Extract from ‘The Rich Man and the Poor Man’ (1996)
When the rich man gets married
it's heaven for the groom.
The weeping bride is carried
to the church in a black saloon.
She's star-eyed as they link hands.
Her veil is a vale of tears.
The next of kin tie tin cans,
and it's Palm Springs for the dears.
When the poor man gets wedded
it's hell to get a free night.
The neighbours down the dreaded
sugarcane rum and run riot.
All night long they puke and prance
while the couple watch the floor
wondering how their late romance
ended up in such uproar.
The rich man's bed is roses
and the mattress is a dream:
and, high-piled, he reposes
in a mosquito machine.
He's at peace in his cocoon,
undisturbed by kin or clock.
When the alarm rings at noon
it's less loud than the tick tock.
The poor man's bed's like a yak,
very lumpy, full of ticks:
stale hay in a Hessian sack.
When he hits the sack it kicks.
It's a rough ride with the fleas,
and he wakes up in a sweat:
under him cockroaches wheeze
like accordions squeezed to death.
The rich man doesn't feel the squeeze,
and spends to beat price rises;
accumulating things, and these
he'll barter in a crisis.
When anything his is stolen
insurance will buy it back.
No wonder he is rolling,
and is always in the black.
The poor man knows inflation
is a worry for rich folks,
and way above his station:
after all he's always broke.
When the money rate's so high
that carrying coins needs transport
with barter too he gets by:
he borrows as he runs short.
The rich man's never certain
that his property is safe,
and cowers behind his curtain,
to security a slave.
The nice little house he owns
is a fortress against theft.
He buys his peace with bank loans,
and gives the poor what is left.
The poor stays poor being poor.
The so-called street he lives in
is no better than a sewer.
The muck comes up to his shin.
No one bothers with name-signs.
There's no number on his shack.
Postmen and thieves do not mind:
it is off their beaten track.
The rich man's shoe always fits.
Shoe-shines work around the clock
on the leather with cloth whips.
It won't smell of rotten sock. If, to prove a point, he chose
to stand in water for a week
he wouldn't even wet his toes.
Good as new, the shoes won't leak.
The poor man's shoe's made by hand:
half dug-out, and half horse-ring. It's amazing he can stand,
let alone stomp, in such things.
He plods along with a clank,
making progress with his hips.
Should these clogs ever get damp
like cardboard they'd fall to bits.
The rich man's food is too much:
he always starts his meals full.
Caviar, champagne, and such,
fill his freezer as a rule.
Though his rations come by jet
from Paris or Samarkand,
he is mostly on a diet
being worried by his waistband.
The poor man's food is pickings
from the table of the rich:
the charred remains of chickens
his old lady likes to snitch
from the dustbins where she cleans
(the fridge for meat is locked up):
a bone or two with red beans
is his surreptitious sup.
The rich man has a wardrobe
that's big enough for discos;
and when it lights up with strobe
it is full of dancing clothes:
silk shirts throwing off mothballs,
and smart suits doing strip-tease.
A bouncer in overalls
shoots break-ins with a hip piece.
The wardrobe of the poor man
is a strip of battening wood
with nails for his rags to hang
like carcasses drained of blood:
nylon shirts bleached like a shroud,
trousers starched by mud and sun.
His best clothes are hanging proud
night and day on his person.