Uprooting

Migrants have become a politicised plaything in the media, and their rights of access to language a battleground for debate over acculturation, values and national identities. Whilst teaching ESOL in a North East college I saw how language vitally empowers people and how the process of constructing a new identity, or gaining purpose after trauma, is closely entwined with mastering a tongue. Yet linguistic competence is a small part of the resilience needed to navigate transition into an unfamiliar space, whilst mourning the loss of cultural or emotional landmarks. In this poem I wished to hear and honour the voice of a migrant, loud and proud in their courageous thrust towards growth and renewal, like a daring plant, amid the din of British Xenophobic headlines.

Uprooting

I was rooted
Not in bordered space
Distant lands unseen
I knew my place
Someone could say my name
Then the weeding came
They clipped heart with rake
Questioned my belonging
Smashed anchored time and race
Stripped me bare of minerals
Severed stem
Snapped arteries
Upended rock and stone
Destroyed internal compass
Removed a sense of home

Still I bedded down in barren soil
A force from nature riven
Undeterred
Unbowed in insult
Nor watered by accusing stare
Rebellious in my living
Pushing upwards in starts and spurts
A hybrid soul
Seeded on shame and conflict
Travelling through shifting landscapes
On foot, by boat, by train

I sought no more but rest
A promise of recognition
A place to call a name
New flowers to bud, new choices
Straining stem towards light sources
I spoke of suffering unheard
Restructuring my voice
In language that was not theirs
To retell muted memories
Enriched by their strange words
Fertilisation on this journey
Had certainly occurred

The time to dwell now past
They offered shelter
Bartered conditions attached
I tried to claim some territory
My shoot took forceful root
Now, Here am I
The other
Catalogue me if you will
Define me in your alphabet
Resilient plant species
Unknown specimen
Seeking resolution,
No fixed abode,
All cellular dignity intact
You might label me a migrant
But what do you mean by that?

Banner photo by

Clare Lavery

Clare Lavery’s poetry deals with complex & transformative experiences of loss, especially themes of belonging, voicing and transcultural identity construction. She studied Modern Languages at UCL and TESOL at IOE/UCL and has lived on borders for many years. She has worked for over 30 years as a consultant, trainer & educational materials developer in Europe. Her poetry has also been used in teaching ESOL to migrants in FE and used to celebrate ‘Black History Month’ by the BBC. She is interested in creative writing as a participatory research method to unlock silenced voices and to story the lives of victims. Most recently she has contributed poems on gendered violence and its impacts to raise funds and awareness of linguistic ‘othering’ patterns in mainstream media.

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