Malika Booker, a poetry lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University, was Inspired to write this poem by Article 9 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which codifies the right to freedom from arbitary arrest and exile. Malika said:
“I chose to respond to Article 9… Since the migration of West Indians into Britain in the 40’s – the windrush community has been subjected to unprecedented biased and rascist behaviour from our police force, ranging from corrupt policing, police brutality and racial profiling.
“The sus laws In the late 70’s and early 80’s resulted In many Injustices being committeed against black men and there has been a continued high number of deaths In police custody Includeing a cousin of mine. We look at the Injustices In the USA and see Britain as a liberal and just society.
“I wanted to address this In my poem. The poem Is both catalogue, archive and witness to the ongoing actions of our police force.”
Museum for the countless Mothers of Black bodies dead in state custody
“I just want to testify” Dianne Reeves
“I am an endangered species but I sing no victim song” Dianne Reeves
Exhibits – gathered – fossil from 18th century Caribbean plantations.
Exhibits 1 – Room of wombs
Sound – keening – sharp – piercing
Black wombs – pregnant with death – a shango dirge humming possibilities
Exhibits 2 – Monologue Poetic translation by a griot in 2020
Since the news her bones had been sluggish
How she held it in, did not bawl
And the weight piled up bent her back with age
Her heart malfunctioned, one-minute chopping onions
The next laid out in a bed incessant bleeping
Tubes attached to her arms. How do you warn your boychild
At the shop counter, local sweet shops also kill,
You can die buying a pack of cigarettes and chocolate
The clot of mud bounced the coffin – ripped from her mouth
A primal high-pitched roar and base tone, that raised pores,
That rippled her belly each exhale. This was like birthing
21 years ago. How useless her warnings – to look both ways
When crossing the road, drive within the speed limit,
She did not tell him what to do – black man in a sweetshop
Thrown onto the floor, arms handcuffed, weigh on your body
As she remembers her inadequacies press her palms
Into her belly pushing air through her body like an
Hot air balloon keening, gut sucked, she sways
To Sister Mabel’s tambourine clap. Today she watches
The seven wasps littering her floorboards, this morning
It is autumn now and wasps knowing something
Important died from this house arrive in swarms
To die littering her parquet floorboards
“What kind of mother/ing is it if one must always be prepared with knowledge of the possibility of the violent and quotidian death of one’s child.”
“Is it mothering if one knows that one’s child might be killed by the state no matter who wields the gun?”
“Swallowed whole by the state, purged by the police, stopped and frisked, back broken, humiliated…”
“I ask again – what does it look like to defend the dead.”
In the Wake – on Blackness and Being – Christina Sharpe
1ST Public Appearance
Skin brown, podium, microphones, lawyer
Always grief hidden behind a black wall
Always – comments “she is holding up so well”
Metaphor for sobbing
Metaphor for bawling
Metaphor for restraint grief
Metaphor for newly baptised mother for the ongoing revolution
Metaphor for no language – this is a damn metaphor
After the News
How when she heard the news
(She) sat all night in a darkroom
Stitching his face in the cloth embroidering
Then unpicking each hour, the endless lift of needle
The next the savage pull and tear of needle picking,
Snapping thread, fingers bleeding into the cloth…ruthless unravelling
This is not seasonal – it is everyday
- cell phone rings…pauses and part of the everyday mundane
- hand presses
- the voice breaks silence body falls floor is not a good cushion chair is not a good cushion
- door knocks uniform at your door – step back – step back
- living room, blue uniforms son died in cell/ died in handcuffs/ resisted / arrest/ oxygen on the floor/
- cold body flat on mortuary table
- autopsy medical investigate
- hands shattering glass windows, running with TV, throws bottle
- riot police
- Lawyer – phone calls offer services
- Video trending and sharing on social media
There is no respect for your grief – the goats are bleating. Bleat bleat
- Trolls on social media – vile statements about your son.
Bun down Babylon
- Jawbone clench composure
- No place to fidget
- Mother not only of son but join the mother movement
- Addressing community
- Composing statements – all these burying the fact – your son/daughter is dead
Exhibit 8: Doorways
- H/ she slammed the door shut this morning
- He/ she sat down in that car and shut the car door earlier
- They slammed him to the floor
- Slammed the cell door shut on him/ her
- He/ she ran through the train door just before it closed this morning
- he walked through the shop door
Exhibit 9 clothing
Handcuffs, baggy jeans, hooded tops, converse, afro, fade, beard, beard,
Black, suspect, reports. Resists, fitted description, beast. Threatening. Beast. Aggressive
The Academic comments – Hmmm, he taps his chin, it goes right back to anthropology – E.E. Evans Pritchard b.1902
Savages – beast, it is his haunting, haunting this savage beast referred to
The police, chokehold, police statement. Not guilty. No persecutions.
The statement and all that air on the white page.
Exhibit 13 – Questions / absence
Where are the black bodies dying in police custody? What penalty to white bodies who do this killing? What _______? While_________? Blue______? Mother is now un/mother
Mother is now un/justice
Is simply un/
The wake is fire in the streets, is matchsticks to buildings, is bottles flung at police, is footsteps marching/ is no jus/tice
Is just in our pores always
Malika Booker is a British poet of Guyanese and Grenadian Parentage and the founder of Malika’s Poetry Kitchen. Her pamphlet Breadfruit, (flippedeye, 2007) received a Poetry Society recommendation and her poetry collection Pepper Seed (Peepal Tree Press, 2013) was shortlisted for the OCM Bocas prize and the Seamus Heaney Centre 2014 prize for first full collection.
She is published with the Poets Sharon Olds and Warsan Shire in The Penguin Modern Poet Series 3:Your Family: Your Body (2017) and her poem Nine Nights, first published in The Poetry Review in autumn 2016, was shortlisted for Best Single Poem in the 2017 Forward Prize.
She recently wrote and directed her first black fairytale production for age 0 -5 years titled: The Adventures of Mangolina playing at Discover Story Centre from June 2021 – Sept 2022. Malika currently hosts and curates Peepal Tree Press’s Literary podcast, New Caribbean Voices. A Cave Canem Fellow, and inaugural Poet in Residence at The Royal Shakespeare Company, Malika was awarded the Cholmondeley Award (2019) for outstanding contribution to poetry, and her poem
The Little Miracles, commissioned by and published in Magma 75(autumn 2019) won The Forward Prize for Best Single Poem (2020). Malika received her MA from Goldsmiths University and is a PhD Candidate at the University of Newcastle.
Poetic Universal Declaration of Human Rights
To celebrate Human Rights Day on 10 December a Poetic Universal Declaration of Human Rights, consisting of 30 original poems inspired by each article, will be unveiled online on Human Rights Day.
The poetry for this Poetic Declaration has seen been created by school children across Greater Manchester. The entries will be whittled down to the final 30 poems by an expert panel of judges. This anthology of poetry celebrating human rights is presented in Manchester by Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights UK and Curious Minds.
The two charities are now partnering with cities across the UK (Manchester being the first) to create further Poetic Declarations that highlight the experience of young people in the cities they live in.
First published in A Poetic Declaration, September 2021
On Human Rights Day, 1O December, to see the new Poetic Universal Declaration of Human Rights – click here
The Meteor is a media co-operative on a mission to democratise the media in Manchester. To find out more – click here.
Sign up to The Meteor mailing list – click here.
Feature image: Ripples of Hope Festival