The Day Mr Zephaniah Died
after Frank O’Hara
by Jenny Mitchell
On the seventh day of the twelfth month
2023, at the National Maritime Museum, a minute
since the break began, I wish the woman in my class
would not look at her phone, tell us you are gone,
leaving this behind – a chill that traps
the room when freedom is our aim – to write
that poetry can open prison doors. Your voice was key
to that great task, Brummie to your core
with a prophet’s force, labelled worthless by police
when only a young man, growing strong enough
with words to decline an OBE, your stated aim
to bring empire down – rhythm and not guns,
rhymes instead of bombs.
We fill the break with Is it true? Perhaps
a dreadful hoax, checking every phone, the chill
ten minutes long – seeing it writ large,
your birth date and your death.
Now the class must share a poem –
Langston Hughes alive again – Freedom
will not come… through compromise and fear.
But the man who reads this out in a gentle voice
has to stop, contain his tears the day that you are gone.
Jenny Mitchell is a winner of the Bread and Roses Poetry Award, the Poetry Book Awards 2021 and a joint winner of the Geoff Stevens Memorial Prize 2019. She also won the inaugural Ironbridge Prize, the Bedford Prize and the Gloucester Poetry Society Open Competition. The best-selling debut collection, Her Lost Language, is one of 44 Poetry Books for 2019 (Poetry Wales), and a second collection, Map of a Plantation, is an Irish Independent ‘Literary Find’ and on the syllabus at Manchester Metropolitan University. Her latest collection is called Resurrection of a Black Man.