Windrush

“Windrush” is a poem inspired from David Lammy’s speech about members of the Windrush Generation being evicted from Britain.

The Windrush are the people who came from the Caribbean between 1948 and the early 1960s to help with Britain’s postwar labour shortages.

Thousands of UK families only exist today because of the Windrush coming here; many fell on hard times when they came in the 1940s and the 1960s.

People like my great-grandparents came in the second wave of immigrants in the early 1960s, my grandmother from Grenada was six years old at that time.

They came for a better life. England was a land that had this myth-status throughout the colonies. It was dubbed a nation that “was paved with gold.”

This poem is inspired by David Lammy’s inspirational speech but it’s also directly influenced by “Directives” by American poet Olivia Gatwood.


The first British ships arrived in the Caribbean in 1623, and despite slavery they came when the “Motherland” went to war against Germany. Twenty-five thousand West Indians fought in the world wars.

When my great-grandparents arrived in this country under the Nationality Act, they came as British citizens. I’ve heard there have already been deportations. My Grenadian grandmother came on her parents’ passports. She has been here since she was six.

Is Grandma at risk too?

If it happens to you and yours, predictably you will ask the question why? You thought this only happened to stowaways, to the people who are caught sneaking in, but not you – who came by invite.

Not you who have been denied your rights after fifty years and more. You’ve worked too hard to be booted through Britain’s backdoor – with your careers as nurses in the NHS, with your careers as mechanics in the car industry, with your careers in housing and social work and recruitment and the media and employment and sports.

Grandparents, it seems your best is no longer good enough. This is not a place to set up shop and you thought you played this game of chess right. Do not be fooled by checkmate. Do not think by “winning” the battle you have won the battle. These institutions love it when you win like this. When you are at their mercy like this. When your pawn is one square from the end of the board like this.

You were told about streets paved with gold. Our ancestors were transported, bought and sold at the market. And now, like slaves, their descendants will go to live in countries they barely know.

And you, your children, (like my parents) and by extension their grandchildren – like my brother and I, this country was built on the backs of our labour. If you have lived here since you were six years old, are you really an immigrant? Raised and moulded in the view of The Crown, you are not a slave… you are of this ground.

When you’re black and British, the struggle is constant – like living inside your own heartbeat. Ripping apart your veins and arteries, convincing yourself that the white man is more worthy of the transplant.

However, Windrush, you are the solution. You have more than paid your way and you’ve earned your place. You are the National Health Service; you are schoolteachers, and politicians and judges and so much more.

When the bulldog doesn’t know how to speak softly, remember he has been taught how to bark and ask questions afterwards. When he uses his body like a battering ram through a steel door, remember he’s been taught to plunder and devastate. When he doesn’t answer your call, how can you blame a rabid beast for its lack of table manners?

How many have been deported? The Home Office should know. How many have been treated like prisoners in their own land, banned from free movement… constantly watched by the white-collar overseer.

This is not a game of chess. Checkmate or stalemate, these are people’s lives – those who arrived after the war and into the 50s and 60s and made roots.

So, Home Secretary, this is where bad decisions are made.

Do not masquerade behind talk, giving it this.

You are not a victim. You are a liability. You politicians are magicians, into smoke when it gets too hard. You are loose boots and loot crates of money for wars, not for pensions. Your uniform has seen better days. Your rope is frayed.

Windrush is marching through France not knowing whether to kill the bulldog or the Nazi. Windrush is saving the NHS from ruin. Windrush is saving the coloniser and becoming the colonised. Windrush is centuries of hard labour.

Windrush is putting out the flames of a hostile environment policy. Windrush is saying no to Enoch Powell’s River of Blood speech. Windrush is leaving paradise for a dystopia in hopes of creating something better for your children.

Windrush is a song in a strange land.

If you lay down with dogs, you get fleas.

Windrush is willing to burn in the apartment so the fleas do not get in.

Demerara

I wrote this poem inspired by the many times my mother and grandmother have sent me to the supermarket on trivial errands.

Moreover, it’s also inspired by a documentary series called Britain’s Forgotten Slave Owners by British-Nigerian historian David Olusoga.

However, it’s the seemingly trivialities that one sees on a supermarket run that turn out to be not so trivial. Everything has story, especially brands, and we often take things like this for granted.

My poem takes its name from the region Demerera , previously a Dutch colony in what became British Guyana, and then simply Guyana. But what most people know it for is the famous brand of sugar that comes from there.


When I came across Demerara,
my journey was cut short.

I weighed the packet in my palm
and thought about the blood of the yesteryear –

juice reserved for the Guyanese.
The shoppers around me minded their own,

one foot in the river of cane,
the other in the bank of Barclays and Lloyds –

a nationwide story. Rumour was, the pickers
had one and a half legs… like Kunte Kinte I suppose

just another a day at Tesco.

Photographer: Peter Bond

We take so much for granted
I said, watching the flag kill the wind.

The Brits said God Save the Queen,
taking a minute’s silence for the dead.

I declare war on their allegiance.
The Armistice forgets the colonised

and I’ll be damned if I keep this to myself.
So I put it in a poem, as you do.

I find Liz and Vic guilty of forgetting
their progeny’s childhood –

granules in their tennis shoes,
blood on their shirt…

a lazer to history, branding the pages
with a  poker like Samuel Johnson.

Photographer: Jack Finnigan

The man standing next to me puts
a Granny Smith in his trolley,

along with a box of PG Tips,
did they steal that too?

I see whips in the grains,
a tale in nine parts.

Demerara looks at me,
staring me down like a cat.

I look up to see bunting,
in rows and rows like plantations,

a loud arrogance to
those who know where to look,

like reciting the poem “Mandalay”
on the beaches of Burma.

Each time I look up, the flags stand taller,
floating into a Technicolor sunrise.

Photographer: Krishnam Moosaddee

I hold Demerara
in the cathedral of her youth,

where they belt God Save The Queen,
where they sing Britain! Britain!

They were calling her name.

What’s Up, Trouble?

I’ve broken ranks here. As well as poetry and journalism, I do write other stories as well. Inspired by the short story “No Results Found” by Nicholas Montemarano, this is “What’s Up, Trouble?”


General opinion suggests you should not look to grief counselling until at least six months after the deceased’s death. You should let the dust settle. I lasted six days. The dust hadn’t settled.

Auntie Luisa was barely in the ground before I started taking steps. I can still hear her voice. “What’s up, Trouble?” she’d say. She was always the artist. Even the way she walked was that of a practiced actress, elegant and tall. Always the performer and storyteller and when she told those anecdotes from her childhood, she would always have a voice for every member of our family.

No matter how hard things look, people say it’s better to read about grief and talk to your family than to rush into counselling. Not for me though. I rushed in. Counsellors seem to know a little about lots of things.

Ask Natasha about: “books with terminal illness or losing someone.” Natasha says: “A Monster Calls, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Me Before You, Still Alice, Thirteen Reasons Why, The Perks of Being A Wallflower, My Sister’s Keeper.” All those books are just interpretations though, aren’t they? People say everyone reacts to loss differently. Perhaps it’s best to read The Perks of Being a Wallflower, a story about a boy called Charlie in an American high school who is lonely and depressed after the death of his aunt (like me). Fitting, isn’t it?

Ask Natasha about: “dead aunties in popular culture.” Ask Natasha about: “grief over dead aunties.” Ask Natasha about: “grief over best friends.” Maybe it’s best to leave her alone with things like this. She can help in all numbers of ways but she didn’t know Auntie Luisa like I did.

Maybe I should look at photographs of Auntie Luisa with my mom and Uncle Dean from their childhood. I know Grandma has them somewhere. Maybe look at photos from Dean’s 40th. Maybe look at photos from her wedding to Uncle Morten who she nicknamed “The Viking” because he happened to be from Denmark.

Should I ask Natasha the questions my younger cousins ask? Should I ask her my brother’s questions? “What happened to Auntie Luisa? What was her illness? How did she die? Will I die?” I could write a poem made up of their questions and my observations and fictionalise the answers. Maybe I should read some Sylvia Plath. ‘Widow’ and ‘Insomniac’ and ‘Mirror’ – the words consume their victims like fire on oil. However, I might learn something new from poetry and imagery and the connotations that poetry brings after you lose the ones you love.

I remember how Auntie Luisa was the one to turn to when I finally had the courage to talk about the school bullies – their own version of discipline – the the racism, the abuse and psychological torment. And all those memories were resurrected when I watched Goodbye Christopher Robin. On our many trips together, you were Nanny and I was Billy Moon. And whilst my parents bickered, you were there. You knew that I wanted someone to think I was important, that someone cared about me and you were that person until the day you died. I won’t ever forget.

If I were to read this ten years from today, it will certainly trigger off the memories of spending many a weekend in Colindale, with you, dying, in your North London flat. We’d go to the Tate or we’d stay in and watch The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (back-to-back) or meet your “friend” Morten at the New Chandos after he had finished work. I’d have an Ocean Spray cranberry juice and you’d have a Martini Rosso on ice.

When you both came to Northampton, we’d go for walks. We’d play in the woods. We’d go to Delapre Park and Salcey Forest. It would often rain and that’s when we’d run back to the car laughing.

I always imagined that one day you’d collapse right in front of me but you never did. You always played a role. You were the fun auntie and I can understand why you did that – a kid who grew up before his time. You were forever the performer pretending you weren’t sick, even in front of me, whilst you smiled and laughed. Quite like chess, you were playing a game within a game. You were the queen. You went here, there and everywhere. I was jealous: Denmark, Spain, Japan and most recently, going to live with Morten in America.

Woody Allen once said something about life’s absurdness in one of his films: “life is a comedy written by a sadistic comedy writer.” I took that as him saying live everyday like it’s your last because it could be and that’s life’s great joke isn’t it? One minute you’re a pawn one square from the end of the board, ready for your coronation, and in the next, that very same pawn, (your last pawn) has been outmanoeuvred. And in the next moment, you’re moves away from being checkmated and you don’t even see it coming.

It’s a famous fact that Auntie Luisa was vain. She told me so herself; ‘one day I said “auntie” and she replied “don’t call me that. It makes me sound old.”’ And when she got sick she felt even older. I felt older as well – at twelve years old subjected to mortality’s dread. I have been twenty-two for the last ten years. Ask Natasha: “what happens to a person’s body between being diagnosed with Scleroderma and death?”

Or ask Natasha about: “feel-good films with terminal illnesses.” I could watch Me Before You with Mom; or Breathe with Grandma; and Forrest Gump with Uncle Dean and Auntie Mary. Forrest Gump is somewhat uplifting – spoiler alert – until the end when Jenny dies. As if YA fiction and coming-of-age films will somehow change my reality. It allows me to hide, to run like Forrest. “Run Forrest, run” Jenny says. But then her heart gave out – much alike how Luisa’s did. She could no longer see. She could no longer hear or speak. She just was. She was no longer in pain though. No more pills, no more mid-street panic attacks or shivering hands from sudden changes in temperature.

I was home alone with Grandma when Morten called. In Auntie Luisa’s solemn silence, he talked with Grandma. Thousands of miles away, her daughter lay punctured with tubes. Covered in blood. Ten years and done. “We can keep her on life support”, Morten says. “The doctors can’t do anything for her. You must give consent to turn the machine off. It’s breathing for her. Do you understand?”, he sobbed. “I’m sorry Cathy… our Lu is gone.”

There were some murmurs. Then the screams came, paralytic and piercing. Grandma clung to me. My mother arrived as I was giving my grandmother words of endearment, seconds after she had consented for her child to be taken off life support. “It’s okay Grandma. It’s okay.”

It was definitely not okay but what else could I say? Your child is dead and there’s nothing you can do about it but I’m forced to lie to you because that’s what people do in times like this – words of endearment in times of grief. You probably won’t be okay ever again.

Tennyson wrote a poem called In “Memoriam A.H.H” in which he talks about the loss of a friend and how people who grieve often struggle to find meaning. If anyone has had similar experiences, I get it.

I’m sorry for jumping around like this between these different events but they are important in showing the different perspectives, as my family are extensions of my own consciousness. Ask Natasha: “how long is the proper time to grieve?” Ask Natasha: “Do human beings have souls?” Ask Natasha: “Is there life after death or do we float through a void for eternity?”

Do we do away with Auntie Luisa’s possessions? You know, like her clothes and hairbrushes and handbags – and her iPhone4, her philosophical teachings or Jane Austen novels. When is the right time? When Granddad wails asleep or is it when Grandma sobs over the kitchen sink?

I think back to the good times in London as a child. And I’d often watch Auntie Luisa sleep, as children often do with their parents. But she wasn’t my parent; at the same time, she played both mother and father to me. She’d lay snuggled under the duvets and all you could see were her long hairs. “Wake up auntie,” I’d say and she’d smile and laugh. However, in one of my dreams recalling these weekends, when I said “wake up”, I wanted her to smile and laugh (like she normally did) but she didn’t. She was only forty-four. She was too young to fall asleep forever, and when she did she reminded me of the dead.


Despite the subject matter here, I really enjoyed writing this. At some point in our lives we will have to bury someone and it’s pieces like this which define soul searching. It’s possible to learn things about yourself in stories of self-analysis and evaluation.  And if you managed to get to the end, well done.