from thirsty

Dionne Brand

copyright ©Dionne Brand, 2002

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

Notes on the Poem

Is there a voice in your head when you read a poem? Is it the poet's, your own or someone else's? How does that voice affect how you take in a poem? As the opening lines in this excerpt from Dionne Brand's 2003 Griffin Poetry Prize shortlisted collection "thirsty" have become much beloved and oft quoted, let's revisit them. This reader's first encounter with this long poem set in the city of Toronto was not on the page, but at a reading by the poet, Dionne Brand. That hypnotic reading was, most wonderfully, just the first of many encounters with the poem. Every subsequent reading echoes in my head in the voice captured in the clip on this page. This selection from "thirsty" brims with images and impressions of delicacy and softness ... "unbreakable and amorous as eyelids" is particularly swooningly gorgeous. The poem also offers up clear, striking images that intrigue because they surely cannot be benign, among them "innocent as thresholds", "empty elevators" and "habitual grey-suited men". Most stunning of all is how those images are juxtaposed with brutality, violence and menace, from "smashed night birds" to "brittle, gnawed life", "bruised dresses", "terrible briefcases" and "ecstatic bullets". All of this is woven together powerfully, intricately and unforgettably by the gentle but unflinchingly precise voice of the poet. The poem becomes a potent flow that *is* the conjunction of all of those attributes, from delicate beauty to blunt brutality, that are the essence of a teeming city.

One Reply to “from thirsty”

  1. One rarely comes across great new poetry these days, and that is lamentable. This poem is simply clumsy. Too many words, too many absurd juxtapositions. “Inconclusive women in bruised dresses”. Bah. Clumsy and meaningless.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *