Apollo House

“Anyone can become homeless”
Reassurance –
Handed out along with scarves, hats and socks –
To Natasha
Who
From under cardboard;
Up through tears caught in throat
Said:
“We’ve been working all our lives.”

Politicians attempt to atone for inaction
Telling us Natasha
Has “a complex set of needs”
Yet;
All she and her partner asked for,
Was a blanket.

Of which we had run out.
Unable to carry more
Of Apollo’s treasure trove of donations,
Concern.
In our arms.

Earlier
A man sleeping in a man-shaped cardboard box
Outside the Gaiety Theatre
Told us he had everything he needed.
But when pressed
Said
Maybe socks.
If you have them.
A five-pack of thick black men’s from Dunnes Stores
Lighting up his face
Momentarily
Inspiring more joy
Than any Christmas present so dull
Has the right to provoke.

The streets making it
Weirdly comforting
To know that if you have ten euro
You can buy a chair
In a 24-hour internet café
In a den
Where misfortune is a
Money-spinner.

The 50-odd sandwiches all gone
Made earlier in the kitchen
The butter satisfying
In smushing into bread
Pasting into more even coverage
Ridged by uniform tracks of lightweight plastic knife
The more we got into
The rhythm.

For a fleeting fancy
I imagined a sensory perception
Of a memory
Which it wasn’t.
But all the same;
I remembered.

Standing in my parents’ bedroom that morning
The radio announced
Eglinton Primary School closed for the day
A mark of respect
My mother raging.
“What about the parents
who have to go to work?”

There was no option
But for me to go with Mrs Keys
A woman of the church
Who naturally headed for Faughanvale Presbyterian Church Hall
To cater
To a palpable sense of shock

Northern Ireland’s tragedy had reached
Our doorstep
A massacre;
Shooting in Greysteel
Horror greeted by
The Rising Sun.

A stalwart crew of pensioned ladies of the congregation
Making sandwiches
And 10-year-old me, the youngest by several decades
Put on buttering duty.

At both times
A crisis
Bringing a community together
To heal hurts.
To make sandwiches.

Unable to lay longer in our bubble
Where we think pain caused
By our society’s divisions
Doesn’t affect us.
Because it happens to other people.
When something like this happens;
We realise, it doesn’t.
It happens
To us.

In a crisis
Always tea and sandwiches
To let people
Eat.
Clear away the plates
Of our remorse.

Back at Apollo
I felt close
To my buttering companion
A kind woman
Unsung grace,
Spreading love.

A warmth echoed throughout the building
Where the men who got the water running
Also plumbed in
A piece of their heart.

We didn’t forget our promise
To Natasha
After the shift finished
Drove over
With a horse blanket.
Waterproof exterior
And fleecy lining
“Put that over yous.
It’ll help.
Keep you warm.”

So fucking unfair
Any human being in Ireland’s centenary year
Should be left to be
Grateful
For scrap of kindness
Designed for animal.

But already
Booting back to O’Connell Street
To the illegally parked car.
Grateful to get back
To the warmth
Of our homes.

Home Sweet Home
But galvanised.
And needing
To do more.

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