I wrote this poem inspired from ‘Clocking In’ by poet Mitchell Taylor, in which he talks about the mundanity (yes, I made this word up) of retail.
Mom would drop me at The Cobbles
yes, The Cobbles, I went to a private school
a place of high fees and English smiles
and by English smiles I mean colonial rules
I’d be dropped off at The Cobbles each day
these parents scoffed at £10-notes with enthusiasm
as my parents worked their asses off so I had the best
these children had no nouse
of what it was like to be hungry to go without
what happens without their silver-platter path
rugby matches, horses, weekends in New York
lives of decadence and class
but displays of decadence didn’t stay in class
I was dropped off at The Cobbles each day
a full stop against a white background
just sheepishly reciting those Latinate sounds
I was dropped off at The Cobbles each day
even at ten I knew I was a joke
they were staring at me cus I was brown
they were all clones of each other
I’d now call them happy robots, drones
and those five years gave me depression
taught me how to be toxically selfish, alone
but that chapter of my life’s
been swallowed up in the Cold War I fought
but I’m happier now
I don’t go to private school anymore.
I was vegetarian until I was sixteen years old and this is about that. It’s also inspired by ‘Beleaguered Vegan‘ by Dominic Berry.
Once upon a time, I was vegetarian and I think it’s time I went back. Anyhow, I hope you enjoy the poem.
I love food, it’s effing bliss
but when I’m out with the relatives
they’re analysing my dish
you know that West Indian mission
like back when I was vegetarian
when I was more egalitarian
meat and two veg (eat healthy) they’d convey
but say yes to Appleton and Old Wray
greens and pastas, no meat for Master Tré
quorn, cheese, Weetabix
whilst they would say gimme a bite, just a little bit
they acted like they were all dietitians
that’s how they got their kicks
so many Caribbeans have PhDs in nutrition
now, I’m asked what’s that you got there?
I’ve eaten the flesh of mares
and those meaty pizzas
fantastic beasts and where to find them
cold carcasses of chickens and cows
animals we’re fine putting into our mouths
lamb shank and curry kids. Try Bolognese,
a bacon butty and BBQ ribs
but forget about cats, dogs and a horse’s hide
we are British, that would sully our pride
and back then in the ripe old days of 2005
I was too difficult to please
because I wouldn’t eat animal corpses
I would rather bits of kale, crackers and cheese
just not the bones of executions on a platter
I was a child. I wasn’t raised rude
I was just deemed too sensitive to eat dead food
like pigs in blankets and turkey breast
on the Christmas Dinner table
but that is now past, one day, I was tempted
by those Caribbean fables
of fried fish, stewed chicken
yes, I now love meat
but you won’t see me bashing veganism
with hashtags and tweets
as I eat vegan food too, I don’t discriminate
open the hatch, down the shoot
some call me a human dustbin,
and I couldn’t live without
burgers, beers and BBQ chicken
salt fish fritters, breadfruit and chocolate cakes
macaroni, rice and peas and Grandma’s fried bakes
popcorn, roti, and all you can eat buffets on a boat
my gravestone will read death by curry goat
there’s so much food I adore with passion
and I’m not so keen on dessert
but under the covers, right down below
you might find me wrist deep
in a saccharine sweet Black Forest Gateaux
my family were boggled at my choice
but before I was an omnivore, I was a veggie
they thought my food habits were a phase
if a phase was a craze of sixteen years of being kinda edgy
I don’t need to eat meat
but I do, I like it, what I won’t endorse
is torture upon cows, goats
for milk packaged to feed the 7bn
when there’s alternatives like rice and soya
why do we drink other animal’s milk
is this some kinda effed up human paranoia?
we do unto people what we do to animals
field beasts supposedly done no harm
people abusing people in FGM and human-trafficking farms
prisoners packed side by side like slaves making our clothes
behind bars rights disposed, brains comatose
systematic abuse industrialised for the masses
to feed us, the working and bourgeois consuming classes
if there really was strength in numbers
the animals would have long rebelled
maybe it’s time I became vegetarian again
and consoled my conscience until the end.
I wrote this poem inspired from my schooldays and my reflections on that now as an adult, and its related connotations.
Also, this poem talks about how discrimination can happen between privately-educated / state-educated people of the same ethnicity.
This poem was deeply-inspired by ‘Privilege’ by Lacey Roop. She’s a slam poet and author poetry collection And Then Came the Flood.
At fourteen, I was educated with the children of the rich and entitled.
At lunch I sat with them – children who lived in big houses.
Honestly, I disliked most of them. I didn’t want to be one of them.
My mom was a teacher, my father worked in IT.
The parents of these children were lawyers and businesspeople.
In other words, they sold lies for a living; however, like my colleagues, I never knew the meaning of without or hungry.
Some of the friends I made at school were people who had never encountered people of colour before – other than those they saw on television.
I grew up around people who had names like Seonai and Winston and Darius and Precious and Paris and Isaiah.
And they grew up with people who had names like Mary-Kate, Anna-Grace, Elizabeth-Anne, Tom-Harry and John-Paul.
By today’s standards, they’d be known as progressive white folks who had more money than they knew what to do with.
They were the offspring of people who felt uncomfortable around someone like me, a child – whose last name wasn’t Jones or Smith, whose skin tone was a shade too dark, too dug up earth for their white picket fence.
One time, I was invited to a party. Drugs and underage girls littered it like confetti. The houses of lawyers and CEOs and surgeons, people who had inherited everything they owned.
When other Black people here how I talk, they question who I am. They question my ethnicity and identity.
Just because when I spill the heart contents of my chest, they ask if I am really Black. Because I talk too well for this colour.
As if my blood is not infested with the same slave plantation mud as theirs. I do not hate my skin but I’m often ashamed of those who share the same melanin as me.
Judging me on my RP and how I was raised, not what I say or how I behave. I hear people say, “If you know better than do better.”
This is why I can’t gawk from the side lines when I see Black people putting each other down. When I see colourism dividing us by our different shades of brown.
Black Privilege is feeling the bitterness of other people who look like me. This private school childhood is being the token Black.
It’s knowing my mouth is more bulletproof than Charlottesville which is why I use this mouth loud, even in the face of that bitterness.
To keep certain ears attuned to “You know better so be better.” For my eyes to be whitewashed and imperialised. Black privilege is a fiction, a fantasy.
It’s the assumptions people make because they hear my softly-spoken syntax – this relaxed tone of voice. This privilege-sounding tongue-tied man subverting stereotypes.
It’s the judgements we take without thinking. I was stop and searched by police for simply blinking… wrong place wrong time.
Having privilege is never having to think or talk about it. I’m always thinking and talking about it.
And if we all have voices to use, why on Earth should we stay silent?
This poem is inspired by some of the characters of my childhood, in addition to Fire Season by James Galvin and ‘One of the Good Ones’ by A. M. Pressman.
I went to school with children of privilege,
synonymous with the English upper-middle class
and the first time I went to their houses
I stared up at the mounted heads,
bold as brass looking down upon me.
Stags’ heads, boars’ heads,
hollowed out skulls
like the Egyptian from the days
of Tutankhamen, Cleopatra and Nefertiti.
They are the only brown things in the room,
showing me how to be “one of the good ones” –
open-mouthed mounted mammals,
hollow shells shelled with bullets.
I laugh at the homeowners’ jokes
and I can hear the oxymoron in my chest.
I stay silent as they endorse fox hunting.
I stay silent as they insult immigrants.
I stay silent as they recite colonial-era poetry.
I stay silent,
as they tell me how they freed
poor African children last summer,
as if they will try to decolonise me too.
I know they voted Tory, as their ancestors did before them.
How long will it be before I become a head on the wall?
How long until my bones sit in the British Museum?
I wonder if I they already view me as one of their trophies.
I grimace every time they talk about their friends’ servants,
people who come from places like South America and Africa.
They go on to talk about Terry and his manservant.
I wince every time they brag about their friends who boast
about the bleeding brown bodies that keep his household upright.
But sometimes at night, I catch
these people staring into the eyes on the wall,
dark orbs of stone you know?
They know what they did;
they can still feel the blood splatter,
like the indelibly etched ink of tattoos.
They tell them they’re sorry,
promising that they’re
“some of the good ones.”
In the days after Brexit;
I thought about them, the Head Collecters.
The days after Brexit; it was open season.
It was hunting season on British streets.
Bits of bunting flapping in the breeze
like bodies over Mississippi and Georgia,
looked like treason was making a comeback,
more comebacks than Nigel Farage
as history starts to repeats itself.
In my smothering dreams,
I walk into my year-nine class…
there’s a hat on my seat with a promise:
Hunting Means Hunting,
to Make the Woods Great Again,
to put the Great
back in Great Britain.
And it feels like someone
has drawn an X on my chest
with ninety lashes. It’s the same hat
that the children of my youth wear now.
They ask me to meet them halfway,
to reach across the shop aisle,
bypassing sugarcane and soy sauce,
nutmeg and chocolate; tea and coffee;
rice and tobacco; indigo and cotton!
They ask if I care
to walk over corpses
that look like me.
They ask me
to forget the countries
that their ancestors
put on their backs.
They ask me to forget
in order to compromise.
I walk through Northampton
to the sound of history’s cries.
I see my not-so-childhood friends,
they know what their parents did.
They feel guilty; they still feel
my brittle bones in their hands,
skull and crossbones raised at half-mast.
“The blacker the berry the sweeter the juice”
But the Head Collectors said:
“The darker the meat the longer the noose.”
They hold my head in their hands and say
“You’re one of the good ones, but it’s hunting season.”