Do you remember me?
Though I am nameless to you
and have no statue or square in my honour,
you will look down and I will be there,
under your feet,
close to the earth where I lived and died.
I could not rise where you might look up to me on a plinth or plate;
too many burdens pinned me down.
Narrow sunless streets and overcrowded closes hemmed me in;
I breathed damp and foetid air from running walls
and cholera, typhoid, tuberculosis, asthma laid me low.
Polio, rickets and poor food shortened my stature and my days,
and heroin and AIDS cut me down.
Remember me, do you?
I turned the wheels that made the engine-room roar.
I dug your roads and built your ships,
I carted your coal and drove your trains,
I forged your iron and unloaded your docks,
I stoked your boilers and fed your production lines,
I cleaned your offices and swept your streets,
I sewed your clothes and emptied your bins,
I made your weapons and fought your wars,
I fried your food and guarded your factories,
until you had no more use for me
and I became an economic liability.
I came from many places to do it:
from the highland glens and island shores,
from the slave-mines of Ayrshire and the valleys of Lanark,
from Ireland, Poland, Russia, Italy,
from India, Pakistan, Uganda, China,
from Chile, Vietnam, Iraq and Kosovo;
well that you remember me on the ground beneath your feet.
The city was built on my labour.
You remember me?
Remember the miracles I worked, on low pay, or no pay,
on strike pay or benefit.
Remember the washing I did,
walls, stairs, clothes, weans;
remember the lullabies I sang them when they couldn’t sleep,
and the nights I sat up with a sick neighbour.
Remember the wakes when they died.
Remember the allotments I dug
and the jerseys I knitted
and the houses I painted;
remember the matches, the beautiful game.
Remember the singing, remember the dances;
remember the patter, and the drinking, and the laughter,
remember the courting and the weddings and the babies.
Remember the young ones who made it to college,
and the others who didn’t, remember them too.
Remember the unions and the co-ops and the tenants’ groups,
remember the marches to the Green and the Square.
Remember the suffragettes and the rent strikes, and the poll tax –
remember we tried and we fought and we cared.
Remember that I kept on getting up every morning,
remember my prayers and remember my tears.
Remember that I lived and my life had a value,
remember that I loved and hungered for more:
for the chance to reach out and look up and see further,
for a life free of want and exhaustion and fear;
for the right to be treated with justice and dignity,
for the right to be human,
for the right to a name.
It’s not much to ask, but it’s harder to come by,
and it’s hardest of all to be seen when you’re poor.
So when you walk by, just stop for a moment
and see me, and wonder, and maybe ask ‘why?’
And you remember me.
Written for the laying of a stone in George Square, Glasgow, to commemorate all those who have been victims of poverty.
From ‘The Dream of Learning Our True Name‘, Kathy Galloway, Wild Goose Publications