Keeping My Hands to Myself

All I think about is how much I want you to survive.

When you were fourteen, I told you:

You can be anything you want to be, just don’t be a statistic

I told you: “We live on the wrong side of town and I know, they know

Your name not because they want to but because they feel they have to”,

I told you can feel as angry as you like but

Never show it on the streets”

We live 62 miles from London, 78.5 miles from

Birmingham; but when the anger exploded

We made you a prisoner in your own home

Cause it doesn’t matter how far away it might be,

Every siren is an emergency in our house.

When you were nineteen,

You found the right things to say

So I wouldn’t be afraid.

Now, I take it for granted that all your words

Are to be read into –

I listen but look at the margins

to see what you’re omitting.

There are things I will not tell you.

Like what it feels like to stand in Templars

Square and have nothing to say when

The old lady you’ve just spent ten minutes

Talking to turns to the waiter and

Says, ‘this coloured girl’s looking for a job,’

No one knows what to say. So we say nothing.

You’re 21. I’m worried your hair is too long,

You’ve never shaved your beard and the way

Your coat hangs on you says things you shouldn’t

Want to say. I tell you, ‘You should cut your hair.

If you look all wrong, you can get in trouble’

Trouble can mean so many things.

April, 2015: ‘Two men have been charged in connection with an incident of

grievous bodily harm in South Park. They were charged today with one count of possessing

a blade in public and one count of wounding with intent…’

We go for dinner, and talk about how funny they both were.

We talk about what we know, the version of their story that will never make the papers

Because No one else will talk about what they could have been.

This we do for every name we recognise in the paper,

For the ones we don’t

for every knife and gun,

We gather and remember, drive and remember, eat and remember

every name, every story, the ones we’ve heard on the streets

the ones we know personally,

We’re the keepers of tales, we swap them

back and forth so that they rest between us;

We deliberately remember the good,

Because we must.

Because this isn’t London.

This isn’t Birmingham.

The only things visible here are the dreaming spires,

conversations at bus stops about the weather,

history soaking into the skin of our hands

so much so that we dare not touch

the stones lest they crumble;

there’s so much history to preserve here…

I’m 25. Now I only tell you, “Please, try and be home by ten.

Don’t get into trouble.”

*Listen to the poem in full!*

Published by prescribingpoetry

Prescribing Poetry is run by Rehema Njambi. Poet, writer, and book enthusiast with a keen love of poetry. Here you will find posts about poems that inspire me, poets that I love and admire, and new poets that I discover and wish to share with you. You will also find occasional bits of news on my own poetry endeavours and my journey to getting a collection published.

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