A poem and a challenge from Inua Ellams

A poem and a challenge from

Inua Ellams

Inua Ellams reads ‘Directions’ and tells us a little bit about his Midnight Run project, as well as issuing this week’s writing challenge!

Find the text of Inua’s poem below the video.

This video is part of the 2020 Inside Writing showcase.



Inua Ellams


You know the wild bush at the back of the flat,

the one that scrapes the kitchen window,

the one that struggles for soil and water

and fails where the train tracks scar the ground?

And you know how if you leave the bush

and walk the stunted land, you come

to crossroads, paved just weeks ago:

hot tar over the flattened roots of trees,

and a squad of traffic lights, red-eyed now

stiff against the filth-stained fallen leaves?


And farther on, you know

the bruised allotments with the broken sheds

and if you go beyond that you hit

the first block of Thomas Street Estate?

Well, if you enter and ascend, and you

might need a running jump over

dank puddles into the shaking lift

that goes no further than the fourth floor,

you will eventually come to a rough rise

of stairs that reach without railings

the run-down roof as high as you can go

and a good place to stop.


The best time is late evening

when the moon fights through

drifts of fumes as you are walking,

and when you find an upturned bin

to sit on, you will be able to see

the smog pour across the city

and blur the shapes and tones

of things and you will be attacked

by the symphony of tires, airplanes,

sirens, screams, engines –

and if this is your day you might even

catch a car chase or a hear a horde

of biker boys thunder-cross a bridge.


But it is tough to speak these things

how tufts of smog enter the body

and begin to wind us down,

how the city chokes us painfully against

its chest made of secrets and fire,

how we, built of weaker things, regard

our sculpted landscape, water flowing

through pipes, the clicks of satellites

passing over clouds and the roofs

where we stand in the shudder of progress

giving ourselves to the vast outsides.


Still, text me before you set out.

Knock when you reach my door

and I will walk you as far as the tracks

with water for your travels and a hug.

I will watch after you and not turn back

to the flat till you merge

with the throngs of buses and cyclists –

heading down toward the block,

scuffing the ground with your feet.