Tuesday 18 December 2018

The 'rare bloom' we notice just once a year

Billy O Hanluain sums up how helpless we feel about the homeless crisis that blights our society and which seems especially pernicious during the festive season

Writer Billy O Hanluain
Writer Billy O Hanluain

Billy O Hanluain

At low tide you'll find all the salty jewels, that the deep water couldn't bear to swallow. The fin-shaped shells of truth, upright like pens in the sand.

The homeless, such a strange bloom that only blossoms in the month before the season of our excess.

In springtime, we imagine them, Chaplinesque, Liffey boardwalk somehow breathing, Druids Glen drinking, an alright, that would never satisfy our well-roofed selves.

In summer, they sleep under voluptuous chestnut trees, in that season of green and plenty, light and romance, they are forgotten, just as we forget the dark braille mornings of November that frost finger tip-taps around the edges of the months of light, waiting to pounce with an embrace of damp and dark.

Autumn comes, with its bouquets of nicotine hues, burnt brown chords and sweet withered bloom.

They might shiver in a methadone mesh of autumn leaves, that rustle with a new meaningless school term beginning but we are mute to their shivering and songs.

Come Christmas, their sleeping bags and cardboard bloom like the holly the ivy and every one takes notice, a rare plant that, to appease our numb, fingered conscience, we notice, and carol sing for, plastic bucket, coin jingle jangle for, ding dong merrily on high for.

Oh, we might run a 5k candle-lit charity jog for them but run we will away from them now, to speak to them that might only upset how beautifully they bloom this time of year.

Best throw them a gentle coin, when stumbling home from an office party and imagine them, not really as our sisters and brothers but repositories of our own centrally heated guilt.

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Oh, they come full bloom this time of year, the fallen logs of humanity, that lie in the doorways, of the 24-hour lit mannequins of Topman, Monsoon and Massimo Dutti.

And we'll pray for them, and carol sing for them, and empathise and sympathise and not realise that we are really terrified of us being them. And of how a pay cheque or two away, it could be me or you. So you'll throw a coin their way to make it all go away and smugly hail a taxi home, fight tears in the back seat and by the time you get to the Merrion Gates your fraudulence will have caught up you. And you'll know some truth that no Christmas cracker joke will laugh away.

And they are us and we are them. Some shiver and some bake as the duvet is too much to take. But they are a rare bloom whose broken blossom is noticed but once a year.

Billy O Hanluain, Dublin, 2017

Irish Independent

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