I’m at a workshop at a poetry festival and we’re supposed to be
writing down our thoughts, but the only thoughts in my mind right now
are how the knob of butter in a baked potato looks a bit like a vagina
and how I spoke too quietly when the featured poet asked my name
and now he’s signed my book, “To Melamine”,
and there’s a little boy here with a dad with a hipster beard
and a mum carrying The Guardian and wearing lots of artisan-crafted jewellery.
He’s called Alfred or Arthur or Horatio, or one of those names,
he’s not been backwards about coming forwards all session
and when we’re asked who would like to share their work,
he strides towards the microphone like it is his birthright.
And I know it’s shameful that I’m angry at his “cockiness”, I know
that rosebuds should not be kept tightly shut,
they should be allowed to bloom,
but I’m broken that he assumes by six
what my father could not believe by eighty-six:
that his voice is entitled to be heard.
My father thought that poems had to rhyme. It was the rule.
He liked the kind of poems that get sneered at at your open mics
and he would have hated this one. He was very quiet.
So, sneer if you like, but know his life was measured out in rigid metre,
a regular pattern that he could not break, like a b a b,
like bricks cemented in English bond, a pattern of cheap jeans,
of chequered shirts from Millets, of sandwiches wrapped in greaseproof paper,
of wheelbarrows and hods, of scaffolding poles and cycle rides home and Swarfega,
of weekly manilla pay packets with not enough in them, then allotments and the dole.
His syntax was twisted to fit the scheme someone else had chosen,
he was stuck in a place that didn’t suit him, like a forced rhyme.
In shit jobs, initiative isn’t welcome – you do what you are told –
and you, with your book clubs and your networking events and your therapists
and your artistic free expression workshops for fucking toddlers,
will never understand how scared he was, every single second
of his eighty-six years, of saying the wrong thing.
We have no castles, we have no historic names,
we have no family crests, we have no ancestral lands.
We have no mangoes, no cardamom pods, no plantains, no patois.
We have no colourful backstories
that people with hipster beards and artisan-crafted jewellery will pay ten quid
to culturally appropriate. We have only scuffed melamine tabletops,
battered bus shelters, blank, unending, broken pavements.
And people with hipster beards and artisan-crafted jewellery
will only ever pay ten quid to see us battered and blank and broken
and being very quiet.
Melanie Branton is a spoken word artist and poet from North Somerset. In the summer of 2017, she performed at WOMAD, Bristol Harbour Festival and the Edinburgh Fringe. Her debut pamphlet, My Cloth-Eared Heart, is published by Oversteps Books.