Kamau Brathwaite: The Emigrants (1967) From his: Rights of Passage[excerpts]

So you have seen them
with their cardboard grips,
felt hats, rain-cloaks, the women
with their plain
or purple-tinted
coats hiding their fatten-
ed hips.

These are The Emigrants.
On sea-port quays
at air-ports
anywhere where there is ship
or train, swift
motor car, or jet
to travel faster than the breeze
you see them gathered:
passports stamped
their travel papers wrapped
in old disused news-
papers: lining their patient queues.

Where to?
They do not know.
Canada, the Panama
Canal, the Miss-
issippi painfields, Florida?
Or on to dock
at hissing smoke locked

Why do they go?
They do not know.
Seeking a job
they settle for the very best
the agent has to offer:
jabbing a neighbour
out of work for four bob
less a week.

What do they hope for
what find there
these New World mariners
Columbus coursing kaffirs

What Cathay shores
for them are gleaming golden
what magic keys they carry to unlock
what gold endragoned doors?

But now the claws are iron: mouldy
dredges do not care what we discover here:
the Mississippi mud is sticky:

men die there
and bouquets of stench lie
all night long along the river bank.

In London, Undergrounds are cold.
The train rolls in from darkness
with our fears

and leaves a lonely soft metallic clanking
in our ears.
In New York

nights are hot
in Harlem, Brooklyn,
along Long Island Sound

This city is so vast
its ears have ceased to know
a simple human sound

Police cars wail
like babies
an ambulance erupts

like breaking glass
an elevator sighs
like Jews in Europe's gasses

then slides us swiftly
down the ropes to hell,
Where is the bell

that used to warn us,
playing cricket on the beach,
that it was mid-day: sun too hot

for heads. And evening's
angelus of fish soup,
prayers, bed?

The chaps who drive the City buses
don't like us clipping for them much;
in fact, make quite a fuss.
Bus strikes loom soon.

The men who lever ale
in stuffy Woodbine pubs
don't like us much.
No drinks there soon.

Or broken bottles.
The women who come down
to open doors a crack
will sometimes crack

your fingers if you don't
watch out. Sorry!
Full! Not even Bread
and Breakfast soon

for curly headed workers.
So what to do, man?
Ban the Bomb? Bomb
the place down?

Boycott the girls?
Put a ban on all
marriages? Call
You'self X

wear a beard
and a turban
washing your tur-
bulent sex

about six
times a day:
going Muslim?
Black as God

brown is good
white as sin?
An' doan forget Jimmy Baldwin
an' Martin Luther King...

Our colour beats a restless drum
but only the bitter come.

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