Poetry: I began to drown. by Gemma Weekes

By Gemma Weekes on May 29, 2018 in Poetry

Illustration by Leyla Reynolds


I began to drown.


It will not be news to you

That the little mermaid is a black girl.


If you’re honest

You knew this all along.

Who else is made to sell

Her tongue for passage?


Most of us did not survive the flight overboard,

Descent into blue/ blue almost unto black.


The sun ran from us.

The light went soft

As a baby’s head.


And only those of us who kept

Our true names locked tight

In our mouths found memory

A good substitute

For oxygen.


Living hundreds of years weightless

Without struggle or triumph

Fashioning homes of coral

Lit by clean white bone.


But even where I swam

I felt your soul crack

Along Its sutures

Under your father’s blind fist

And I began to drown.

Gemma Weekes is the critically-acclaimed author of Love Me (Chatto & Windus), with the Independent calling her ‘a name to watch’. Her poetry and fiction has appeared in several anthologies and literary journals including IC3: The Penguin Book of New Black Writing in Britain and Kin by Serpent’s Tail. She is also an established performance/spoken word artist and musicmaker who has performed nationally and internationally. She is currently working on a live literature/art piece entitled ‘Who Murked Basquiat’. Her short story ‘Portrait of the Artist as a Young Corpse’ appears in Wasafiri Issue 94.

Buy tickets the launch of Issue 94 and the celebration of Windrush Women: Past and Present at the British Library here.