Gay Times Magazine - - Black Flamingo - Words Henry Kelly

Dean Atta is an ac­claimed poet from Lon­don whose work dances around the in­ter­sec­tion of black­ness and queer­ness. His lat­est col­lec­tion, Black Flamingo, was in­spired by a black flamingo that “was spot­ted at a salt lake on the South Coast of Cyprus” where he was vis­it­ing with fam­ily. As word of this anoma­lous black flamingo flew around the is­land, Dean saw his re­la­tion­ship with his grand­fa­ther mir­rored in his non­cha­lance about the black bird: “My grand­fa­ther didn’t see what all the fuss was about and it made me re­flect on the na­ture of our re­la­tion­ship, specif­i­cally how I never dis­cussed my black­ness or my sex­u­al­ity with him.” If his work is in­spired by ad­ver­sity, he’s a deft hand at im­bu­ing it with an up­lift­ing and bounc­ing cadence. In­deed, his words are im­bued with a hope and com­pas­sion for the world around him, no doubt a re­sult of deep and search­ing in­tro­spec­tion. Util­is­ing poetry as a tool for ex­am­in­ing and pro­cess­ing our in­ner­most feel­ings, though, is noth­ing new; a 2013 study, con­ducted by the Uni­ver­sity of Ex­eter (By Heart: An fMRI Study of Brain Ac­ti­va­tion by Poetry and Prose), shows that “poetry ac­ti­vates brain re­gions that have re­cently been associated with in­tro­spec­tion.” Per­haps that’s why we find Dean’s work so sooth­ing.

The Black Flamingo


April Evening in Cyprus Your grand­fa­ther draws your at­ten­tion to the news; the story, a black flamingo has landed on the is­land. An ex­pert on screen ex­plain­ing it is the op­po­site of an al­bino. Too much melanin, he says. Cam­era pans the salt lake full of pink but the eye is drawn to that one black body in the flam­boy­ance.


I Want to Be a Pink Flamingo

Pink. Def­i­nitely pink.

I want my feath­ers to match the hue you imag­ine. I want to blend in.

Noth­ing but flamingo-ness. David At­ten­bor­ough would say,

Here we see the most typ­i­cal flamingo. Though I don’t want to be the most, just typ­i­cal. A wrap­ping pa­per pat­tern. I don’t want to stand apart. Noth­ing dif­fer­ent about my parts. My beak just a beak, my head just a head. My neck, body, wings. Sim­ply fit for pur­pose. Stand­ing on one leg, just like the rest. Pink. Def­i­nitely pink.


An­other April Evening in Cyprus Your beach towel and shorts are dry now. Cou­ples on mopeds ride past the house. The dogs walk their hu­mans be­fore din­ner. Your grand­fa­ther coughs vi­o­lently

And then lights an­other cig­a­rette.

Your grand­mother calls you both in to eat. The black flamingo is on the news again.

You pick the din­ing chair fac­ing the TV.

Grand­fa­ther asks, Why does it mat­ter if he’s black? Adding, The other flamin­gos don’t care.

And you are cer­tain what he’s say­ing is, I love you.


Pass­ing the potato sort­ing fac­tory where lor­ries halt and men shuf­fle to the gates, pass­ing the dance school where girls in pink mid-pirou­ette leap in uni­son to the win­dow, pass­ing the car wash and petrol sta­tion where hoses of water and gaso­line gush and es­cape the hands of men and women with slack jaws, the black flamingo pa­rades proudly past, the priest with black robes and white beard gasps and makes the sign of the cross – head to heart, shoul­der to shoul­der – not know­ing if he is an omen or a bless­ing.


The black flamingo has be­gun pluck­ing his own feath­ers since be­ing taken cap­tive. This is used as ev­i­dence when deny­ing an ap­pli­ca­tion for re­lease; au­thor­i­ties say they need to keep a close watch on this trou­bling be­hav­iour. When black flamingo feath­ers are dis­cov­ered for sale on the black mar­ket an in­ven­tory is kept of ev­ery feather. They are stored in an in­sured fa­cil­ity. Black beauty val­ued most when re­moved from the black body.

Cos­tume Con­fi­dence

I mas­quer­ade in make up and feath­ers and I am ap­plauded. I evoke you as a metaphor; at­tach my mean­ing to you. O Black Flamingo, here I stand in your shadow. You are my cos­tume, my muse, my po­etic and pur­pose. When I am naked and plainly spo­ken I don’t feel wor­thy of at­ten­tion.

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