gravel walk

touches the quilt-pattern brick of the new 
tower, twisting up as birds nose dive towards 
the silver birch on grass and so much light

hits the window slits cut in the walls and 
glass, catching the sun’s wide wink, glints 
from the future, its promise of what’s to come.

The Baby

When he finally arrives after all these 
months, eight weeks left, I like to think 
he’ll come with eyes full of questions, 
and want to know everything and

everything else. I’ll hold him to my chest 
and talk about school, bad days there, 
the couple troubles I have been, jobs 
I have lost and walking out at Hamley’s.

Then I will spread out across the table 
by wet wipes and nappies, a map of 
my workplace, the large tanks there 
and tell my son stories of what it is like.

How we dug tunnels for plastic tubes 
and that is called piping, how roofs 
padded with thick slabs of foam were 
layered with concrete and we call it

insulation, how folks who sit to draw 
on computers came to the grey area, 
told us it was wrong, we tore it all 
down and this is called construction.

My son will listen, wide-eyed, silent 
as the clay bricks I mention cluster 
like neurons around a thought, idea, 
a new mind growing.

All poems by Inua Ellams

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