Sunday 21 March was World Poetry Day, and I was delighted to be one of the poets featured in the film marking the day for Manchester City of Literature and Manchester Poetry Library.
You can watch the video below:
I appear alongside three other Manchester poets. Also featured is Imtiaz Dharker, whose poem was commissioned to mark the opening of the Poetry Library, as well as two poets in Granada (Spain) and Slemani (Autonomous Kurdistan Region of Iraq).
It’s a fabulous event, and I encourage you to watch it!
My poem celebrates doorways as portals – and specifically reflects on my commute in Salford to the local school where I work. I often pass through Albert Park, the view from which I stop to contemplate the city. I nearly wrote ‘admire the city’ there — but it’s the skyscrapers which always catch my eye, and I have personally never liked these buildings. To me, they represent unchecked capitalism and greed. I think of the skyscrapers in Bahrain, Dubai and London and how little they represent me – and how little these skyscrapers represent the Manchester I know. That disquiet is there in my poem.
But more than that, my poem is really a love letter to my grandmother, Zahra, who I often spend my journey to school talking with. During the pandemic, I’ve spent a lot more time on the phone with family, and I understand better the value of every one of those conversations than I ever did before. That World Poetry Day should have coincided with Mother’s Day in Bahrain felt very meaningful.
Thank you Manchester City of Literature and Manchester Poetry Library for the opportunity.
Without further ado, my poem:
The Stories We Thread
Home has never felt so far away
as when the order came to Stay At Home,
yet my granny’s voice has never charmed me more
than when I could only hear her through my phone.
Standing in the mouth of Albert Park
holding, in the arch’s frame, the cityscape,
my gaze passing over the red brick homes,
pausing, daily, on my key worker’s commute to hear
my granny, Ummi Zahra, at home in Bahrain weaving
warm visions of her once-thatched village, pulling
together the distances, immense as all the stories
she threads of childhood memories.
To think that my tiny, far flung country
would fit neatly in a pocket of this city!
But in unprecedented times, pursed in this arch’s lips
not my city nor my country nor my granny seem so small.
Through Ummi Zahra I see the graveyard by her street
where our history sleeps, it remembers the cut palm groves
the litanies of stolen lives, the rumbling stomachs and splendour
of mullahs, serfs and weavers fighting for their futures.
In return, I tell her how Salford’s a city swallowed up
by a city. In this Victorian arch, skyscrapers
protrude, like anxious needles, into the city’s heart.
Perhaps it’s being cut from her cloth that makes me at home,
in Ummi Zahra’s stories, familial names become visionaries
no different to workers, Luddites and Suffragettes
mustering together to build better. And still building now:
when I loop through the park like a thread
and place Salford in the arch’s mouth,
I picture a quilt, its patches are the red brick
homes of migrants and Mancs, warmly woven
with Ummi Zahra’s village, still resilient in her memory,
a fabric threaded by shared history,
it’s texture the hope I hear in her voice.
When the hard times end, we will stay knotted,
she in her village, I in my city,
sharing our stories
in the lips of this arch.