Back to Issue Thirty-Three

Ode to Cousin John


…land of shades! – William Blake

You all alone in these streets cousin /
every man for they self in this land… -Prodigy

Your voice, a red and white flag,
an over the spread cloth. Slavery

happened long ago, it means
nothing now.
I prepare silence,

practise each time for a calm dinner


but you lift a fork, unsettle the territory.

I can’t stop seeing the child
pulled from a home of hissing

and raised by our grandmother
who was endlessly scraping plates

between us. With her gone


something shifts at our table and you

keep sharpening the “somewhere else”
in me. No, I don’t know what it’s like

to live in a small military town
or how you fit where everyone is white

like you. Do you hold up England


by its gilt edges, best china handles?

What secretly stirs your tea? Cousin,
we all alone in these streets. I wish you

horses in rain and fields of broken gates
I wish you a surprise party of sober mothers

holding Thomas the Tank Engine birthday cake.
I wish you glistening grapes and radiated rooms.


When we stood shoulder to shoulder
at our grandmother’s funeral I didn’t hear you cry

but I felt your quivering, saw your red, so red face,
fallen flags in your eyes, Cousin, why couldn’t you

let us see what you were burying? Cousin


I wish sunlight on all your darkest fields.


Raymond Antrobus was born in London, Hackney to an English mother and Jamaican father, he is the author of To Sweeten Bitter and The Perseverance. In 2019 he was a recipient of the Ted Hughes Award, the Somerset Maugham Award, won the Sunday Times/University of Warwick Young Writer of the Year Award, and became the first ever poet to be awarded the Rathbone Folio Prize for best work of literature in any genre. Other accolades include PBS Winter Choice, The Geoffrey Dearmer Prize and The Guardian Poetry Book Of The Year 2018. Raymond is a founding member of ‘Chill Pill’ and ‘Keats House Poets Forum’ and is an Ambassador for ‘The Poetry School’. His debut children’s picture book Can Bears Ski? is illustrated by Polly Dunbar and is set to be published in the UK by Walker Books and in the US/Canada by Candle Wick Press.


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