By Sara Hirsch
No one knows exactly who started the rumour.
Some say it was the baker, but we know
it doesn’t really matter.
A rumour is not about the source but the spread.
Like disease, its power is not in the
first bitten, but in counting the dead.
I was always just supposed to be a whisper
A rumbling in the gutter, a mutter under
London’s breath, blending in, part of the clutter
but a lot of people like to chatter, and I
scattered like sparks from one mouth to another,
It’s not my fault they built themselves so close together.
I grew louder. Until the streets hummed red with
mentions of my name. My ears were burning bright
as each house flamed gold in jaundiced shame
and then the wind changed
and suddenly this humble mumble
was given a gust of confidence.
I took the inhalation gifted to me by the breeze
and I coughed and I wheezed and I billowed
and I blew. Flew, through every wooden door.
I was a scarlet scandal, volcanic gossip
like you’ve never heard before, an unstoppable
explosion of did you hear? loosed like a lion’s roar.
I was music, electric, buzzing under skin,
I was a proud peacock showing off
to anyone who let me in. I was a warrior
I was brave, I caught on like a Mexican wave,
I pulsed like blood through the city’s veins,
I was the circus animal escaped from its cage.
I was laughter, I was hunger, I was rage.
Don’t you recognise me? Are you sure?
Look closer, through the smoke,
trust me, we’ve met before.
In the blaze of a bitter word
or the crackle of a callous cackle,
every time you’ve scrunched your face,
every furious flicker of your tongue,
London has always been an angry place.
I’m nothing new, I just joined in the race.
You called me great.
I’m what you wanted,
I’m your morbid fascination
don’t you dare weep in my wake.
So, before you tell your children
of a sleeping City savaged by slander,
tell them the truth behind my name.
The rumour is nothing
without those that spread it.
I am not the one to blame.
The Fire! Fire! exhibition ended in April 2017.