New Poem: The Ballad of Barlow Burton

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The Ballad of Barlow Burton

On the outskirts of a market town
the sort they no longer build
there’s a snaking road called Barb’s Belt
where time is often killed.
The bright idea of some Tory peer
when London overspilled.

Where the shit is in the details:
the quality of the hops;
the sad state of the pavements;
the attitude of cops;
the streaks of piss outside Londis;
the barn eggs in the shop.

The kind of place on which The Mail
is keen to give its view
and say society is broken
and there’s nothing we can do.
They’re over-fed! Look white bread!
Not a single Bugaboo!

And perhaps something is broken
or certainly on the skids,
bad luck stalks the inhabitants
with the patience of a kid.
They joke that they were born there
for something they never did.

If you can’t laugh what can you do?
Their humour black as oil.
Throw in some domestic abuse
season, then hard boil.
Add a splash of Shannon Mathews
and a pinch of Danny Boyle.

At number eighty-four there lives
a bloke they know as Barlow –
tracky-bums like dungarees
the tragedy of Marlowe,
the face that sunk a thousand chips
you’d see him down the Spar, though

no one ever spoke to him
they say the man was cursed
that he moved like he was dragging
the heavy heart he nursed.
There’re many rumours about his life
but I’ll share with you the worst.

Barlow was brought up on Barb’s belt
with his little sister Betty
in the sodium light of the televison,
motionless on the settee.
The family portrait’s filed somewhere
under “poverty” on Getty.

His dad – a Marlon Brando in
an Ipswich town away kit
a mad thirst for the whisky bottle
and an itch to slake it
I mean he could take it or leave it
but he’d sooner take it.

And then give it back out again.
You smelled him approaching
he battered Brenda his wife so bad
something was always broken.
So miserable yet so cliched
far too Ken Loachian.

But that old Brando didn’t last
like many short on feck –
these men who dole our promises
as useless as their cheques –
they found him dead in a ditch in Diss,
a pint glass in his neck,

on the last weekend of summer
yellow grass turning white
as summertime turned to winter
and daytime turned to night
and in unison seemed to ask
are you sure you’ll be alright?

But as Brenda’s bloody bruises healed
misfortune came to call.
Well, trick or treat’s more accurate
it was just some kids from school.
It was just some kids, just some kids
but Kids can be so cruel

What started as bit of garden hopping
soon escalated
to prank calls, graffiti and Brenda
recently emancipated
wasn’t going to take it lying down –
a decision ill-fated.

For the more she chased them with her mop
the more it became a sport.
For lads with nothing else to do
and no wars to be fought
an hour of fun outweighed the threat
of juvenile court.

From a phonebox these cocksure jocks
would call and play her porn,
would just for fun, jump her son
and leave his school-shirt torn.
Left her in pieces with human faeces
neatly curled upon her lawn.

Wrote CUNT BITCH WHORE on her front door
parked their Novas up outside
played Ministry of Sound with windows down
till Brenda’s children cried
screamed at each other screamed at their mother.
Conquer and divide.

These lads made her hysterical
as she phoned for the police –
Madam please stop your expletives
or we’ll have you breach of peace.
They’d come round every month or so
and mouth their flaccid speech

about doing everything they could
with limited resources;
how the boys were harmless scally wags
victims of divorces;
that any day they would be sent
on citizenship courses.

But Brenda Burton was on fire
swallowed by the flames
destruction coursing through her body
hatred in her veins.
Storm-cloud skies and bloodshot eyes
only human remains.

And for ten long years she burned in fear
until her heart was coal
as the lads passed on their batons
used her windowpanes as goals
her garden shed for getting head
her porch as toilet bowl.

Yet still the cops would um and arr
refuse poor Brenda help
as more and more delinquents
were dumped upon Barb’s belt
and learned the local sport of making
Brenda Burton yelp.

And scream and cry and spit and bawl
her son as punching bag
her home as souped-up bus shelter
her daughter as a slag
her misery a consolation prize
for shit hand they had blagged.

We didn’t get what we wanted
so why the fuck should you!
We didn’t get what we wanted
so why the fuck should you!
We didn’t get what we wanted
so why the fuck should you!

Till Brenda burning in her skin
knew she could take no more –
the depravity of the dispossessed
the limpness of the law –
and grabbing Betty by the hand
she burst through her front door.

Then right there on her drive way
she locked them in the car
she doused them both in petrol
her screams heard from afar:
awful, shrill, like a dentist’s drill
so dreadful and bizarre.

Awful, shrill, like a dentist’s drill
she screamed up to the stars.
Awful, shrill, like a dentist’s drill
it hung there like a scar.
Awful, shrill, like a dentist’s drill
then the sky turned black as tar.

And watching from the front window
frozen to the spot
the son that she forgot to grab
and so wrote him out the plot
denied his chance of ashes
he was left behind to rot

on the outskirts of a market town
they sort they no longer build
on a snaking road called Barb’s Belt
where time is often killed.
The bright idea of some Tory peer
when London overspilled.

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