Ghetto Van Gogh

The night my mother tells the story of the thief / I am cross-legged on her lap /Her mouth is inches from my ear / She lets the dusk slip into her voice and whispers / about the boy who snatched a mango at the market and ran / becoming the teenager who robbed a shop at gun point / shot the blind cashier / shot him as he fell, shot him once more dead / became the man who stole 36 cars and when apprehended / to be publicly hanged / asked for one wish / his whole lip quivering 

My mother who is inches from my ear / explains his dying wish to speak to his mother / The crowd parted silently / she gathered his bound wrists / kissed his rough skin / her cheeks shimmering in the killing heat / He bent forward says mother / her mouth even closer / dusky voice hushed / bent towards her cheek as if to kiss goodbye and switched sharply / bit into her ear / strained against the flesh / ripped the thing off and spat / You should have told me mother / what I did was wrong 

from The Wire-Headed Heathen (Akashik Books, 2015), © Inua Ellams 2015, used by permission of the author

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Inua Ellams was born in Nigeria and is now based in the UK, where he has become one of the UK’s most recognised cultural icons. He is ...