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Strange Familiars

For Sam King

We select and lucky few

boarded and bound this time

by our own will and hands

bound but not like new cargo

weighed, measured and docked

this time

trooped before vile misguided gods

we enchanted vessels bound for

cold cities where strange suns forever shine

Our backs and bodies clothed this time

in bought and borrowed fineries

Our backs taught and barely brooding

against the islands we bid goodbyes

like betrothed citizens to capital

bound to trade our labours

opportuning an envied venture

We who fortune favoured and designed

fates across the beguiling sea

Somewhere in the hold below

or on the deck above our faces were aglow

Whether we stood or lay dreaming

none dared look back and be cursed

by history’s shadow

exchanging fables of lost love

gritted smiles and ornate glories

of services recently rendered

We who had pioneered and served

volunteered and worked

as the brutal battle between these pale brothers

raged and expired

like unholy embers dying

to be blown alight again and again

We admired their reckless might

and pitied their demise

We dreamed like them of victories

and of our own salvation

We who scurried to quell her heartbroken clarion

its rhythm cladding all our hopes

a sound sweeter than the bitter sore beats

of our father’s frail bereft and modest land

that he and a long line of bent and broken fathers

had laboured to procure

We sailed like golden eagles

none appearing lonely or alone

we brokered promises

of epic futures and Janus greetings

None dared consult seers who might divine

Prophesies of discontents and revile our portent dreams

None would foresee that we would be their new invaders

allied with parasites bloating rivers

with our rebellious blood

and day upon day be awashed in hostile spittle

Our beautiful babies branded

shackled and gaole

dare devilling their survival as suspect

strange familiars

branded by a profiteer’s ancient, eternal ransom

We who gallantly tendered

her bleeding scars and battered majesty

pervading on her wounds our gracious beauty

We who worked and cared so much that she

again should see the sun arise and gird her kingdom

with that golden splendour we searched her soul to find

We who dirtied ourselves to clean her wrecked and wicked streets

vowed to remain and taint her kin with our solemn dignity

We who would wreak her world with peace

blend her wretched clarion with our civil drums

Strumming, conjuring, invoking tardy adjustments

We who did not ignite her wars

but despised her loathsome justice

We who had survived now weep in our grave

Our oaths and pledges pulsate

with the vigour of deceit

Our badges and Orders and Belief in it all

burn against our chests as we await

any good sign that the assault

would this time abate

but her once enchanted clarion lays silent

when it should now sound its loudest

blunting her jewels of the glint

that endeared the golden eagles’ flight

Vexed and aggrieved that so many should be denied

We betrayed brave and lucky few

from our silent grave will fight.

May 2018

First delivered at the Sam King Windrush Tribute

Tuesday 19th June 2018 at Westminster Abbey

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