Some time last year I bought a book called The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. Ellison managed to bring the experience of the black man in 40’s America down to one word – Invisible. So says he “I am an invisible Man. No, I am not a spook … I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fibre and liquids – and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me… When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination – indeed, everything and anything except me.”
Now poetry writing is like constipation to me. Cant live with it cant live without it. Just as we have to eat, we must erm, you want I’m saying don’t you? And every once in a while, we get struck by constipation. And it well and truly leaves you reeling. But once you’re done with it, you’re quite glad to be so and feel quite empty. As such, I pick up ideas here & there. But I cant write a poem about them. They have to amass and vex me until I can no longer bear it. That’s when I sit down and erm, write a poem. Now when I got the book, I was already working on collating the experience of the immigrant in England [Identity, Work life, Crime, Love life etc] and still am, and I thought, surely, this is the experience of immigrants living in Britain. And being an immigrant myself, I was vexed about a lot of things, and this was one of them, so after a period of languishing, I wrote the poem I’ve attached below as an introduction to me to those who do not already know me. Sadly, I lost the book before I finished it and I could not find it in any local library or else I would have stolen it.
The Invisible Man
Transition to Secret Agents
Part 1
I don’t exist
You can look for me in the yellow pages
& you won’t find me
You can search through government lists
But they won’t unspook me
I live in the streets
& I am the dust that clings to the webs of your toes
I am the debris that sticks to the bottom of your shoe
& may be - that is why you can’t see me
But I bet if you looked in the corners of your mind
You would find me, right there with the savages
The invisible society you pretend not to see
The invisible society your prejudices make you side-step so candidly
When you go about your business
Part 2
Or maybe it’s my dignity that keeps you from seeing me
I wear it like a cloak around my shoulders
& it bars me from begging and committing acts of ethical bigotry
While others will run before you, you’re nothing but a man to me
So I won’t kneel before you and practice idolatry
So I cover myself with my cloak & it becomes my identity
I look towards the sky & fall asleep on solid city benches
In times of extreme hunger and cold-shivery
I pray, for if God can feed the pigeons
Then surely, He can feed the wretched
But I too am only a man to me
& with everyday that passes voices scream inside of me:
Man, FUCK this city!
Let’s get this paper & Fuck all these white bitches
Like the white man came to Africa and raped our women
Then called us Pikannini’s
But I keep holding onto my dignity
But no matter how hard I try
The city rigidly vomits me, omits me, repeatedly
Voices inside me scream:
Let’s ROB this City!
Steal and fulfil your dreams & drive these Bentleys
Show no mercy. Relieve yourself of your dignity.
Or you’ll live and die a life of poverty.
But I hold on to my dignity
& you pass me one day with a fine lady
& I open my mouth because I’m so hungry & I want to speak
But you look right through me
As if I don’t exist
So you can’t even listen to me
& then you – you spit at me
& walk away, as if your spittle fell on the wall behind me
& the voices inside me cant believe what you’ve just done to me
Part 3
So I finally give in
I cast off this shoal of dignity
That’s kept me veiled from your eyes
Because dignity hasn’t fed me, fucked me
Or fetched me any favours besides pleased me
& I’m determined to make you see me
But I need more than your spit to excuse what I’m about to be
So I look around me and all I see are the same buildings I saw in my country
I see the statues whose legacies are street names in my country
I look at my own reflection in a puddle of water
& all I see is through and through bastardisation staring up at me
I see the bicentenary of slavery but hear only half-baked admissions and apologies
But it’s too early for apologies because
I still see my identity intertwined in these Victorian buildings that still won’t let me in
Colonisation and re-colonisation, this mother CUNT-ry that vomits its own seed
And lets it slide down the cracks of its backside
This angers me
& I embrace it
Not that you’d notice
Because all you can see is the wall behind me
& your lady
As you go about your business
Part 4
So now I have no dignity
& there is nothing I won’t do for a pound
I have no ancestry
& there is nothing I won’t do to surround myself with pleasantries
But at the moment all I have is the dirt in these streets
Everything else I see is naked and ugly
Feins shooting heroin, sex addicts indulging in
Contorted acts in alleyways, unhidden butt-cheeks
Crack addicts committing robbery to salvage their habits
An impression of British society from the streets from which I existed
But you never knew me then
Couldn’t have known me then because you never saw me
But I knew you
& just like the occasional copper coins that flew at my chapped lips
I collected the bits of u you threw away
I followed you & riffled through your bins
Found names, bills, credit card receipts…
& I became you
Kevin. You became my identity
& now, when you meet me in the streets
Dressed in your clothes, walking your walk
You pull me close and whisper your talk
[whisper] About the illegal immigrant underworld and Identity fraud
& it’s - as - if - I – always – existed…
Part 5
I laugh inside even though it saddens me
Women who’ve given their hearts to me & never even known the real me
Friendships forged which will always be just games to me
Because even though people acknowledge me, they’ll never know my name
The children fathered were nothing more than my own attempt at establishing
The colonial rivalries your grandfather’s left my Africa tattered with
The fires they started among us because of our differences
& now these wars will never cease
& they scar our souls with painful blemishes
Or else I wouldn’t be here
& all you had to do was recognize my existence
& give me the same access to opportunity
So I could get educated and help my people get out of the continuity
Of war, but I guess this is how Life’s got to be
I guess this is what victory is
& though it saddens me, somehow it nourishes me
This life of villainy
& though it saddens me, somehow I’ve found my dignity again
Now when you walk the streets
You’ll have no choice but to look at me
In the faces that you see
& your bank account that constantly finds itself empty
& it’s all too easy for you to place the blame on me
But see this is what you get when you put sheep to sleep
Wolves rise in their wake
& once we wake
We don’t hunt in the darkness we feed in the day
& all you had to do was give us some play
But No, you chose to stay away
& when finally you catch us you threaten us with deportation & jail
Well our response is we never planned to stay
This is a divide & conquer mission
A little payback from the last time to haunt you till the next time
From Yours truly
Sitting in an interrogation room in Heathrow
Awaiting deportation

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