The Victims

We lived in a bedsit near Brixton
With a window a bed and a sink.
On Wednesdays we signed in the dole queue
And on Fridays we ran out of drink.
So we sat in the room with our hunger
And we watched as the sun rose and fell.
We could hear distant neighbours were cooking
But we tried not to notice the smell.

Richard mentioned a story by Koestler
Of a man who had run out of bread
In somewhere, that might have been India,
Where it's easy to starve till you're dead.
But he'd gone out and sat by a roadside
Because starving to death wasn't rare
And he'd never known anyone do it
By the side of a road in a chair.
So he sat by the road doing nothing
Until someone he knew drove along
And bought him a couple of dinners
Till his financial status was strong.

Richard got to the end of his story
And I tried to find something to say
But I thought of the poor bastard's feelings
And decided to leave them that way.
His pale arms were skinny and fragile
As the legs of a newly born foal
As he lifted himself from the lino
And puked into a polythene bowl.
He persisted in throwing up water
In a violently gurgling flood
And I watched from the bed as he lowered his head
And then carried on vomiting blood.

I looked up at the ceiling above me
And the cracks from the wall to the lamp
Where the shadows traversing the plaster
Were starting to cover the damp.
I awoke when when the doorbell was ringing
And went downstairs to let someone in.
It was Patty the hooker who stood at the door
Seductively scented with gin.

Patty was built like a boxer,
And a rough looking boxer at that.
As she entered the room I enquired as to who
Had been using her face for a mat.
There were stitches that ran from her forehead
Down her cheek to the line of her jaw.
She sat in a chair next to Richard
Who'd been having a kip on the floor.
She'd been bottled, while holding a baby,
Down the club, on the night before last.
The child's mother began to turn nasty
And then everything happened so fast
That, while Patty protected the infant,
The mother cut Patty to bits
Until someone took charge of the baby
So that Patty could put up her mits.

I told her we hadn't been out much
Cos we'd lost all our cash on a horse
Whose form I'd been studying keenly
Though it never completed the course.
She told me she didn't believe me
And laughed like proverbial drains
Suggesting we'd only backed one "horse"
And that only ran in our veins.
I said her aspersions were tasteless
The conclusions she'd come to were balls.
We just carried syringes for squirting our blood
Onto public convenience walls.

The dawn took a glimpse through the curtains
And the traffic grew louder outside.
Richard embraced both his knee-caps
As if he had something to hide.
Patty took out twenty Rothmans
From a pocket and offered them round.
We lit up and held the smoke deep in our lungs
While nobody uttered a sound
Until Patty went off to her own room
And Richard's expression went blank
So that as I began to get lonely
I had only one person to thank.
As I looked at my mind I had nothing to say
My brains let me down when I need them.
Thoughts are like pigeons in one simple way:
They only turn up when you feed them.

She came back with some food in the evening
And she made us some coffee to drink.
So we sipped from our mugs in the darkness
While the empty plates soaked in the sink.
When she even put coins in our meter
We were able to switch on the light.
She had cut off her stitches with scissors
And the glistening wound was in sight.
We watched her sit down by the mirror
With her steadily widening seam
Then she covered the lot with foundation
After filling the furrow with cream.
I said, "Patty, your face will go septic!"
She said, "Shut it, love. I'll be alright.
I can't leave the stitches in longer
When I've got to go working tonight."

Michael Burgess 1983

From "The Cream of the Troubadour Coffee House"
Kozmik Press 1990 ISBN: 0 905116 19 4

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:

One poem inside is worth the entire cost, June 17, 2000
Reviewer: "anois_blue" (Seattle, WA USA) - See all my reviews
I came here looking for this book after reading one of the poems inside. It's called The Victims by Michael Burgess, and it is brilliant. It's not pretty and it's not flowery, but it's about as real as you can get and it's a wonderful read. If the editors did as well choosing the other contributors, then this book is a true find. And if they aren't as brilliant, it's still going to be worth every dime.

"From the legendary haunt of Bob Dylan, the Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Paul Simon, Joan Baez and many more, 40 mainly British and American poets who read at the weekly performances that became a landmark for London poetry."

112pp, 100 poems, large format paperback. Price: $15.00/11.00 (UK) or $17.95 online from

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