Hollow Vanessa Kisuule
City Poet Vanessa Kisuule responded to the toppling of the statue of Edward Colston at a Black Lives Matter protest on 7 June 2020 with a new poem that has been praised by writers Malorie Blackman and Philip Pullman, MP Dawn Butler and people across the city. She has also offered the poem to teachers as a teaching tool.
You came down easy in the end.
The righteous wrench of two ropes in a grand plié.
Briefly, you flew, corkscrewed, then met the ground
With the clang of toy guns, loose change, chains, a rain of cheers.
Standing ovation on the platform of your neck.
Punk Ballet. Act 1.
There is more to come.
And who carved you?
They took such care with that stately pose and propped chin.
Wise and virtuous, the plaque assured us.
Victors wish history odourless and static.
But history is a sneaky mistress.
Moves like smoke, Colston,
Like saliva in a hungry mouth.
This is your rightful home,
Here, in the pit of chaos with the rest of us.
Take your twisted glory and feed it to the tadpoles.
Kids will write raps to that syncopated splash.
I think of you lying in the harbour
With the horrors you hosted.
There is no poem more succinct than that.
But still you are permanent.
You who perfected the ratio.
Blood to sugar to money to bricks.
Each bougie building we flaunt haunted by bones.
Children learn and titans sing
Under the stubborn rust of your name.
But the air is gently throbbing with newness.
Can you feel it?
Colston, I can’t get the sound of you from my head.
Countless times I passed that plinth,
Its heavy threat of metal and marble.
But as you landed, a piece of you fell off, broke away,
And inside, nothing but air.
This whole time, you were hollow.
Photo credit: Ailsa Fineron.
This article appears in Bristol 650: Essays on the Future of Bristol, a book bringing together essays from over 30 contributors, addressing some of the challenges the city faces and sharing ideas about how we might meet them. From dealing with the past, the future of social care, culture and housing to building a city of aspiration, the book looks to promote learning about the future of Bristol and encourage new ideas to come forward.
Free copies of Bristol 650: Essays on the Future of Bristol will be available at selected Festival of the Future City events in October 2023, or you can find articles featured in the book at bristolideas.co.uk/bristol650book.