Jenny Mitchell is the winner of the Poetry Book Awards 2021, and joint winner of the Geoff Stevens Memorial Prize 2019. She also won the inaugural Ironbridge Prize, the Bedford Prize and the Gloucester Poetry Society Open Competition. Her best-selling debut collection, Her Lost Language, was one of 44 Poetry Books for 2019 as chosen by Poetry Wales. Jenny's second collection, Map of a Plantation, was an Irish Independent ‘Literary Find’, and is on the syllabus at Manchester Metropolitan University. Her latest collection is Resurrection of a Black Man.
Bending Down to Worship
Church Mary said her God was in the ground,
not Satan but all the things that grew,
and flowers were the gems upon His crown.
She made a garden all around her house –
a broken shack she called a palace
where she reigned.
You couldn’t step beyond her door
unless you brought her a bouquet
or something green and pulsing full of life.
She filled each glass and bowl she found
with blooms she called her jewels
though they were better as they gave a lovely scent.
She tended to her tiny Eden
till the flowers reached above her head –
the colours bold against dark skin, so filled with shining light.
Her headwraps were like floral wreaths,
and every dress was made of faded flowers,
the age-old boots like clumps of mud.
The days when she was forced to work out in the fields,
she feared the sun might scorch her garden.
She ran out of the cane the moment that the whistle blew
and went to fetch pure water from the stream.
Her flowers had to live
as they were all the freedom that she knew.
On nights when she was grieving,
she went outside to kneel amongst the plants,
bend her head and talk to God.
He answered back by showing her another rock or stone
she had to move, revealing yet more ground
on which to grow more buds.
One Sunday, when the white priest tried to make her go to church,
she offered him her shining patch of land
with one sweep of her arm.
She said I never saw your Jesus,
but when I die I’ll end up in the ground
to feed the things I love to grow,
and that is all the heaven I will need.
He damned her as a Godless slave.
But when he left, she heard the voice of God again.
He spoke to her of flowers
as she bent to ornament His crown.
Black Men Carry Flowers
red blossoms on their palms. hibiscus
blooms from fingertips. waterlilies circle
wrists in contrast to their shade
with this crop, they move with grace. vines
cling to arms. ferns worn as green insignia.
warriors of peace
on any street. if you look up. see men are grand
estates. a wealth of plants. once torn
from land. they burgeon in the wild
in dappled light. wide shoulder blades replete
with yellow orchids. chests are dappled lawns
rolling to a bank of leaves
delicate but strong
morning glories shape their legs. bougainvillea
bends the knees. ripples as it clings to thighs
tumbling to the shins.
agile on the ground
jasmine moves the feet. every step a heady scent
rising through a man-made-plant. flourishing.
their words fall out as petals.
For my grandmother
I’ll be the dress she never owned –
immaculate for special days,
the only burden heavy frills
and English lace along the hem.
I’ll never trail in dirt
or suffer dust from cane fields.
My heart will burst
to make a bodice,
stitched with bold Jamaican flowers:
yellow orchids, red hibiscus.
There will be a giant fern
appliqued on her back:
my ribcage opened to its full extent.
I’ll raise my chin
to make the high, firm collar –
a throat so elegant,
with space to hold my voice.
I’ll ask her what she really wants –
plain cuffs or golden buttons.
Underneath the dress,
I’ll make myself silk underwear,
a soft and pretty petticoat.
Its one equivalent will be
her newly coddled skin.
My feet will make such dainty shoes,
and she will go like Cinderella to the ball.
But if she doesn’t want the prince this time
she’ll dance away without a care.
The English lace will shimmer
as she moves.
Bending Down to Worship: Map of a Plantation
Black Men Carry Flowers: Resurrection of a Black Man
The Seamstress: Her Lost Language
(all collections from Indigo Dreams Publishing)