The Madman in this House

Ishaq Imruh Bakari’s fourth collection begins with the story of the ‘Negro of Banyoles’, whose stuffed remains were displayed in European museums for nearly 170 years, and ends with a celebration of the life and music of the Jamaican jazz-musician Coleridge Goode. In between, the book explores the histories, geographies and the ironic ‘impossibility’ of being black in our time. From Grenfell, Guantanamo and Gaza, to the monsters of empire and neoliberalism selling their ‘tar baby promises’ of freedom, The Madman in this House is a book about resistance to colonialism in the twenty-first century.    

Cover image: Tam Joseph
Author photo: Ian Watts

Sample Poems

The Impossibility of Being Black

‘BETWEEN me and the other world there is ever an unasked question
How does it feel to be a problem?’
WEB DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk (1903)

On the twenty-fifth day of May
in the pandemic year of 20-20 clarity,
the attention span index was set
at eight minutes and forty-six.

the alchemist rising
to the occasion in the spotlight brings
a raised hand
claiming victory from the asphalt turf

On this day, the whatsup instapoly
graph speaks of another hero born,
in one short breath for Man,
a giant leap for misplaced faith.

thank you, George Floyd
unrestful-deadness flows abundantly
from the silence seeping
in the wailing solitude of a sorrow song

the gladiator, licks the wounds of his trophy,
sustenance held securely in the last
flutter of a chokehold, the prey speaks
with delicacy and sometimes difficulty:

‘BETWEEN me and the other world
there is ever an un(answered) question
How does it feel to be a (dread-dub) problem?’

The Grenfell Tower Murderer

Somewhere behind
a door safe and sure
Somewhere behind
a fridge clad in comfort

At number sixteen
on the fourth floor
the murderer laid a plan
hand in hand a chain of beneficiaries
upright and without risk
managed the standards designed
to tinsel strut the strong and stable
appearances that matter

When scorched voices
sounded the alarm
a common language fought
the raging flames and smoke signs
the clear orders in English
that answered the unopened council
chambers the overflowing closet files
inked for social cleansing

	symbolism is everything in politics
	nothing signifies like the significant

the murderer took the heat
outside to taunt and tease
as smoke offered a blanket
to dry eyes and mouths paralysed
between floors wishing to speak
to be heard to live a little more
than foreign fingerprints trapped
by the betrayal of a gaping door

	the royal borough has gone red
	tears and time will count the dead

the murderer is prepared
there is snake oil in the scheme
of things masked in leopard skin
clothed wolves tagged to privilege
serve up parables in procession
as ventilation for deprivation
and austerity raising public school
buffoons a cut above the rest

	new architects linger in the backdraught
	voices keeping the stilled alight
	in alabaster black an epitaph

	to those who could not find refuge
	in half-baked media cladding
	speak clearly or speak back

A waterless fall
	of corpses finds meaning
In the searching anger rescued
	from trampled footsteps

the murderer mingles
in the miscounting of the deeds

Official and unofficial
suspects left casual and ballpark

The murderer mingles
in between the margins of profit

	behind an unapologetic anti-migrant march
	behind flowers clutched in sacred memory

Pleased to meet you, El Negro

El Negro
Died circa 1830
Carried away to Europe in death

No one dared to remove
the stuffing pasted
in the place of intestines
tamed to serve the saviour.
the title tag marks
a warrior caged
in glass box sealed
just enough to keep
decorations in view
a substitute for a tomb
awarded to an unknown
but many times, named
and willed to be always
present and labelled.
He must bear witness
as object being
standing still for years
never wetting the carpet.

Pleased to meet you
El Negro, after so long
weathered by world
travel and mascot care.
Names mispronounced
lost here and there
your fragile frame
listed with possessions
found by a hitch-hiker
lost in a small town of little
people and the windmill
voices of one-eyed effigies
scolding children with black
faced things that work well
for a good Christian burial,
just in case
a dance of African drums
might come to the rescue.

And finally, the boxed
delivery from showroom
heaven, fuzzy hair is all
that stood the test of time.
Repatriated fittings and fixtures
fortified in the consecrated
European mind a national
treasure was prepared to be
received into African soil
thankfully with colourful
umbrella against the sun.
the empty space left
behind may yet prove
useful for loose coins
and thoughts iced
in innocence
wedded to the dreamtime
reserved for noble causes.

El Negro
October 2000
Returned Home to African Soil

Force-Feeding in Guantánamo

this piece of tube
a wire in the age of wireless
is enough
is evidence
is testament
is oath of allegiance
is a kiss from the lips of the flag

It lends a hand in search
of a heart
or a hidden substance
somewhere certifying
the ration portion
the point of no return

This piece of tube
a wire in five-star general terms
is not a magic rope trick
is not mob justice
is not a contract signature
is not what you think
is not the screams you hear

It offers a resettlement
plan not too grand
but thoughtfully just
steered for motivation
it will twist and turn
in shape and motion

This piece of tube
wire in a forensic hand
takes account
finds the enemy within
settles scores
takes as long
as a piece of string

It provides a link
between piety
and the polity
it is a statement of fact
knotted to cement the footwear
of Western writ on track

This is a piece of wire
in the maelstrom of survival
it is clinically programmed
it is culturally treasured
it is all that is left
it is witness
it is whiteness

As long as a piece of string
this piece of wire
will make padded walls sing
in celebration with words
deep and guttural
across torturous scales

signs may wonder
as thoughts may
in time come
to rest the case

Gaza and Rain

Gaza, the world as you find it
is what the world wants
to talk about

good news on a bad day
the scales of injustice
are tipped to perform
balanced broadcasting at its best

no apologies
for the limping liberal
voices assured in certainty

no apologies
for the rampaging rodents
gowned and groomed in impunity

behind iron shield
and the guilt of complicity
the machine is primed
to explain the fever of the plague

Gaza, the world as you find it
is occupied land
to be procured

with funerary flare
well-groomed puppeteers
raise emboldened bulwarks
to sprout around the gated colonies

Gaza, the world as I find it
in cries and sacrificial
embers whispering

chimes another season
soaked in splintered slogans

stunted by the terror that lurks
where the acid of occupation rains


‘presents the familiar, the simple, in a new context, by playing skilfully on the absurd clichés of our existence.’

Shango Baku, Caribbean Times

‘brings to mind the call and response traditions inherent in African cultures and the dub and performance poets of today.’

Neema Kambona, Diversity Business Magazine