Traffic Court, Spanish Town, Jamaica.
11:45 am. Judge Marianne James presiding.
How does the defendant plead?
Your honour, I plead guilty to half
the offence – I had on a blue cotton shirt
buttoned up and tucked in
to brown pants, your honour. What’s so wrong
in that? Brown pants like the kind
men wear on Sundays,
the kind we travel in –
dignified looking pants your honour
that Gloria just iron the morning.
Is not the navy blue Government
tell us to wear – I know. But the material
they give us so weak
it always sporting holes. I won’t drive
in rags, your honour! Mi mother raise me
better than that.
So I plead guilty to shame
and good manners – splashing cologne
on mi chest each morning and
never boring mi ears or growing
mi hair wild like them criminals today
who jump on buses
to hold knives against wi neck.
I notice I don’t see them
in court today, I guess
bad bwoy never out of uniform;
always wear the same dirty merino
and cut up shorts, proving
that him come from nowhere
and answer to nobody. Your honour,
I plead guilty
to a pair of brown pants
and having old time ways that say
a man must leave his house
in clothes that don’t tear,
clothes he can wear proud
on his Judgement Day.
by Kei Miller
Kei Miller was born in Jamaica in 1978. His first collection of short fiction, The Fear of Stones, was short-listed in 2007 for the Commonwealth Writers First Book Prize. He is also the editor of Carcanet’s New Caribbean Poetry: An Anthology. Kingdom of Empty Bellies was his first book of poetry; There Is an Anger That Moves will be published by Carcanet in October 2007.
The Heaventree Press is an independent poetry press based in Coventry. For more information on Heaventree and to buy Kingdom of Empty Bellies, please visit the Heaventree Press website.