Raymond Antrobus | Two Poems

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    From our April/May 2019 issue, which you can buy here.

    Raymond Antrobus


    With Birds You’re Never Lonely

    I can’t hear the barista
    over the coffee machine.

    Spoons slam, steam rises.
    I catch the eye of a man

    sitting in the corner
    of the cafe reading alone

    about trees which is, incidentally,
    all I can think about

    since returning.
    Last week I sat alone

    on a stump, deep in Zelandia forest
    with sun-syrupped Kauri trees

    and brazen Tui birds with white tufts
    and yellow and black beaks.

    They landed by my feet, blaring so loudly
    I had to turn off my hearing aids.

    When all sound disappeared, I was tuned
    into a silence that was not an absence.

    As I switched sound on again,
    silence collapsed.

    The forest spat all the birds back,
    and I was jealous—

    the earthy Kauri trees, their endless
    brown and green trunks of sturdiness.

    I wondered what the trees would say about us?
    What books would they write if they had to cut us down?

    Later, stumbling from the forest I listened
    to a young Maori woman.

    She could tell which bird chirped,
    a skill she learned from her grandfather

    who said with birds you’re never lonely.
    In that moment I felt sorry

    for any grey tree in London,
    for the family they don’t have,

    the Gods they can’t hold.


    For Rashan Charles

    And after the black boy is
    strangled by police, after

    the protests where the man,
    his Rottweiler on an iron leash yells,

    let’s go mash up dis city
    and another crowd bulks,

    the parents of the murdered
    beg us not to become

    the monsters some think
    we already are—even when

    the barista shakes her head
    at the banners, says actually,

    police be killing whites too.
    Look how scary it is

    to be here and know
    if we die someone

    will make a sound
    like her before earth

    is tipped over us.
    Who hasn’t had enough?

    Enough burning
    bins, pushing

    shopping trolleys
    into static and sirens?

    Who isn’t chanting
    enough, enough,

    enough, throwing spells,
    the rebellious

    holding what they can
    in front of a supermarket

    or police stations
    or voting booths—I am

    kind to the man
    sitting next to me

    in C.L.R James Library, even if
    his breathing disturbs me.

    Can we disagree graciously
    I am tired of people

    not knowing the volume
    of their power. Who doesn’t

    deserve
    some silence at night?


    In 2019 Raymond Antrobus won the Ted Hughes Award for his collection
    The Perseverance.
    For more information, visit http://www.raymondantrobus.com/.


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