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  1. Culture
27 November 2013

“Emergency”: a new poem by Simon Armitage

By Simon Armitage

Illustration by Andre Bergamin

The four-pump petrol garage
finally closed,
its defeated owner
inhaling his ghost
in a disused quarry
by coupling the lips of his car exhaust
to the roots of his lungs
via a garden hose;

on the bulldozed forecourt
they threw up a tram-shed
for decommissioned emergency vehicles
where a skeleton workforce
service all manneration
of mothballed workhorses
for occasional call-outs
to sitcoms, period dramas and film sets.

And the actual fire station’s
up for rent,
that chapel-shaped building
where they stabled the one engine,
spit-buffing and wire-woolling
the chrome fenders,
T-cutting the steel coachwork
to a flame red.

So what you see,
as the letting-agent puts it,
is what you get:
boot cupboard, functional kitchenette,
brass hooks – two still holding
a brace of yolk-yellow plastic helmets –
northlight roof-windows
and inspection pit.

The makeshift crew
were volunteer part-timers:
butchers, out-menders,
greasy perchers and hill-farmers
who’d pitch up in bloody aprons,
boiler suits or pyjamas
then venture forth,
fire-slaying on the tender.

Sometimes in dreams
my fire-fighting forefathers
appear, alien-like,
breathing from oxygen cylinders
through a sudden parting
of towering, black cumulonimbus
on fully telescoped
turntable ladders.

The bank’s gone as well,
and also the post office,
though in the store-cum-off-licence
you can sign a gyro
with a string-and-sellotape-tethered
half-chewed biro
or deface a scratch-card
or sell a bullmastiff.

The horizon ablaze –
is it moor-fire or sundown?
In the local taproom
prescription jellies and tin-foil wraps
change hands under cover
of Loot magazine
and Tetley beer mats.
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