Wednesday, 24 January 2024 17:30

Disturbing Blacks in Custody

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in Poetry
Disturbing Blacks in Custody

Disturbing Blacks in Custody

by Jenny Mitchell

One by one, I free them from the cells,
trudging back to pick up bodies in torn clothes,
placed screaming in handcuffs, enslaved
for raving at dark clouds, black
a constant threat, beaten by new masters in blue-
bruised uniforms till every breath dies down.

They’re carried gently in my arms, hardly
any weight at all as if the spirit once disturbed –
crying out for God, arms waving in the street –
was lightened when they called for Help!
in the prison cell, or failed to breathe
that word, arm clamped across their throats.

I lay the bodies on the ground in a careful row
even when it rains so they can be baptised
before the soil becomes a shroud. We’ll pray
for those who lived close to the edge, tipped
over by their nights in jail, not helped
to stand, unbalanced by the past.

It flowed inside their blood, wrists clamped
in chains abroad slave ships, crying out
for women raped by overseers in high cane,
made to hold that pain for generations. If only
we could see ourselves reflected in each face,
know there’s no such thing as lawful death.

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Jenny Mitchell

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.

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