Citizen One

So, after slavery, colonialism, two world wars,

teddy-boys, skinheads, rivers of blood speech,

neo-nazis, thatcher, 3 kids, 5 grandkids, a cosy

council house, 20 floors up, a small pension,

now you want to send me home. Oh Woooow!

Even the sandwich van outside the station

selling jerked chicken sandwiches, yet you claim

not to know how they got here. Oh Wooowow!

I can buy beef patties at a literary festival in Yorkshire.

Truth is you were always planning my departure,

from the moment I walked down the gangplank,

freestyling “London is the Place for Me”.

I notice you wasn’t clapping…or smiling.

Can’t help thinking this has always been the plan.

In the long game, we’ve drawn the short jab.

We could hear it in the whispers, even as we

squared your bedsheets and delivered your

blue, veiny kids on the ward. As soon as the labour’s

done we could hear as we turned our backs:

Darkie! Sambo! You must think we’re dumb.

Are we dumb? From the slaveships to world wars,

to the underground and the hospitals, it’s always

been about the labour, never about the living.

Cheap muscles and blood to build you an empire.

It has never been about our living, never about

our tambourine church, our Christmas rum cake,

the audio-science of soundsystems. Our relationship

has never been more than strained at best.

Every second street name is a shout out to my captors.

This one going out to the Wilberforces, who whipped

a little less than the Beckfords. These are the streets

we walk through. We need some black plaques

on these buildings, godammit. Here lived

Florence Scarborough between 1960 and 2005

and, boy, she took nooooooooo shit. My gran said,

Let Enoch Powell come to Brixton, talking

that river of blood shit to her face, and he’d be

tasting a river of salty blood in his mouth.

To this day her grandchildren still bring

that rage to the page. So the unspoken question

remains: What to do with these darkies

after we’ve wrung them out…AHA. Warm up

them planes, boys, we are returning a cargo called

Windrush generation. What do you mean my dad

can’t return from his holiday? The burden of proof

is on us? Again? Think legality and lineage

at the very least. Get the grand kids into a jail or two,

or better yet kill them… in the street, on cctv,

and cellphones, it doesn’t matter. It’s fine, they think.

These people are an easy target. They do not organise,

centralise or come as one; they’ve got no major

media outlets, or effective representation in government.

We can send them back for months without

this thing breaking. I smell subterfuge and sleight of hand.

These people keep meticulous records of everything,

even their genocidal imperatives. Hell, I could go

online right now and check on the height, weight,

condition and price of the slaves you brought

and sold in your family, yet our records (poof!)

disappeared. How can you be banished

from your own home? Congratulations.

You fooled us. Render your work, not your lives.

This seems like the newest answer to an old question.

Cheap muscle and blood to build you an Empire –

that we can’t stay in. Gran’s gone missing from

Saturday morning. Brixton Market? No one is frowning at

the quality of the yams, or asking how the snapper’s

eye so cloudy. There’ll be no Saturday soup tonight.

from A Portable Paradise (Peepal Tree Press, 2019), © Roger Robinson 2019, used by permission of the author and the publisher.

Roger Robinson is a fervent, generous poet. His most recent collection, A Portable Paradise, won both the 2019 T. S. Eliot Prize and ...

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