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Surge

by Jay Bernard

Jay Bernard's poetry is an exploration of identity and loss, telling of people coming to Britain, struggling to adapt to life in a new culture. The stories are told by people from the past and the present with specific reference to the New Cross massacre of 1981 and the Grenfell Tower disaster of 2017; history repeating itself a generation apart with no lessons learned. This is a very moving collection - complex and memorable.

Extract

From Proof

I came here when I was six -

I was dark skinned in a thin dress and I loved my grandmother - and she raised me with my three sisters who still stand waving me goodbye -

I was the first to come to England, and when I arrived, I knew - I knew - something had happened to me - I knew that what I saw in the mirror had been darkened, differently arranged - when I looked at myself in my new coat and boots I saw - I saw - something like a net that catches death -

I was the child of two strangers with my last name - who bathed me - scrubbed me with the seawater at the bottom of their lives -
two ghosts rubbing soap on my shoulders -
two dead people in their house clothes telling me to wash my neck -

I feel - I feel like I have to hold on - and say - and say -
I don't want to die in this country - let me die with my grandmother -
I want to be rotted by the sun -
and I want her shadow to fall along my body -
and I want to be shaded by her grief -
and I want the dogs to hanker for my bones -
I want to be eaten by worms and become an ackee tree -
lord, I said - I said it in such a whisper
I could have put the ground to sleep -

don't let me die in England I said to the pavement -
to the sea-black rain -
and never tell my grandmother why I never called -
never called to say that I thought of her daily -
that I suffered with the weight of what she had freely given -

Parallels

Too Black Too Strong by Benjamin Zephaniah
Darling: new and selected poems by Jackie Kay
Division Street by Helen Mort
 

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