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Jenny Mitchell

Billy Grant



the poet

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.

the poems

Bending Down to Worship

00:00 / 02:42

            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

00:00 / 01:23

            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

                                          they grow

            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

                                          reach out

            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.

The Seamstress

For my grandmother

00:00 / 01:33

                        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.

Publishing credits

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)


S h a r e

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