BM ( / Pembury, Kent (UK))

Waiting To Die In Luanda

Our lives were cheap in Angola:
no demand on the black market,
nor any stock exchange to trade them on.
We hoarded those lives in unsafe homes
or offered them to the whim of dubious gods:
the bottle, the motor car, the gun, the sea, or
more capricious still, the Italian Embassy lift.

On a blazing humid February afternoon,
six loose friends stacked a precious cargo,
three wooden crates, packed with seventy-six
full bottles of fine Angolan beer,
arranged our bodies round it
as best we could, pressed and rose
beyond the floor we’d wanted, stopped,
pressed again, but rose, unstoppable,
past the 14th floor of the 14-storey building.

The impact of the lift ceiling on the shaft head,
hard and loud,
somehow shattered no bottles,
broke no bones.

Solid, isolated, suspended in space and time
we stared at each other, nonplussed,
waiting for the sudden journey down,
fast and mortal.

Why did no life flash before me? I saw
only the calm faces of my frightened friends.
My palms and back pressed harder against the lift wall
as if that gesture would ease a body through.

The walls held firm.
We held our breaths.

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Comments (1)

A good story, a memorable poem. Fine ending... I collected it in My Favourite Poems and it's one I return to every now and then with pleasure.