The Door Of No Return

I wrote this poem about Elmina Castle in Ghana, a place with a doorway often labelled as “The Door of No Return” for the simple reason that this was the last thing slaves saw before they were shipped off to Brazil or the Caribbean.

It’s inspired by Grace Nichols’ “Price We Pay for the Sun” in her book The Fat Black Woman’s Poems. Elmina Castle’s history dates back to colonial times, as it changed hands between the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British.

This monument,
not picture postcards
to send home, or travel
magazine landscapes.

This castle,
more real than stories –
more than stone,
more than blood
and bone
and the thud
of horse’s hooves.

The skin of slaves
flap like flags
in the breeze. Who knows
what kind of tale this is?
The wind constantly
whipping their salty tears
like hurricanes sifting sand.

Slavery is the price we pay
for the sky to stop talking,
but all I see is broken glass.

Bunce Island, 1670

I wrote this poem inspired from seeing David Olusoga’s coverage of Sierra Leone’s Buncle Island in his book and documentary series Black and British: A Forgotten History. The video below will explain more.

The screams of Bunce Island
have finally found their form
and it’s barely a whisper –
a whimper on the forest floor –

they treat them like dogs.
Though they’re good enough
to rape. Cremating chastity
in the shack that sits over there.

It’s a game of cat and mouse –
the mansion men are howler monkeys,
The Rape House’s wooden walls
like a box to bury them in –

Photographer: Nomao Saeki

out in the yard the chains crawl,
jingling. Master’s mouth salivating,
ribs throbbing. It’s July, but they wouldn’t
know that based on the sky’s high fever –

parched animals looking like
master’s wrath, Britannia
flying flags like tablecloth in
the sight of the British imagination.

A slave was killed today. They didn’t
know her name. Her scream slowed
to a boil in the face of king and country,
skin flapping like the tail of a dinner jacket –

for a moment, they thought it might never
come to an end. But it does, in heavy hands
on the top of heavy heads and soon
she is half the woman she was.

What a horrid sight, her body
wrapped like a carcass ready
to be submerged – same as the
slaves that jumped from ships.

Photographer: Katherine McCormack

The rain falls from the sky
like dust on a shelf. And
they do, as many have,
catch droplets in their mouths

until their teeth,
tongues and throats
turn black.