Poem introduction

In 2004 I stayed in a hotel in Copenhagen for a weekend, and the emergency sign on the wall - in almost-perfect English - went, "The fire alarm sound - colon - is given as a howling sound. Do not use the lifts." and I wrote this down thinking it was faintly amusing, and that I might do something with it. And then I wrote a poem which took a different direction entirely.

Hotel Emergencies

Hotel Emergencies

The fire alarm sound: is given as a howling sound. Do not use the lifts. The optimism sound: is given as the sound of a man brushing his teeth. Do not go to bed. The respectability sound: is given as a familiar honking sound. Do not run, do not sing. The dearly-departed sound: is given as a rumble in the bones. Do not enter the coffin. The afterlife sound: is given as the music of the spheres. It will not reconstruct. The bordello sound: is given as a small child screaming. Do not turn on the light. The accident sound: is given as an ambulance sound. You can hear it coming closer, do not crowd the footpaths. The execution sound: is given as the sound of prayer. Oh be caution, do not stand too near

or you will surely hear: the machinegun sound, the weeping mother sound, the agony sound, the dying child sound: whose voice is already drowned by the approaching helicopter sound: which is given as the dead flower sound, the warlord sound, the hunting and fleeing and clattering sound, the amputation sound, the bloodbath sound, the sound of the President quietly addressing his dinner; now he places his knife and fork together (a polite and tidy sound) before addressing the nation

and making a just and necessary war sound: which is given as a freedom sound (do not cherish memory): which is given as a security sound: which is given as a prisoner sound: which is given again as a war sound: which is a torture sound and a watchtower sound and a firing sound: which is given as a Timor sound: which is given as a decapitation sound (do not think you will not gasp tomorrow): which is given as a Darfur sound: which is given as a Dachau sound: which is given as a dry river-bed sound, as a wind in the poplars sound: which is given again as an angry god sound:

which is here as a Muslim sound: which is here as a Christian sound: which is here as a Jewish sound: which is here as a merciful god sound: which is here as a praying sound: which is here as a kneeling sound: which is here as a scripture sound: which is here as a black-wing sound: as a dark-cloud sound: as a black-ash sound: which is given as a howling sound: which is given as a fire alarm sound:

which is given late at night, calling you from your bed (do not use the lifts): which is given as a burning sound, no, as a human sound, as a heartbeat sound: which is given as a sound beyond sound: which is given as the sound of many weeping: which is given as an entirely familiar sound, a sound like no other, up there high in the smoke above the stars.


from Lifted (Carcanet, 2007), © Bill Manhire 2007, used by permission of the author and Carcanet Press Ltd.

Books by Bill Manhire