Where new writing finds its voice

Lovers, Liars, Conjurers and Thieves.

Inua Ellams


(An Ode to Southwark)

After five hours tied to break-beats so thick 
you could bitch-slap a rapper with, rave-drunk 
on bass, funk and melody, I slouch sweat-heavily 
by Waterloo bridge, ready myself to ride home.

Now, from the moment I cross over the bridge 
and leave the Southbank’s lights sparkling, 
the River Thames, with its long lapping 
happenings, hi-fives the riverside walls for me. 
The road is free, (usual for this hour) its silence 
stars a shiver that shudders the road sign, 
its flow winds by bin bags burst like ripe fruit,
two foxes make harvest of its juice. If you look 
past their fur you’ll hear the soft purr 
you might’ve once poured into your lover’s ear, 
when caution thrown clear, and under shadow-
cover, were smothered in an alley with his lips.
But lovers tiff, one fox’s paw fists 
and their battle cries riff with the day’s remnants 
of torn bags, beer cans, cigarettes and spliffs.

Elephant & Castle is a coral reef, resplendent, 
rippling with daredevil kids too schooled 
in cool to check the pickpocket whose wrist-flick
shimmers like blades. A shoal of girls clothed 
in tinsel dresses burp and bubble with ale,
their cheap garments ripple like fish scales
dazzling migrants sailed from a nightly slave 
of mop buckets, bathrooms, broom sticks 
and piss. Their tired limbs just about miss 
drunk cyclists swim cross traffic, who brake 
too late, front wheels smash, chains erupt, 
pedals clash, perhaps now they’ll admit, 
(like the rest of us) to going nowhere fast.

Camberwell is cliché hell. The bars spill out
a steady swell of weed smoke, desperate men 
and willing women whose red-tipped fingers,
the same red you have cried into cold mirrors
against loneliness - that darker shade of blush,
stroke their bare arms with ‘yes, my place 
is yours tonight’. This same crimson rims
the eyes of dry-lipped addicts too fixed 
on last fix to catch the faint wisp of endless 
hope haunting a lone street lamp, whose glow 
halos the crowns of boys, heads bowed low, 
shoulders sway to and fro, hands folded 
to form two fingers barrelled before a cocked 
thumb, this cypher’s silent guns punch the air, 
salute the beat-boxer’s steady glare, his pressed 
breath: fresh carpet, over which the MC spits 
in time, conjures their lives in rhyme.

Rising; the last bastion of breath, Peckham 
rests in south’s fortress. By the library, two 
unmarked vans park for stop & searches. 
For all their stealth, rubber sole boots, gloves, 
high powered torches; all the hours spent bent 
on code names, seeking swift results to deep 
problems, leads here where metal sticks choke 
black throats - for all their stealth and state-
given right, they can’t steal the fight from 
Peckham’s young, whose backs still broad, 
heads so rise, skin soak shine of the new blue
moon whose dominance is fractured by 
the scattered light of a firework, 
out of place, but welcomed.

Close by, a barman toasts his stolen gin,
a night baby gurgles in her plastic cot,
a student pauses before a full-stop,
and the culprit strikes again:

a swift-struck matchstick blooms, the fire 
works, blossoming upwards, explodes outwards, 
a bouquet of sparkle fire, petaling out against 
a sky, so bright, it beats the sun back. Two hours 
pass before it tries to climb the horizon again, 
finds me hunched over by laptop screen, trying 
to let my fingers know what my heart means 
by this journey mashed of instances where 
bin bags splash, cyclists crash, a rapper 
freestyles the scene?

Well, this is how its always been, lovers, liars,
conjurers and thieves, the world is a break-beat
backed by these, over which the poets sing.


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