Air Too Pure For Slaves (After Mossman)

I wrote ” Air Too Pure For Slaves” in response to a poem called “Make a Desert” by Milton Keynes poet Mossman. You’ll find it below.


Make a desert and call it peace.
Wipe out the people and call it an empty land.

Making; by your empires, a bigger better world.

Explore with your weapons and your diseases.
Justifying actions through an empty God.

Photographer: Foad Manghouly

Making; by your empires, a richer poorer world.

Seeking a free, but not a fairer trade.
Shipping home the spoils from lands despoiled.
Oppressing the foes you made.

Then in your decline,
In your victorious inaction and withdrawal,

Let the others sort the mess of their own making.
Whilst you bank the cash of sugar, slaves, munitions and oil.

Photographer: Clem Onojeghuo

Put up the statues to the glorious heroes
And their guilty municipal munificence.

Pull up the drawbridges now against free movement of those others,
Fleeing your manmade deserts
Across cruel seas, hoping only for safe haven.

The lucky finding only the torment of camps and barbs,
Freedom and life the only losers.

#mossman2016


I wrote “Air Too Pure For Slaves” inspired from Mossman’s poem. The title for mine comes from a chapter from a book called Black and British: A Forgotten History by British-Nigerian historian David Olusoga.

“Air Too Pure Slaves” is a poem in which I draw reference from Europe’s colonial past and show how the immigrants of the past helped make the continent into what it is today.

Immigration is not a new thing, it’s naive to pretend otherwise. Despite being a mass importation of illegal workers, The Transatlantic Slave Trade is a good example. People have been moving from place to place as long as people have been alive.


Build a country and exclude the labourers.
Chain the workers and bask in the profits.

Put them in a box, and send them to Sierra Leone.

Explore with your guns and man-made diseases,
justifying your actions through law and order,

making a nation of millionaires, a poorer richer land.

Photographer: NeONBRAND

Mother seeking the help of unfair trade,
the grains of Demerara, the threads of Virginia –
Cotton is king; there’s mercy in a massacre.

In Berlin, you agree to raid the The Savage Lands,
or so you named them. We are a Coloured Empire,
children slaving with bloody hands.

Then in your decline,
when you couldn’t maintain your greed,

you left the natives in a swamp of your making.
Whilst you mined money –
the spoils of sugar, munitions and oil.

Erect the statues to colonial knaves,
like Winston and Victoria.

Photographer: Trisha Downing

London streets, air too pure for slaves,
dwelling in your man-made deserts.
Now closing the door on their descendants –

leaving the vast expanse between
The Bulldog, the Dark Continent and Jim Crow.

The lucky find peace, abandoning
ship. Chains cackling with the
notion that death is better than bondage.

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.

India, 2016: A Retrospective Afterthought

I wrote this poem based on my time in India in the summer of 2016. Olivia Gatwood’s ‘The Only Thing I Brought Home From America’ from her book New American Best Friend is one of the poems that inspired it.

Olivia Gatwood is one of the most recognisable young poets in the United States. In her book she deconstructs traditional stereotypes in topic areas such as: childhood, sexuality and gender to name a few.

Furthermore, she writes about things that society tells us we should be ashamed of, through odes to the body and strong women to name a couple. I must say that seeing them performed is more satisfying than reading them.

New American Best Friend is one of the must-reads for the young people of today (millennials), truly. Whether you’re a poet, prose writer or our everyday Joe Bloggs, read this book.


The only things I brought from Britain
were a box of PG Tips
and an Assassin’s Creed T-shirt for Rafi.
On the dry days,
we power slide on bikes,
like we’re in Mario Kart –
Rainbow Road, not Desert Hills.

The locals are shocked that I am black
and not African, but British and not white or rich.
This subverts their stereotype, changing
everything they’ve learned in the
former-church of Victoria, where they
were taught that life was better with a master.

But now they rule themselves –
with bureaucracy, like the British before them.
Curry and corruption is the underbelly,
but Hyderabad lay hungry in the
setting sun. The West ate their bellies full,
with the Industrial Revolution
stacking states like long multiplication.

Photo by: Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash

“Darkies aren’t good” a light-skinned man
says… in 1948 and 1988 and 2016.
But this doesn’t apply to me, surely
because I’m British, right?
Always guarding my wicket,
ready to hit off-break and seam
down the ground.

In India I was among friends too –
where caste and creed were an afterthought.
Though, Real Madrid was their anthem
as the wicket was mine, or was the anthem
the 4am calls to break the Ramadan fast?

When I tell the family of my atheism
the penny drops –
I’m not female; I don’t wear a hijab,
but I high jabbed the establishment.
(Like saying no to David Bowie in Britain)
Oh no, the sacred texts!

Photo by: Loubna Benamer on Unsplash

We sit for dinner, the whole family,
much alike my own. I sit there,
pretending to be British,
with my RP accent but I think about my
immigrant grandparents. Grenadian-born –
French surname – Ventour –

and I think about my other grandparents,
Jamaican-born – Welsh surname – Griffiths.
But I know, no matter how many times
I speak of the UK, my home,
I think of Fanon’s Black Skin White Masks
like having a British passport makes you British.

Rafi says “I am lucky” and I am,
but I think he is lucky –
to live in a country that still values family dinners
and the art of conversation (somewhat).
The young ones speak in English
and their grandparents speak in Urdu or Hindi.
The millennials respect the elders.
They call them aunt and uncle, even the strangers.

Photo by: Annie Spratt on Unsplash

The young people love football.
Cricket, not so much. They call it boring,
and I know this is the wrong answer.
Cricket is the game of my ancestors.
I am West Indian and British and rich
and poor and a slave and a colonist…

and when it comes down to it,
we’re remnants of our ancestors –
who went from place to place,
men and women who didn’t all wear crowns.
But were more simply –
working people, slaves and peasants.

Foreign Policy

I wrote this poem not long after watching Gurinder Chadha’s Viceroy’s House, a film about the partition of India in 1947 and the creation of Pakistan. However, in this poem, I talk about many other colonies of the British Empire (not just India).

Other influences include Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander and Sons of Liberty. This first is a series based on the books by Diana Gabaldon about a woman who has fallen through time from 1945 to 1743 in Jacobite Scotland.

The second America’s War of Independence and the antics of Sam Adams, Ben Franklin and the rebels who freed White America from the British Empire (there were still slaves in 1776!)

The poem Suicide in the Trenches by Siegfried Sassoon was also a big help but its usage here isn’t part of my response poetry thread. John Agard’s Flag also came into play when I wrote Foreign Policy. 


Scotland’s dislike for the sassenach goes
way back in time when blood-breasted
soldiers marched with rhythm and rhyme.
Committing all numbers of war crimes,

they blitzed Bonnie Prince Charlie and
his men in the Forty-Five – lead teeth tore
through their brains – nobody spoke
of them again.

Then there was Ireland’s Easter – freedom
fighters, rogue rebels – 1916, soldiers depleted
at the Somme, and then the Crown frowned,
as towns were levelled. History repeated.

The English bought properties forcing
the Irish from their homes, leaving
them to roam through grassland glades,
further dividing the nation.

She was more than a battle of beliefs
– a book of revelations – they made the
Irish think themselves inferior, whilst
England stood tall, rich and superior.

India 1919: the Amritsar Massacre –
bullets whistled like an icy wind, Gandhi
led civil marches and protests, stressed
at imperial ideologies.

Churchill had a plan – he said: “let’s
cut a hole in India and call it Pakistan,
it’ll be like carving a cake.” Many Muslims
bled travelling to a destination

they may never make – the streets inflated
with violence – fires and fights – dimmed
Diwali lights and now political choirs with
torn tongues like seasoned liars.

Previously known as the Minutemen –
Lone rogues who rebelled, labelled
as tyrannical hooligans who belong in cells
They were The Sons of Liberty,

patriots who fought for their land, while
the English soldiers bloodied their sand.
After much blood has been spilled, America
wins, but both sides must repent their sins.

General George is worshipped like a saint
but he used slaves without complaint – I do
wish slavery was a dream but this is how harsh
humanity is, standing with esteem.

England’s borders spanned the entire world
and around the globe its borders curled. To
Australia, they sent prison inmates on the
backs of ships, in cages like primates.

Britain committed eternal damnations, whilst
slaves worked sugar plantations – whipped for
freethinking and mutiny at the brunt of scrutiny
and abused for being alive.

Contrived – the English simply can’t be trusted.
Their personalities are just plain busted. They
play a façade. They mean one thing and then
they say “On Guard!”


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.