It takes around 3.5% of the population actively participating in protest
to ensure serious political change — Erica Chenoweth

You phone. You’ve been arrested again.
You’re full of it, your voice high and tight with details
of dates and courts and laws and what to say in your defence.

You don’t ask about my new job, or the kids. I pick up socks,
contemplate the contents of the fridge, the hole in my finances,
while you say you want me to help you draft your speech,

use phrases like ‘proportionate response’ and ‘lawful protest’,
‘for the future of my grandchildren, and for the future of yours’.
Grandchildren? I shove a stew in the oven. From this lot?

I imagine the day you had, the rally, the demo, the ‘die-in’,
with your crew of colourful hippies and well-meaning teachers,
activists pedalling static bikes to power a PA

and you marching, as always, marching at the front,
chucking pints of fake oil over the Roman facade of a bank
or fake blood over a national monument, in those trousers.

You tell me about your twenty four hours in a hot cell,
the duty sergeant who refused point blank to bring you water,
how you couldn’t sleep for worrying about your kidneys

and how you fell back on your middle-class white woman voice,
tried to talk to him as equals, like the lawyers advise.
I’m reminded of the last day of finals, years ago, our crowd

spilling noisily out of the examination hall, free at last,
garlanding store windows and bus shelters with Silly String,
spraying cheap champagne at the passing cars,

then one uniformed copper stepping up to issue cautions,
everyone scattering, heads down, palming our party poppers,
ducking into the cobbled side streets or nearby shops,

stifling giggles, suddenly faux-sensible and blameless.
Except you, cheeks flushed, purple glitter spangling your hair,
peace badges neatly lined up on your army surplus bag,

answering politely, a half bottle of Prosecco still in your hand,
the only one of us prepared to give your real name,
the only one to own up to the mess we’d made.

Hilary Menos won the Forward Prize for Best First Collection 2010 with Berg (Seren, 2009) and her pamphlet Human Tissue (Smith|Doorstop, 2020) was a winner in The Poetry Business International Book & Pamphlet Competition 2019-20. Her second collection is Red Devon (Seren, 2013). Other pamphlets include Extra Maths (Smith|Doorstop, 2004) and Wheelbarrow Farm (Templar, 2010). She read PPE at Oxford, took an MA in poetry at MMU, and has worked as a student organiser, journalist, food reviewer, organic farmer, dramaturge and builder’s mate. She is editor of
The Friday Poem.