‘Papers’ by Roy McFarlane


The day I was called into my mother’s bedroom
the smell of cornmeal porridge still coloured the air,

windowsills full of plants bloomed
and dresses half-done hung from wardrobe doors

and her Singer sewing machine came to rest
like a mail train arriving at its final destination,

foot off the pedal, radio turned down, she beckoned,
touched me with those loving hands.

Shrouded in the softness of light from the net curtains,
her eyes filled with sensitivity, hesitated as she spoke to me,

sit down son, there’s something I need to tell you.

She picked up her heavy Bible with gold-edged leaves,
turning the pages as they whispered and somewhere

in the middle of Psalms she removed a sheet of paper
which read, ‘In the matter of the Adoption Act. 1958’

and I’m lost in the reading of a name of an infant,
sinking in to the cream background, falling between the lines.

Only the tenderness of her voice drew me out of the margins;
words fallen now echo through the years.

We adopted you from the age of 6 months,

enveloped by this revelation I couldn’t move,
imagined it couldn’t be right because I knew my mother;

the aroma of her Morgan pomaded hair, her olive oiled skin,
the Y scarred throat that she hid under buttoned up blouses

and like a hymn I found myself telling her, it’s alright, it’s alright.
Roy McFarlane was born in Birmingham of Jamaican parentage and spent most of his years living in Wolverhampton. He has held the role of Birmingham’s Poet Laureate, Starbucks’ and Shakespeare Birthplace Trust Poet in Residence. Roy was highly commended by the Forward Prize for ‘Papers’, published in the Forward Book of Poetry 2017. He is also published in Out of Bounds (Bloodaxe 2012) and he is the writer and editor of Celebrate Wha? Ten Black British Poets from the Midlands (Smokestack 2011). His first full collection of poems, Beginning With Your Last Breath, was published by Nine Arches Press in September 2016.