Where Are You From? (After ‘Effing Swings And Roundabouts’ By Lauren D’Alessandro-Heath)

I wrote this poem inspired from ‘Effing Swings and Roundabouts’ by fellow poet and friend Lauren D’Alessandro-Heath where she dissects her name and its connotations through poetry and spoken words.

Additionally, this poem came from my three-week stint in Toronto and Ottawa (Canada) when Uber drivers kept asking me “Where are you from?” as “the UK” wasn’t good enough for them.

In my poem, I aim to do the same thing with my names and their baggage, as well as answering the quintessential question.

This is a question that is asked on a regular basis to people who look different, those that show otherness, including whites.

Where Are You From?

Enjoy (mind you, it’s a long one so buckle up). Above is a reading of my own poem, followed by the text version (below).


Part I

That day in history class, I was giving the teacher a grilling; talking at speed about the chosen truths they make kids read.

I paused, preparing my trident for war like Poseidon, preparing to debate with spitting snakes of Medusa.

Her speech hisses, her mouth a boneyard of teeth, like the streets of England below, a radio with its back ripped off.

Her mouth leans in and asks:

“Where are you from?”

And I laugh, it’s not the first time I’ve been asked. Could it be my brown skin, my frizzy hair? Alien? This Martian melanin man too dark to not have come from foreign soil.

My name has been Ventour and Griffiths. That’s where I am from. But I’m also Noel and Welsh. I come from Parkes and Baptiste. Moore and Clouden.

Slave names given to my ancestors who endured the Trade so I could have my life, that outlasted the raids of West Africa for gunpowder and gold.

I can trace these names back to Grenada and Jamaica. Ventour and Noel come from my mother’s family, originating in Grand Roy and St George’s.

Grenadian, or French like Mr Coloniser’s name.

My family back home, now country bumpkins, farmers, real estate holders, gardeners inheriting those allotments from those who carried our forbears as human cargo.

Grenada… Isle of Spice, paradise, soca and calypso, the world’s second biggest exporter of nutmeg, then there’s those submerged slave statues in St George’s Bay.

My cousin Kelvin, Granddad Sarge, my cousin Barbara, my mom and brother Photographer: Val Forrester

My father’s family…

Griffiths and Parkes, from Manchester and Portland, Jamaica. Jerk chicken and Rastafarianism. Reggae – Bob Marley, Gregory Isaacs,

sound systems booming from forests, parties in bush down dirt tracks far from GPS and Google Earth. Ackee and saltfish. Dreadlocks and Patois.

Walking down a dirt road, there’ll be two men playing dominoes on a box next to a goat. Solve the riddle and they will tell you where you need to go like it’s a Skyrim side quest. I jest,

but I know both cultures and countries, that my names come from killing nations, the cremations of traditions, religions and languages.

Slavery and dictatorships as blood sports from the ends of nine tails, and the flailing bodies from trees round Jamaica and Grenada;

Ghana and Nigeria; Ivory Coast and Senegal; from the ships that sailed slaves down the Thames, from the slave markets of Bristol – both sides of the Atlantic.

My names mean strong, mean survivor, like Nanny de Maroon.

Black women had it far worse than the men. Out there in the trenches, fighting rape and master. Fighting his wife, and the knife of the ship’s captain.

How many immigrants and refugees would have stayed in their homelands if the West hadn’t colonised these countries to begin with?

And I think it’s sad that more ten-year olds have heard of Henry VIII and Boudicca than of Cecil Rhodes, Rhodesia and blood diamonds.

I think it’s sad that more young Black men have heard of Versailles than of the Carib and Arawak tribes, than of boxing pioneers like Bill Richmond in the Georgian East End of London.

I think it’s sad that if schools teach slavery, they only talk about Wilberforce, Clarkson and Pitt, politicians who fought for abolition through politics, who never experienced master’s wrath, slave codes, whips or journeyed in the hulls of ships.

We don’t learn about the lawyers and the judges. We don’t learn about Lord Mansfield and the Zong or the case of Granvillle Sharpe and Jonathan Strong.

We don’t learn about the slaves who freed themselves, like Harriet Jacobs, like Nat Turner, like Harriet Tubman, like Nanny of the Maroons, like the island of Haiti.

We don’t learn about conquest through the courtroom; the United States versus the Amistad; Somerset versus Stewart; the real Solomon Northup versus Birch.

Me, with my cousins Kahlila and Chelsea in Canada
Photographer: Chelsea Moore

Part II

In 1765, a teenage boy was admitted to London’s St Bart’s. His master had beaten him badly. Left him to wind, rain and cold – left to die.

Sharpe found Jonathan, paid his medical bills and probably saved his life. Sharpe could have left him to the cold, sold him for gold. But he didn’t…

An act of kindness. Two years later, Strong was abducted and sold to Jamaican slaver. Determined to be free, he plead to Sharpe for help. Not wanting to become part of the next slave ship mutiny. Not wanting to be swallowed by the seas.

This case was not isolated. Blacks were being poached up and down this island nation, cartered onto ships and sold back into mass incarceration.

Sharpe was no lawyer, no legal training; he was just a man, a human being who saw an injustice being commited.

He was conscripted to the ideals of British freedom. This was about morality, this was about what made Strong’s life worth less than his own?

This was about how could he hold his head up in the street if he left this boy to certain death?

He had an unflinching moral compass. What was immoral could not be legal.

In 1772, he won a test case that outlawed slavery in England.

Where were Strong and Sharpe in my lessons?

Photographer: Pascal Laurent

Part III

I know we are descended from a mighty people, gave civilisation to the world, survived the hulls and holes of Jim Crow, Apartheid and Slavery.

People that innovated, created, loved – despite tortures unimaginable. They’re in my blood and in yours too. That’s how I became me and you became you.

This comes with good food, family barbeques, jokes and rice and kidney beans, a close-knit family, grandmothers whose first question when I walk through doors is:

“You hungry? Have you eaten?” Sustenance of life, soul food, dare I say poetry? My soul starting to shake, leaving my body as I find hidden wedges thick like steak that Grandma has put in the fish cake.

Weekly, I am asked “Where are you from?” Clearly not from here. But I speak the coloniser’s language pretty well. I do not speak the broken English-French Grenadian tongues that my Great-Grandma Toile did.

I investigate family mysteries, like having a white Irish great-great grandfather called Street. I see India in my grandmother, West Indian Indian…

many call it Cooli – many come from Trinidad who are Kenyan-Indian in descent. More questions there!

All these questions tell me I have to validate my existence to see which country of poor Black people far far away I come from.

Stories that made me and my genealogy, scouting in pedigree and family history. I look at my reflection and see my face, a conglomerated peoples and cultures that drifted from place to place.

But when I am asked “Where are you from”, I laugh. I give them my history, that I speak bits and pieces of French, that I understand some of the split tongues of the Caribbean

that I speak in metaphors and similes. That I speak in poetry and spoken word, villanelle, soliloquy and free verse.

I give them my life story, leaving them perplexed casting a hex on their ideas of indigenousness.

But I can laugh, when someone asks “Where are you from?” That my skin screams, Motherland. Not England, Africa.

And I watch my identities multiply into a million diaspora. Each once whole, whispering “We used to be whole. We used to be one.”

But of course, I don’t believe them.

AKA For The Love Of Jessica Jones

I wrote this poem from the point of view of Jessica and an unnamed narrator on the character Jessica Jones in the Marvel-Netflix series Jessica Jones.

Jessica Jones is a kick-ass personal investigator who dwells in Hell’s Kitchen, New York City, within the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).

Having recently finished Season 2, I felt compelled to write something, as I think this series is one of the best character studies of mental health ever put to screen.

I wrote this poem inspired from “Anxiety: A New England Folk Tale” which was inspired by “Anxiety: A Ghost Story” by American poet Brenna Twohy.


We have to talk about the kick-ass PI in Hell’s Kitchen.
When you’re a vigilante, you don’t live life
by the same rules as everybody else.
When your agency is called Alias Investigations,
that’s code for “own your shit and protect yourself.”

And when you’re connected to a number of murders,
or if there are regular explosions outside your apartment,
shrugging it off and buying a big whisky,
or heading to Kilgrave Castle is not the best idea.

If you’re taking pictures of shadiness and then shady stuff
starts happening, like murder and torture, then maybe
it wouldn’t hurt to take a short break. If you killed the bad guy,
but he’s still in your head, a man that nobody else can see,
don’t just go to the public house cemetery –
in your neighbourhood, in your front yard, and in your bedroom.

When I tell you about the ghosts that live inside Jessica Jones,
when I tell you about the cemetery in her childhood home,
at Alias Investigations and everywhere she goes –
when I tell you trauma is a steep slide with no visible destination,
that the life of Jessica Jones is a photograph that shows
everyone she loves as a garden of bones.

That her panic for her loved ones comes from memoir,
that anxiety is the Grim Reaper and his scythe,
that depression is the bottom of the whisky bottle,
this is the part when most people run for their lives.

To love Jessica Jones is to love an alias,
fun to have for a little while but you will be tired before long.
Sounds like Kilgrave cherry door knocking her muscle memory.
Like the family she once had. Like the new sibling
who tries to love her, even be like her. You are not stupid or brave,
you are jealous and have never seen a haunting before.

This love will not cure me, and it won’t
scrape the glass from the floorboards, but it will turn the lights on
and give me focus. It’s the kind of love that sends chills.

When you tell the ghosts, “If you’re staying, then you better make room,” they start to fidget. We work the case. We turn the music up.

Trish ‘Patsy’ Walker (Rachel Taylor) is the sister that tries to love Jessica
(Jessica Jones, Netflix)

And you say “My God, this office, how whole it feels,
even in the days that nobody comes in or out of it, progress.”

The way that I love Jessica Jones,

like a gentle hand reaching out of the past.


“There are worse things than death. Once you’re worm food, it’s over. Painless. Quiet. While the rest of us are stuck digging holes, picking up the pieces and remembering.”

Jessica Jones

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.

Black Holes In The Third Person

I wrote this poem in attempt to convey growing up and it’s inspired from Girl Beside You from Depression & Other Magic Tricks by Sabrina Benaim.


There’s a man
walking to class
with a boy by his side.

They call the man Joshua.

He’s carrying
the world in
his backpack.
A black hole
holding notepads
and novels –
trapped in the dark.

Joshua is a frown,
a crescent moon on its side.
The boy laughs.

They call the boy Jacob.

Jacob exits his parents’
Range Rover.
Jacob talks
like those kids in
Enid Blyton novels.

He holidays
in coastal towns.
Doing crosswords
in the view of
Spring’s Squill and Stonecrop.

And each time he writes
something down,
he looks at Joshua
with his
nostalgic eyes
remembering what was.

They continue
their walk and
they stop, to breathe.

So that’s what talking in the third person feels like.

Grandma’s House

I wrote this poem based off John Agard’s Half-Caste but it’s inspired from the many trips to my grandparents’ house. They (mom’s parents) are from Grenada in the West Indies.

As a child, I lived with my parents but I grew up at my grandparents’ which also means I grew up around the West Indian culture. They passed on that culture to their children: my mom, Auntie Luisa and Uncle Dean.

Both my grandparents are still alive. However, amongst the family, it’s known colloquially as “Grandma’s” despite Granddad living there too.

I grew up at Grandma’s House.

Explain what you mean
when you say
“growing up at Grandma’s House”.

You mean finding that meandering
mix of goat meat and rice & peas
in a Flora butter container?

Or is it the washing machine
that sounds like a Boeing 747
leaving the tarmac?

Or having a specific cabinet
of glasses that aren’t
meant to be used? Just admired,

and a grandmother who buys all
things supersize. In XXL, standing
tall like that high-rise Heinz ketchup.

It’s saltfish fritters as I bite
down, and the Scotch Bonnet
burns away my will to live –

It’s Sparrow’s dodgy lyrics and
Bob Marley’s polemic poetry, and
being shown NWA at thirteen

and the red, gold and green
blemishes of history: Marcus,
Malcolm and Morant Bay, those

stories – the gritty ghettos of
Trenchtown given life by Bob
on flawless twelve-inch vinyl.

At Grandma’s House,
it’s the fun and the glum, and
the echoes of steel drums,

and watching West Indian
men slapping dominoes
like swatting mosquitoes.

It’s stories of my uncle getting the
belt for being naughty (in the 80s)
Now, they’d call that abuse as

Great-Grandma Toile would
loose a slipper from her hand
like a tomahawk cocktail

hitting little Luisa right in the arse.
Lu was all smiles, always sporting
new fashions and hairstyles.

It’s watching The Olds turn into
Socrates and Plato after White
Wray and Morgan have been opened

and after a few more, it wouldn’t be
long before politics and history are on
the table, along with mac ‘n’ cheese and

oxtail, and cow foot and the sweet smell of
crisp ‘n’ dry and Granddad Sarge spiritedly
cussing the Caribbean cricket team and

Uncle Dean saying what’s your game?
Like when I nearly destroyed the fireplace
Somebody call somebody to help us!

Grandma’s face was priceless, like lived
photographs. Memories that live again.
every time you see that one picture

and that’s what Grandma’s House is.
– a house in black and white, and a
garden in digital and Technicolor.