The stork arrived alone one day,
beak sharpened like a bayonet.
All the love you’ve had turned bad! he sang,
eyes boring through the dingy nets.
He hopped onto the patio.
Good lord! Is this a rented flat?
Behind the shed, albino rats
were nuzzled on a family bed.
He hovered over them, wings spread.
Now this is how you do it! he said.
He speared a worm and sucked it down.
A rented flat, my god, he said.
Inside, I laid my hands around
my lump, my pumpkin-up-the-jumper.
I’d swapped the wine and cigarettes
for goji berries, spent the summer
asleep or stretched in yoga pose,
Utkatasana, Dhyana …
The stork came hopping round the corner
scraped his claw across the door —
Hello, hello? he called, polite,
then screamed I will not be ignored!
He had a bloody bone to pick,
an oozy piece of mind to share.
I was eight months gone by Halloween.
Kids rang the rented bell in sheets
and slime. I tried “maternal” out
with chocolate limes and fizzy sweets.
The bird shrieked half the witchy night:
For god’s sake, are you stupid? Teeth!
I waddled off to pack my case —
gorillas snoozing on the onesies,
pink booties, pads to catch the blood.
When they tugged that baby out of me
he came up laughing, blessed the midwife
with a fiery arc of golden pee
and through the skylight of the ward
I saw the stork retreat, zigzagging
up into the evening sky,
a fading squawk, the beat of wings.
Then they laid that baby on my chest
to feed, and cut the navel string —
My father liked the blues and Lady Day.
He left Jamaica way before the reggae
rocked all night in backstreet studios,
before King Tubby or Augustus Pablo.
But I used to love a boy who loved
dub reggae, loved thick lugs of ganga, loved
on Sunday nights to cross the river, take me
to The House Of Roots and Aba-shanti
in the cobbled arches under Vauxhall
where the Lion of Judah decked the walls
and stacks of speakers pumped electric bass,
a single bulb above the smoky haze
and on the stage a little dreadlocked man
like Rumplestiltskin shouted Jah! and spun
his blistering tunes on a single turntable
and shut-eyed men called back over the vinyl
Jah Rastafari. Next door, the old guys
were like wizened goats with yellow eyes
hunched over games of chess and ginger tea,
below the golden framed Haile Selassie,
king of kings. That boy didn’t know my father
was a white-haired godless pensioner
and reggae music never really got me
until I played it on my own: Bob Marley,
U-Roy, Johnny Clark, and even then
it came like hymns or Faure’s Requiem,
Vivaldi’s Gloria. That boy thought I had
a Rasta like Prince Far-I for a dad
not the silent island man who sat
beyond the bedroom door I’d listen at
to catch a woman croon a melody:
I can’t give you anything but love, baby