Writing as Living On

in Migration and Society
Yousif M. Qasmiyeh Creative Encounters Editor

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Jessica Mookherjee Author, Nine Arches Press, UK

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This selection features five poems from Jessica Mookherjee's latest collection, Desire Lines (Broken Sleep Books, 2023). Premised on a fresh chronicling of wandering that puts people at its heart, in corners wrapped in dust and the smell of living, Mookherjee's poetry is both a testament and testimony to people, times, and places where memorialization flows in writing.

Marked by acute alertness to the specific in the lived and the living, Jessica Mookherjee's writing, as the poems below attest, is writing of people and place par excellence, where wandering through the past is a way of living on. Through the reimagining of intimate tales and encounters of both migrants and citizens in London, in geographies spanning people's homes, alleys, pubs, railway lines, and the road, Mookherjee both maps and memorializes afresh the lives of those involved, not only in name but also in body. It is precisely through these spectral and real accumulations of details, as Mookherjee so powerfully asserts, that remembering happens and the voices, primarily of women, are heard unfiltered. Uncompromisingly autonomous and crafted in a multi-textural English that places the individual, and her difference—linguistically and physically—at its heart from the onset, these extraordinary poems recalibrate the reader's pulses in their sheer brilliance at capturing what it means, and entails, to continuously return to people and place in writing.

Yousif M. Qasmiyeh

Creative Encounters Editor

Selections from Desire Lines

Risk Ways

Filch the filth in N7, derelict Irishman, bottles of Guinness, seventies carpets. Hides out there at the World's End, at the Nag's Head. New light morning, dirt like nothing ever seen before, smell of stale tobacco falling into pub floors. She nicks bottles of Martini, incense, a black and white TV, a book on Lou Reed, with a stolen credit card. Card sharp. Be local, have a joke with the veterans propping up the bar, walls become glass. She's huckster with her slick back hair gel and mod tucker, practise spells, spelling, and magic tricks, bit-faker blabbing for a break, all hokum-cokum and cold coffee left out all night, with roaches and Marlboro Lights.

Milch cow in the babes, passed the guesthouse, banged up by the bill,
who see through her, green girl, back of the cell. Wait to see what the beaks have
on her. Don't tell, don't tell. The darkmans of it all, the hopeless Indian moll,
see her going home. The pigeons are darker than she'd ever pocket,
knicks a quid to avoid a lagging, screws eyes to nubs stubbed out on the rub.
They call her lucky girl and off her rocker. Her mistake, nothing means more
than the moon as she scours the streets for a snakesman, a sauce-box,
a girl in a ghetto in a pack and a pickle, all off her chump. Disappears
down those roads, Jackson Road, Holloway Road, Hornsey Road, Lowman Road.
The newsagent shouts to her in Bengali as she's down the mud sunken A1
to the Enkil Arms. They know her face, her caste, made the news again today.
Hide out there for some time. Archway dirt stares and debris melts her down, housing office, Medina Road, Harvest estate and sports centre red paint.
Risk road to the Seven Sisters, where she lies low in N15 for a month
till the devil blows over. High on speed to stay awake, pretends to like Arsenal, pretends to hate East Ham, waits for hook and hoist, to watch a clock, Glock and half morning until the rent's paid. A man follows in a car as she walks down the middle of the road at night, says get in. She stares into his eyes asks him what kind of man he is, grins him down with the knife in her smile as he drives away.

Bright Way.

The house falls down as the site goes up, mixers, fixers, and demolition,
compulsory purchase orders. Mother Bridget and Papa Ghede meet
at the crossroads, make a wish, cut-glass girl, cutlass girl, cards in your hand.
The River Llew followed a birth canal to a wash up near Three Mills.
Hit your ribs at the Karnaphuli, the router's stuck and there's family
in India she never knew living on the internet, her baba
says, They're strangers to you, you're made of composite, mass movement
and abrasion. Looks in the mirror to see who she's become. He makes dolls
from driftwood and clay. They turn tricks in the lane next to the theatre,
she's a show girl with her feathers, boa and loa, in the Railway Tavern
where the workmen drink. Come in from the cold and have a pint. They're digging
up dirt on the god of light, she googles him in the middle of the night,
puts two and two together, Jack be nimble, Jack-be-quick. A phone call,
voice, a past of feathers on the roof and, and, and, says his name
in the middle of the night. A forgotten spell. Jack jumps over a candlestick.
Go well, go well, cut purse, felon, tricheor.
Hard hat, high viz, work boot, manhole covers, HAZCHEM
and exposed cables, caterpillars and crane, nothing to see here. The garden
is overgrown, gone and forgotten, a Welsh god,
a river, a memory of a trip she's taken, a name on the tip of her tongue.


She moves her lips from Upton Park to six-pound pints in Hackney Wick,
Marie says they'll make money out of the Olympics. The neighbours
she's never met get a petition up to protest about the oldest house
in Stratford's pulled down to make a car park. Angel's caved and gone.
The bhais in the carpentry shop give her a discount as she's one
of them. The hoods in the black car yell threats to blue boy's eyes,
Don't talk to him like that. What it got to do with you, sister, auntie,
get yourself a good Indian boy. Mud pools gather in the waste land
near Victory Park. Watch the boom, watch the jib, read the Metro
on the DLR home from Greenwich. Look sharp girl, fix up, look out girl.
High Speed girl, jump up and down girl, red door, red light in Maryland
as rain cakes dust and the rat boys ship out to the slums in Leeds. Clean
up the streets, as the sheen of the city boys lick her cheeks. Look what the cat's
dragged in, he batters it with a rolling pin, a trembling feathered thing.


The reedbeds roll away, break into gravel and grit,
a man opens the door of the pub to spit, and it's march
home, no home, he says you can have it all green and dusted,
but it's settled too quick inside her, and flight's cancelled.
It's a stew and pickle, they can play in the marsh and churn.
Blue boy takes her to the salt water, gives her samphire for tea.
She's half there and swallowed as he sucked up the mud.
Street smart girl, cut purse, card sharp, ring-faller, you're mortgaged
up in the long game, all up in the East End, everything rains dirt hard
and you're hidden in the brick dust and can't get out, genie, elf-struck,
you're peek-a-boo and this isn't Kansas, Tara, or a Manhattan night bar.
He tries to hold on to what he promised, but she's old mortar,
soil grout crumbling and Amerjit hasn't finished the bathroom yet.
Marie got upset about so much,
took the kids to Ireland, said she'd keep the house in Plaistow
as an investment. Hold fast, hand fast, roll the die till the big sleep comes,
one day, Marie says, you need to grow up, tax-break, hippy-shake, grow cold.
He tries to hold on to what he promised her,
what she vowed, the long game, the long arm of the law. Are you going
to drink all that Absinthe alone? Safeways turned to Morrisons
and the Flop Houses boarded up past Iceland. Chin music
and closed head, off the track, pigeon-holed and decked.
Still in that holding cell, reading all the wish-you-well graffiti,
mug-shot and finger painted, never left the clink, can't escape, no tunnel
out until they burrow eight meters underground to Dover.
The choke in her lungs thinks it over and over. Chained to the sink.
Think it over, cut price girl.
They redecorate the station, the man in the market says he'll wait
for the mushrooms to go off so he can mark them up.
The nobs'll buy anything in a brown paper bag if you say it's organic. He winks,
like she knows the blag. The glamour rots inside like a grime tattoo,
two shots of vodka, ice and tequila, buy Absinthe from Safeways,
watch Prime Suspect, avoid big conversations, and when blue boy gets home,
she says It's over. He agrees.


A scab forms halfway open, artery hurts, pulse cut loose,
time limpets up and spews where she walks, keep walking,
past Essex Road, down Newington Green, into Green Lanes
Church Street, walk carried by force of a half-life, bone-cut,
calcium and ossify, to One Tree Hill, wave to the girl she was
north to south, under mud and rake, can you hear? Can you
hear across time? Cut-purse, foot-pad, turned into the frog princess
you always were? Lean against the oldest tree, breathing down
its spine, its leaf-litter pour from fingers, fold back into old lanes
and avenues becomes eyes. No more time just a squat of earth
on a railway line.

Contributor Notes

Jessica Mookherjee is the author of four full collections of poetry—Desire Lines (Broken Sleep Books, 2023), Notes from a Shipwreck (Nine Arches Press, 2022), Tigress (Nine Arches Press, 2019) and Flood (Cultured Llama, 2018)—and three pamphlets. Tigress was shortlisted for best second collection in the Ledbury Munthe Prize. She has had poems highly commended in the Forward Prize twice (in 2017 and 2021). She is co-editor of Against the Grain Poetry Press.

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