Monday 10 July 2017

Poetry: A Notice Offering Amnesty

Posted by Chengde Chen*

A Notice Offering Amnesty
Written after the Grenfell Tower fire

By Chengde Chen

To determine the numbers of dead,
The police appeal to the survivors:

‘Please let us know your situation
And that of others you may know of.
Don’t worry about your immigration status–
We will not report it to the Home Office,
Nor will the Home Office pursue it.
So, please contact us!’

I seem to be touched by this,
But don’t really know what for.
For humanity in the law?
Or because we’re guilty of so lacking in it,
That we have to sacrifice the law
To compensate?

* Chengde Chen is the author of Five Themes of Today, Open Gate Press, London.


Keith said...

I’m ‘touched by this’, too. Not because of the presence or absence of ‘humanity in the law’, as such a thing might not be possible. But because of the flexibility of officials — the police and Home Office — who are customarily pigeonholed, fairly or not, with the charge of obduracy. I would maintain that the law, without human intervention, is only passive and lifeless documentation. The animating spark is the law’s application — that is, the functioning of officials, choosing how to weigh contexts, liberally interpret the legal wording, reach for accommodation, flexibly apply the law in good conscience, and even suspend the law — that can be judged on the basis of ‘humanity’. In this instance, if reality winds up matching the assurances over the longer haul, perhaps one might fairly allow that humanity was abundant in the decisions and deeds of these officials. We'll see.

Chengde Chen said...

Thanks, Keith, for the clarification. I had thought that "the law" in the context could mean "the system", in terms of documentation, application, and attitude.

Keith said...

It’s a pity, in the first place, that it took spiraling dire events to conjure ‘amnesty’. Shouldn’t humanity, itself — without scores of deaths and grim injuries — have been sufficient? Might these events be a metaphor — or more prosaically, a Rorschach test — of other seemingly-out-of-control social conditions? Does benevolence really require such an animating trigger?

Thomas O. Scarborough said...

Thank you, Chengde, for a lucid poem.

In the executive branch of government anyway, nobody behaves the way they do because it comes naturally to them. As soon as society organises, it seems that an unnaturalness enters the picture. In your poem the conflict, so to speak, is especially revealed.

It occurred to me that society has become much the same in dealing with people, not who are in the wrong, but who have been wronged. There seems to be little humanity in it any more. You've been wronged? Please contact our machinery, on the requisite form.

Chengde Chen said...

Thanks Thomas. Maybe humanity is something that there are always situations in which we find insufficient.

docmartincohen said...

It is a longstanding notion in (for example) hospitals, that people should feel free to seek treatment without being 'checked' for their imigraiton status, or indeed other offences too. (Tax liabilities?) The idea that you cannot find out if relatives are dead without risking deportation is indeed a sad reflection. I read that despite the 'assurances' people were indeed challenged on the correctness of their papers, on their immigration status and so on.

I liked the way Chengde juxtaposed the apparent 'generosity' of the government stance with the background assumptions revealed. One of my favorite Chengde poems.

Chengde Chen said...

Thanks Thomas. Maybe humanity is something that there are always situations in which we find insufficient.

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