Archives: Longlisted poems

Funny Little People

Funny little people, doing funny little things, like

Funny little people, filing gently into a stadium

Funny little people standing up, folding their seats to let strangers waddle to their own

Funny little people queuing politely, not pushing or shoving or rushing to enter

Funny little people waving their arms in unison, following the lead of others around them

Funny little people rising to create a Mexican wave across the three levels of the stadium

Funny little people cheering the other levels on when it wasn’t their turn

Funny little people clapping for the strangers pulled on stage

Funny little people chatting to neighbours they had never previously met

Funny little people laughing and cheering when someone danced for one of the cameras

Funny little people dancing together like friends reuniting

Funny little people crying in welcome to four artists they had probably never met

Funny little people singing as if the people next to them couldn’t hear them

Funny little people crying for a stranger who sang for their late friend

Funny little people waving at each other from a distance

Funny little people flashing the lights on their phones to signal to friends

Funny little people taking photos together

Funny little people helping each other find the station

Funny little people guiding each other onto the right platforms

Funny little people making space for one another on the carriages

Funny little people making conversation on where they came from, and where they’re going

Funny little people sharing which songs were their favourite

Funny little people all wishing for their beds

Funny little people, doing funny little human things

Funny little people, who remind me that the world is not always a bad place

What Really Matters

Lohri was one of those unblemished joys
of my childhood.
There were two Punjabi families
where we lived.
One had a big house and a garden
and the other a small flat with a smaller balcony.
We were somewhere in the middle
(in terms of the space we occupied in square feet
and we were also Bengalis
from a different part of the country).
Anyways, every January,
we would be invited by both.

My memories of that time
are a mosaic of
comforting contrasts –
of blazing bonfires
as dusk faded into night
and the sweet and savoury tastes
of chikkis and rewris
and popcorn
that we were also encouraged
to throw into the fire
(we definitely need more fun traditions like that)
and dancing and resting and dancing again
as I moved between the two homes
with this sense of joy in my heart
that was sharper than the biting, winter cold.

I learnt something important then.
Always think of fire safety. Yes.
But what really matters
is who you make space for in your heart
and how.

Lohri is a festival celebrated on January 13 by Punjabis in north India, Pakistan and elsewhere. It marks the passing of the winter solstice and the beginning of the harvest season.

Both chikki and rewri/revdi are traditional sweets made with gur (jaggery). The other key ingredient is peanuts in chikki and sesame seeds in rewri.

The Campouts

The Wagtail was king of the green
as we were crowned on the hill,
sitting on a sweaty Monday
watching golf balls and sheep.

We walked green lanes
tramped to the tops of tors,
the sun warmed our shoulders
and burnt our necks.

the Rook watched:
as we fell down hills, laced our shoes
and our feet turned blue.
We would rule the green as we ruled the hill.

We ran at raven’s nests in knots of gorse
jumped in scummed-up rivers
churning through fissures of slippery rock.
the Rook peered and cawed.

Deodorant fires burnt our throats
and beers sparked the flame.
We glowed like fireflies,
hummed like bulbs,
and slept like streetlamps.

The Borrowed One

I will be of the race you want me to be;
I am borrowed,
Or lent?

I belong to the tribe of the forsaken ones.

I am a second-hand,
But my soul is vintage and rare…

Mark me if you must,
Acquire me if you dare!

I didn’t come with my “Made In …” label
And there is no hem tag.

Benevolent Cassiopeia has breathed me out,
My birth certificate split asunder,
The compass long lost.

Am I a mystery?
Not just to you,
But to me too.

I am a country no one can explain;
My Punic smile,
My Prussian nose,
My customised skin
Weirdly stitched
From the warps of Tunis’ blues
And wefts of Galen’s druids.

The cryptic mementos of my silent origins
Lay dormant
Like Delphic signatures in
My eyes,
Two mothering skies.

I can’t read my own colours,
I can’t hear through my own walls, so

Misplaced me,
Scattered Me,
Mosaic Me

Like a fluorescent deer belling in the moonlight
To her lost rangale.

Ancestral Flow

I am confronting my caste
I am burning ledgers of historical records
that say my existence
was recorded by a man.
I am burning villages like the Spanish
colonizers did; like the Americans;
like the Japanese;
like so on; like so forth.
I am trying to connect to a European greatness
that at least José Rizal could describe
with eloquence.

From American soil
In the context of
my American English
I look across the waters and imagine my islands,
the ones we left just a generation ago.
I mouth my mother’s colonized language like
reciting lines for theater:
Katatagan. Resilience.

My people from the Philippines
named after a Spanish king.
I am not Filipino,
I am not of his name.
I am not Filipino,
he will not define me.
I am not Filipino,
he does not own my geography.

The name, Filipino, I choke when I say it.
The name of Spanish patriarchy in my mouth,
The name of wars waged against the lesser than,
The name of a conqueror who ruled from other land,
and used my ancestors as a dumping ground
for used up priests;
used up ideologies.

I try to visualize my ancestors
whose identities have been erased
by the bisection of colonization:
Spanish rule;
American saviors
etc., etc.

I stand at the dichotomy of two rivers;
That which was and that which is.
Like ghosts
my ancestors have voyaged
across seas.
Molecules like water droplets
beading and collecting momentum
until finally, they create my body.

These rivers cross
and I hold my ancestors hands
standing on the banks between
where the water rushes
and splashes over my naked feet.
The distance is just enough
that my arms are always sore
with the reaching.

My American southern
roots tie me
to the identity
of my father
who had the money
to buy my brown
desperate mother.

American rule;
in the name of God.

Under my breath,
I am Filipino.
I am American.


I am reshaping this territory
every day,
digging at its borders.
The rivers taste like
vinegar and mud.
My fingernails are dirty with soil;
my heart is always burning.

The banks finally
give way.

The flow breaks
the division.


Some only look for differences
Ignore the common ground
Their validation comes from
Putting other people down

Others have a different view
Of the world in which they live
Never asking any more
Than they’re prepared to give

For there’s good and bad around us
In every walk of life
Choose the good – avoid the bad
Who thrive on causing strife

Don’t bang your head against a wall
Trying to make a door
To paraphrase Coco Chanel’s famous quote
I’ve used oft times before

Be with those who get you
The ones who are on your side
If others fail to see your worth
They’re simply not part of your tribe

London I’m Home

In this city from east to west,
north to south, neon lights cast
a restless gaze.

Tube lines kiss at Kings Cross,
Euston and Waterloo.
I hear the Thames whisper,

linger by my side. I’ll show you
places Greenwich to Westminster,
hold your hand and tell you my tales.

I leap into the bustling activity
from South Bank to Covent Garden,
find my tribe amongst music, art

and architecture. In the hallowed halls
of Tate Modern our souls ignite
through international artists.

In the long legs of Hyde Park I inhale
the roses and listen to the starling’s song.
I meet my people, stretched out

on yoga mats. Their smiles fill me up
like a million hugs. We flow through
through vinyasas under the blue skies

of July. London you send me invites
to theatre, cinema and gigs, tap tap tap
on my credit card. I’m home by

the Serpentine with the swans
and the pigeons cooing. Farsi, Hindi,
Swahili all sing in my ear.

I’m a collector of words and culture.
I can ride on the top deck of a bus,
watch life below like a movie for two

pound fifty. In this city we walk hand
in hand like we all belong. We’re free.
London I’m home.


I walked the halls of my old friend’s home;
it sang more of my childhood than did my own.

The walls were heavy with the smell of damp and coal,
but bright and lively with memories; our childhood of old.

Amplifying the laughter of children and buried shoes,
that pattern paved their way; away from troubling news.

Then for supper, upside-down laundry tubs – they are our stool at the table,
‘if we fits, we sits’ and all nine of us are able.

Endless riches of unconditional love meet you at Greenhill’s home,
Friendship, sanctuary and mischief, deep set within each stone.

It is a safe-house of rest when your heart is exhaust,
The door always open, a home for the lost.


Some of us have a vulture
in our psychology. Razor-winged,
it makes a tender cage
of the skull. Its music
is a scream of inquiry.
It puts a claw through any kiss.

It makes little chicks of us;
feather-tailed showgirls.
The sequinned shame of morning
is where it feeds.

Change, for me, is a fluorescent-lit
theory; but I have heard that
some have a songbird.

What I Mean When I Say I Was Brought Up Bilingual

The words taste strange. My mother’s milk
has become a foreign cuisine, baby food
replaced by a sophisticated, grown-up menu.

In my grandmother-tongue, mother-tongue, auntie-tongue
I am still a child,
a much-loved child who knows where
and with whom
she belongs.

In my father-tongue, I am an adult,
educated, articulate, professional.
The words of my father-tongue are the tools of my trade,
and with them I have crafted the construct that I am.

Words sit uncomfortably in my mouth,
familiar and unfamiliar,
myself and other
and in between.