On that big kitchen counter there are no stains
the antibacterial cleaner has wiped your conscience clear
On that big kitchen counter there stands the coffee pot
perspiring aromas of Africa, Asia and Latin America
the sweat of darker skins percolated out by distance
The coffee beans have been gathered
cherry-red like your lipstick smeared mug
the united colours of coffee culture love
The colour of your labourer’s blood
Ask any of your friends
rushing to work with a takeaway cup
in the warm air of the underground station
It is all of us waking early to commute
It is all of us buried inside our phones
carrying our cares and insecurities
overburdened by deadlines and diaries
a bad boss, a backstabbing colleague
competition to look the best
Who is the servant
that grows the orange flowers in your vase?
– and who?
Who pays the wage to buy your clothes
your home, your car, your overseas vacations?
On whose head falls the true cost?
Someone, somewhere, makes it all possible
someone, somewhere, fills your belly
The songs in your earphones
the trains that take you to your destination
the warm air in the underground stations
drown out the answer:
– Servant . . . !
Oh, at the least let them climb out of servitude
Let them taste the freedom of ownership
and forget in perpetuity the state of poverty
Servant . . . !
I am currently reading The Penguin Book of Modern African Poetry (New Edition – published 1984).
This poem is an attempt to echo back to the poem Monangamba by Antonio Jacinto from Angola which was originally published in 1961. Monangamba means servant in Portuguese.
How many of us in rich countries owe our high living standards to the cheap toil of poorer people in less well off countries? Climate change, corruption, violence, economic poverty and the persuasive power of people traffickers and drug gangs is fuelling the rise of migration from many of these poorer nations. It’s a great shame that people feel such a need to leave their native lands for such reasons. Richer countries need to do more to ensure such vulnerable people feel safe, have meaningful employment and stronger human rights. One way that this can be achieved is through fairer global trading practices and one thing we can all do is to seek out products that bear the Fairtrade or similar marks.
My poem takes the form of the original poem but flips the subject to the wealthier consumer. It questions the assumption that we no longer have servants in the 21st century and that our lifestyles have been made possible by only our own hard work. The reality is far from simple as much of our prosperity is still gifted to us by the invisible poorly paid and educated workforces around the world. We have much to be thankful for and perhaps rarely do we acknowledge the privilege of our good fortunes to have been born in a rich country.
To read Monangamba by Antonio Jacinto please follow this link: