Favourite poems - 'Wherever I hang me knickers' by Grace Nichols
Often when we lament about not being able to do something, we are told to try, not to worry about doing a bad job, because we can always try and try again; and if all else fails we can pat ourselves on our backs knowing we gave it our all. Sadly, being the first child of Nigerian immigrants, this approach was not entertained in my home. Instead I was encouraged, or warned, to be the best I could be, and if possible better. After all I was carrying the aspirations of not only my parents, but my entire extended family. So today, when I fail at something, being the type A personality I have grown into, I either give up or surround myself with those who are better than me.
I am referring to poetry, something I am crap at. Often, in my head I compose lyrical outputs about my diverse travel and cultural experiences, but when I write them down, the results are so bad I've thought of turning them into pop songs. Fortunately, there are others who don't have have this problem, so instead of trying to improve myself, I collect their poems.
One of my favourites is Wherever I hang by Guyanese poet Grace Nichols. She writes, in the pigeon-language of her youth, about her experience of being up-rooted, with her family, as an eight year-old from her village on the Guyanese coast, to a new 'dream' life in London. We follow her initial perplexity, hope, then adjustment, as she learns to accept that wherever she hangs her ... well I'd better let you find out for yourself:
Wherever I hang by Grace Nichols
I leave me people, me land, me home
For reasons I not too sure
I forsake de sun
And de humming-bird splendour
Had big rats in de floorboard
So I pick up me new-world-self
And come to this place call England
At first I feeling like I in a dream -
De misty greyness
I touching the walls to see if they real
They solid to de seam
And de people pouring from de underground system
And when I look up to de sky
I see Lord Nelson high – too high to lie.
And is so I sending home photos of myself
Among de pigeons and de snow
And is so I warding off de cold
And is so, little by little
I begin to change my calypso ways
Never visiting nobody
Before giving them clear warning
And waiting me turn in queue
Now, after all this time
I get accustom to de English life
But I still miss back-home side
To tell you de truth
I don’t know really where I belaang
Yes, divided to de ocean
Divided to de bone
Wherever I hang me knickers – that’s my home.
Click here to hear Grace Nichols recite this poem.
This poem has particular significance to me, as like the author, I made a similar journey, 'though at 15 mine was in reverse, when after 20 years my parents moved back to Lagos, Nigeria.
If you write poems with a similar theme, or if you have favourites by others, please share them with me. And to read more poetry about travel and travelling, click here to read the contributions from Diverse Travellers.
Some poetry resources: