I’d be proud to write a poem
for you which would be
about you because
you deserve a poem
which would be about
you of course but also deeply, deeply,
about the tragic, comic, farcical
ironies of skin colour, history, earnings,
empire, class, prejudice, sheer
human thoughtlessness and cruelty; and yet
the essential goodness
of mankind
and it would somehow
have to cover
your proud Jamaican family,
stalwart, respected
in the community and then
the way that Britain invited
its fine colonial soldiers,
airman, sailors, who had
fought and lived and died
for a land they had never known,
for an Empire shortly to break up,
to come to Britain and
continue the proud record
of colonial servicemen
supported by our web of aristocracy
which knew and served and loved its Empire
full of human beings, humanity –
so that you, now retired
from the services, are
a hospital orderly who is
on nodding terms with lords and ladies,
millionaires and nobodies
and friend to everybody, who has
suffered the irony of being
mugged by white guys
disguised as joggers
because you dress so smart…
I think you’ve never quite
recovered from this
wound they’d never guess at…
and all this human thoughtlessness
and more, you turn upside down
by shopping at Harrods food store
on a hospital orderly’s pay;
while your nephews and nieces
educated in Jamaica and the States
are so magnificent, and well-off too…
there’s so much I’d like to put down
on paper, because I’m so proud
to have you as a friend, who
also represents
more recent human history
than a book of history
could contain; and yet
you’ve never lost your dignity
thank God
this is just to say,
you deserve a poem,
and I’d be honoured
to write it but
I can’t even begin
you know how it is
yes indeed you do

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