Daljit Nagra, author of Look We Have Coming To Dover!, a collection about the Britain where Indians came and settled, and Tippoo Sultan’s Incredible White-Man-Eating Tiger Toy-Machine!!!, whose poems take their bearings from the part-Arcadian, part-hellish streets of ‘Londonstan’ and the places where the north of England collides with the Punjab, brings his humorous vernacular to a subject so easily dull or preachy in the pen of other poets. Pithy but with depth, controversial without being dependent on shock-factor, this poem is a realistic observation on skin-colour, and how we perceive our own skin-colour and the skin-colour of others, which manages to retain the poet’s trademark comic vibrancy. And every punch is fat and satisfying.
Would a white poet have gotten away with a similar poem? Definitely not. But the topic is labelled under risqué for any poet, and Nagra himself will be apprehensive as to the response of this poem. The clash of cultures in Britain is fascinating. If our poets are afraid to write about a nation where fact is funnier than fiction, the poetry world will be left with a big hole to fill.
Ah Brown Skin Brown Skin How I Love You Brown Skin xxx
by Daljit Nagra
Surely no one ever
was browner than the boogie-woogie dream of I!
I, who be the James Brown & Wacko Jacko
of Jackseat Word SlamJammers!
I, who be the sell-out, the tick-box & equal ops pin-up,
the dream of a Brown Skin that was never deferred!
What’s that you say?
Jesus was browner than I
& he got more global than I?
What!? Penelope & Disraeli & Peter Sellers & Ben Kingsley
even Lear’s Brown Goose
could groove through Brown
(& flip back to pink)
groovier than I?
And yet, you say, my hot brown lips
are red when they’re kissed
are pink when they’re blushed
are blue in the chill
& black in the dead of the blasted bed!
I fall left-footed from my boogie-woogie groove
into the ideas of me
the ideas of me you shift
like a light getting switched.
Some Blue Boy, walking by, to his Blue Bride –
Look how brown is that skin in the delicatessen.
There! That offal looking one!
See that Blue Finger freeze
across the pane on you, yes, you
& see those Blue Bride digits
freeze on you too.
But see that bride take her first ever peek
at her hubby’s cheeks
to see his skin is a blotchy
porkiness of porky pinkiness
when hers is a True Blue Skin!
Caught between Uncle Tom & Malcolm X
with the rest of the Rat Pack at his back
who cares for Sammy Davis Junior
drilling his feet
drilling his feet in the wings
till he’s caught on hot coals
till his dinky feet
his dinky feet
will bleed again
Ah Brown Skin Brown Skin each glossy kiss
of you inside my skin
I broke into
& woke in the howling night
as you furled my skin
around your skin…
All night long we became gods
about our Konark love juggernaut
The Sun Temple –
dissolving through the hottest postures
carved in stone to outstare
the belligerent seas of the East!
We were not shy or hushed or ashamed
from our stone-dream harem-dream
of pure Brown loitering skin.
But oh my soldier at arms
why did you leave me like a dream?
You, who healed my skin
till it was wholly clean…
I’m waiting to sense
if you were of my time
for my mind’s eye
(the very whites of my eyes)
been objectified since.
Whatever you think’s your complexion
it’s never the match
of your saffron-flagged ancestors
who don’t match the Middlesex drizzle-look
Hide-skin Gandhi’s got nowt on you
when you’re at times the spit
o’ Chubby Brown or that tawny owl:
At best you’re the subtle mug-shot
of a Brown-Skin Bomber
who’s from these parts
exposed on the screen.
When he’s ambushed by cowboys in this Wild West
& dragged from his ‘wigwam’
at the tabloid crackdown of dawn
he becomes a shamed airbrush
of Sioux Red Skin!
your kids, your wife, your Medics degree,
have you come so far to be hit on?
Poor old Babur
who conquered the silk route
that led to the lit dream, the oasis,
Samarkand with its gardens and pools,
with its glamorous mulberry sheets…
Never has such a steep and narrow pass been seen –
never such ravines and precipices been traversed…
Then to be vanquished from Samarkand,
to pine for aeons, pining to win her back,
after the long slog to win her back
only to lose her again
in the one tormented life
and still be left alive.
On the day your spirit
splits for the winds
I will spread out your corpse
& blade across & across each stitch of your skin…
I being blue for the loss, my dear, must wear you.
But the Blue & the Brown Warlords
when they’re up for partying like it’s 2099
look at them culling hordes of Brown hoi polloi
till they’ve patched a fad replicable skin.
Yet I’ll be jiving on the dance floor
in the original super-cool Skin of Love!
So when the Brown & the Blue bystanders
quiz me about your dream-skin origins
I’ll blow them into a shock
by riffing on how you were the face
that was fired by the cosmic volts when
went between the sheets with her