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.

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.

The People v. Michigan State

I wrote this poem after after watching Kathryn Bigelow’s Detroita film about the Detroit Riots and what occurred at the Algiers Hotel in July 1967.

The poem’s style is based on Testimony by Seamus Heaney, an Irish poet who gained influence during the second half of the twentieth century, winning the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1995.


The building was silent before the
police arrived.
A Tuesday evening, darkness,
and gutter blood dancing
inside the hotel.
From the next street,
you’d have heard the screaming
and heard it stop and had view of the
military with their guns and tanks
coming down the road.

Lines of them, firearms loosed from their holsters,
ready to pounce on their prey like the big cats
of the African plains.
A line of dominoes facing the wall, petrified
young people, kids, playing the police’s
mind games.
Three dead black men, seven more beaten,
and two white women.

Unarmed, innocent. 25th July 1967.
Not that they knew then how history
would record that day as the victims
took the stand: in a sweat,
skittish, nervous. Families bereft.
Killer cops, not guilty (typically).
They always protect their own, and
Krauss free to roam the streets again
with his eyebrows of Satan.

Good Immigrant

Inspired from Black is the New Black, part of the BBC’s Black and British Black History season in November 2016


Home away from home.
From one island to another.
From the plains of Africa to
slavery to a land paved with gold.
That last one, a story sold on hearsay.

Made in the image of our creator.
Black skin, white masks –
ticking that Black British box –
a task, a struggle to understand
who you really are.

Children of the colonies, whose
parents prospered from their labour.
Strong in our pride, only smelling
the flavour when we came to see
what we had built for our mother.

The story of Black Britain (the story of immigrants in Britain) is the story of Britain, it is not a happy story
(Black And British, bbc.co.uk)

Stately homes, art galleries,
government buildings and so on.
The Barclays Brothers, Lloyds TSB
and JP Morgan all got fat on slavery’s
salaries – black people, slaves –
likened to an exotic menagerie.

Walter Tull! Mary Seacole! Trevor Macdonald!
Mary Prince! And many more since …
Citizen or a visitor? Countryperson or
an interloper? Not just men, women and
children passing through the middle passage.
No more slaves to throw overboard like the Zong.

Now when you stand up against what’s wrong,
your right as a citizen, whiteness cackles
like hyenas into the night – and then they
call you a criminal for protesting for what’s
rightfully yours – a job, decent housing, a wage

If there’s a statue for white figures like Florence Nightingale, there should be a statue for Mary Seacole
(Mary Seacole, bbc.co.uk)

not to throw people in a cage, prison cells
like it’s 1780, then Brixton happened.
1981: rebelling like the free slave state
of Haiti, conveniently three years before
slave trade ceased in the British Empire .

The story of the immigrant in Britain
is the story of Britain, it’s not a happy
story. But it’s all we’ve got.