Self-Portrait as a Garage Emcee


‘It was all about tapes, back then’ – Darryl McDaniels

If I could navigate the fuzz of traffic
reports, dinner table jazz and topical chat
Majik FM! is where, in the stillness between
last bell and the latch announcing mum’s
return to stagnant dishes littering the kitchen sink,
I’d rest the red dial of the Sanyo cassette player
bought, part-exchange, from a now-defunct branch
of Tandy on Wandsworth High St. Hours lost
to the underwear section of Littlewoods catalogue
gave way to r ‘n’ b on E numbers, hi-hats the hiss
of hydraulic pistons, snares like tins dropped
on tiled floors. All of it piped in from back room studios,
sheds, distant kitchens, haunted by teenage DJs hunched
over decks, set up next to microwaves or, in pride of place,
on a good table usually reserved for special occasions.

We loved the casual bravado of emcees with forty-a-day
voices and too many ladies to big up from last week’s rave;
years out of reach but ours to keep on a TDK cassette
bought, four in a pack, for a pound. Most days I couldn’t
stretch, pocket money spent on pick ‘n’ mix or chipped-in
to part ownership of Victor’s dad’s latest copy of Escort,
I’d plunder my mum’s cache of cassettes for something
she wouldn’t miss or couldn’t bring herself to admit
she once loved. Lucky Dubé and Prince were off limits.
Kenny Rogers became slick lyrics I could earn stripes
by reciting tomorrow lunch in front of anyone who’d listen,
if I could cut just the right amount of Sellotape or make small-
enough balls of tissue to cover the notches along the apex
of each cassette, made without tabs to prevent dubbing.

Remember the days before your walkman was banished
to a life in the attic? How you cherished it, cutting a hole
in the lining of your blazer so you could slip the silver
box into the gap between the fabric, pass an earpiece
up one sleeve, rest your head on one hand
during maths class and sit ignoring the talk
of vertices, indices, factorials, Napier Bones,
all the time mouthing the words, breath wheezing
its way through each line brow crimped, concentrated?

Soon, I’d used up all the dregs in mum’s collection
and nothing was left save a black TDK, unmarked,
without a case. Thinking that it must be something
so laughable she couldn’t bring herself to catalogue,
I lifted it, weighed it in my hand, slid it cleanly
into place, pressed the play button and waited.