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  • Writer's pictureStephen Balogh

Whose baby?

The beginning of the long-running series of mobile public art installations called ‘Poems on the Underground’ happened to coincide with my moving to London in 1986 and has always prompted and entertained me in equal measure on my travels. For a potted history of this project, see I didn’t know this until now, but I was pleased to note that one of its selection panel is George Szirtes, a Hungarian ex-pat from the 1956 exodus just like my parents.

I am sure regulars on the Tube will over the years have amassed their own portfolios of favourites, and I have mine. Of them all, my own favourite is ‘Come, and Be my Baby’ by American writer Maya Angelou that was part of a suite of poems displayed in 1990.

Like all memorable writing, its effects permeate deeply into the reader’s consciousness, ready to return apparently unbidden when the time is right. For me, the past year’s events have been the trigger for its frequent recall. The poem is available at but I hope it is OK that I also reproduce it below.

Come, and Be my Baby, by Maya Angelou (1971)

The highway is full of big cars

going nowhere fast

And folks is smoking anything that’ll burn

Some people wrap their lies around a cocktail glass

And you sit wondering

where you’re going to turn

I got it.

Come. And be my baby.

Some prophets say the world is gonna end tomorrow

But others say we’ve got a week or two

The paper is full of every kind of blooming horror

And you sit wondering

What you’re gonna do.

I got it.

Come. And be my baby.

Entirely as an amateur with no background in literary interpretation whatsoever I hesitate to attempt a grand explanation, but here’s what it says to me: in the midst of often futile busyness and frequent apocalyptic tempests, what is truly yearned for are the depths of giving and receiving afforded by authentic, warm human relationship.

I have touched elsewhere on present-day risks from both the thinning of random social interactions and transactional complacency in closer relationships and am continuing to reflect on two phrases: ‘intentional accompaniment’ and ‘faithful presence’. In a postmodern world in which doubts about the nature of reality abound, the craving to feel realness in relationship, whether personal, familial or professional, is stronger than ever. And arguably as patchily experienced as ever it was.

Let this poem’s timbre and gentle coaxing prompt everyone reading it to remind themselves of the essence of humanness and to reorient themselves towards it.

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