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Raymond Antrobus



Dad’s house stands again, four years

after being demolished. I walk in.

He lies in bed, licks his rolling paper,

and when I ask Where have you been?  

We buried you. He says I know,


I know. I lean into his smoke, tell him

I went back to Jamaica, I met your brothers,

losing you made me need them. He says

something I don’t hear. What? Moving lips,

no sound. I shake my head.  He frowns. 


Disappears. I wake in the hotel room,

heart drumming. I get up slowly, the floor

is wet. I wade into the bathroom,

my father stands by the sink, all the taps

running. He laughs and takes


my hand, squeezes, his ring

digs into my flesh. I open my eyes again.

I’m by a river, a shimmering sheet

of green marble. Red ants crawl up

an oak tree’s flaking bark. My hands


are cold mud. I follow the tall grass

by the riverbank, the song, my deaf Orisha

of music, Oshun, in brass bracelets and earrings,

bathes my father in a white dress. I wave, Hey!

She keeps singing. The dress turns the river


gold and there’s my father surfacing.

He holds a white and green drum. I watch him

climb out the water, drip towards Oshun.  

They embrace. My father beats his drum.

With shining hands, she signs: Welcome. 



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.




Are we about to enter history or

Café Tout de Suite on Verret Street?

The waitress has a face as much African

as Vietnamese, as if even the grease

on her white shirt came from

a long line of proud Creole cooks.

I have always felt guilty needing any

small service. My mother is a market

trader. As a child I once kicked

a woman who kept talking without buying.

I’m thinking my mother could do everything

right and still not survive. I’ve not grown out

of carrying anxious bags into every room

where I become a customer. It’s a thing

if I’m passing a market and the street hagglers

want me to name a price. It’s hard to say

what that should be when I see my mother

in tired light saying this was a good day, this

was a bad day. This waitress has a bandana

tied tight around her head, apron around

her waist—all her kitchen sweats look

listened to. Sometimes I feel guilty asking

someone to repeat, but she repeats and

nobody dies. Maybe kindness is how

you take down the stalls. This waitress

and my mother would show up at my funeral,

a short speech written on receipts.

They’d stand next to my coffin, say

we made this hungry man’s dish,

slow cooked his fish and he ate, messy

and grateful as he lived.

-from All the Names Given (Tin House Books, 2021), selected by Spring 2024 Guest Editor, Sheila Black

Raymond Antrobus MBE FRSL was born in London, Hackney to an English mother and Jamaican father. He is the author of Shapes & Disfigurements (Burning Eye, 2012) To Sweeten Bitter (Out-Spoken Press, 2017), The Perseverance (Penned In The Margins / Tin House, 2018), All The Names Given (Picador / Tin House, 2021), Signs, Music (Picador / Tin House, 2024). His individual poems have been published in The New Yorker, The Guardian, Granta, Poetry Foundation, Lit Hub, London Review of Books, The Poetry Review, The Deaf Poets Society and elsewhere. In 2019 he became the first ever poet to be awarded the Rathbone Folio Prize for best work of literature in any genre. Other accolades include The Ted Hughes Award, Lucille Clifton Legacy Award, PBS Winter Choice, A Sunday Times Young Writer of the year Award, Somerset Maugham Award and The Guardian Poetry Book Of The Year 2018, as well as a shortlist for The Griffin Prize, T.S. Eliot Prize and Forward Prize. In 2018 he was awarded The Geoffrey Dearmer Prize, (Judged by Ocean Vuong), for his poem Sound Machine. Also in 2019 and 2021 his poems (Jamaican British, The Perseverance and Happy Birthday Moon) was added to the UK’s GCSE syllabus. READ MORE HERE...

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