You can slip into a place like a lover, like a memory.
“ossuary VIII” by Dionne Brand is one phalange-trail from the poet’s Ossuaries, a book-length poem that moves to the rhythm and percussion of bonework. I confess rapture: it is not possible to ‘read’ Ossuaries. Rather, it happens that you wake up with the book enacting you, in the middle of the night, sorting your vertebrae, cording your ribs with vines, gold-wiring your mandible. To take one bone for scrutiny from this great skeleton is a kind of unfairness, but also a key of its own composition. You unlock the ossuary of yourself with your own relic, or with nothing.
Yasmine arrives in Havana. She tastes, without knowing, the language. She maps the orbit of her room in a perfection of forty-four 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”. The palabra she sifts for herself is compañera. It tells us something of how Yasmine walks through La Habana, of how the city enacts itself upon her as she opens herself to its oiled air, its wrecked avenidas, its “great sea wall / of lovers and thieves”.
No rough end-stopped lines here, only the smoothness of selective commas to flow the poem: each stanza is an immersion, tugging you into the bright, cheerful heat, washing you in Spanish you don’t quite understand, shining on your orange dress, spittling you with sea spray, saying: are you sure you haven’t lived here, your entire life? Are you so wholly certain you might ever leave, compañera?
What does the transient call home? What language does the sea speak when it asks you, por favor, to stay?
Read “ossuary VIII” here.
Dionne Brand won the 2011 Griffin Poetry Prize for her collection, Ossuaries.
This is the twenty-seventh installment of Puncheon and Vetiver, a Caribbean Poetry Codex created to address vacancies of attention, focus and close reading for/of work written by living Caribbean poets, resident in the region and diaspora. During April, which is recognized as ‘National’ Poetry Month, each installment will dialogue with a single Caribbean poem, available to read online. NaPoWriMo encourages the writing of a poem for each day of April. In answering, parallel discourse, Puncheon and Vetiver seeks to honour the verse we Caribbean people make, to herald its visibility, to read our poems, and read them, and say ‘more’.