The Cobbles

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.

Indulgent Carnivore (OR Fats)

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

Photo Credit: Lukas Budimaier On Unsplash

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?

Photo Credit: Ja Ma On Unsplash

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.

Smile

I’ve become synonymous with historical poetry but that’s not all I write about; I do attack different subjects, including mental health.

That’s what this poem is about. Mental health problems can sneak up on the best of us and this poem is a few thoughts on trauma.


People don’t give Black boys enough credit.

Even now at 22 I’m still studying and the last time I studied a positive Black person was when my schoolteacher told us about David Harewood as Othello.

That was ten years ago in 2008, a long time, long enough;

ten is the Capricorn Zodaic sign;

is highest score at a poetry slam;

ten years (plus two) is the difference between my brother and I;

is the difference between boy and man;

was when I first fell in love with the song ‘Son of Man’, in Tarzan.

Photographer: Dean Ward on Unsplash

I was reading The Perks of Being a Wallflower (love it). I was walking home one night and was thinking how White and hetero-normative young adult fiction is.

It might not seem like much, but it’s about seeing yourself reflected and not as someone else’s crutch.

I view reading as breathing and when I read I frown; when I’m in photos I find it hard to smile (on demand). I’m sad, and deep in thought.

I’m always down.

People tell me to smile.

Strangers telling strangers to smile.

Sweet old ladies that mean well saying:

“You’re too young to look this sad. Smile, sweetheart.”

Grandparents saying:

“Be happy. Just feel better.”

Weird, isn’t it? Telling someone you don’t know / those you do to look happy and feel better, treating depression like a headache.

Photographer: Taylor Grote on Unsplash

A smile takes one muscle more than punching someone in the face, that last one is what those who look like me are synonymous with.

Violence. Shedding more blood than tears.

Tantrums over thoughts –

ideas left hanging from a noose, swaying in the wind at the top of Empire State, contemplating jumping from the Golden Gate.

Knives through veins and vital organs, trying to take on something you know is bigger than you could ever vanquish.

Something that has killed plenty before and will kill plenty after; because if there is no attempt you lose the at least you tried speech.

Don’t tell people with depression to smile, because they might still be trying to scrub the trauma, a confession more holy than sin.

Scrubbed with boiling water – tap water, bottled water, holy water, it all flows under the bridge. A boat sailing to the slaughter.

Photographer: Aaron Blanco Tejedoro on Unsplash

Don’t tell Black boys to smile. Compliment, maybe – don’t demand.

Allow the contrast to funnel through, and if he does want to force a smirk, he will do it of his own volition, not at the behest of you –

with someone he can feel vulnerable with,

not some plastic grinned,

fish-eyed nice guy (or girl)

who finds the frown as scope to blame the victim.

He might have a good reason to be sad;

could be overcoming grief;

could still be in shock after a recent event

or he simply needs a good reason to smile.

It is not your mouth and they’re not your lips.

Not yours to find solace in

when the windows crash and shatter from the storm outside.

When your cardiac muscle crashes around your moneybox

like seeds in dry soil refusing to grow without moisture or sunshine.

And if you really want a sad boy to smile,

a Black boy to smile,

a grieving man to force a grin,

to wither in sin despite the depression they’re in –

talk to him until  you’re hit by

the blunt force instrument of mental health,

until to them it smells like flowers and not a graveyard,

until they re-open historic wounds to find roses and not a corpse.

Photographer: Nikita Tikhomirov on Unsplash

I am not yours to tell to smile;

if you keep saying “smile”, no one will ever want to.

And if you get too close,

you might get bitten and the victim will smile red.

Privilege

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.

Photographer: Matt Lamers

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?

Hunting Season

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.

Photographer: Ray Hennessy

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,

it says.

Photographer: Jerry Charlton

They promise
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
dead languages
in order to compromise.

At dawn,
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.

Photographer: Rebekah Howell

People say:
“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.”