/ we had a secret pact / two sides of silver
coins / gold too / we were torn /
in halves / his hatred of my words /
wasted china as dinner plates / my hatred
of his ancestory / ancient finances /
There were revenants in the ink / spectres
he missed / soot of the working class /
can you relate / to being unpicked
for the crime of your birth / ? / there
were silent subtleties / I swore / silence
as swordplay / defiance as dynasty /
targets are made / to be missed /
and I wrote each night / to Frank /
in blood / and blue / and burns /
and when I cast my mind back /
I realise he was right /
I want to write / thank him /
for making my care about my work /
– Aaron Kent
‘can you relate / to being unpicked
for the crime of your birth / ?’
An actor is questioned by the police
And he tells them about the way pigment
arrives on the page, how in the old days
there was no accounting for how many
died at sea to bring Vermeer his blues,
or how the heaviest elements in van Gogh’s
chrome would turn the man delirious,
though its poison could still not rival green’s,
which left arsenic on Victorian fingers.
Even black – ‘bone-black’ – was once derived
from burning ivory, all through the years
of empire, an elephant in every room.
But this on the screen, officer? This is
colourless! A word his and not-his,
whose provenances are older than this.
The police have questions for the actor
No, not a word from a script either,
although the script, in this case, is everything.
See how the first letter folds at the waist,
a body thrown backwards from a chair
while the second worries itself, a tail
with no legs to shelter between, the third –
curved like a moon or mollusc, is cryptic,
unknowable, like a child asleep –
Questions are asked by the police
Of course it’s not about how it looks.
It’s what we hear, that single sorting syllable
made, tellingly perhaps, to rhyme with ‘face’
though even that is negotiable: did you think
we mean the same in every language, as in,
that our meanness is the same? The way
these people have said it, you can’t separate
the colour from thickness of skin. Throw in
weight too, for some are heavier at birth
though even now we have no measure of how
much a body will bear. Don’t you get it,
officer? As in: doesn’t it get to you?
The police ask if the actor has any questions
The actor answers
It’s hard to say, officer. When I came in
I had none, but now you’ve made me think.
Is there a word that is more than sound?
How do I pronounce what you’ve written down?
All I want is this. Tell me there’s room
for all of what we cannot love, and whom.
– Theophilus Kwek