I wrote this poem specifically for a performance at Northants Black History Association. Focusing on local history, I decided to write a poem about Walter Tull.
Walter Tull was a footballer who played for Tottenham Hospurs and Northampton Cobblers. He was also a soldier during The First World War, being the first Black British-born man to reach the rank of officer in the British Army. His father was from Barbados and his mother was a Kentish white woman. Tull’s grandfather was a slave and Walter was killed in 1918.
My poem, Walter, is based on Mulatto by American poet Langston Hughes and on Checking Out Me History by John Agard. Both poets are known for critiquing and discussing racial politics and culture in their work.
I am like you white man, British!
in a graveyard nation.
“You’re not British.
Just a yellow bastard!”
Walter Tull. His grandfather, a slave.
His father, black, his mother, white
footballer turned soldier
in Footballer’s Battalion
and first Black British-born
man to lead white men
to fight in battle.
White moon over No Man’s Land.
French frosty night,
full of stars,
massive yellow stars.
What’s war but a game?
Bodies of flesh
White, blue, brown and black
men blown to bits.
The scent of rotting flesh stings the night air.
“Who are your parents?” a voice asks.
And there Walter lingers in his mixed-race mask.
Another yellow sunrise.
Half of a yellow sun
and his comrades drop one by one.
From Barbados, his father
travelled far and Walter to war.
He volunteered to go,
trading football for France’s
bombs, bullets and bayonets.
The French sky is full of stars.
Massive yellow stars as light as
the dawn, showing these white
men he was no pawn.
To them he was nothing but a toy.
A yellow bastard boy.
He went out into the night, showed
the English how to fight.
black man of big ambitions
moving boulders over white river
rapids to freedom street.
And when he died in Spring 1918,
stars were seen dancing through the air.
A British night,
a British joy.
I am British white man!
Yes, a man, not a bastard boy.