First Day Back

Despite their stifled yawns
he tries to tell them about Marx
and sum up his thesis in a sentence.
Our reality, consciousness, identity,
our political, cultural and economic systems
are determined by the ways in which we
technologically transmute the physical world.

What do you think then? he asks. Is it true?
You’ve got ten seconds to answer.

They look alarmed, so he holds
his hands out, fingers cupping,
encouraging. Joke, he says, joke.
You’d prefer a story, wouldn’t you,

and their grins explode. Yes, they shout,
like sitting round a fire telling tales.
He could see firelight flickering on their faces.

They’re smiling now; tall, smooth-skinned
Somalians, gaunt Rwandans, gentle
full-faced Ghanaians, gold bangled
Nigerians making their Victorian values heard
(not for them the two inch band of flesh
at their waist, tops of knickers showing)
and the two Dagenham lads, sitting apart,
asking if this geezer was a brother of Groucho.

He sighs, smiles back at them,
asks how their summer had been.