Immigrant Land

I wrote this poem after ‘The Real Refugee Crisis’ by one of the best poets in Amsterdam, Kevin Groen – who I’ve seen perform a bunch of times.

This poem’s all about my country, Britain, and how the recent “Immigrant Problem” is a walking contradiction when you look at its history. Nonsense.


is the Windrush
men, women and children
‘born from a sugarcane piece’
from colonies under
the whipping whip hand
of Enoch, Winston and Victoria

centuries of
slavery and land exhaustion
wasn’t that enough
and the only way to survive
was to leave paradise behind
bringing vaguely
European-sounding names
to foreign shores
up against uncertainty

thought British identities
aflame in Brixton and Handsworth
left home to find home
to build a society in monochrome
you say immigrant
that just means native anywhere else
but reverse the roles,
“Brits” getting fat in the midst of Spain
they’re just called expats

same thing really
but newspeak smoulders retina
when immigrants
are black rather than white
seeing seas of rejections
like oceans’ belly didn’t profit in times
of slave mutiny and insurrection

the Windrush arrived at Tilbury
gambling their futures with Mother Empire
identities prickly like barbed wire
used and abused labour
corrupted civil rights
no war but the class war people say
No Blacks, No Irish, No Dogs
bricks through windows
banana skins on the front porch
nigger, coon, monkey chants, wog

now they’re bored of our complaints
Caribbean grandparents
their children and now the grandchildren
my cousins, my brother and I
look it’s happening again
Brexit, UKIP, DUP
can’t you see how court jester MPs
treat citizens like it’s Ireland, Easter 1916?
like it’s the HUAC in 1955
like it’s Nazi Germany,
Gestapo and the Night of the Long Knives?

immigrant land
is the Windrush
the NHS
the Irish coal miners
those “expats” in America and Canada
the Brit(ish) Royal Family,
as all our ancestors went from
place to place as slaves and traders
also “explorers”, I call them invaders

we occupied your nations and stole your land
ripped children from mothers’ arms
trickled out with our lies thinking nobody
would remember fake wars or genocide

Photo Credit: Matteo Paganelli on Unsplash

Ragnar, Boudicca and Edward the Confessor
I could on and on about our unEnglish ancestors
the African Tudors John Blank and Catalina
we took in Jews fleeing Hitler’s Germany.
we traded in gold with Ghana, held slaves at Elmina
people came from Australia and New Zealand
India, China, America and Botswana…

don’t listen to those politicians who
talk of English England
England meaning land of Angles
meaning land of Norsemen, Germans
so don’t listen to those sermons
from Eton MPs in their long coats
free movement goes way back (1774)
with Ignatius Sancho
the first man of African descent
in Britain, to exercise his right to vote
and now those who came in the 1950s
the 1980s and the 2010s, called
illegal, rapists and criminals, condemned

we never care to think
what immigration is,
like Voldermort and those horcruxes
where you’re from and where you are
compromising bits of your soul,
it’s assimilation on a budget
at the brunt of backward racial theories
identity politics and mind control
there are no immigrants to be found
in Trump’s internment camps
nor on British streets
and it’s starting to feel Dickensian
pollution, poverty and street lamps

Photo Credit: Jordhan Madec on Unsplash

we’re all immigrants
we’re all people
we’re all citizens of the world
defying invisible borders

to be called nice more than nigger
to be called friend more than feared

that Windrush, that all of us together
wish to find home. To truly belong

and really,

who can argue with that?

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?

An Open Letter To ‘Moana’

I wrote this narrative poem inspired from the film Moana (2016), in my opinion one of the best Disney animated films since Lion King (1994).


The first time I watch Moana, I am in awe. It’s a spectacle to see that Disney actually made a film about a princess who’s not subjected to the Male Gaze and she’s of colour!

Warrior, battle-born, adventurer, explorer with all the fight, like Lagertha and Merida, as I hear the palpitations in my chest.

I smirk when she explores the concept of origins through song and dance. ‘Where You Are’ through customs and cultures of Motunui,

I stay quiet when they talk about old traditions;
I stay quiet when they talk about village mentality;
I stay quiet when they talk about safety and seclusion;
I stay quiet when they talk about coconuts and trees;
those vexations, confusion, frustrations, illusions –

as if my own family didn’t have versions of these conversations before they left the sunlit Caribbean for England’s wind, rain and cold.

She dreams like I do, travelling far away as the ocean calls her name. The world is wide and exploration pulls young minds and souls.

I wince when something bad happens to her, dragging a brown body storming down Middle Passage – a rain dance gasping under swash.

At night, I catch her looking into the the sky – thinking, wandering… wondering what will happen if she fails to the sound of splish splosh.

(Moana, Walt Disney Animation Studios)

But Maui promises that he is one of the good ones. In her dreams, she walks though her village promising to make the woods great again.

And if she fails, it’s byebye Motunui; it’s an X on Maui. The same X on her parents. She asks him to meet her halfway, to reach across oceans,

bending continents in half… from sheer determination, to not walk over future generations of dead Polynesian bodies in order to compromise.

You know at night, I remember the first time I watched that film – the song and dance thumb bites to the Male Gaze and patriarchy,

plus representation in front and behind the camera. It’s a safety net, that Moana is one of the good ones.

That she’s strong, that she will get back to the paradise she calls home having restored the Heart of Te Fiti, 

And

It. Will. Be. So. Fucking. Worth. It.

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.”