In 2008 Arts Council England invited poets to commemorate the Bicentenary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act by writing a poem on the theme of enslavement.
Patience Agbabi is a poet, performer and lecturer in Creative Writing. She has worked extensively with the British Council and performed her work all over the world. In 2004 she was nominated one of the UK's Next Generation Poets. Her latest collection is Transformatrix (Canongate, 2000); her forthcoming collection is Bloodshot Monochrome (Canongate, 2008).
The day the sun spilt red
on the sea and fat black clouds shed
monsoon rain, she split my head
open on sand and wrote her name -
Alishka, meaning I am not to blame.
Tiny child of my brain.
I lifted her body, purple as a bruise,
to my breast and she tasted the blues
of a mother who wears shame for shoes.
Then plump on pain she rode my back,
my belly concave with the lack
of a moon to pull the tide of fate back.
No pumpkin carriage to carry us through,
no prince to say I do,
only a passport if I wore the shoe
with the six-inch heel that winked in the sun,
kissed the lips and forked tongue
that hissed Miss First World . The deed is done.
Alishka is my world. But the world is small
and cannot grow if it doesn't go to school.
The day I flew I scattered my soul
on the beach and took a photograph
of Alishka in my head. Her baby laugh.
Her chubby grubby hands. Her hidden birthmark.
And for seven years I watched her baby face
becoming mine, her father's: my grimace,
his thin-lipped smile. From that place
they call the First World. Four walls of lies.
For a smile on the lips cannot disguise
The day I flew the sun went out.
I slept in the bowels of the beast that cut
clouds into question marks. Barefoot,
I arrived and queued in a snake of many colours.
They questioned me so long I forgot who I was.
The face on my passport, Alishka's.
So this is your passport? she said
as she filed Sinda's fate. Her nails were red,
Sinda's were red raw. Two pounds an hour,
an hour that stretched to seven years hard labour.
Sinda is cook, clean, serve, clean.
Sinda = microwave, dishwasher, washine machine,
tumble drier, hoover. Sleep in the kitchen.
From six a.m. to two a.m, plugged in.
Sinda make white noise. Sinda on standby.
Sinda dial 00, hear a baby cry,
see a small girl writing in sand
2+2=six. No magic wand
to wave when machine break
down. No money, no passport, no snake-
skin shoe with heel to stab her mistress' heart,
reboot, kick start,
just running barefoot through snow with heels
so hard she doesn't know how freedom feels.
They said I had claws for toes.
They said if you wear no shoes
you're nobody. It does
not matter how I flew back to my brain,
that I aged twenty years in shame,
or how the village spat my name.
All I wished was to see the girl in my head
who wrote her name on sand in blood
yet never learnt to read.
Alishka! I cried. The young girl stared.
Her heels winked in the sun, her toenails red.
You are not my mummy, she said.