Three poems by Roy McFarlane


Nina Simone playing in the background of a Café.

Rasta: Write it bloody and true, write the Passion of Black, write the psalms of a people, write the jazz, write the gospels, write it plain, write the protest songs from cover to cover. Illuminate the pages with love.

Writer: How do you write about the hate of centuries and not tear down and burn up? How do you write of broken lives and dead children and not give the guilty a taste of their own history or watch British rivers and canals filled with pale berries?

Rasta: Listen, shhhh, listen…

Nina: I wish I could share all the love in my heart / I wish I could break all things that bind us apart

Rasta: Listen, ping-ping (like he was playing a piano)

Nina: Wish you could know what it means to be me / Then you’d see, you’d agree, everybody should be free.

Rasta: You her dat? That’s what you feeling. Write it, carry it. I want you to carry it wherever you go, carry it under your arm, under your pillow, carry it for another hundred years. No, a thousand years until there’s no more crying, no more sorrows, until every man of colour carries the load, until we carry his load, her load, together I’n’I carrying freedom in the breath that we breathe.

Writer: And what about Stephen, Joy, Mark, Anthony, Rashan. Not one of them is called Lazarus! After all the inquest, all the post mortems, all the police inquiries, nobody’s found guilty for all of that shit.

Rasta: That’s what you write, the ping-ping, the rise and flow, the silence, the violence, the vibrato and whatever they call it and then sing it. We are the disciples who beareth witness of these things so write, write it all.

David Oluwale, 1969

British Wog he had no name, this
social problem, [dirty, filthy, violent vagrant]

A quiet man, always happy, always smiling
a dangerous savage with superhuman powers.
A popular young guy, sharp dresser, excellent dancer,
menace to society, a nuisance to police, a frightening apparition.

He felt the kick between his legs, the piss that poured upon his head
by the Labour Exchange, those landlords and custodians of the law.
Kitching and Ellerker wore away the path of his mind
drove him to Middleton Woods down in the jungle where he belonged
and along the banks of the River Aire, Kitching and Ellerker chased him
and later that night from the River Aire they dragged his lifeless body.

On a ship named Temple Star from Lagos to Leeds
David Oluwale embarks on a journey of discovery.

Joy Gardner, 1993

…I couldn’t believe that human beings could be so cruel to another human being, you know it makes you quinge to hear as a mother of what they did to my daughter in that sitting room… (they) tape up my daughter.
Public Meeting for Joy Gardner; 21st June 1995

13ft of tape,
adhesive sticky tape,
a body belt, chains, handcuffs and tape.
Bounded her, taped her, tied her up,
taped her head like a mummy for the hereafter
and right here, after she ceased to breathe they made a mix-tape
longer than any tape measure could measure.
Police, judiciary and hospital taped together
a tapestry of events and kept a corpse alive
until they could taper their stories to a rounded tip.
A mother is bounded by the red tape of officialdom
until things taper off
but a mother lights a taper in the darkness until

my tears will catch them, my tears will catch them.

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 and Starbucks’ Poet in Residence. Roy’s writing has appeared in magazines and anthologies, including Out of Bounds (Bloodaxe 2012) and he is the writer and editor of Celebrate Wha? (Smokestack 2011). His first full collection of poems, Beginning With Your Last Breath, was published by Nine Arches Press in September 2016. His second collection, The Healing Next Time also from Nine Arches Press, will be published on October 4 2018 and is a Poetry Book Society Winter 2018 recommendation.