Click the poem title below to read
Tanya Chan-Sam - How God Blessed Africa
Tanya Chan-Sam - Hoe God Suid-Africa Seen
Khadijah Ibrahiim - Paradise
Jack Mapanje - Surviving Freedom in Sunderland, April 2007
Jack Mapanje - Upon Opening Tinaсsylum Carwash
Simon Murray - AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARGHHHH!
Seni Seneviratne - Sitting for The Mistress
Rommi Smith - Full Moon
The Light from beyond the sky,
flying over England࣯ncrete shore
to straighten the curve in your back,
remove the screw in your face Ⲡ/> signs of centuries of loss and pain.
African dust between your toes
as you walk in a circle through
soft sand and sea,
in the cool night air before the white
thread of the dawn is lifted.
Paradise lies at the feet of your mother.
in a Sufi chanting,
polished ebony with the grace of an angel,
in white and indigo njaxas cloth,
swaying from side to side
Ar-Rahman, Ar-Raheem, Al-Kareem.
An-Noor is what you see
within the stars and the moon,
all regal and auspicious,
in dhikr you meet the morning sky;
finger tips turn tasbih beads;
delicate hums cascade
like silken sheets,
soften the heart.
Enter a place where time has
not damaged the heart,
freedom in motion;
Ar-Rahman Ar-Raheem, Al-Kareem,
All Merciful and Beneficial,
99 names 㯦tly, in harmony.
fusing tales of separation,
cut from Atlanticean bed
and a Sufi chanting, whispering Allahme;
Ar-Rahman, Ar-Raheem, Al-Kareem,
99 names 㯦tly, in harmony.
A Sufi chanting,
and paradise lies at the feet of your mother,
straightens the curve in your back,
removes the screw in your face,
keeps African dust rooted between your toes.
Ar-Rahman Ar-Raheem, Al-Kareem, An-Noor
Note: Muslims (particularly Sufis) teach that there are 99 names for God, An-Noor 鳠one of the names, which means 襠Light鮠Arabic 謩ght / guide to freedom).
Dhikr ⥭embrance 䯠be in a state of remembrance of God 沥e from everyday surroundings ᠳense of paradise.
Njaxas chwork cloth (in the Wolof language) 領en indigo and white.
Tasbih ಡyer beads.
I hear voices:
A chemical brown voice
a plastic bush:
Organic green voice
behind chemical bush:
green spreads weeds
brown blairs behind bush:
green weeds spread seeds:
Detail from a portrait of French aristocrat, Louise de K鲯ualle, Duchess of Portsmouth, a mistress of Charles II, posing with her black child servant. Oil on canvas, Pierre Mignard, 1682. Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery.
Blackbird lives inside me and the mistress
knows. She calls me her petite merlette
and tells me I mustn෯rry because
inside my black skin is a soul as white as
the pearls she has tied so tight around my neck.
She says I was three when she washed the devil
away. My head pushed back, water swamped
my face so I couldnࢲeathe. She says if I do
bad things I젭ake it black again. Then she켢r /> have to clip her little blackbird෩ngs.
The mistress says I must stand beside her while
Monsieur Mignard makes us up with colours that
smell; that we will be a painting, in a gilded frame,
hanging in the halls of the Palace of Whitehall;
that the King will be pleased; that her skin will be
lead white, against the burnt umber and lamp-black
of my skin. My head spins and Monsieur shouts,
Look at the mistress, not me! Tilt your chin up!
I gaze at her neck. The collar of pearls stifles mine.
I try to see her soul inside her skin.
Blackbird lives inside me.
There are feathers everywhere.
I sweep them into small piles, far down
below my ribs and smile like the mistress tells me.
Parched lips stretch across dry teeth and pull my cheeks.
As if cheeks would melt. The face very close
in my dream squeezing mine as if our cheeks
would melt into each other. Tears trickling
over me and the mouth kissing.
Blackbird stirs and the feathers blow.
They clog my throat. When I cough out
feathers, the mistress laughs, asks why
I bark like one of the Kinganiels.
Merlette aboye comme un chien.
Blackbird takes flight.
One swoop, two swoops, three swoops.
My feet are scavenging for solid ground.
The mistress will be angry. Behind her head
One䷯䨲ee clouds in a painted sky
slow me... one...two...three...down...
Blackbird lives inside me.
She sleeps while Monsieur Mignard
mixes colours in his pots of clay.
My hand is too small for the weight
of this pearl-filled nautilus shell.
If I tremble, if the shell tips over,
if the polished pearls fall, the mistress
will be angry. One red jewel, two red jewels
three red jewels dripping from her dress.
The mistress rests her arm across my back.
So light a touch, a tickle on my shoulder.
A touch, a lift, a strong arm round my legs,
a hand cupped under my armpit, fingers
pressing on my back. Blackbird flutters,
I gulp feathers. Heavy eyes count blackbird
back to sleep. One ... red ... jewel ... two...red
jewels ... three ... red... Mistress nips my shoulder.
Look at me and smile, merlette!
You will spoil the picture!
Blackbird lives inside me. She is learning
to be still. She watches Monsieur Mignard
as he watches me. The crimson coral chafes
my fingers, rough like the blanket that we
hide under at night, in the damp room that
smells of the big grey water, licking the palace
walls outside the window. Sickness rises like
the water to drown us. I push my fist into my mouth
and bite my knuckles. Blackbird wails. Her wings scream
at the criss-cross window. We have to fly away, fly away, fly home.
When blackbird thuds down, I suck in breath and hold
my ears to stop the noise. Mistress is right. We젨ave to clip
your black wings. Tame the devil in you. I lie very still.
Itke a hand is squeezing my head and I canॶer grow.
My cheeks sting and I cannd blackbird. Pain crawls from
chest to belly. I wrap it up, cover it with feathers.
Blackbird lives inside me. She teaches me to fly
over the palace gardens. We leave the mistress
sitting on her velvet stool with pink cheeks and
painted lips that never smile. We find black pearls
that are soft and bitter on the tongue.
We lose ourselves in the swish of leaves and
the pearls fall in my hands, bleed on my fingers.
I stand on tiptoe, claw at mamaࢯdy, my leg
reaching to get a foothold, to climb up her as if
she is a tree but she is being dragged away, smaller
and smaller until she disappears. Blackbird whirls
in the sky screeching, We are lost, we are dying!
Blackbird is captured. Blood stings my lips, pours
from my fists. Hold her down. Beat her till her feathers fly.
Beat the devil out! Savage! Nothing will tame you!
I lick blood. Blackbird calls Mama, Mama, but I tell her
You have no Mama, you are too wicked.
It is like love, they say; you don૮ow what it is
that slow moon sinks inside you, deep as realisation.
And just like that moon on nightps,
its meaning though a statement of itself, is greater
than its circumference. It is understood in phases:
half, full, new; it plays an emotion in you,
you keep trying to set to words.
You could spend your lifetime standing still,
contemplating its existence, comprehending where to find it;
trying to squeeze its definition from the tightest, airless places,
oblivious that you are, at your centre, what it tries to tell you
that you are, eyes turned from its presence in the
smallest acts of kindness.
You don૮ow what the word is 鬠you mourn
its passing; its substance up in flame and you inhaling smoke.
The death of something as routine as Monday;
the thing you never knew you had, yet took
for granted, has you looking for the remnants
of its letters, feeling through the ashes;
the sadness as you堳pelling out its ghost.
In exchange for faith, we desire proof ੬lustration;
to capture it and make it testify to our own narratives,
but in asking a butterfly its destination, we conjure its antithesis.
It is like love, they say; you don૮ow what it is until
you know: it lives due to love; the bright yolk
held sure in the centre of the shell, not eclipsed, but enclosed;
the moon that sends its mirror upon the tide, the tide
that brings the mirror back. The same moon that lights
the open, terrifying road; the light that urges us: