Amanda Holiday

A whiff of something

An artist-poet goes to a party in Hout Bay in Cape Town. The hosts are a white photojournalist and his wife. On the wall in the kitchen is a photograph of the journalist in Rwanda holding a black baby. The poet is struck by the expression on the man’s face. On closer inspection she realises that the infant he holds is dead – there is a bullet hole in the middle of the baby’s forehead. The journalist tells them how, when he returned from Rwanda, he had the smell of death in his nose. His wife nods as he speaks. He tries to get the smell out of his nose every morning; he rinses his nostrils out with soap, uses sprays, plunges his nose deep into bouquets of agapanthus. One day his wife tells him the smell is inside his head and he needs to see a doctor. Everyone nods sympathetically.


Notes for a chronology of smell

vernix sweat cheese / stuff of life
skin smear dank birth

saki-tomboy pepper-mash mackerel
silver sting cook / palm street pan

chewing gum powder / light sweet
car nook hides tin foil-wrap

alpha-biscuit vanilla warm
almond-heat shortbread / guests due

rubric red earth / salt tar soil
cheetah dash shapes floodlit

woman stage dances / turns
to paper strips / burns to ash

butter-white breakfast bread
rolls Elder Dempster ship

grey Chorley rain marks
pavements in coal


Sushi SQ¹


Milk-white skin dished on perlemoen                        
sushi SQ in top clubs don’t-ask-pay-later

pink tuna crabsticks sashimi eat me                            
fat black fingers pluck salmon from nipples

liquid libations BEE2 Tables have turned                   
they say Fear of a black planet they laugh

Trump understands better than Obama                                 
Bombay Sapphire rinses raw fish

gold toothpicks flick spittle on white girls                   
Black capitalism don’t bend at the knee         

for who Jay Z? What hero takes rain-check               
kill their own talent?  Good-looking fool in an afro

We done with slavery, apartheid runs deep.              
Equality? Pipe dream. Folk need system and queues

Poor people rather fuck than work                            
Why those make money run to the shacks always?

Who laughs the longest stays richer               
wink at white-girl plate swallow seaweed snacks         

Baby it’s our turn now they say                                  
Gi‘em a taste of their own medicine

wear township trials as prestige badge           
high-price mouthfuls the freedom spoils      

1. on a South African restaurant menu S.Q. refers to Salon Qualitaire or quality determined by the establishment. A more direct translation is ‘subject to quotation’ due to the practice of weighing certain foods such as shellfish

2. BEE refers to Black Economic Empowerment


Amanda Holiday is a UK-based artist and poet. Her chapbook The Art Poems was published in 2018 by Akashic Books as part of New Generation African Poets. Her text “A Posthumous conversation about Black Art” was published in 2019 in the 1st edition of UK visual culture journal Critical Fish. In 2019, she completed the MA in Creative Writing (Poetry) at UEA with Distinction. Her poems have appeared in Prairie Schooner, South Bank Poetry, and Poetry Birmingham Literary Journal (UK). In  2020, she reached the final shortlist for the Brunel International African Poetry Prize and established the UK’s first crowdfunded poetry press Black Sunflowers. She live in South London with her teenage daughter.

“A whiff of something” and “Sushi SQ” previously appeared in Poetry Birmingham Literary Journal.