Dear Birmingham by Nyandavoh Foday

Dear Birmingham,

When I came to you I had

Dark skin, memories of London, a dubious trace of malaria and typhoid cocktail,

And no home.

We lived with my grandparents for months-

My first months with you were of suppressed oppression,

I didn’t know what was mine

I didn’t know who I was

And I was still cooking under Sierra Leonean suns,

Fresh out of the oven,

Turned to mould in the cold of your foggy sunrise,

You fed from me,

Filled the gaps with bad dreams and diagnosed me with adjustment shock

Then taught me to hold it in.

But repressed feelings will bubble to the top,

And now I resent you Birmingham.

I now wake up to your concrete kisses

And the crushing embrace of proud monoliths overshadowing sagging derelict buildings who wear new spray paint over old bricks.

I now walk along your uneven cobble paths, toes dipping into sundried gutters,

Standing at your commercial centre,

Staring down the points of bronze horns.

Birmingham didn’t anyone ever tell you that a bull’s final resting place will always be the slaughterhouse?

At night I listen to your traffic race down the road in angry defiance

Last night I listened to the lazy stumble of drunk football fans chanting sounds that lost their sense

And tonight I will listen to your secret showcase,

Stage lit in moonlight and low energy lamps,

But my curtains remain closed.

Yesterday I traced your canals by the veins beneath my skin-

They used to bring you life-

Now they lie stagnant like unpumped blood waiting for a heart,

Collecting corpses and trolleys

Growing pondweed and scum,

They say you have more canals than Venice.

You are no Venice.

But a diamond only forms in the heat of a volcano,

Under the pressure of a mountain,

Emerging to spit light at the people who forgot you

I am trying to not forget you

I am trying to not resent you

But you are coal dust and rust,

And you crumble in my hands,

You are sand

Sifting through my fingers,

I cannot find you in the gaps in my hands,

There is no substance there,

There is no substance here,

You are lacking in substance.

You do not send shivers down my spine

And you leave me unshaken-

Birmingham you are too easily dismissed,

Like a naughty child

You are not a naughty child,

You are many things but not that.

For me, you are defined lonely.

You taught me that returning to a country can be lonelier than starting in a new one.

I was the new kid- 6 years, two and a half terms late

I didn’t know how to fit in.

Socially awkward kids are the first to learn that kids can be cruel so effortlessly they don’t know that they’re doing it,

And sometimes the only company to be had is the corner where you and the two walls meet,

And you were there too Birmingham,

Simultaneously a companion and a reminder of my lack of companions

I was the African Londoner stranded in Brum.

You have always been there Birmingham,

Watching me squirm through all of it

And now we are intrinsically linked

Through those memories

Birmingham we are now bound.

You have forced yourself down my throat and you rub along my lips

You taste like salt and smog

And I fear that I will exhale you

And you will pollute my world,

Birmingham do not call me yours.

I am my own to give.

Do not claim my voice-

I need it to speak and sing and express what I am

Do not take my present

For that is all that I am

Do not steal my future

Because that is all I will ever be,

Birmingham do not mistake my momentary residence for a vow of permanence

I am setting up camp,

Not laying down foundations-

If you form around me, we will crumble when I leave.

Your stirred dust will settle in my lungs,

You remain in my lungs.

You have taken your place in my history,

And so have become part of my present.

I know you will be in my future.