from Verso 4

Dionne Brand

copyright ©2018 Dionne Brand

To verse, to turn, to bend, to plough, a furrow, a row, to turn around, toward, to traverse

When I was nine coming home one day from school, I stood at the top of my street and looked down its gentle incline, toward my house obscured by a small bend, taking in the dipping line of the two-bedroom scheme of houses, called Mon Repos, my rest. But there I’ve strayed too far from the immediate intention. When I was nine coming home from school one day, I stood at the top of my street and knew, and felt, and sensed looking down the gentle incline with the small houses and their hibiscus fences, their rosebush fences, their ixora fences, their yellow and pink and blue paint washes; the shoemaker on the left upper street, the dressmaker on the lower left, and way to the bottom the park and the deep culvert where a boy on a bike pushed me and one of my aunts took a stick to his mother’s door. Again, when I was nine coming home one day in my brown overall uniform with the white blouse, I stood on the top of my street knowing, coming to know in that instant when the sun was in its four o’clock phase and looking down I could see open windows and doors and front door curtains flying out. I was nine and I stood at the top of the street for no reason except to make the descent of the gentle incline toward my house where I lived with everyone and everything in the world, my sisters and my cousins were with me, we had our bookbags and our four o’clock hunger with us and our grandmother and everything we loved in the world were waiting in the yellow washed house, there was a hibiscus hedge and a buttercup bush and zinnias waiting and for several moments all this seemed to drift toward the past; again when I was nine and stood at the head of my street and looked down the gentle incline toward my house in the four o’clock coming-home sunlight, it came over me that I was not going to live here all my life, that I was going away and never returning some day.

Notes on the Poem

We know and love them in our favourite songs. Refrains are powerful, captivating and often beloved features in music, but we can also find them interwoven into prose and poetry. Songsmiths ranging from Neil Diamond and Dolly Parton to Stan Rogers and André 3000 - and many, many more - wield refrains infectiously in their work. In very different works, so do Shakespeare, Allen Ginsberg, Sojourner Truth and Barack Obama. Think of anyone's spoken or written words that have captured your heart and mind, and it's very possible something in the form of a refrain has imprinted those words on you. So too does this excerpt from "Verso 4" by Dionne Brand from her 2019 Griffin Poetry Prize shortlisted work The Blue Clerk. This discussion of the refrain as a literary device offers excellent insights and examples, along with this useful definition to keep in mind as we consider Brand's piece:
"In a poem or song, a refrain is a line or group of lines that regularly repeat, usually at the end of a stanza in a poem or at the end of a verse in a song. In a speech or other prose writing, a refrain can refer to any phrase that repeats a number of times within the text."
With every repetition of "I was nine", along with the entrancing reordering of other words and phrases, Brand ploughs deeper and deeper into memories and turns up revelations. As the opening line of "Verso 4" suggests, what is being cultivated here can potentially be built, enriched, perhaps even harvested in future. Arising from the details and intimacies of a particular set of memories are observations and wisdom that any reader can use, and gratefully so: "... it came over me that I was not going to live here all my life, that I was going away and never returning some day." With that goodbye, the plough turns, and the individual ploughing moves on to greener pastures.

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