For our exclusive set, only the best: pink granite, Portland stone, architects. Our tongues were glossed tiles fired in Eton and Harrow. Orthodox names, tough meat for English mouths, recast as Bobby, Alec, Jack. In death, our accent is emphatically Hellenic: competent bodies, turned redundant bones, housed in solemn Doric temples, barrel-vaulted mausolea, fine marble sarcophagi carved with sphinxes, laurel crowns, alphas and omegas. Nothing to envy from ancient kings. Wheat ears and bolls of Egyptian cotton festoon our memorials. Clues to all that made us rich, chewed away, irreverently, by black mould and pollution. Mutton-chopped gods of commerce, spunky shipowners, benefactors, cornerstone-laying fathers of a close-knit diaspora rest among us. Beloved wives of the above. Too many little lungs, minor footnotes in our story, spoiled by this city’s gritty smoke. We never truly called this island home. Its soft-edged climate. Peephole sun. Egos we bested on hardwood trading floors called us intruders, wily Easterners more turned on by a deal in wool than a lecture by Socrates. A downgrade from our famed forefathers. Even you, visitor, our homeland buried in your teeth, find us alien, struggle with our epitaphs’ ossified Greek that pulls its hair in grief, offers tearful libations. You frown at our pairings: uncles matched with nieces, cousins with cousins. A handful of dynasties trading their teenage sons and daughters. Trust, kinship, hierarchy, cohesion made waterproof through marriage bonds. Your peculiar hunger does not quite fit our criteria, your body has no currency among us. Why are you here this cawing afternoon? Why stumble on this rumpled, sodden ground that lilts our mossy crosses, threatens to uncap our graves? So what if you find solace in your name – a trip hazard outside our enclave – repeating on slab after slab? So what if you think us mislaid in this grey suburb? Opulent monuments looking forlorn, vandalised doors boarded up, vaults sloppily patched with unadorned concrete. So what if no one lights a candle for us anymore, leaves no offerings but crushed beer cans and mildewed cigarette packs? We and our memorials are here to stay. Will you ever call this island home? For now, you’re breathful, uncased. When they scatter you against some wind or other, who’ll remember you? Go back to your mother. Your xenitia has been a kind of death for her.
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Discover more from this issue…
The Summer 2022 issue of Poetry London proudly carries new poems by our featured author, Grace Nichols, who was recently awarded the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry, in addition to work by Yousif M Qasmiyeh, Sean O’Brien, Kostya Tsolakis, Jennifer Wong, Fred D’Aguiar, Saddiq Dzukogi and Jenny Xie, as well as Jemilea Wisdom-Baako, a recent participant of our mentoring scheme, who makes her debut appearance in the magazine.