I wrote this poem based on my time in India in the summer of 2016. Olivia Gatwood’s ‘The Only Thing I Brought Home From America’ from her book New American Best Friend is one of the poems that inspired it.
Olivia Gatwood is one of the most recognisable young poets in the United States. In her book she deconstructs traditional stereotypes in topic areas such as: childhood, sexuality and gender to name a few.
Furthermore, she writes about things that society tells us we should be ashamed of, through odes to the body and strong women to name a couple. I must say that seeing them performed is more satisfying than reading them.
New American Best Friend is one of the must-reads for the young people of today (millennials), truly. Whether you’re a poet, prose writer or our everyday Joe Bloggs, read this book.
The only things I brought from Britain
were a box of PG Tips
and an Assassin’s Creed T-shirt for Rafi.
On the dry days,
we power slide on bikes,
like we’re in Mario Kart –
Rainbow Road, not Desert Hills.
The locals are shocked that I am black
and not African, but British and not white or rich.
This subverts their stereotype, changing
everything they’ve learned in the
former-church of Victoria, where they
were taught that life was better with a master.
But now they rule themselves –
with bureaucracy, like the British before them.
Curry and corruption is the underbelly,
but Hyderabad lay hungry in the
setting sun. The West ate their bellies full,
with the Industrial Revolution
stacking states like long multiplication.
“Darkies aren’t good” a light-skinned man
says… in 1948 and 1988 and 2016.
But this doesn’t apply to me, surely
because I’m British, right?
Always guarding my wicket,
ready to hit off-break and seam
down the ground.
In India I was among friends too –
where caste and creed were an afterthought.
Though, Real Madrid was their anthem
as the wicket was mine, or was the anthem
the 4am calls to break the Ramadan fast?
When I tell the family of my atheism
the penny drops –
I’m not female; I don’t wear a hijab,
but I high jabbed the establishment.
(Like saying no to David Bowie in Britain)
Oh no, the sacred texts!
We sit for dinner, the whole family,
much alike my own. I sit there,
pretending to be British,
with my RP accent but I think about my
immigrant grandparents. Grenadian-born –
French surname – Ventour –
and I think about my other grandparents,
Jamaican-born – Welsh surname – Griffiths.
But I know, no matter how many times
I speak of the UK, my home,
I think of Fanon’s Black Skin White Masks –
like having a British passport makes you British.
Rafi says “I am lucky” and I am,
but I think he is lucky –
to live in a country that still values family dinners
and the art of conversation (somewhat).
The young ones speak in English
and their grandparents speak in Urdu or Hindi.
The millennials respect the elders.
They call them aunt and uncle, even the strangers.
The young people love football.
Cricket, not so much. They call it boring,
and I know this is the wrong answer.
Cricket is the game of my ancestors.
I am West Indian and British and rich
and poor and a slave and a colonist…
and when it comes down to it,
we’re remnants of our ancestors –
who went from place to place,
men and women who didn’t all wear crowns.
But were more simply –
working people, slaves and peasants.