My (w)rites of Passage, Zakiya Mckenzie

Hand holding bunch of leaves

My (w)rites of Passage by Zakiya Mckenzie

A poem for our centenary project writers in the forest.

Dulwich in London is where I came into this world. This I do not recall but have made up memories in my head from the pictures I have seen. My first recollections happen in Jamaica. Before me, my grandparents migrated to England from two different countries in the British West Indies. They were a part of the Windrush generation of post-war workers rebuilders. There was not a question of their right to be here, so they stayed and raised families. The immigration laws changed which tightened tensions in the time my parents grew up. They chose Jamaica and left. Jamaica, with its highland forest environment on mountains framing the panorama. Its mangrove forests on multiple waterways scattered around the island. It is home and I never questioned my place there, it is the only childhood I have. My world existed in another hemisphere and I rarely entertained the question of my Britishness.  

For me, nomadic impulses have always led me to live far and meet new people, it is a thing I cannot escape. But I wasn’t prepared for the yearning of home, a British home, my move back as a big person brought up.  I love this land, yet the history is often set against me. How peculiar that Windrush British are left stranded off the mothercountryship. How does one confront a colonial legacy, very much tied to the land, when we all need to save it right now? We harken not on the olden days to guilt the mass, for the present is bleeding and guilt has no use here.

Forests are where I think about this the most, ‘bush’ in Jamaica. Standing among trees that have been right here for centuries; the 2000-year-old coppiced lime tree at Westonbirt Arboretum, close to my home in Bristol. From the day it began growing, how much has happened in the world! I think of the millions of people that have lived through the time of this same tree. The original Jamaicans, the Pre-Columbus indigenous Taíno people who once thrived on the island called the place Xaymaca – land of wood and water.  Reverence for the wood, reverence for the traveling water. I cannot help but think of time stretching far back with the all-knowing ground I am on. There can be no pretence among these beings. They will not judge, though they see it all. The privilege of exploring nature, of experiencing the good in it, belongs to no woman or man more than the other. The forest itself holds no grudge, but I pity the man who does not own it enough to not own it.

I never argue these things with people anymore; let everyone speak though my ears may no longer need to hear it.


Read more

Looking up

There are only three tree-climbers in Forestry England. They scale the tallest of trees, grooming and look after them. The tree-climbers know all the trees at Westonbirt Arbouretum...

Silhouette of forest at pink sunset

In the Dean, to have had your first amourous experience in the forest was to get your ‘fern ticket’

Close up of blackberry flower

She checked to see what time it was. Looking up at the sun, she smiled because the rainclouds that had splashed the morning seemed to have moved on.