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The voice of Charles Johnstone

Voice from the Yard by Sheree Mack

Click on blue text to hear Sheree reading.

Ma race began as the sea began. With no noun and with no horizon. Ma heart life is open. With pebbles under my tongue, I have come to speak words for this place. This soil is old, yet it carries the bones and teeth of Africans. This soil holds people from many lands, that go unnoticed, that go forgotten. I speak the language to you. I stumble over the words. Black with the smoke and dirt of this city, I speak from many lands and of many people. The sea was calling me. I crossed many seas and made this place ma home. The sea was calling me. Now the River Tyne is calling me. I cannot ignore that call. The River remembers me of the sea. The sea remembers me of home. The sea keeps ma heart a beating. The human heart has no colour.

Ma real name is Charles Johnson, named after ma papa before me. I live in Walker, Newcastle. The only black man around for miles. It means that everybody knows me, as all they don't know me, at all.

Yesterday ma name was son. As I shield my eyes and look out to the horizon, I see the mist crawling in to cloak the grey River. It remembers of the first time ma papa took me down to the bay and told me the way of our world.

Son, we ain't got no life if we ain't got no boats. I's six at the time but I could understand that truth.  Mobile, Alabama live and breathes by its boatscotton, bananas even people. Where the boats are sailing are the words on everybody's lips. A boat is property, a source of wealth. It is a guarantee against starvation for all of Mobile, black and white. Long cargo ships loaded by ten to twenty men each week move silently at dusk into the solitary place called water and onto new lands. Words aint spoken or needed out there in the deep blue. Dawn bruises the horizon and they can see their breath. Men are at one with boat, with nature, with water.

Papa would have liked to die within the seas clutches, die doing what he loved. But he was battered and tired. Took to his bed one Sunday and never left it again. There was no time to get used to life without him as all at once I was the man of the house. Mama bring in washing from the white folk but her back bent and her heart broken. Is did what I knew. I worked with the sea like Papa before me. For months, Id be away from home. It was the curtains of colour as the suns rays rainbowed through the sea salt spray kept ma heart a beating. Kept me hoping that there come a day when I stay home for good. And I live out my life in Mobile with ma Mama. That day never come.

One day I board the Magnolia and sail for England, at the time I didnt know it be my last time in Mobile. If I did, I would have kissed my Mama one more time.

Today ma name is Black Charlie. Black Charlie, a term of recognition from my fellow work mates. Mates. I's the night watchmen at Swan, Hunter & Wigham Richardson at Wallsend. Rain or shine I's always at my post - a little wooden hut with gaps between the slates, the size of Gulf of Mexico. Watching. Thats what I's be doing. Watching. When I can't see the water, I's look to the midnight blue starless sky and see seagulls sailing by. Their heads bobs back and forth at lightening speed. The light from the moon catches the little hint of rose on their white white heads. They circle around hawk good night and keep rolling on. Watching.

Copyright: Sheree Mack

Sheree Mack Biography

Born in England, to a Trinidadian father and mother of Ghanaian descent, Sheree Mack is in her early thirties, recently married with an 8 year old son. After teaching English for seven years in various places around the country, she has decided to hang up her red pen and register and devote all her time to writing. She is the creator and co-ordinator of identity on tyne, the only group in the North East providing a space exclusively writers of colour. Shes a poet at heart but now thinks its time to diversify. She currently lives in Newcastle upon-Tyne, and is in the second year of her PHD.