A poem by Imogen Forster

after ‘Girl Ballerina’ by Yinka Shonibare

I am buttoned, tailored, piped,
the tight fit of the colonist’s clothes
round my slim child’s waist.
Net and frills, my costume’s
a good girl’s party dress.
Am I a welcome guest
or a blackface clown?
I give nothing away.
I am a dancer’s body
in little cotton shoes.

I am a sister to Marie, the wax
and bronze work of M Degas,
shiny, moulded on a framework
of metal pipes and paintbrushes.
Called a monkey, an Aztec,
a medical specimen,
the flower of depravity.
I am ten, to her fourteen, and so,
you could say, innocent.

My neat bodice in these
East India batiks, the bright
stuff of conquest, traded
from Batavia to Benin (our own
weavers long gone) and now
spread out on London stalls,
my Brixton market wardrobe.
My new flags, my hopeful anthems.

My foot extended,
my hands behind my back,
finger on the trigger,
I hold my position.
I cannot speak, but am.
(an image of the sculpture Girl Ballerina by Yinka Shonibare MBE here)
Imogen Forster is a translator in her working hours, but is giving more and more of them to poetry. She avidly attends workshops, steals ideas and gives them away, and buys far too many books for her own good. @ForsterImogen