A RESIDENTIAL BLOCK
No door mat. No potted plants.
No welcome sign. No sense of who
might dwell behind these wooden fronts.
No plaque with the clan’s proud name
screwed in by a Father’s careful hand.
Most won’t live here, on short lease loan.
Stick post-it-notes with surnames on,
scrawled in biro for the post
to find before they’re gone.
We can’t nail anything down.
No tacks on the walls. It stains.
Drawing pins leave only tiny holes.
Leave no trace. No lingering scent.
No identifying feature of who went.
No apparition of the other life that paid.
Plumbing’s dodgy, shower’s blocked,
mould culture’s in the highest corners;
boiler’s been rumbling volcanic threats.
Not here long enough to get it fixed.
Would wipe out the deposit.
Let it lie. Once it’s up, it’s out.
Give the neighbours grief.
The guy downstairs is always out,
in his underwear knocking the door,
asking if we live here.
‘Just as bad as the Spanish students
who were here before,
how long will you live here for?’
‘Long enough…until the contract’s up.
Might travel on Euro rail, explore.
Some day. Might get a job. Might not.
We’ll keep the noise down mate;
y’know what they say but, you only die once,
so we’re taking all that we can get.’
I say my flat but it’s someone else’s.
No heritage. No buyer’s market. Just renting
a few small rooms, lining someone else’s pleasure.
People stashed in little boxes, can’t settle in,
can’t settle down; online already looking round,
no chance to get a feel for the space
like cattle herded into place,
who chew the cud and gather round
criticise the scheme – but have no plan.
Always get mail for the mysteries
who used to live here before we did:
Mrs Samotność, Mr Aislamiento,
Mr & Mrs Smith.
Never think, or waste time dwelling
on where the other goes,
goes through or worse.
It stuns to think where all lives go.
The shifting places, threads found
across so many addresses.
The girl next door. What was her name?
She smiled on the stairwell once, in passing.
And the guy below, said hello, he held the door.
Now who were they?
Too many folk now any road.
Too many flat biographies,
we’ve heard it all to bore.
We’d only have to talk,
caught in the close
with a neighbour, awkwardly.
Notice the dark the streetlights measure.
So quiet at this late stage, the amber glare
outside the window, night lengthening shadows.
Double lock the door,
shake it to see if it gives,
if it’s secure.
We’ll be fine so long
as no one comes through
Colin McGuire is a poet from Glasgow, living in Edinburgh. The poem ‘A Residential Block’ considers the transient nature of neighbours in a modern city, in a time when it seems people know their neighbours less and less and appear to not necessarily to want to know them. It suggests an increasing social alienation and isolation from neighbours.