Poetry by Jenny Mitchell

Caribbean Service

Ever since I first taste words,

none as succulent as England,

served between the heat-damp pages

of my schoolbooks,

held up like a looking-glass to hide

the corrugated shacks

pressed hard against Jamaican hills.

Graveyards growing in the garden.

Old familiar bones pushed

through the soil – duppified the crop.

Daddy forced to work in U.S. fields.

Mummy washed the neighbours’ clothes,

bent so often in the stream

her face resembled pummelled rock.

Pennies saved so I, the only girl,

could eat more books;

brought up in exams

until the Mother Country offered

me a role – not high but loyal:

to nurse its remnants from the war.

Happiness could not describe the day I left

the old ones crying on the dock.

Pressed my waist against the rail so hard,

I tasted metal on my tongue.

Didn’t know the heat was held

beneath my skin till it began to ebb away,

closer to the greying shore.

Bladder weak with cold.

Sun the colour of my urine.

Disembarked at night; uniform too tight –

made a scratching sound with every step

inside the ward of disapproving faces,

daring to spit monkey when I held them

to my breast, just to clean their shit.

Wouldn’t eat the food

if I had touched the plate.

Cried alone in my bed-sitting room,

haunted by the ghost of paraffin.

Burn marks on my legs;

always edging closer.


Jenny Mitchell, from Her Lost Language (Indigo Dreams Publishing 2019)

Photo by Billy Grant.