By Jenny Mitchell
for my grandmother
She was like the man
on Likoma Island – gold-white sand
slicked by a dazzled lake; dhow-smudged;
huts shadowed by an Anglican
Cathedral, giant in the sun.
I met his family on a ferry
from the mainland of Malawi.
Invited to their home by curiosity:
not every day a black mzungu,
foreign heavy on her tongue.
He strode across a scrabbled yard;
grabbed a meagre chicken, bagpiped
underneath his arm. Wings
flapped dust out of a fraying shirt.
All the time, he smiled, spoke
another language. I spoke English.
Never knew my first, or the place in Africa
where it was beaten, lost,
my family forced to deepest Surrey,
south east of Jamaica –
Britain owned the map as well
as all the blacks; gave me voice,
fierce because of her, or so I’m told.
Would she have understood me
better than the man who grinned?
I grinned back. It happened quickly:
hen held upside down, neck wrenched.
The man grinned more; aimed
the corpse towards my mouth.
I shook my head and spoke.
He said: No English. Me: No meat.
If she were alive, would granny
force it down my throat,
enraged at waste in poverty?
He stared at specks of blood.
Mzungu: Bantu language-term used in the African Great Lakes region to refer to people of European descent.