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23 December 2016updated 09 Sep 2021 2:53pm

The NS Poem: Cane

A new poem by Daljit Nagra.

By Daljit Nagra

No English talk at home! my mother booms
in Punjabi. Our carpets and walls bloom florals
from where she sobs at each Punjab film
when silken lovers croon along sugarcane fields.

I enjoy how I’ll turn my head away from her
soppy Pollywood. She cries that my tongue’s
sold on a language that stole her life for the rootless
exchange, like sugar that travelled one way.

She offers to arrange me a wife and corner shop,
when I steal away to study for an English degree
at our shop back-door she stands between us
to hold me firm, and sob, No speak white girls.

She’s been here decades and I can’t follow how
she won’t ripen with time. Only when she’s torn
does she finally meet my sweetheart, who bears
our roses. My mum blushes to say, Berry kind.

Our tongues are reined-in: I keep my own counsel
and let the air go bitter when she won’t sustain
Katherine. Once when she called, instead of she,
she said the name aloud. It was cut down to Cane.

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Daljit Nagra is the poet in residence for BBC Radios 4 and 4 Extra. His Ramayana: a Retelling is published by Faber & Faber.

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This article appears in the 13 Dec 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Christmas and New Year special 2016