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Another Language

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.

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