Ruth Walters


Can'T Breathe - Poem by Ruth Walters

They stifle me,
those tall, tenement buildings
with their walkways enticing crime,
luring thugs with knives
to wander up, unhindered,
along stone staircases that lead to
institutionalised front doors
of greens or dull blues.

Don't go inside,
don't look behind those doors
where kitchens overflow
with last nights cups and plates
and bits of stew and fag ash.
Where carpets stick to shoes
and cigarette butts lie, dead,
along the dust ridden edges.

There are no excuses,
who can we blame, who?
Not the council workers, no.
Not the occupants,
they're deprived, they're needy.
Not the rich or middle classes,
they off load the blame
but I can't breathe, I can't breathe.


Poet's Notes about The Poem

I was born on the Roger's Estate, London Borough of Bow. My mother kept our flat as if it were a little palace but we moved when I was only 11 months old and so I don't remember. I only know about it through other people's memories. Nonetheless I have been to similar places, some good, some not so good, but for me I love the trees, green fields and open spaces....................nowadays the area is being regenerated but there are still poorer patches.

Comments about Can'T Breathe by Ruth Walters

  • (8/21/2012 7:01:00 AM)


    Even without the great note this poem is genuine, evocative and atmospheric with haplessness and futility. There will unfortunately always be the poor and as fatalistic as it seems only the individual can attempt to improve their lot if willing and capable, but for many this will never be, unfortunately. Great realism and grit and grime. Such an environment for me to would literally be breath taking in the pejorative. (Report) Reply

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  • (8/20/2012 4:42:00 PM)


    Brilliantly perceptive and capturing the feel of dread when you do have to enter some of these places... it is so sad when there are some who work so hard at keeping their corner of such a difficult place so beautiful... my heart goes to each of them and my admiration too as they must feel like giving up sometimes and yet they make the best of what they have... and others cannot be blamed either as many i guess some suffer from depression or illness. it was just such a bad concept created by the groovy architects of the 60s who led to so many slums crushed and or lovely little old rows of houses put to the knackers yard in the name of progress (progress!) phah! to where, for whom, for what and where on earth did someone get the idea of piling people so high into the sky one on top of the other, its just not a concept that is really feasible as its just so unnatural....
    This is my opinion and i do honestly hope i do not offend anyone with my reaction to this work (which so eloquently expresses human natural reaction) on entering one of these buildings, especially if you've never been there before... thank you very much ruth for a constructive interesting and most poignant piece.... karen
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Poem Submitted: Monday, August 20, 2012

Poem Edited: Saturday, February 23, 2013


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