Ousted from your Poplars

On June 17, 2011 by admin


Jack Mapanje

The Seashells of Bridlington North Beach
(for Mercy Angela)

She hated anything caged, fish particularly,
Fish caged in glass boxes, ponds, whatever;

‘Reminds me of prisons and slavery,’ she said;
So, when first she caught the vast green view

of Bridlington North Beach shimmering that
English Summer day, she greeted the sight like

A Sahara girl on parched feet, cupping, cupping,
Cupping the water madly, laundering her palms,

Giggling and laughing, then rubbing the hands
On her skirt, she threw her bottom on the sandy

Beach and let the sea breathe in and out on her
As she relaxed her crossed legs – ‘Free at last!’

She announced to the beach crowds oblivious;
And as the seascape rallied and vanished at her

Feet, she mapped her world, ‘The Netherlands
We visited must be here; Norway, Sweden there;

Beyond that Russia!’ Then gathering more seashells
And selecting them one by one, she turned

To him, ‘Do you remember eating porridge from
Beach shells once?’ He nodded, smiling at another

Memory of the African lakes they were forced to
Abandon. ‘Someday, perhaps I’ll take that home

To celebrate!’ She said staring into the deep sea.
Today, her egg-like pebbles, her pearls of seashells

Still sparkle at the windowsill; her wishes still ring,
‘Change regularly the water in the receptacles to

Keep the pebbles and seashell shinning – you’ll
See, it’s a lot healthier than feeding caged fish!’


After Celebrating our Asylum Stories at
West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds

So, define her separately,
She is not just another
Castaway washed up your
Rough seas like driftwood,
It’s the nameless battles
Your sages burdened on her
People that broke her back;
Define him differently,
He is not another squirrel
Ousted from your poplars,
It’s the endless cyclones,
Earthquakes, volcanoes,
Floods, mud and dust that
Drafted him here; define
Them warmly, how could
Your economic émigré queue
At your job centres day after
Day? If you must define us
Gently, how do you hope
To see the tales we bear
When you refuse to hear
The whispers we share?


Ken Saro-Wiwa’s Pipe Still Puffing (Ten Years On)

Yesterday, I stopped at another
Shell petrol station and recalled how
you’d have loved to puff from your pipe
there, for your Ogoni people and land;
I did not, of course, stop to fill up with
petrol, definitely not! I stopped merely
to have a good pee, as promised I would
when they got you executed. Today, I
thought, well, why don’t we treasure
the moment we once shared?


Jack Mapanje , from Malawi, currently teaching Creative writing at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, is the author of 5 collections of poetry, the editor of several more, and the recipient of awards including the Rotterdam Poetry International Award and the African Literature Association (USA) Fonlon-Nichols Award. He studied in England, before returning to Malawi, where he became the Head of Department of English, University of Malawi at Chancellor College, a position  he held until his book Of Chameleons and Gods was banned and he was incarcerated for almost four years as a political prisoner in Mikuyu prison.

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