Image by Moira Conway

Death in the Suburbs

Adrian Henri


Death in the Suburbs

Adrian Henri


Poem introduction

A couple of years ago I found myself unavoidably detained for a whole morning and part of an afternoon in a place called Orpington. If you don't know Orpington if you think of somewhere like Crosby, or Oxten or Wallasey and multiply it by ten you get somewhere near Orpington. I had to spend a whole morning there - it was early spring, it was very beautiful - the gardens were flowering and I suddenly had this kind of little nagging thought that I couldn't quite...and I wrote lots of things in my little notebook and went away and then a few months later I realised what the thought was which was if the world was ever going to end it would start ending in Orpington. So this begins with a little bit of my version of Mother Shipton's Prophecy. This is called 'Death in the Suburbs'.

Death in the Suburbs

Death in the Suburbs

The end of the world will surely come
in Bromley South or Orpington

morning in the suburbs:
sunlight thrown like a blanket
over pink-and-white vistas
villas detached and undetached
islanded with flowering cherry,
stone ravens guard the gateposts
the roof left unguarded,
each man's garden a province unto itself
linked only by birdsong
and the tasteful cooing of doves in hedges
magnolia-petals on deep lawns
little clouds of white and purple round rockeries
frozen veils of appleblossom round every doorway.

the earth
moves
sudden
tiny snowstorms of cherryblossom
a black cat runs apprehensive
flocks of starlings
startle from bushes
slow-growing crescendo
of crashing picture-windows
gardens
uprooted
blown pinkandwhite skyhigh
frozen agonies of begonias
held for a moment like a blurred polaroid
lawns flung like carpets
golfclubs potting-sheds wheeled shopping-baskets
hurled into orbit

deepfreezes burst open
prepackaged meals spilling everywhere
invitations to whist-drives coffee-mornings
letters to long-haired sons at campus universities
never to be delivered
pinboards posters of Che Guevara stereo systems
continental quilts rows of neat lettuces
blameless chihuahuas au pair girls
still wet from dreams of Italian waiters
mothers-in-law bullfight tropies sensible wooden toys
whirled helpless in a vortex
rockeries like asteroids
blizzards of appleblossom
against the April sunlight

villa after villa
flickers off like television
birdsounds
blur into the silence
like a vacuum
heaps of white entrails
nestling amid lilies-of-the-valley
ripple like tarmac
gravel chatters the crazy dance of pavingstones
whole avenues implode
gantries and railway bridges
quiet sidings
engulfed by avalanches of privet and hawthorn
waves of chalk earth flecked with hemlock - and nettle-roots
burying commuter-stations.

far away,
the first distant ripples
flutter dovecots
disturb the pigeons
roosting in oasthouses
weekend cottages
doff their thatch to the sky
mountaintops tumble like cumuli
gales of earth
ravage through ryefields
pylons tremble like seismographs
cries of children
circling like seagulls
echo the distance

a
solitary
picnicker
sitting on a breakwater
above the red, flint-strewn beach
hears the distant thunder
as clifftops crumble
looks up from the light scumbling the silver water
to see the horizon catch fire
showers of small stones
smell of uprooted samphire
the last slice of ham a packet of biscuits the small black notebook
slip away unseen
as the concrete rears vertical
his ears' last echo
the cries of lost sea-birds
one drifting pink petal
catches the dying sunlight


from Collected Poems: 1967-1985 (Alison & Busby, 1986), copyright © Adrian Henri, by permission of Rogers, Coleridge & White Ltd, 20 Powis Mews, London. Recorded in Liverpool, 5 October 1982, used by permission of the British Library Sound Archive.

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