Dionne Brand


Griffin Poetry Prize 2011
Canadian Winner

Book: Ossuaries

Poet: Dionne Brand

Publisher: McClelland & Stewart

Click here to read and listen to an excerpt.

Dionne Brand reads ossuary VIII

ossuary VIII, by Dionne Brand

ossuary VIII

Havana. Yasmine arrived one early evening,
the stem of an orange dress,
a duffle bag, limp, with no possessions

the sea assaulted the city walls,
the air,
the birds assaulted the sea

she’s not coastal,
more used to the interiors of northern cities,
not even their ancillary, tranquil green-black lakes

though nothing was ever tranquil about her,
being there out of her elemental America
unsettles her, untethers her

being alive, being human, its monotony
discomfited her anyway, the opaque nowness,
the awareness, at its primal core, of nothing

a temporary ache of safety,
leafed her back like unfurling fiddleheads,
she glimpsed below the obdurate seduction of Atlantic

and island shore,
when they landed, a contradiction,
a peppery drizzle, an afternoon’s soft sun

the oiled air of Havana pushed its way onto the airplane,
leavened, domestic,
the Tupelov cabin like an oven darkening bread

she was alive in this place,
missing forever from her life in the other,
a moment’s sentimentality could not find a deep home

what had been her life, what collection of events?
these then, the detonations,
the ones that led her to José Marti Airport

so first the language she would never quite learn,
though determined, where the word for her,
nevertheless, was compañera

and there she lived on rations of diction,
shortened syntax, the argot and tenses of babies,
she became allegorical, she lost metaphors, irony

in a small room so perfect she could paseo its rectangle,
in forty-four exact steps,
a room so redolent with brightness

cut in half by a fibrous bed,
made patient by the sometimish stove,
the reluctant taps, the smell of things filled with salt water

through the city’s wrecked avenidas,
she would find the Malecón, the great sea wall
of lovers and thieves, jineteras and jineteros

and there the urban sea washed anxiety from her,
her suspicious nature found,
her leather-slippered foot against a coral niche

no avoiding the increment of observation here,
in small places small things get their notice,
not just her new sign language

oh yesterday, you were in a green skirt,
where’s your smile today,
oh you were late to the corner on Tuesday

don’t you remember we spoke at midday,
last week near the Coppelia,
you had your faraway handbag

your cigarette eyes,
your fine-toothed comb
for grooming peacocks, anise seeds in your mouth

you asked for a little lemon water,
you had wings in your hands,
you read me a few pages from your indelible books

what makes your eyes water so,
I almost drowned in them on Friday,
let me kiss your broken back, your tobacco lips

she recalled nothing of their encounters,
but why,
so brilliant at detail usually

the green skirt, the orange dress, the errant smile,
the middays all dissolved into
three, five, ten months in Havana

one night she walks fully clothed, like Bird,
into the oily pearly of the sea’s surface,
coral and cartilage, bone and air, infrangible

and how she could walk straight out, her dress,
her bangles, her locking hair, soluble,
and how despite all she could not stay there

From Ossuaries, by Dionne Brand
Copyright © 2010 by Dionne Brand


Griffin Poetry Prize 2003
Canadian Shortlist

Book: thirsty

Poet: Dionne Brand

Publisher: McClelland & Stewart

Click here to read and listen to an excerpt.

Dionne Brand reads from thirsty

From thirsty, by Dionne Brand

From thirsty

This city is beauty
unbreakable and amorous as eyelids,
in the streets, pressed with fierce departures,
submerged landings,
I am innocent as thresholds
and smashed night birds, lovesick,
as empty elevators

let me declare doorways,
corners, pursuit, let me say
standing here in eyelashes, in
invisible breasts, in the shrinking lake
in the tiny shops of untrue recollections,
the brittle, gnawed life we live,
I am held, and held

the touch of everything blushes me,
pigeons and wrecked boys,
half-dead hours, blind musicians,
inconclusive women in bruised dresses
even the habitual grey-suited men with terrible
briefcases, how come, how come
I anticipate nothing as intimate as history

would I have had a different life
failing this embrace with broken things,
iridescent veins, ecstatic bullets, small cracks
in the brain, would I know these particular facts,
how a phrase scars a cheek, how water
dries love out, this, a thought as casual
as any second eviscerates a breath

and this, we meet in careless intervals,
in coffee bars, gas stations, in prosthetic
conversations, lotteries, untranslatable
mouths, in versions of what we may be,
a tremor of the hand in the realization
of endings, a glancing blow of tears
on skin, the keen dismissal in speed

From thirsty, by Dionne Brand
Copyright © Dionne Brand, 2002

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