Without Passport or Apology

poems by Ishaq Imruh Bakari

Without Passport or Apology is a book about emigration and immigration, racism and resistance, slavery and freedom. Drawing on thirty years of working as a film-maker in the Caribbean, Europe and Africa, Ishaq Imruh Bakari addresses head-on the experience of African-Caribbean migration, for himself and for the millions who constitute the African diaspora around the world. It’s a book about places – Haiti, Rwanda, South Africa, Zanzibar, Paris, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Tanzania. It’s a book about people – including Marcus Garvey, Aubrey Williams, Stuart Hall, Louis Farrakhan, Martin Carter, Shake Keane and Courtney Pine. Above all it’s an affirmation of the defiant spirit of the runaway African, the Maroon who moves through the world without passport or apology.

Cover image: Tam Joseph
Author photo: Savannah Films

Sample Poems

There Was Once a Young Boy

There was once
a young boy
who often stood
as far out to sea
as the island’s jetty
would permit

some fifty yards away
from his home shore
where the sea bottom
could still be seen
through clear water
on a day when no tourist boat
or man-o-war had muddied the calm tide
bringing slanted smiles and crooked eyes
pleasure seekers and promises
no better than a pretty fish hook

There was once
a young boy
who often looked
far out to sea knowing
that the island’s geography
was a fraud

since its discovery
departing boats
except by force of a squall
would not go over
the horizon wall
but take a passage out of sight
behind the island facing
away from the government
school books seeking a route
to a more desirable disembarkation

There was once
a young boy
who learnt to see
around corners and sing
the moments muzzled
by the road-march ramajay

Marcus Garvey Stood on Basseterre Bay Road

As with all comings
many would have claimed
to have seen the signs time
was already ticking
blood
was already boiling



messages had passed between labourers and factory workers potent songs were sung by barefoot travellers and proud women serving at high tables The circus clock was standing still and going nowhere when Marcus Garvey stood on Basseterre Bay Road not far from the old slave market in Pall Mall Square


His voice took the sea breeze inland where volcanic rock resides He stood to speak of citizens He stood to speak of hope He stood to speak of self-confidence He stood to speak of free will He stood to speak of duty and responsibility He stood to speak of self-expression and liberty he spoke of the ungodliness that is inequality

here I stand he said because of my purpose he spoke of the devil that is illiteracy

determined to leave a mark more permanent than the smell of fried fish he spoke of the hell that is misery

the Mutual Improvement Society Hall was packed with the capacity for greatness he spoke of the prison that is poverty

Nineteen thirty-seven was a good year for cane fires and better was supposed to come Sharp machetes had already cleared a path from Jamaica to Ethiopia to the Cape and Cairo across Harlem to raise a flicker on Kilimanjaro


Among the gathered where injustice had been a constant visitor and torn-up caps no shield from torture the black-star flag fluttered But when Marcus Garvey stood on Basseterre Bay Road he knew there was much more work to do

Threadbare after years of treachery his words still rattled the circus clock echoing across the slave market tombs holding the blood-stained auction block Like the sea breeze that is always sure to become a hurricane the weary rocked on the wing of Marcus Garvey’s refrain fix-up you’self fix-up you’self fix-up you’self

Diaspora Dialogic

for Stuart Hall


It is too late to wave
time has taken its pound
of flesh and the cushion
for soft landing

Cardboard box
belongings held high
above the ticking miles
the mean seams
and the hip
hop strut have left
a noisiness
dripping over
grey indifference

It is too late to wave
smoke signals hold
no memory of streets
paved with gold

He takes a bow
and leaves a hurricane
he leaves a smiling
fist shaking
scattered baggage
into shape
it is a new day now
for night dreams
of stepping razor cool

Post cards come
from post codes
where flash mobs squat
naked in broken banks
where everything is for sale
in photo-shop this wave
deferred is a parting salute
to what cannot be
but must exist

In the House of Legends

for Courtney Pine


Head held high above
this pirate’s throne
this barren river
of glass beads
and broken mirrors here lies the clay pot handed
down after a storm

Old litanies expire
to inspire the incendiary
melodies of an Atlantic
sea turtle

No regrets
home is heaven
carried with ease
and grace to anchor always
near the confluence of rivers
and trade winds

Feet firmly flat across
this no-man’s land
the acrobat
with lockjaw and club foot
is surfing in the twilight without passport or apology
in spiral flight

The skylark rides
the waves as always
resisting the force
feeding

The empire
in-breeding and the vulgar
‘Lawd what a Saturday
night’ feeling to reside above
the borders the boundaries
and the ball and chain

Breath bold folding over
the carpet goat-skin
the rocking chair of sorrel
petals shaped for comfort
in the dry season here songs are sealed to furnish
every room

The other stories
must be told

Always once upon
a time a journey

To where the urge
within must feed

And memory is made
from a web of razor grass

When speaking in whispers
or whistling the mystery of salt

And in corridors where
snow-filled tears have sat
entombed in paraffin fumes

There is always in the ebb
and flow

There is always a slant
a style a swing

Time tall eternal outstretched
the impossible is conquered
calling healing
calling healing
in the eye of the creator here the welcome
mat in place
takes a chorus
to the bridge

Dreamworker

for Martin Carter


His suit is cut
with immaculate style
elegance is stitched in
to the seams.
The khaki is like his face
durable and not what it seems

so the greetings come
with songs of hope
with choruses sealed
in firm handshakes
that slap and caress
like the inherited
land of rivers and rock.

And so to sleep
is to dream of builders
more skilful
than a hurricane tail wind.

And so to sleep
is to dream of Kaieteur’s
grandeur as a measure
for the soul’s aspirant flight.