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POETRY SWAP MEET: Poetry we don't usually know about, or?

Dangerous Mind
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You sold me to an old man, father.
May God destroy your home, I was your daughter.

-anonymous, Afgan Landay

jade tiger
Tyrant of Words
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Jed Myers


Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez and his daughter, Valeria, Rio Grande, Matamoros, Mexico

We’ll recall her small arm on his neck.
We’ll forget them there in the shallows.

We wonder at the black cloth they share.
We don’t get it was how he held her.

We see clearly her short red pants.
We miss the pink disposable diaper.

We note the bamboo stalks on the shore.
We grow our bamboo along the link fence.

We see sun in the river’s slow ripples.
We have no fierce current here in the frame.

We’re touched their dark heads wind up together.
We are spared their still-eyed stare.

We’re shocked the camera shot them in the back.
We’re not especially surprised.

We’re living the lives they might have.
We haven’t been breathing water.

We understand it’s father and daughter.
We don’t have our noses in the mud.


Jed Myers: “For all its shocking immediacy, an image of tragedy on our southern border seems to embody our burned-out distance. The drowned father and little daughter are casualties of our country’s deep currents of fear. The truth that we’re all Americans north and south is lost in the hubbub of nationhood. We take the river as border, denying our deeper unity. I hope my poem holds and conveys the embarrassment of our self-distancing.”

Thought Provoker
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Langston Hughes
(1 February 1902 – 22 May 1967 / Missouri)

Let America be America again

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed--
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There's never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this "homeland of the free.")

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery's scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek--
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one's own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean--
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today--O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I'm the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That's made America the land it has become.
O, I'm the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home--
For I'm the one who left dark Ireland's shore,
And Poland's plain, and England's grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa's strand I came
To build a "homeland of the free."

The free?

Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we've dreamed
And all the songs we've sung
And all the hopes we've held
And all the flags we've hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay--
Except the dream that's almost dead today.

O, let America be America again--
The land that never has been yet--
And yet must be--the land where every man is free.
The land that's mine--the poor man's, Indian's, Negro's, ME--
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose--
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people's lives,
We must take back our land again,

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath--
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain--
All, all the stretch of these great green states--
And make America again!

Tyrant of Words
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Vandel_Viaclovsky said:Langston Hughes
(1 February 1902 – 22 May 1967 / Missouri)

Let America be America again

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

.. etc ...

Great choice of poem, Vandel, real neat choice in these days especially.

Tyrant of Words
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Norman MacCaig (1910-1996), a Scottish poet who spent his whole life in Scotland (mainly Edinburgh). He was a school teacher, and later taught Creative Writing at Edinburgh University. During the war, as a pacifist, he was a conscientious objector, which no doubt informs this short poem of his.


My only country
is six foot high
and whether I love it or not
I'll die
for its independence.

jade tiger
Tyrant of Words
United States
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jade tiger
Tyrant of Words
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Nicole Bestard


When François Mitterrand, the former president of France, realized that he would soon die of prostate cancer … he squandered a small fortune on a lavish and bizarre meal for himself and thirty friends … The piece-de-resistance was roast ortolan, a tiny songbird that in France is actually illegal to consume. Traditionally, the two-ounce warbler is eaten whole, bones and all, while the diner leans forward over the table with a large napkin draped over his head. The napkin, according to food lore, serves two functions: it traps and concentrates the aroma of the petite dish, and it conceals the shameful exorbitance of the meal … from the eyes of God.
—Mark Morton, from “Ort of the Week,” ‪Gastronomica.com‬, April 3, 2006

Once inside his mouth, did it bite back, digging
with its beak into the steak-flesh of his tongue
a pin-prick on the palette, a pen-knife sticking
the spongy membranes in the belly of a whale?

Did its head roll around in his mouth before
it was crushed like a doll’s glass slipper
between the molars of a dog?

Did it beat its wings against his throat,
clamoring against the smooth esophagal
lining as it went down?

Did it burn his chest in that moment, a speck
of feather caught within the chambers, thrashing
on the walls like its sparrow cousin, accidentally
flown into the glass door of the sun-deck?

Or did it slide gently, silenced by the strange
thunder of his heart as it passed?

Was it slow-roasted or grilled? Basted with
butter, rosemary, and a little lemon? Or simply
salt and pepper, maybe some olive oil?

Did the bird recognize the oil as it was applied,
perhaps from a tree it had nested in once, sung
a song so beautiful a law had to be passed
to preserve its notes?

Did it come live to the chef’s hands, caged
with its siblings, beaks taped shut so as not
to give away the fruit kept within? Or
were they packed in an egg carton, each bird coiled
and cold in its own private, if temporary, tomb?

Were their necks snapped only hours earlier?
Or were they gassed at the base of the bird-catcher’s
car? Why not boiled fresh and writhing like lobsters
as if song still lingered about their featherless flesh?

The minutiae of the guts, were they kept in or
removed, and who so carefully pried the fuselage
from their bodies, their organs balanced
on a fingernail for sauce?

Days later, did it sing again as it made
its exit from body, now completely consumed
and resurrected?

The surviving songbirds, can they see
the shadow left by the napkin on the diner’s
head; do they cease their singing
when he passes beneath their branch?

And does he care? He who has consumed
such delicate song, does he hear it still?

Nicole Bestard

: “Photographer Diane Arbus wrote, ‘I really believe there are things which nobody would see unless I photographed them.’ I feel the same way about my poems—I really believe there are things which nobody would see—including myself—unless I wrote about them. It’s this urgency to bear witness to the world, and all the beauty and ugliness encompassed in it, both seen and unseen, that drives my work.”

jade tiger
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Lynne Knight


We stood in the plaza at City Hall
near Henry Moore’s archer, staring up
at the big screen, waiting for men
to land on the moon. We were stoned,
a little, as we often were, not so much
that we couldn’t manage our lives
or walk quietly along Toronto streets,
rarely drawing attention to ourselves
except with my daughter’s backpack,
handmade, suede, a crudely fused
metal frame. Enough of a novelty in 1969
that earlier in the afternoon two old women
at the Kensington Market shouted
I would ruin my baby’s legs, or I think
that’s what they shouted, in Italian,
their Russian friends joining in, a chorus
of languages, & now we were waiting
for men to land on the moon where
no word had ever been spoken,
though the moon made one cameo
appearance after another in the poems
we wrote then, symbol of time, symbol
of eternity, the night moon, day moon,
the moon as fingernail, as lemon slice,
as sliver, as silver, go ahead & invent
your own simile or metaphor, the famous
poet instructed us, but pay attention to
the risk—put the moon in a poem, pretty
soon your dead grandfather might show up,
or your cold mother, or whoever it is you find
difficult because there it is, stony, implacable,
unchanging except as we see it in phases.
But what did he know? A man was about
to walk on the moon, say something
universal enough to allow all people to share
the triumph, no matter their language,
my daughter babbling, bouncing against
my back as Armstrong did it, pushed out
of the Eagle, took the first step, spoke—
& there we were, applauding as if he could
hear us, as if there were no distance between us
& the moon, no borders against human progress.


Lynne Knight: “I was a new mother fifty years ago, a hippie in Toronto, and reflecting back, I’m struck by how much of the optimism and hope we felt then has been darkened or eclipsed today. I continue to believe we can achieve things across or despite borders—I’m sure many of the NASA scientists who worked on the Apollo mission were immigrants! It’s heartbreaking to see the frenzy being whipped up against ‘the other’ when we’re all here together on the same planet, subject to the moon’s gravitational pull.”

jade tiger
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Benjamin S. Grossberg


Tucked behind an obscure gas giant,
tiny, shaped like a kidney bean—
but I had it registered as mine
for a small fee and now have
a certificate to hang in the ship
and a place to visit on holidays
and for picnics. The sky’s dominated
by a ringless planet rarified enough
to float in a bathtub (a large one)—
and planetrise is watching
the curtain lift at a Grand Opera:
orchestral swell; swirls and storms
near enough to touch, as if a finger
dipped in its surface might ripple out
progressively larger circles. Certainly
there’s no air or vegetation, and very
little gravity. No place is perfect.
I dream (what kind of space traveler
wouldn’t?) of planting organic
ground cover, having contractors
put in an atmosphere, and a nice
surface liquid. Perhaps one day,
a species. At some point the notion
of making overtakes the notion
of finding. Just because there was
a planet inhabited by creatures
like me, where I saw silhouettes
in the rockface and even weeds
had a pleasant familiarity, doesn’t
mean there is.

Benjamin S. Grossberg: “I think I started writing because it seemed my brothers had taken the other arts (painting, music, etc), and only poetry was left for me. But it could also be something in the genes. One of my grandfathers was a jeweler, the other a Rabbi. Maybe a poet is what you get when you cross a jeweler and a Rabbi.”

Thought Provoker
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Briceida Cuevas Cob

jonjon box ti sak.
Máalix pek’,
náachil pek’.
Leili júntul u puksík’aloob.
Tech tune
tak u chen janal kastlan pek’ka manik.
Tech tune
ka chen jósil tak xínxinbal ti k’íuik.
Tech tune
ka takchatik máalix pek’ yétel a p’ek.
Tech tune
bey a uol tu man ta pach tiólal le bak má tan a puliktío.
Má a uójel ua le pek’a
kímil ku man tu pach a bákel.

Ku yálale pek’e ku yok’ol chíbal ken u yil u k’asil baal.
Sajkilé tu póch’il,
tu ch’in túnich tí ek’joch’énil.
Ak’abe tu yok’ol chíbal.
Sajkilé tu dzon ich ek’joch’énil,
ok’ol chíbale xexet’paj yétel u chun u nak’ ak’áb.
juntul uínik jak’án u yol u ch’uk k’ak’ ichoob tí ek’joch’énil.
U lak’o,
júntul pek’ tu tzikbaltik u muk’yaj ti ek’oob.

Stray dog,
stranger dog.
They have the same heart.
But you
only buy food for the purebred dog.
But you
even take him for a walk on the square.
So you
kick the stray dog with scorn.
think he walks behind you for the bone you don’t throw him.
You don’t know that this dog
is death walking behind your bones.

They say the dog howls when he sees the devil.
Fear insults,
he throws stones in the darkness.
The night howls.
Fear fires in the darkness,
the howl is destroyed with the belly of the night.
is a man terrified by the red fire of some eyes in the darkness.
The other,
a dog who tells the stars of his suffering.

Briceida Cuevas Cob (1969) is a Mayan poet from Tepakán, Calkiní, Campeche, México. She has published several poetry books, U yok’ol awat peek’ (El quejido del perro / The dog’s moan) (1995), Je’ bix k’iin (Como el sol / Like The Sun) (1998), Ti’ u billil in nook’ (Del dobladillo de mi ropa / From My Clothes’ Hem) (2008). Her poems have been translated into French, Dutch, English and Italian. She is a founding member of the Mexican Association of Writers of Indigenous Languages.

jade tiger
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Patricia Callan


A lousy job—I’m broke and strapped
I work this place where there’s a baseball bat
upon a shelf in case I must deter
some amorous jerk, maybe the customer
who thinks his pockets leave no hints:
boxes of rubbers, cash and mints.
Shirts are piled high on the racks,
lingerie, underwear, T-shirts, stacks
of sheets, neatly folded, and heavy bags
of wash left by the tipsy wife who brags
she’d never touch such things and—wink—
speeds off to meet her lover for a drink.
The artist’s paint on spattered overalls
give me a view of how her day is spent.
Slapping paint on client’s walls,
she’s hired, a helper with a tired lament,
whining the way a weary toddler bawls.
Sorry, I can’t remove her discontent.
Delusional for years, he’ll pray for you
Robed like a priest from head to hem with starched
collars left here every week, the few
nostalgic threads before the day they marched
him out the seminary door. Still daft,
he always waves his beads at me. Witchcraft?
I fondle the Armani blazer twice
monthly, notice it’s tailored flawlessly.
On monogrammed, white handkerchiefs, precise
lipstick stains flame scandal up at me.
He straightens his tie, manner elegant,
“Toss them.” His vows? Irrelevant.
A pretty, flowered robe (size large), pale pink,
shrouds this sickly girl who’ll no doubt shrink
inside her clothes grown massive as in a cape,
from week to week. She has no fat or shape.
How long before this hanger looks obscene?
How long before there’s nothing left to clean?
The reasons for attire, always the same.
to hide, to flee or try to costume shame.
At this place no soul can be redeemed
a mangled life cannot be bleached and cleaned.
I’ll take—why not—whatever cash I find
and leave your clothes, your stains, your dirt, behind.


jade tiger
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Matt Quinn

Image: “Blue Whale” by Nikki Zarate.

Perhaps because there were currents swirling
within the silence, or because a seagull
was shrieking outside the window
or in my head, or because in the end I had to

say something, I said I saw a whale.
Go on, he said. A blue whale, then, I said.
Go on, he said. And because it seemed important
to start at the beginning, I told him of a wolf

that had grown weary of the shallow
society of wolves and had left its pack and drifted
out into the deep ocean. Go on, he said,
and I told him how the salt water had held

the wolf, and how the wolf liked to float, cradled
by the blue, and how its legs transformed
into flippers and its body became huge
and blubbered against the cold, so that the wolf

floated suspended inside that giant body,
just as that body floated in the ocean,
and how the blue water stained that body blue
as if the sea were made of ink. Go on, he said.

In time, I said, it found it could no longer return
to the land, and some nights it sang songs
of its lost pack, and evermore it wandered solitary
in the great ocean. And what else? he asked.

So I told him of how once a blue whale finally
came ashore, how wounded by a harpoon
and desperate to breathe, it beached itself
near Bragar, on the small island of Lewis,

and how they had planted its jaw-bones
as an arch by the side of a road, and had hung
the harpoon from it, as a memorial, perhaps,
or perhaps as a warning. And I told him of ship-strikes,

and how easy it was to become entangled
in the debris of other people’s nets, and also of the noise
their engines make, and how finally their sonar
had drowned the last of my mourning songs.

And these smaller ink blots, he asked,
that surround the whale, what are these? Jellyfish,
I said quickly, not meeting his eye, spineless companions
of the whale, translucent blobs of floating

nothing, drifting along with it. For I knew better
than to tell this man the truth,
that the blue whale had sought refuge
in the basement-womb of the deepest blue ocean,

and that there were depth charges
exploding all around it.


Comment from the artist, Nikki Zarate: “I enjoyed the back and forth conversation between the story teller and the listener. It was as if I was sitting beside a fire, being told a legend or a fairytale. The poem also did a wonderful job of connecting the sea with the land, through the whale and the wolf. It kept my interest and I wanted more and that rarely happens for me.”

jade tiger
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Chris Anderson


He lived not only his own life,
he lived also in the lives of others.
—Janet Browne, Charles Darwin

I. Chemistry, the Cultural Approach

We didn’t have to do experiments, we just had to think about them,
and that’s my method still.
I don’t like specimens. I like shelving. Not collecting but collections.
The way Darwin said he abhorred the sea, every wave and slap,
the whole five years, but loved his tiny cabin beneath the poop deck,
with its nooks
and crannies and clever drawers, though of course
he was really out there, too, scrambling over rocks and skinning iguanas.
He could do it all: geology, zoology, botany.
Back home in County Kent he spent the mornings in his study
surrounded by his books and instruments.
He loved to write on foolscap. Sometimes a sentence. Sometimes a word.
He wasn’t an atheist. He was just very, very slow.
He was polite.
I am the vine, you are the branches, as Buzz Aldrin said from the moon,
after the Eagle landed.
But this was off-mic, of course. He was quoting Jesus.

II. Cartoon Eyes

Darwin wrote sitting on a chair
with a board spread across his lap.

He was always sending his children out
to collect beetles and report on the pigeons,
and he was always asking farmers
what they had seen and what they knew,
and shopkeepers, and the postman.

Anybody. He was interested.

I have a laptop, of course,
and so I often write in chairs.
Yesterday what I saw was a bushtit
fluttering in the ivy,
and when I went to investigate
I saw that it couldn’t fly anymore.
It was injured and hiding.

It looked right at me, blinking
the two black dots of its eyes,
and as it blinked
nothing else on its body moved.
It was otherwise still.

I think it knew me.
I think it knew it was dying.

III. Addendum to My First Poem about Darwin

When I say that Darwin wasn’t an atheist
I just mean that he seems like such a nice man.
He was shy. He was sad. He was flatulent—
that’s why he always excused himself after dinner.
He spent eight years studying barnacles,
everything about them, until he was the world’s expert
on barnacles, all the different kinds,
with all their hard shells and their soft, creamy bodies.
He loved to walk in his garden,
admiring the trees, but only at the appointed time.
His house was the ship and his wife
was the captain and he was the voyager,
alone with his thoughts every day, filling page after page.
The children told time by the creak of his door—
though they were always racing in, too,
stealing a rock or a feather, and he let them,
and sometimes he played with them or took them
in his arms and kissed them on the ears,
and when his little Annie died he so forgot himself
in a letter to a friend he called her a little angel.
An angel. He just couldn’t believe
she was gone. He just wasn’t thinking.

IV. On the Surface

Darwin married his cousin, Emma,
and later came to love her dearly.

I met Barb in the band—she played the drums
and I played the clarinet—
and I loved her from the start.

After their second child died, the youngest,
a boy, Darwin bought a billiard table.
He researched it thoroughly first
and bought the best, and he liked to play
as he was thinking,
banking shots off the soft, velvet edges.

My brother and I used to play pool
down at Gazebos, in a shadowy corner
beneath a big hanging light,
the felt a brilliant, emerald green,
but I never sat at the bar until a week
after Barb and I were married.

I’d just turned twenty-one and Dad
bought me a beer
and we sat and talked. It was surreal.
It just didn’t seem possible.
Everything was still on the surface.

V. My Mystery Bird

At Nestucca once I saw a Swainson’s Thrush sing,
but I had to live there first, for a month, in the alder above the bay.
It was chilly and damp in the morning, and I was very lonely,
but I had my little coffee pot, and my Post-it-Notes
flew like flags, and finally I saw it happening, early one evening,
lit by the sun, the way they tip back their heads
and let the song pour forth, their soft throats bubbling.
Now there’s this mystery bird in my neighbor’s yard across the street,
singing in the blackberries. It could be
a Black-throated Gray Warbler, or a Hermit Warbler, or even
a Townsend’s, but there’s no way to know unless I actually see it,
unless I can stand on the road and wait,
looking into the thorns, while the cars drive by and the world goes on,
and I do. Minutes at a time. I want to see this one, too.
The way my brother says he feels the wine slide down his throat
when he drinks from the cup at mass.
The way he says he can feel it: that warmth. That burning.


Chris Anderson: “I’ve been reading a lot lately about science and religion and about environmental theology, and that led me to Darwin and to this wonderful biography by Janet Browne. It’s so beautifully written, and Darwin comes out of it as such a fascinating English-country gentlemen. I found myself oddly identifying with him, even though—and then exactly because—I realized that in the poems I started to write, in this sequence, I was getting him wrong, sort of turning him into a believer when he wasn’t. That became the theme of the sequence. Darwin became a way for me to explore the border between science and religion in myself.”

jade tiger
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Elizabeth Coyle



Talk instead about the sickness,
about the incredible pain
a person must be in to commit such violence.
But don’t talk about the dry heaves
that kept you up for two nights
before your brother’s graduation.

Speak in academic terms. Say words
like misogyny and terrorism and media.
Then you will sound far away
and meaningless and people
won’t have to listen or access
their own pain.

Mention the numbers:
the body count, the helping hands,
the teddy bears left in the morning.
Don’t let statistics bog you down
though. Don’t tell people you haven’t
been to a movie since 2017.

You can’t remember how it ended.
You spent the whole time
watching men arrive late and sit
at the end of your row, every breath
burning its way through stomach acid
at the back of your throat. You had
to clench your knees to your seat
to keep from running.

It’s okay to say that if you were a teenager,
you’d beg your parents to keep you home.
Say it with a touch of nostalgia and
rightly placed horror. But don’t tell people
that you won’t have children in this country
out of fear that you’ll lose them
in a shivering pile on the cafeteria floor
before they’re even old enough
to subtract. Definitely pray.

Because if the only time you talk to god
is when there’s bodies on the floor
of the supermarket or festival or
office building or movie theater or
night club or school or
other people’s church,
then you must be talking to god every day.
You must be thinking about becoming a preacher.

Don’t write this poem instead of sleeping.
Don’t lay on the floor after a shooting, typing
this into your phone. Because you will be interrupted
by a notification that another shooting is in progress.
You will realize that you know too many people
and that one day they will be killed in this same way,
as a passing news story. You will cry.
You will probably be crying when people read this.
More people will probably be dead.


Elizabeth Coyle: “I am exhausted.”

David Macleod
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Benjamin Zephaniah is definitely worth a look or listen


The British - Poem by Benjamin Zephaniah

Take some Picts, Celts and Silures
And let them settle,
Then overrun them with Roman conquerors.

Remove the Romans after approximately 400 years
Add lots of Norman French to some
Angles, Saxons, Jutes and Vikings, then stir vigorously.

Mix some hot Chileans, cool Jamaicans, Dominicans,
Trinidadians and Bajans with some Ethiopians, Chinese,
Vietnamese and Sudanese.

Then take a blend of Somalians, Sri Lankans, Nigerians
And Pakistanis,
Combine with some Guyanese
And turn up the heat.

Sprinkle some fresh Indians, Malaysians, Bosnians,
Iraqis and Bangladeshis together with some
Afghans, Spanish, Turkish, Kurdish, Japanese
And Palestinians
Then add to the melting pot.

Leave the ingredients to simmer.

As they mix and blend allow their languages to flourish
Binding them together with English.

Allow time to be cool.

Add some unity, understanding, and respect for the future,
Serve with justice
And enjoy.

Note: All the ingredients are equally important. Treating one ingredient better than another will leave a bitter unpleasant taste.

Warning: An unequal spread of justice will damage the people and cause pain. Give justice and equality to all.

Benjamin Zephaniah

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