Born in Tottenham, North London, to Jamaican parents, Marvin Thompson now lives in South Wales. His debut book, Road Trip, was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation. In 2019, Marvin was shortlisted for the Manchester Poetry Prize. He's been awarded grants to have his work translated into Welsh, and was selected by Nine Arches Press in 2016 for the Primers 2 mentoring scheme. He holds an MA in Creative Writing.
from Severn Sisters
(after Patience Agbabi's Seven Sisters)
After 19 years of lies, I guess it’s time.
My little sis (your mum) was a dream girl.
Your dad? That Bristol Carnival weekend
I lured him into my house. You were a foetal child
listening to Coltrane’s Crescent. He was a thin boy.
I got him drunk on gin and as noon grew dark
with rain, I locked him in my basement. You’re ape-dark
was the kind of filth he’d text her come evening time
and she’d laugh it off: ‘He was my strong, blue-eyed boy!’
That was the least of it. She’d sob like a weak girl,
scared he was cheating. ‘You’re so childish!’
I spat as one of our spa days came to an end.
She lifted her blouse, back pocked by butt ends.
It seemed simple: stuff your dad in the dark
for a few humid days. Let him cry like a lost child
in my basement. But that was a strange time,
London riots that last August. Girl,
was being tied up enough for a boy
who told me your mum’s bruised ribs left him buoyed?
From his phone, I caused your mum pain that weekend
with messages supposedly for another girl.
My gut acid rose, each text sexually dark.
Your mum phoned me that Saturday teatime,
weeping. ‘He’s blanking me like a child.’
‘You’re carrying a shining tiara child,’
I sobbed. ‘Don’t lose it through stress.’ This boy
in my womb isn’t yours. It was the first time
she’d lied to him. Then came the end
when I called my sis a tree-swinging darkie
from his phone. We became nihilistic girls
for one, star-filled Saturday night. Loud girls
with nothing to lose. Because she was big with child,
I drank for two, your dad hogtied in the dark,
still unsure what I’d do with him. Boy oh boy
I gave him a good horse kicking at night’s end,
birdsong stirring while I sang, ‘Summertime … ’
At the end, that thin boy blubbed, his face blood-dark,
his snot green as thyme. You were a fatherless child.
Sorry. And sorry if this girl doesn’t press send.
Suitcases carouselled in Pacific standard time.
A Black Barbie was dropped by a pouting girl.
I crouched down for it. The girl’s grin was endless,
the same kind of smile I hoped for from Kai’s children.
He felt more my man when he mentioned them, his jokes buoyed.
But then I pictured his granddad, Aid, in the dark
of a 1940s Kentucky noon where church hats were darkened
by woodland shadows. My gran watched time
pass through her camera’s viewfinder, the crowd buoyed.
Her friends were all grinning pigtailed girls,
the rope just out of shot. Aid was still a child,
his burnt limbs blurred. The photo marked the start of the end
for my mum’s lungs. She asked me, ‘Please put this to an end.’
I froze: her bedside lamp pushing back the dark
and her yellow eyes turning me into a trembling child.
She pointed to her bag. Its leather was cracked like time,
the photo in a pocket made for girls
to zip secrets. ‘They lynched him. He was just a boy.
Call me Mamma Bundren!’ His smirk was boyish.
Then tears trickled, the room’s heat endless.
I gazed at the creased photo like a girl
infected by its terror and its darkness.
A date was scrawled: 12/7/41. I heard time
grind. Mum’s face looked faint as she lay childlike:
‘This photo gave me nightmares throughout my childhood.
Your gran made me date a Ugandan boy
out of guilt!’ Asleep, my mum’s scent seemed beyond time
like my Tewkesbury gran whose words had soft endings
and a Kentucky twang that twirled round her darkroom –
a place that held more magic than Kodak girls.
In the airport’s hotel room I dreamt Aid’s White girlfriend
(a tall, sweet 16 who fled west with her child)
and my first Skype with Kai: my, ‘Sorry,’ sounded bitter and dark.
Us made my heart leap and leap like a boy.
In the shower, I prayed that our meeting wouldn’t be the end.
In the cab, my neck pulsed in panicked time.
‘My Nikon’s my life,’ I told Kai, the shore dark,
Kai’s boy and girl chasing the sun’s end.
We raced the children, smiling wide as time.
In the shadows of a Royal Gwent ward, God called time
on my DNR. My once sassy inner girl
sobbed with envy. Undressing at shift’s end
I recalled how I’d act like a spoilt child
when my wife preened for work. I’d call her, ‘Ladyboy!’
and let her grab my arms, our kisses rum dark.
Most afternoons I hide in the curtained dark
re-watching The Wire to kill time.
Like a toffee in the mouth of a doleful boy,
noise dissolves to ‘Walk on By’ sung by my girl.
When I found her, her bathwater was red as childbirth,
a Bloody Mary staining her life’s end.
God’s cruel game began in the West End.
The DKNY fitting room was dark
and I was there with black jeans – a child
mourning her dead Jamaican dad. A knock halted time.
I opened the door to see a shy shop girl.
She asked to change the bulb, her cheeks boyish.
Her accent? Cape Town. Her freckles? Oh boy!
Her badge said Sabrina. That night in Crouch End
we laughed and sank shots. A week later, like schoolgirls,
we snuggled up and watched Luther in the dark.
Sunday nights were our enchanted ice-cream time.
I’d watch her sleep while scenes from my childhood
churned my gut. I knew I was being childish
but her Cape Town accent recalled school’s skinhead boys
and PW Botha – his voice the vile sound of apartheid time.
When our first kiss came to its sweet, breathy end
hate invaded my lungs and made the world feel dark.
I tried to talk about it but I’m a reticent girl;
I clammed up and Sabrina became a good-time girl
who held each Bloody Mary like a newborn child.
‘It's my accent?’ she’d ask in our bedroom’s dark,
‘No!’ I’d snap and she’d run to one of her Tinder boys.
We decided to elope one June weekend,
our hearts cartoon bombs ticking, ticking time.
During anaesthetists’ dark, empty time,
the sound of Sabrina’s, ‘Walk on By’ hugs me like a child.
She’s still my buoy, my girl, my wife: her voice endless.
All poems: Primers: Volume Two (Nine Arches Press)