Late Monarch of Sad Memory
They trouble me – the anecdotes:
Grandfather with high yellow skin –
a prince because of it,
the dark too close to slaves
masters could not civilise
by breeding up:
seduction with a whip.
till the gal dem all mosquitoes.
Swatted children violently –
the eight he gave his name.
No one dares to ask if there were outside progeny.
Man big as him, there must be.
He’s all below the waist somehow,
furthest from the heart,
although he was a constable
who fortified Jamaican hills.
Must have been so brave,
policing men as poor as him.
Hunger doesn’t follow rules
unless they’re brutalising.
It’s just the two certificates I’ve found
that bear his name
say Labourer in 1929.
The Crash must have hit hard:
eight mouths, his love of drink.
The last said as a joke
but did he stumble out of dark shebeens,
beaten to the ground
by men he once arrested?
I see his last few coins fall
from his trouser pockets,
roll down deep ravines.
The women on the side can’t have been cheap.
Grandmother – formal as the word –
might have thought they were.
There’s no room to fall
though cliffs are promising
A likely specimen, you’ll all agree.
I’d sacrifice my knees to God
if He would form a path
Don’t push. You’ll have your chance to touch.
They’re mute as bidding starts –
a cage of rank, pipe-smoking breath
held for the trader’s voice.
We won’t get far unless you offer more.
His words are loud
with number storytelling,
smiling strong at four bids in a row.
Though black, her shade is comely.
He points towards my naked self
to make them look
too hard through skin.
She’ll breed strong sons to work your fields.
The man who wins,
pulls hard my hair,
a crop he means to reap.
Don’t hurt until the money changes hands.
Forced to look up, I see fast
clouds – none reaching down
to cover up my shame.
Lot 49. Who’ll start the bidding?
His hand’s bigger than me
It’s bigger than my face
He says come
as if I have a choice
As if he isn’t holding me
His hand’s bigger than me
It’s bigger than my face
He’s slapped pain
ringing into me
My face alive
These are insects
spitting up blood
All over me
Pretend You’re a Slave
Act like you need. No, not kneeling – too obvious. Lower
your head. Now, raise your eyes as if to beg for mercy.
I have to stop you there. I felt real pity. But the voice.
You’re not supposed to know too many words. You speak
a form of English. Start again. Seem as if you understand
your suffering but not too much. You’d do anything to
have my help. Picture this. I’m holding a whip, holding it
down. The handle’s carved from a bone in your father’s leg.
He tried to run. Picture him, one-legged. Stump balanced
on a fraying stool. It’s the morning after you’ve been raped.
It wasn’t me. My brother owns the plantation. I want to free
you all but my hands are tied. Imagine that. You’d feel
like dirt. Your clothes are dirty. What about tearing the
front? A whole identity gone. Good. Tears. Authentic.
The cabbie’s face was scarred,
three scores on either cheek,
pale paths cut into brown.
My friends, both white,
turned pink to see me point.
But he was keen to speak.
These are my country marks:
Yoruba signs so we can meet
if scattered wide.
I’m known as Adebayo,
meaning crown has met with joy.
My land is east Benin, and you?
I said south London but he laughed:
You have no home. You’re lost.
So many here are born of slaves.
My people are to blame.
We should have killed the whites
who chained you in a hold.
My friends began to squirm,
but I was mesmerised as he burst into tears,
forehead near the steering wheel.
I had to slap his shoulder to avoid
a lethal swerve. He heaved
the car across a bridge,
refused to let me pay.
As he wiped his eyes, he called me
Sister; wished me joy.
Coming Up to Eighty
Don’t remember the owl shaped brooch / Lift mum out of the bath / arms sliding on insistent
fat / The clasp shone in the light / a bulbous shape / red specks for eyes / She wraps the towel
underneath her pits / I kneel to force wet slippers past her raging bunions / As a child / I pinned
the owl to my school shirt / It looked alive / reminded me of dad / the only beauty in a house /
she refused to clean / Now her arms point to the ceiling / I slip the nightie on / Her head gets
stuck / I pull the collar loose / release the thinning crown / Back then / I put the brooch inside
the drawer where it belonged / She shook my arm / Yelled that I stole the jewel or it was lost /
I searched the house / hands trembling into dust / Today I watch her head fall on the pillowcase
/ nostrils pulsing with impatience / Viscous eyes slide to my face / I have to know her every
wish / without the need for words / Back then / she wrapped a belt around her fist / left the
buckle loose / drove her body at my legs / they buckled too / Now she demands a cup of tea / I
turn to leave / pick up her dress / Won’t see the owl shaped brooch / pinned to the faded cloth
Jenny Mitchell @JennyMitchellGo is a joint winner of the annual Geoff Stevens’ Memorial prize and was shortlisted in the Oxford Brookes Competition in 2019. She is a prize winner in the Ware and Segora poetry competitions; and a finalist in the Fool for Poetry International Chapbook competition. She has also been highly commended in several other competitions. Her work has been broadcast on Radio 4 and BBC 2, and published in several magazines including The Rialto, The New European, The Interpreter’s House; and with Italian translations in Versodove. She has work forthcoming in Under the Radar.
A debut collection, Her Lost Language (Indigo Dreams) is Poetry Kit Book of the Month for November 2019. https://www.indigodreams.co.uk/jenny-mitchell/4594685475
Banner Image Art: “Post-Imperial” by Robert Frede Kenter Twitter: @frede_kenter