David Hume believed that natural benevolence was a basic human trait - a walk round the city centre usually confirms this. People like us, the understudies for no known part in no known play, have only got each for support against those who seem determined to tell us how to live our lives.

The Circle Dante Wasn’t Shown


Having reached this stretch of unrecorded ground,

this level stillness of relentless day, we’ve found

we are alone. Those raising up their hands are branded

by the sun, those falling on their knees in prayer

are kept there. The rest of us trudge forwards – heat

and searing light force us on . . .


Meanwhile: You’re waiting for the phone to ring,

waiting for a letter, email, fax, any bloody thing

hinting at reprieve. Each day’s a stay of execution:

the stop-and-go of traffic at the lights, the green man, red,

Facebook, Twitter, what the checkout woman said

about the bonus points redemption scheme . . .

You still believe no-one’s to blame?

When your turn comes / your card gets swiped / you sign your name.


We are the circle Dante wasn’t shown:

the understudies for no known part in no known play

– we’re waiting to come on

and never will.


Meanwhile: Unpack the Tesco bag-for-life.

Unwrap the pre-cooked chicken, the no fuss

prewashed, farmfresh mussels-in-their-shell.


Nearby, in hell, another evening falters to a standstill.


Meanwhile: Fade out the city streets, the sky, the background music of the spheres –


We’ll wait with you till everything around you disappears:

wait upon this stretch of unrecorded –

this level stillness of –

this heat and



from Without A Backward Glance (Barzan Publishing, 2005), © Ron Butlin 2005, used by permission of the author

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