“Push it down their throats!”

Withington Library

Today I went to one of my favourite libraries in Manchester, which coincidentally is just about to close for refurbishment until the summer. I handed out a poem called ‘Boiling up’ from Lemn Sissay’s second book, Rebel Without Applause (Bloodaxe, 1992).

One man thought I was giving out flyers about the library closing, and was shocked when I gave him a poem. He said he was going to “sit down and read it properly”. Joan, who said she liked poetry, had a similar idea: “This’ll be lovely to sit down with a cup of tea and have a read!” Mohammed, who stood with me while he waited for the bus, took a more forceful approach: “Educate yourself!” he shouted at someone as they sheepishly took a poem from me, defending himself by claiming: “you have to push it down their throats!” I made sure he didn’t miss his bus!

When I first came to Manchester to visit the university, Seeing Sissay’s poem ‘Rain’ painted on the side of a kebab shop on Oxford road was one of the things that made me decide I wanted to live here. And once again, this poem spoke to me: ‘Can you spread me lightly on this street?’ Yes, I thought, I can.

 

Boiling up

Can you spread me lightly on this street?
I would like to blend in.
If butter and bread can do it, so can I.

Will you sprinkle me softly in this hotel?
I would like to blend in.
If chicken and seasoning can do it, so can I.

(The store detective is either trying to
strike up some kind of meaningful relationship with me
or I’ve got a box of jelly babies stuck to my left ear.)

Could you drip me into this club?
I would like to blend in.
If coffee and milk can do it, so can I.

(It’s not a sawn-off shot-gun in my inside pocket,
and that’s not because I keep my machete there –
ten regal king size please.)

Can you grate me into this city?
I would like to blend in.
If cheese and tomatoes can do it, so can I.

Can you soak me into this country?
I would like to blend in.
If rice and peas can do it, so can I.

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