Building the New School

William Stephenson is a Senior Lecturer in the English Department.

They believe in girders and breeze-blocks:

in netting awaiting camouflage,

in scaffolding lit up

like the gantry at Cape Canaveral.

They trust in the ululating summons

of a tungsten twist-bit grinding steel:

in swarf smouldering in helical curls

as the filings blaze an ephemeral comet-trail.


They swear by posters in Urdu and English:

Lend Lease.  Improving the Image of Construction. 

These signs puzzle the watchman from Poznan

who slides his tongue round each awkward syllable

in Hard Hat Area and Report to Security

as he fingers a pound coin

till the milled edge darkens with his dead skin

and the Queen grows slick with sweat and nicotine.


Meanwhile, the hammers beat time into the night.

Floodlights bolted to the perimeter fence

turn the watchman’s cigarette fumes white

as he stamps his feet, spits phlegm

and rubs his change, counting imaginary dollars,

rehearsing such English as the school supplies:

Releasing Potential, Achieving Excellence.

Patrolled By Dogs. Strictly No Admittance.