Cut The Black Rabbit — Benjamin Cusden
Against The Grain, 2020 £6.00
Homelessness: the power of numbers
In his notes, the author thanks his family, editors, etc, but also those who helped him when he was ‘on the streets’. Some are named specifically; others are among ‘all the homeless heroes’, their numbers too many to count.
Numbers, however, are significant here, from the shift to the ones and zeroes of digital editing in ‘Cut’ (a poem that perhaps foreshadows the decline in the poet’s fortunes). But they’re at their most affecting in ‘First Steps’ where the poet and his partner are being evicted. ‘You’ve got twenty minutes’ is repeated twice. A bailiff says ‘You’re being evicted’ three times. The phrases ‘Final warnings, final notice, notice to quit’ and ‘You’ve got paint on you’ occur twice.
Elsewhere we see further examples of repetition and counting. For example, there’s the horrifying mantra in ‘Transience’ of someone gathering enough money to buy high strength alcohol for warmth and numbness:
fingers count, recount coins in pocket,
head holds a mantra: 10, 20, 30 — desperate
to reach a hundred, 70, 80, 90 — 70, 80, 90,
enough for a can of White Lightning
The powerful repetition of ‘70, 80, 90’ as the speaker gets dangerously close to how much he needs (also perhaps double-checking to avoid disappointment) is palpable and upsetting. This is equally true of the list of injuries inflicted on him by the ‘Hyenas’ that ‘prowl for prey’ in the poem of the same name:
Fractured and dislocated jaw with multiple skull abrasions,
fractured left orbit, six suspected broken ribs and his nose
The physical detail is sickening and powerful. There are many such powerful moments, but I return to a compelling and poignant incident in ‘First Steps’ where, having been evicted, Cusden stands ‘Outside, on the pavement, four bin liners overflow with clothes,’ A human life is reduced to what can be carried and, as the poems continue, even that is stripped away.
The numbers of people who find themselves homeless and/or living on the streets in the UK (or anywhere for that matter) are appalling, shocking and disgraceful. Please, if you can, donate to Shelter or a local homelessness charity, as well as buying a copy of these poems.