Hostile Environment

If the current trend continues  

at this rate, by 2025,  

every six minutes  

a new Winston Churchill  

biography will be unleashed,  

his iconic salute wide-screening  

the front cover, his face full of cigar,  

watching over us from airport  

bookshelves, supermarket  

stationery aisles, sides of buses…  

and so on.  


Us Brits love to sing  

victory songs – to polish  

the statues of our history  

until we shine in the reflection –  

as much as any other people do.  

Us Brits, too, love to daub  

ourselves with tales  

of exceptionalism, as if we were  

the only ones ever to queue  

or to apologise, as if we alone  

knew wit or reserve.  


I say us Brits queasily,  

but at this rate, if I can’t be  

unreservedly British,  

who can? My mother,  

whose name has recently been  

sprayed with Windrush mist,  

was raised singing  

God Save the Queen 

dammitIn Jamaica,  

she sang it with more conviction  

than I have ever done.  


My father, too, arriving  

in London in his teens, excels  

now in Estuary tongue. He only slips  

for emphasis – tiny linguistic returns  

to the island he flew from  

more than half a century ago,  

soon after Churchill died.  

Visiting on weekends, I’ve spied him,  

from outside, polishing his figurines,  

his uncynical pride shining  

through the window.  


Us Brits have a saying  

about a home being a castle, 

but now anyone can be seen  

as an invader, including those  

who built the bridges  

now being drawn up around us.    


If the current trend continues,  

I’ll never get to kick off  

this armour. Ask  

where are you originally from?  

and my breastplate clangs,  

steam hisses from my helmet,  

my shield rises  

to protect my neck.  

I steel against the slightest dog- 

whistle in the wind (in this climate,  

we don’t speak of unsheathing).  


If the current trend continues,  

by 2025, I’ll have run out of war  

metaphors for this poem,  

having harked back  

all the way to antiquity.  

And in 2025, Churchill’s face  

will still be surveilling us  

from airport bookshelves  

while handcuffed Brits below  

are marched discreetly  

to deportation flights.  


I say Brits unreservedly,  

because paperwork fails  

sometimes to reflect reality.  

Raised side by side, scoffing  

the same prawn cocktail  

crisps between classes,  

yawning through the same history  

lessons on British victories,  

sharing earphones through our  

uniform jacket sleeves and trying  

not to let the trail of leads betray us –  


none of this is exceptional.  

Except for the formality  

of forms and fortune,  

any one of us  

could have been declared  

alien, unhomed  

at the Home Office’s choosing,  

refused, like two fingers  

of arbitrary and betrayal  

coming from the same  

bloody hand.    

unpublished poem, © Keith Jarrett 2022, used by permission of the author

Keith Jarret is a former UK Poetry Slam Champion and FLUPP International Poetry Slam Winner from London. He rose to prominence on the ...

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