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  • Ossuary VIII*
  • Dionne Brand (bio)

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 Americaunsettles her, untethers her

being alive, being human, its monotonydiscomfited 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 [End Page 7]

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 lives on rations of diction,shortened syntax, the argot and tenses of babies,she became allegorical, she lost metaphora, 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 wallof 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 [End Page 8]

your cigarette eyes,your fine-toothed combfor 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 intothree, five, ten months in Havana

one night she walks fully clothed, like Bird,into the oily pearl 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 [End Page 9]

Dionne Brand

Dionne Brand, Professor in the School of English and Theatre Studies at the University of Guelph in Canada, is author of more than twenty volumes of poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and documentaries, for which she has received many awards, prizes, and other honors. Her Land to Light On won the Governor General’s Award for Poetry and the Trillium Book Award in 1997. In 2003 her volume, thirsty, won the Pat Lowther Award for Poetry and in 2006 her novel, What We All Long For, won the Toronto Book Award. In 2011, she was awarded the Griffin Prize for Ossuaries. She served as the Poet Laureate of the City of Toronto from 2009 to 2012. Her most recent books include Inventory and A Map to the Door of No Return: Notes to Belonging (nonfiction). Born in Trinidad, she has lived in Canada since 1970.


* From OSSUARIES by Dionne Brand. Copyright © Dionne Brand, 2010. Used by permission of...


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