“Pandemic vs Black Folk.” A Poem by Victoria Adukwei Bulley

From the Collection Quiet

March 1, 2023  By Victoria Adukwei Bulley

It never was a virus that came for us, not really.
Don’t ask me what my mother knows about that.
If yours never told you, perhaps we can’t be friends.
We always were too welcoming a people, or so it’s said,
or should I say, peoples. Plural as the distance between leaf
& leaves; as the difference between twig & tree—what we were
before being rolled into singular, brought to the flame & lit
for an inhale that hasn’t ended. Who are your peoples?
If we need to know, we’ll ask who sent you. If you’re suspect,
we’ll ask where you’re really from. If you’re safe, we’ll bring water
on a tray, say: sit down, wash your hands, eat. It never was a virus
that killed us, no, not even if it killed en masse. Worse things
have happened at sea, or so it goes. & if anybody knows that, we do.

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Suddenly, all across the land, this great land,
this dunya, this Great Britain, this Britain First,
this Brexit means Brexit so fresh & so green
green & pleasant land, it seems there is no toilet roll,
no soap. As if the Moors came & snatched it back,
astaghfirullah. Shelves good as new—empty as the day
they were built. Meanwhile, in the canned food aisle, nary
a tin of tomatoes to be found. I guess it’s good folks
are learning how to cook. A prayer for our elders, who
only stepped out for fresh air. There’s rice at home yet
for the time being. As for toilet paper, that’s a different thing.
If cleanliness were godliness all along, no Columbus could have
made the New World new. If cleanliness were godliness, really,
there would be soap in the shops even now


Things being still early, we hug first & remember second.
Arms are thrown about backs, fingers gesture towards
hair, admiring a careful day’s work of braids.
Cue laughter as usual, cue knowing smiles—
& what is it that we feel, beneath all this, that gives
our meetings their sugared ease? Not denial, quite.
Not humour to evade dissemblance this time.
The body keeps a logbook of what happens to it.
Bones can speak long after the flesh has gone. Often,
on the train, the one seat that’s free is the one
that’s next to me & that’s just fine. You know a girl
likes a space to place her bag. Maybe social distancing
is another way of saying that. Yes. When I walk into a room
I never know what I might do. In this skin, sis, I’m a virus too.

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Excerpted from Quiet: Poems by Victoria Adukwei Bulley. Copyright © 2023. Available from Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC.

Victoria Adukwei Bulley
Victoria Adukwei Bulley
Victoria Adukwei Bulley is a poet, a writer, and an artist. An alumna of the Barbican Young Poets and recipient of an Eric Gregory Award, she has held residencies in the United States and Brazil, and in London at the Victoria and Albert Museum. She is the recipient of a Techne scholarship for doctoral research at Royal Holloway, University of London.

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