This collection of poems make up Vicki Krajewski’s ‘Ode to Tooting Market’ written for and performed at the Tooting Tales Festival on 25th February 2012. Thank you, Vicki.

Hundreds of sea shells spelling. Hundreds of sea shells shaping letter–not TK Maxx, not M&S but–
How many thousands of little slimy sea creatures secreted their little hearts out to create tiny exoskeletons that would double as houses and then triple as advertising–would wash up, empty, on a beach, and get scooped up and packaged and flown and sold and bought and stuck to a wall in Tooting Market–thousands of tiny sea creatures telling you–
Don’t miss it!
Here it is!
We’re shouting with our bones–
We can spell
We can tell you where to get your callaloo!
And jerk sauce
And palmnut concentrate
Your gungo beans, crabeye beans
And vacuum packed crimson oxtails
It’s the Caribbean Islands Afro Caribbean Food Specialist

We are the smartiest spelling sea creatures in the world.

Caucauphony of clutter of treasure and weird things shelf upon shelf of gods from wherever and ever
Mysterious objects
The carved wooden woman–6 feet tall–Ernest decides, is Mother Nature. He doesn’t know where she came from or who made her
But she’s fierce as fire
Angry growling mouth and wicked flailing hair
Clutching a child
Will she eat him?
Children sometimes walk by and get scared
But other children see her and laugh and love her
When you look her right in the face, she is smiling
And not wicked at all
It all depends on who you are,
says Ernest the Healer,
the keeper of this shop,
the owner of Mother Nature,
who is not for sale
but is dripping with beads you can buy for a song
and is beckoning you to come closer and see what else is around
Aladdin’s pots?
A disco ball? To show you a million reflections of yourself, Ernest says–then laughs
‘I just made that up’
It sounded so good.
He opens a box that hides an Indian marriage necklace and sets it out thinking it will appeal
Next to the crystals and incense and oils
Candles bongos bronze Egyptian gods with doggie heads and rods
Those rods, Ernest says, are healing rods
And he has some
And a big book about crystals
And you can sit in a booth
In the back of this shop
And hold the Rods of Ma’at
And feel the vibrations
And be healed
Just make sure you give Mother Nature a wink on your way out

Any way you chop it slice it dice it
it’s Stannards of Tooting, the best pork belly
not jelly not pie
Just meat
Naked, raw, pink chicken skin
fresh pieces and parts
Cut with precision
Cut with hands that learned from their father
What’s a chuck, rib, short line, sirloin, tenderloin, shank, flank
A tiskit, a taskit, a brisket in a basket
Best meaty thighs
The best large boilers
The best pig feet
Best fresh chicken legs
Best jack
Best snapper
Only 4.99
Only 99
Any 5 only 3.99
Best oxtail 1/2 price
Since 1966
Sawdust floor
White jacket red and white striped aprons
Always here
Always happy to say hello

Mushrooms for migraines?
Herbs for hepatitis?

Do you have asthma, arthritis, tumours, diabetes, ear hygiene problems, stress, hay fever, weight gain, back pain, impotence, frozen shoulder, irregular period?

Are you sad, stressed, tense, uptight, downtrodden, forgotten, misbehaved, misaligned, maligned, morose, or perhaps just generally gross?

Bad breath? Baldness? Bedwetting?

There’s a tea for that.

Hot chocolate tea
patties pie fried dumpling
stew chicken & rice
ginger sweets
fried fish
and some plantains thrown in if you look hungry
by a lovely man with a smiling face and a watchful eye
and a knit hat striped with the colours of the Jamaican flag

The oriental grocer says
This would be his slogan
This is what he would say on his commercial
What does it mean?
He can’t say
How do you say it in English?
It means welcome in the Philippines
Or welcome to the Philippines
A customer helps us conclude
As a little girl decides to try climbing a mountain made of bags of rice
And I ask what the best thing here is
Milkfish, the grocer says
Milkfish from mangroves
And casava cake
and fish sauce
and shrimp paste and oyster sauce and hot and spiced vinegar
salted anchovies
and green pigeon peas
papaya pickles and liver spread
palm nut in syrup
and 19 ounces of grass jelly
and fish sauce
and purple yam spread
that is definitely purple
shockingly purple
And it’s not every day you see purple food
Or learn a lovely new word
That doesn’t quite mean anything in English
but sounds like open arms

Mai Hoon Na
I’m here now
The shop keeper has a glowing smile
and five thousand Bollywood movies
and two thousand CDs
Of sitar, tabla, drums, guitar
Try not to dance
Try not to feel a little beat in your heart
Buy a poster for your locker at school
Of Hunky Hrithik
Or Pretty Priety
Or Shahrurk Khan
The shop keeper’s favourite
So I help him decide his stall’s advertisement
Mai Hoon Na!
I’m here now!
AFG Music Centre
all spelled out of CDs

My favourite; my favourite
I try not to have a favourite but my favourite is Stall 14
2000 different kinds of buttons the woman reckons
While her husband rolls his eyes
1000 kinds of ribbon in every colour, fabric, size,
Organza, silk, cotton, with fringe and sequins and beads and embroidery
And lace
The lace!
Piled to the ceiling
Zippers for zipping
It’s trimming, she says, all kinds of trimming
Like you can’t find anywhere else
Says the 60 year old woman who recalled coming to this shop with her grandmother when she was 5

Tooting Tails, or What Do We Have Here?