I'll Walk with You by Giles Terera
Published: Friday, August 2, 2013
Spoken as part of Giles Terera's Walk in the Light series at the National Theatre on July 21, 2013 by:
Jimmy Akingbola, Chipo Chung, Clint Dyer, Noma Dumezweni, O-T Fagbenle, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, Jenny Jules, Tanya Moodie, Ruth Negga and Paul J Medford. Walk in the Light was a series of events celebrating 50 years of black artists in British theatre.
Click here for links to the National Theatre's Walk in the Light series.
You can watch Giles Terera perform his piece via this video clip or read the text below.
I'LL WALK WITH YOU by Giles Terera
You have done the state some service and we know it.
You walked from off the whispering sands
Held hands with familiar strangers
Excited by the dangers
That lay in the land of kings and queens.
England. A place you’d heard about.
Read about. Saluted and sung to.
And as you sailed or flew England was the young dream you clung to.
You left behind sisters and singing grans, children,
Warning fathers and silent mothers whose only words were to God-
Take care of my child Lord. Don’t let them hurt my child.
And as you arrived in London Now with no sand beneath your feet.
No road, now street.
Perhaps another Black face smiled and said-
Come, I’ll walk with you.
It takes a special heart to set foot in lands untrod.
Like a bird whose soul knows the way but whose eyes yet do not.
What waits there? What will I find?
Will I be equipped to free myself from the pitfalls and snares that may lay ahead?
With Gods Amazing Grace I believe I will.
So as you made your way down Finsbury Park, up Notting Hill
You thought you heard Jesus whisper- I’ll walk with you.
Every man in his time has roots to sew
As every woman has flowers she must grow,
That colour and scent the world.
They dance, they blow.
Even the Poinsettia will grow in snow.
The first time you saw snow. O Lord.
Like icy sand
And you ran outside to see with your hand
And others said- I’ll walk with you.
England had questions for you-
“Can I touch your hair?”
“Can you get a sun tan?”
“Do you have to wash your hair?”
“Why aren’t the bottoms of your feet black too?
You wrote Home to tell your stories to the veranda.
“Everybody good?” “Sister Such and Such dead!?”
But you didn’t tell of the looks you got.
About being called wog outside the paper shop.
Or about the jokes grinning men made on the box.
Those were stories only understood
if you walked these snowy neighbourhoods.
But even through that, even when the skinhead spat,
every Black smile that nodded along the pavement seemed silently to say-
Keep cool man, I’ll walk with you.
To every storm there is a spring.
This land may sting
But so can it sing
When the trees blush green
And the gardens awake
In England every man, if he chooses is born with a handshake.
So in time the Greek, the Indian, the Turk, the Chinese, the Jew
Open their ears to your story too.
For every woman and man at first and finally is a Story.
See you’d come clutching a dream wrapped up in the arms of your heart like a child.
You had a voice in your head and the voice was a story
Saying- Tell me. Share me. Show me.
A million songs like grains of sand
Flakes of snow. Waiting to be seen to be believed.
Tell me. Share me. Show me. Grow me.
Stories the old people have told for a thousand thousand.
Stories and characters brought alive to the sound of the sea.
To the kisses of palm trees, under the gaze of the going sun.
No, you did not come alone.
You are story tellers and your stories walk with you.
Jesus and his disciples told stories.
Stories are what we sing to a child.
To sooth and salve
To comfort and clothe
No army is stronger than a story.
Did we not grow being told by our teacher-
“Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me?”
Bullshit. Names can hurt. Words can hurt.
More than any blow. For words are stronger than stones.
Sharper than thorns
Hotter than suns
Wilder than weeds
Words can crack your heart or save your soul.
“In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God.”
Words may even dare to have power over the senses,
A demonstration…? Rice And Peas… See.
So before I was a pickney at the table you were telling stories
Wherever you could.
In the theatre, the pub, the party, the school, the street
The church hall, the Albert Hall, the tv screen
The village green. You enchanted us.
Perhaps you didn’t know it but you came into our home
And when you were there you were surely much loved guests
So we said, we’ll walk with you.
You made us smile so we’ll walk with you.
You made us laugh so if we may we’ll go along with you.
You answered Shakespeare, held a mirror up to nature.
Protected your stature.
Through Enoch through Thatcher,
Showed us ourselves.
You plaited our hair and shaped our flat tops.
We wanted to be as cool as Lenny Henry.
As beautiful as Carmen Munroe.
Everyone in the playground liked you.
And because they liked you they liked me,
Or was it the other way round?
To behold faces looking back that were not stretched with suspicion nor smiling with hypocrisy.
To my child’s eye you looked like my uncle, my big fat aunty, my mothers dear friend.
So I wanted to skip along with you.
Then as long as you could sing and share stories you were home.
From you I learned that home is wherever ones voice can soar.
In song, in story, in grief, in fury.
That if you have a song you must sing it.
At the top of your voice.
Unknown or knowing you raised us up.
You walked through Albert Square and Sloane Square.
We watched you walk.
You did not limp, nor strut, nor bow your head.
We saw you walk, through the barbers shop
Through the hospital ward, through the Bill
We saw you give Alf Garnet and Mr Rigsby as goood as they gave.
Opportunity knocked and you walked in.
We saw you walk.
You walked the News at Ten.
Walked through the watching eyes of the BBC
Through the swinging doors of the NT
You did not shuffle, nor shrug any chip on anyone’s shoulders,
As a river walks to the sea.
My people walk.
Walked in, took your seat and said-
And because of you I felt the sun.
I felt warm,
And I said to myself I’ll walk with you.
You let me walk with you.
But time was when the theatre lowered its curtain to you.
Why cant we play Othello?
Why must that actor black his face?
It took a voice to demand that question.
In this place. And though the theatre shut its doors to you for seven long years
You worked and provided and taught and thought and fought
All the while with a story in your hand and a voice in your heart.
And you walk still, in the stretched out summer,
Through the season of good will.
With Words at your lips
Rolling like salt waves
Words that leap like flying fish from the deep
Words that fall like rain from the tropical blue
Words that bust like a drum
Like a cutlass on cane
Words that sear like a ball lickin’ wickets
Slip like rum.
Mother used to say You’ve got to be twice as good.
Well you were twice as good.
Because you were first.
To be the first!
To let loose and to take with you a song.
A word. A dance. A step.
So to this endeavour I must say thank you.
Just as the only true reply to the waking sun must be
And just as when it rises in the sky.
And takes its sweet time passing by, like an old church lady
So that the whole world can see and pay respect,
So the children and the trees must say
The water and the vagabond say
The day and the dawn must say
Then, we cannot help but walk along also.
I am a child of the Earth, full of uncertainty and hatching hopes
Yet as I pass through London and Leeds, through Liverpool, Birmingham, Newcastle, Manchester, Sheffield and Durham and Cambridge,
My eyes drop to the pavement and I see footprints.
They are yours
I recognize them because they look like mine
And I am grateful I am happy
And I know what I must do
So if I may ill walk with you.
Ill walk with you
I’ll be glad enough to walk with you Mustapha Matura
ill walk with you Oscar James
I’ll walk with you Yvonne Brewster
I’ll walk with you Alfred Fagon
I walk with you
Mona Hammond may I walk with you?
Jeffrey Kissoon I’ll walk with you
Carmen Monroe I will walk with you
Errol John I’ll walk with you
Wole Soyinka I’ll walk with you
Rudolf Walker I’ll walk with you
Don Warrington I’ll walk with you
Edric Connor I’ll walk with you
Cleo Sylvestre I’ll walk with you
Anton Phillips I’ll walk with you
T Bone Wilson I will walk with you
Nina Baden Semper I’ll walk with you
Stephan Kalipha I’ll walk with you
Derek Griffith I’ll walk with you
Norman Beaton I’ll walk with you.
~ With thanks to Giles Terera for allowing BBAS to re-print the poem. All rights reserved.