Grenfell: a poem

I live not far from Grenfell Tower in North Kensington, and it has been so heartening to see the incredible support from so many in our community for the survivors over the last few days. Amidst such a tragic and preventable event, a great sense of care, concern and neighbourliness has shown through.

Late last night, I was reflecting on everything that had happened when a few words came to my mind. After a couple of hours, I ended up writing a poem about the tragedy, putting my thoughts on paper.

Here it is:


In a North Kensington tower block the hour was late
As a tinder box of humanity awaited its fate.
Some were asleep
Others less keen to join the slumber,
Still up wondering if it was time to pray;
Exams to worry about the next day.
Friends chatting long after the party had ceased
Or sitting up late for the Ramadan feast.
A late night snack, a flickering of the light
The long standing rhythms of a working night.
The thing started somewhere,
I don’t know where;
A spark, an explosion, a crackling that spread.
It started small; it always does
But it spread, and spread;
It should not have.
The first hints of smoke, “What is that smell?”
Someone rushing into the corridors, a slamming door.
What do we do? Stay put, they always say so well!
Yet the fire and its smoke grew thicker and stronger
Spread their wings and tore through the tower.
They had much to help them on their way:
The cladding like a combustible suit of armour to beware;
The sprinklers that just were not there.
I do not hope to imagine
The desperate cries for a friend to help
The tweet or the message too hard to send
The sense of the world closing in, of impending doom
Or an agonised scream in a smoke filled room.
Nor the soot, the ash, the blackened walls
The sound of neighbours pounding on doors.
“Get out, get out!” they called in voices hoarse.
A crowd grew on the stairwell as it tried to flee;
Mothers with their sleepy children
Fear in their hearts lest one should fall.
The brother and the sister, hand in hand
Ran with the gentleman already choking
Past the man who from the Syrian war had to flee
Now once again a refugee.
A phone call had been made
Minutes later, sirens blared.
The men in blue unrolled their pipes
At the scene from hell on a summer’s night:
The anguish, the missing, the fear, the dread
The sound of the helicopters overhead.
The babe who found safety in a stranger’s arms
And those wondering just where were those alarms.
Then came the crashing down of doors
The clamour of footsteps and urgent calls.
Though they saw much to turn their thoughts sour
Back inside went the heroes of Grenfell Tower.
The survivors they brought out from each flaming cell
But what they felt is not for my words to tell.
Dawn began to break, the sun rose bright and proud
On a charred building, a homeless crowd
Firefighters wiping away the sweat
Yet still as keen to take on the threat.
Though there was much that those angry flames did take:
Lives and homes shattered in burns and despair
The spirit of the people it could not shake
And the sound of community filled the North Kensington air.
There was no want of a place to stay
A bite to eat or a phone call to a friend.
Just when it seemed like hope had run away
A hundred helping hands came to ease the day.
The clink and crackle of cans and bottles
Cuddly toys and food-filled parcels.
Soon there were aisles with no more room to fill
In all the churches of Notting Hill.
Then came anger, the righteous clamour
The urgent demand for people power.
Who had been so utterly pig-headed
To let so many a warning go unheeded?
Why was there so much to cry over;
Why was a selfie now a missing persons poster?
At the wall of condolence, the messages grew
While the flowers gathered, row by row.
A group of young friends take in the sight;
A hug, a tear, a quiet prayer
But glad that they still stand together.
For we are the people of North Kensington
Communities undivided.
Lives lost, we remember
Those shattered, we rebuild
Explanations, we demand.