Monday, 11 December 2023 12:15

The Day Mr. Zephaniah Died

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in Poetry
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The Day Mr. Zephaniah Died
Photo by Adrian Pope

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.

Read 1290 times Last modified on Tuesday, 12 December 2023 12:27
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.