Gboyega Odubanjo is a English-Nigerian poet born and raised in East London. He is currently doing an MA in Poetry at the University of East Anglia having done a BA in English Literature and Philosophy at the same university. Gboyega likes to write poems.
Maps used to say there be dragons here speaking a broken Latin trackies by their ankles with eleven fingers, one sharper than the others taken from the kitchen sink and slipped by their side. Picking concrete from streets broken and throwin’ ‘em at police horses.
Blood used to run from the town hall to Homerton Hospital, white sheets speaking for silence underneath pavements gritted and cleaned with the salt of eyes closed in prayer so that children marked with nike-y ticks on the back of their heads could play cops and robbers on these roads to the soundtrack of chicken shop loitering and cognac screams from the boisterous OGs who’d make sure to breathe their last breaths on the corner of Dalston Ln and Mare St by any means.
The maps don’t show the dragons no more. In their place instead be the sour-grass fed glitter-bindi-wearing white chicks in pink wigs eating cold flesh unseasoned expensively. Living in a vintage of circa 2013: a co-op down every alleyway, a lime-wedge in your Carlsberg and now it’s gourmet. The sons and daughters of King Midas, every man, woman, child in their own likeness surprised to find their own homes turned to melted gold because little did they know that for the dragons it was but a loan.
Now the dragons are back and they’re pissing on floors, tree trunks and in herbal teas asking for no favours, see they won’t be leaving without their 40 acres and a mule without a feature in the paper did you think that they was playing. Won’t be leaving without their names tattooed in Cantonese onto the lower back of this culture, saying thank you kindly for keeping it warm, but we’ll be taking it back now,
My Mother said take care of your health and remember to pray son
I said I’m trying my best see I just learnt
that they sell Christ’s blood in Waitrose
so I’m swimming in it buying it by the crate-load.
My Mother said when she was seventeen and fresh from a land whose flag was painted green white green her daddy kissed her good-bye and so she cold and soon without home ended up in a telephone box flicking through yellow pages looking for a name that tasted like jollof rice and bongo drums –
at seventeen I sold my name in pursuit of ivory
and licked flesh boasting of my recklessness
with my sadness inscribed on a necklace.
My father was beaten for writing with the wrong hand so that today I could scribble in my right and take food from elders with my left hand. Real men and women marched and rioted for this space where I stand. In 1981 in a house in New Cross, South-East London thirteen died.
so I could rhyme about big booty bitches skanking to now!
that’s what I call music 96 looking for new ways to skip tradition
hoping that those who came before me aren’t listening.
there are 670 boats in the thames singing
to the queen as a man readies his starting pistol to the sky and the world ends
all of the runners are running as happy as they have ever run
and we are all just as british in america they say we are secure
in our post-empire identity whatever that actually is in nigeria money can’t buy
the swell of pride in the chest of every british citizen in india we are spunky and in greece it is all too big of a party
and why wouldn’t it be the biggest the ticker tape is everywhere
everyone else has gone now
all that’s left is metals all silvers and golds
and home is just a mile away in the old shopping centre across the road
from the new one and the doors are always open and the smooth granite floor is refuge and still still we are dancing
and so over ocean hoping we go weathered by a toneless sky grey /
mulatto. i let my spine
be your deck and i stroke. the clothes from my back / your flag. you stand pointing new world i stroke listen to you promising ocean good blue.
i stroke i stroke slow
you promise stone into bread water from stone
into water we go
your voice it goes on
but there’s water in throat and there’s water
i stroke and there’s water we’re drowning and i
as a boy could not swim
still i stroke. your voice
now a nothing
the water it sings
and we’re drowning