The poem is a memorial to Stephen Lawrence, the 18-year-old who was murdered by a gang of white thugs at a bus stop in London in 1993. Investigations into the murder were rife with corruption allegations, and a subsequent inquiry revealed the underbelly of racism in British society – and, indeed, institutional racism. Two men were eventually found guilty of Stephen’s murder in 2012. Stephen’s father said that his son’s murder “opened the country’s eyes” to racism. The case is now “inactive” according to the police.
For me, Ann-Margaret’s poem is surprisingly intimate, as if she knew Stephen well – filled with memories of adolescent love and happiness. In a sense, we all knew him well.
In the dream, Stephen
you’re thicker than when we were young
but thoughtful, as a first kiss.
We had one summer in Kingston
before England’s white boys
kicked, clubbed, knifed you.
Too brief again, this August light
its hours shifting. And hate, a hungry
animal that only takes.
The day your family stood above
your grave, swept by coconut palms
and a small bird orchestra
I smashed the shuttlecock
repeatedly against my backyard wall
my grief knocking back
against the day’s blunt silence.
What loves still lives, transforms
my days, each night
each decade passing—
I follow you, and return to the gate
you towered over
that careless summer
when you were just a boy
laughing against the sky
and I still believed in the light
and what it makes of us.
P.S. Here’s another poem by Ann-Margaret which I love.