Sutton Road Cemetery
After Eavan Boland
His mother had driven him back to London in the half light,
He’d sighed in the passenger seat. They’d stopped
by the Southend seas as the wind picked up and
clouds thinned into English women. All the stones
had said nothing of their names as he skimmed them wide
across the waves.
Earlier, when he’d found the grave of his great-grandmother
by the elderberry tree it was the one time he’d wanted
someone white to appear and ask
where he’s from. It would’ve been no skin off him
to point at her stone and say
‘How shall it be known what is spoken? For ye shall speak in the air’
—1 CORINTHIANS 14:8–9
JK Antrobus, grandfather, I dreamt you
returning your reading glasses to your eyes, opening
your bible, pointing at the words you couldn’t say.
You pointed at mercy and failure and then
you pointed at your white hair and your lips and then
at the ceiling of your church as if it were the roof
of your own mouth, and I understood as much as the stone
plaques on the walls or the pews which were wood,
a word that once meant tree.
All the men that raised me are dead, those bastards.
I’m one self-pitying prick of a son. How do I bring
back men who couldn’t speak, men lost in books, drinks,
graves? Where do I turn, knowing they left
the hot taps running? I want to say sorry, come to me.
Cut the hedges on your face so I can read your lips.
For Tyrone Givans
The paper said putting him in jail
without his hearing aids was like
putting him in a hole in the ground.
There are no hymns
for deaf boys. But who can tell
we’re deaf without speaking to us?
Tyrone’s name was misspelled
in the HMP Pentonville prison system.
Once, I was handcuffed,
shoved into a police van. I didn’t hear
the officer say why, I was saved
by my friend’s mother who threw herself
in the road and refused to let the van drive away.
Who could have saved Tyrone?
James Baldwin attempted suicide
after each of his loves
jumped from bridges or overdosed.
He killed his characters, made them
kill themselves –– Rufus, Richard,
Black men who couldn’t live like this.
Tyrone, I won writing awards
bought new hearing aids and heard
my name through the walls.
I bought a signed Baldwin book.
The man who sold it to me didn’t know
you, me or Baldwin.
I feel I rescued it. I feel failed.
Tyrone, the last time I saw you alive
I’d dropped my pen
on the staircase
didn’t hear it fall but you saw and ran
down to get it, handed it to me
before disappearing, said,
you might need this.
These poems are taken from Raymond Antrobus’ forthcoming book, All The Names Given, which you can preorder direct from Picador here.
RAYMOND ANTROBUS was born in London to an English mother and Jamaican father. He’s a Cave Canem Fellow, Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and the author of To Sweeten Bitter (UK, Out-Spoken Press, 2017), The Perseverance (UK, Penned In The Margins / US, Tin House, 2018) and All The Names Given (US, Tin House / UK, Picador, 2021) as well as children’s picture book Can Bears Ski? (UK, Walker Books / US, Candlewick, 2020). He is the 2019 recipient of the Ted Hughes Award as well as the Sunday Times/University of Warwick Young Writer of the Year Award, and became the first poet to be awarded the Rathbone Folio Prize. His first full-length collection, The Perseverance was shortlisted for the Griffin Poetry Prize and The Forward Prize. He divides his time between London and New Orleans.