"Sovereign House, Norwich"
Why would the Queen need a building
that looks like a mutant slug
had mated with a spaceship,
in Norwich, to store her paper clips?
Well, it seems she doesn’t, and she must be holding
them instead in a lion-and-unicorned silk bag,
because Her Majesty’s Stationery Office
has for fifteen years been a postmodern cave,
a plywood-patched leviathan of an edifice.
I pulled up one of its mutant glass eyelids
and then, fingers gripping the groove
of a filing-cabinet the size of a milk-float,
yanked myself into a room where solids
weren't so solid anymore.
Walls holes that spilt foam.
Dead bullets frogspawned about the carpet.
Had the Queen’s own frogs leapt around
these corridors, spraying the words “room clear”
on walls after stabbing them to dust-coughing death
with a sledgehammer and a breath
of royal gunfire?
A blue biochemical bodysuit adorned
the floor outside a paper-storage cupboard,
limbs splayed like a chalk outline.
Sun-bleached little cardboard signs jabbered
“Occupants evacuated. All suspicious items
removed” in Cold War writing.
Evacuated how? With boots in their scrotums?
And then – what in the Queen's name was this? –
a room full of rickety hospital
beds. A key with a tag saying “Biological
Anatomy – Annie”. A glass case
with three taps marked ‘water’, ‘air’
and ‘nitrous oxide’. Isn’t that laughing gas?
From a cobweb-curtained graffitied fifth-floor
window I watched Norwich go about
its yellowgreen-taxied mustard-scoffing
springy-diphthong-accented business and stood
wrapped in graveyardish air and industrial hum,
my instinct screaming get out get out get out
and for a while I succeeded in blocking
out the screams, until, fear ticking like a time-bomb,
visions of nuclear apocalypse whistling through my head,
I panted past the uprooted coffee-machine,
weaving round nooselike dangling cables,
back over the mountainous filing cabinet and then
free, safe, comforted by baubles
on the forecourt of a greeting-card boutique,
heart hammering like a woodpecker’s beak.