remember we were brought here from the clear waters of our dreams
that we might be named, numbered and forgotten
that we were made visible that we might be looked on with contempt
that they gave us their first and last names that we might be called wogs
and to their minds made flesh that it might be stripped from our backs
kept hungry that we might cry in our children’s sleep
close our smoky mouths around their dreams
swallow them as they gaze upon us
never to be full –
Going in when the firefighters left
was like standing on a black beach
with the sea suspended in the walls,
soot suds like a conglomerate of flies.
You kick the weeds and try to piece it back.
Fractured shell? A bone? Bloated antennae?
Flesh thigh spindle, gangrenous pet fish?
An eye or a tiny glaring stone? A seal’s tongue?
Or the sour sinew yoking front and hind fin?
Vertebrae or fetters? Bedsheet or slave skin?
The black is coming in from the cold,
rolling up the beach walls, looking for light.
It will enter you if you stand there,
and spend the rest of its time inside you
asking whatitwas whatitwas whatitwas
in a vivid hiss heard only by your bones.
The above is an excerpt from Surge by Jay Bernard, published by Chatto & Windus, £10.00.
Surge has been shortlisted for the 2020 Sunday Times / University of Warwick Young Writer of the Year Award.