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Global Parliament of Mayors

Bristol City Poet
Vanessa Kisuule

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In 2018 more than 80 mayors and city network leaders from six continents gathered in Bristol to convene on the topics of migration, urban security and health, reflecting the pressing issues of the world.

Vanessa Kisuule, Bristol City Poet, wrote the following poem to mark the occasion.

When the overwhelming tide
of things threatens to drown me,
sink pincers into my skin
hold these shoulders hostage,
I remember the small graces
from which all change takes subtle cues

For example: there is often a line in a poem,
A scatter of letters, the humblest image
that sets the forest of the mind alight.
This is what truly makes the poem sing
Not just a frivolous gathering of words
But a living thing demanding our hearts
to take on braver shapes

One line can pull the reader out
from the mouth of despair
Perhaps make the world
sit a little softer in its cradle
Suddenly we feel less alone
Part of a picture of clashing colour
A chaos that somehow finds unity at its core

Much like that one line in that one poem
There is often one person in one city
A figure of hope and steady purpose
Who must somehow weave the magic
of doing the best for the most
An intricate dance of balance and bargain
When pulled in fifty different directions,
You make an oath to all of us
A contract in concrete, sweat and ink

But there will always be
An endless web of voices
Sprawling out to no man’s land
Many leaders shout to be heard and heeded
Countless native tongues colliding
A constant clash of splintered Esperanto
We all know that feeling
Being stuck in a crowded room
Thinking we might disappear – our voices
Unacknowledged in a sea of noise
The fear that we will be the line
Carelessly cut from the poem

For the cities make up the countries
which make up the nations,
And our nations are sick and splitting,
Not just over one law or one war
But the sickening rush of uncertainty
The rumble of a changing world
Ripping fissures beneath us
Yet the more our shared problems bind us together,
The more we make borders of land and language
Sealing off our tongues
Reaching for the brute
Slang of violence

But surely,
great cities are built like beautiful verse
Each detail matters, every paving stone and playground
the regal churches and neglected alley ways
Every person that walks its streets
An essential part of the terror and beauty
That tussle for dominance under one kaleidoscopic sky
We have been starved of leaders
who listen to those on the ground
These are the humble streets you represent
The hoarse voices that trust you
with their myriad griefs and dreams

We are the lost sentences of this city’s story
Full and fair and unvarnished
Offer us up as a precious contribution
Not much by ourselves
But without us, the poem that speaks
Of this whole world could not be complete

Header photo: Vanessa Kisuule (Jon Craig).

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