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.

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.

Plastic Beach

I wrote ‘Plastic Beach’ inspired from my poem ‘Semiotics: Observation Exposed’ and it’s essentially a sister poem to it.

The title comes from one of my favourite bands of all time, the Gorillaz and their album Plastic Beach. It’s well worth listening to.

White Flag‘, ‘Superfast Jellyfish’ and ‘Welcome to the World of the Plastic Beach‘ were gamechangers for me.

Their album Demon Days, with ‘Kids With Guns‘, ‘Dirty Harry‘, and ‘Feel Good Inc‘ is also fantastic, as is the iconic ‘Clint Eastwood’ on Gorillaz. 


plastic materials from soil to sand
clearly polluting our beaches and land
presidential delusions always constructed
coastal birds, fish and sea-life abducted
by litter trapped in glass sharp shores
public outcry from climate change to war

but we the public must focus
even when the world looks so hopeless
from beaches to politics
bottles breaking faces faking
cans crackling, leaders
packing wars like sardines
in third-world countries stacking refugees
increasing crises on our world’s seas

maybe it’s time for us to impeach
politicians and leaders that leech
throughout this global plastic beach
psychopaths fascinate me
killing plants and trees with legislation
making schools puppets of corporations

Photographer: John Cameron

propagating opinions as facts
but they’re just bloodsucking fat cats
when the blind lead the blind
it just leads to more plastic streets
as history is that same track on repeat
but trump won’t sign those parisian sheets

mrs may sanctions lawlessness and war
light breaches the red room image exposed
few can see through the emperors new clothes
when she allied with the DUP instead of Labour
she named and knighted racism her saviour
continued to treat Scotland like colonial neighbour
clinging to power to quench her woes
it’s the life her party chose  eyes wide shut
laughing and cackling like Jabba the Hut
as social comment is a film from edit to cut

system collapse and still won’t concede
we’re under the boots of the bourgeoisie
they’ll take refuge in God’s House like the old days
the cost to exist rises still, but now it’s easter sunday
leaders continue to spend thousands on an entrée
trump and theresa satirise the living wage and gunplay
don’t promise us rain if you can’t promise flowers
while Tory court jesters laugh in the shadow of  grenfell tower

Photographer: Sam Jotham Sutharson

politics and plastic beaches greed is the source
imperialistic agendas motives and thoughts
hearts of darkness polluting the natural world
like Hades plucking bodies for his underworld
class wars got street level folks misunderstood
while instagram culture levels childhoods

destroying the realness of our hearts
sectioning our emotions into pie-charts
sucking out our honesty so our eyes go red
killing us softly repeating the crimes of the dead


The plastic beach is just a metaphor. Yes, litter pollution in our natural world is rife but this poem is more about what else we pollute ourselves with.

What do our own plastic beaches look like? What do we litter our lives with, be it toxic relationships or substance abuse or anything else.

Windrush

“Windrush” is a poem inspired from David Lammy’s speech about members of the Windrush Generation being evicted from Britain.

The Windrush are the people who came from the Caribbean between 1948 and the early 1960s to help with Britain’s postwar labour shortages.

Thousands of UK families only exist today because of the Windrush coming here; many fell on hard times when they came in the 1940s and the 1960s.

People like my great-grandparents came in the second wave of immigrants in the early 1960s, my grandmother from Grenada was six years old at that time.

They came for a better life. England was a land that had this myth-status throughout the colonies. It was dubbed a nation that “was paved with gold.”

This poem is inspired by David Lammy’s inspirational speech but it’s also directly influenced by “Directives” by American poet Olivia Gatwood.


The first British ships arrived in the Caribbean in 1623, and despite slavery they came when the “Motherland” went to war against Germany. Twenty-five thousand West Indians fought in the world wars.

When my great-grandparents arrived in this country under the Nationality Act, they came as British citizens. I’ve heard there have already been deportations. My Grenadian grandmother came on her parents’ passports. She has been here since she was six.

Is Grandma at risk too?

If it happens to you and yours, predictably you will ask the question why? You thought this only happened to stowaways, to the people who are caught sneaking in, but not you – who came by invite.

Not you who have been denied your rights after fifty years and more. You’ve worked too hard to be booted through Britain’s backdoor – with your careers as nurses in the NHS, with your careers as mechanics in the car industry, with your careers in housing and social work and recruitment and the media and employment and sports.

Grandparents, it seems your best is no longer good enough. This is not a place to set up shop and you thought you played this game of chess right. Do not be fooled by checkmate. Do not think by “winning” the battle you have won the battle. These institutions love it when you win like this. When you are at their mercy like this. When your pawn is one square from the end of the board like this.

You were told about streets paved with gold. Our ancestors were transported, bought and sold at the market. And now, like slaves, their descendants will go to live in countries they barely know.

And you, your children, (like my parents) and by extension their grandchildren – like my brother and I, this country was built on the backs of our labour. If you have lived here since you were six years old, are you really an immigrant? Raised and moulded in the view of The Crown, you are not a slave… you are of this ground.

When you’re black and British, the struggle is constant – like living inside your own heartbeat. Ripping apart your veins and arteries, convincing yourself that the white man is more worthy of the transplant.

However, Windrush, you are the solution. You have more than paid your way and you’ve earned your place. You are the National Health Service; you are schoolteachers, and politicians and judges and so much more.

When the bulldog doesn’t know how to speak softly, remember he has been taught how to bark and ask questions afterwards. When he uses his body like a battering ram through a steel door, remember he’s been taught to plunder and devastate. When he doesn’t answer your call, how can you blame a rabid beast for its lack of table manners?

How many have been deported? The Home Office should know. How many have been treated like prisoners in their own land, banned from free movement… constantly watched by the white-collar overseer.

This is not a game of chess. Checkmate or stalemate, these are people’s lives – those who arrived after the war and into the 50s and 60s and made roots.

So, Home Secretary, this is where bad decisions are made.

Do not masquerade behind talk, giving it this.

You are not a victim. You are a liability. You politicians are magicians, into smoke when it gets too hard. You are loose boots and loot crates of money for wars, not for pensions. Your uniform has seen better days. Your rope is frayed.

Windrush is marching through France not knowing whether to kill the bulldog or the Nazi. Windrush is saving the NHS from ruin. Windrush is saving the coloniser and becoming the colonised. Windrush is centuries of hard labour.

Windrush is putting out the flames of a hostile environment policy. Windrush is saying no to Enoch Powell’s River of Blood speech. Windrush is leaving paradise for a dystopia in hopes of creating something better for your children.

Windrush is a song in a strange land.

If you lay down with dogs, you get fleas.

Windrush is willing to burn in the apartment so the fleas do not get in.

Bunce Island, 1670

I wrote this poem inspired from seeing David Olusoga’s coverage of Sierra Leone’s Buncle Island in his book and documentary series Black and British: A Forgotten History. The video below will explain more.


The screams of Bunce Island
have finally found their form
and it’s barely a whisper –
a whimper on the forest floor –

they treat them like dogs.
Though they’re good enough
to rape. Cremating chastity
in the shack that sits over there.

It’s a game of cat and mouse –
the mansion men are howler monkeys,
The Rape House’s wooden walls
like a box to bury them in –

Photographer: Nomao Saeki

out in the yard the chains crawl,
jingling. Master’s mouth salivating,
ribs throbbing. It’s July, but they wouldn’t
know that based on the sky’s high fever –

parched animals looking like
master’s wrath, Britannia
flying flags like tablecloth in
the sight of the British imagination.

A slave was killed today. They didn’t
know her name. Her scream slowed
to a boil in the face of king and country,
skin flapping like the tail of a dinner jacket –

for a moment, they thought it might never
come to an end. But it does, in heavy hands
on the top of heavy heads and soon
she is half the woman she was.

What a horrid sight, her body
wrapped like a carcass ready
to be submerged – same as the
slaves that jumped from ships.

Photographer: Katherine McCormack

The rain falls from the sky
like dust on a shelf. And
they do, as many have,
catch droplets in their mouths

until their teeth,
tongues and throats
turn black.