Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Dionne Brand, Ossuaries

what brutal hours, what brutal days,
do not say, oh find the good in it, do not say,
there was virtue; there was no virtue, not even in me

let us begin from there, restraining metals
covered my heart, rivulets
of some unknown substance transfused my veins

at night, especially at night, it is always at night,
a wall of concrete enclosed me,
it was impossible to open my eyes

I lived like this as I said without care,
tanks rolled into my life, grenades took root
in my uterus, I was sickly each morning, so dearly

what to say,
life went on around me,
I laughed, I had drinks, I gathered with friends (“ossuary I”)
From Dionne Brand, the current Toronto poet laureate, comes the sweet-sad music of her long poem Ossuaries (Toronto ON: McClelland & Stewart, 2010). Over the years, Brand has been writing increasingly subtle and expansive long poems on the state of the union, how people and cultures fall apart, and just as often, together, crossing borders, cultures and time periods. In fifteen “ossuaries,” Brand’s poem weaves in and out of a single narrative thread, line touching line and stretching out until everything connects, through her narrator, Yasmine. From No Language Is Neutral (1990) to Land to Light On (1997) to thirsty (2002) to Inventory (2006), Brand is very aware of the water, and her poems are too, how it surrounds us both inside and out, and as a system of both travel and capture, a system of boundary, as well as the narrator’s insistent voice that comes through a defiant, confident and vulnerable voice that spreads through the whole of her work.  But what is it about the water? From her island origins to a city on a great lake, is this the path that connects?
I lived in the eternal villages, I lived like a doll,
a shaggy doll with a beak, a bell, a red mouth,
I thought, this was the way people lived, I lived (“ossuary I”)

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