This Time

This Time was first performed for Black History Month celebrations, 2009, at the Vancouver Public Library.


some time I sang alone,
it was low and slow
but sweet and whispered

some tune first time
coming to a turn
toward the true

a burden of straw
a crying out for bricks and mortar

she sang too,
her head tied
high on the forehead
where the gray ought
to have shown itself

my father’s song sung
like he bent
back and forth
over the saw bench
his fingers like teeth
in the mouth of the cutting

although it was sung low
and sung o’er
and o’er
it sat still bitter
in our belly
sung only in the mouth moist
opening of sweetness
of darkness


I am a son of a woman
how then am I to know
the far edge of darkness in skin
the compass of common misery
of mercy

I ask you then
What are the colours of your sky
in time of mourning
what worshiping are your words
to that god of your singing
from what treasuring and pleasuring
must that skin then endure
its lonely lovely burning

I look again
this time she’s undone her hair
they’re streaks like rivulets
among the black
I always thought they were beautiful, she said
her fingers stir them from the roots
because my mother’s sisters had them too
I did not answer
need she wrap herself
in silk and purple?

I follow the movement of my father’s hand
this will pick me up
will slap
my ignorant mouth
show me what he learned
for boyhood

Settlement song

I’m vexed by visions of a far off place
an ignorant civil state
blind to hate
living arms out-stretched into a space
unencumbered by race


Senseless edits left unsatisfied
by philosophies of encompassing grace
so theologies of articulate acceptance
yield tautologies of eloquent embrace

this flagrant city, its unimagined towers
of incense, its smoky byways, its
districts circumscribed by acquiescence
to the doctrine of compassion


not a raising of the voice
a scratching in the throat
then the warm sour taste of blood

sons of sons of god-knows whose daughter
wrapped in an ashen skin she held the bleeding
of birth as a promise
from whom now would you redeem her suffering

not a lowering of the eyes
but a darkening of the vision
a tinnitus of the inward ear

Resurrection song

I dreamt at the bottom of troubled water
seized in my limbs
cannot move
I cannot cry out
can sing only in the rising air of my exhalation
this the exquisite dark fingers
of my ancestors stir
my cup of trembling

I have begun to number my days
the steep slide of unwilling hours
and weeks dragged into
bitter significance
the posing of questions
seated only among the rise, set, rise
of sunlights
imprisoned in mortal-coloured skin
squinting outwards
my hand shields nothing

there’s a shawl she wears
to my touch
like the undersides of leaves
I wrap this over my head
move, talk like her
instead of laughter

she smells of cooking
or a church day

bites off a section of cane
an echo of a whip crack
his breath like sugar
ground with coconut


I sing again
but the bitterness
from my darkened throat
is in a song
I sing this at last
if only it were as slow and sweet
as a song sung by the first of mine blood
and the last on the soil of Azania
if only it were as ripe with hope
as a songs of the middle passage
but these songs are there and in there
and sung again
as all great songs are
sung again at last
and at first

my father’s song sung
she sang too,
and although we sang low
and sung it o’er
and o’er
it sat still some bitter
in our bellies
but we sang it only
in the moist mouth
opening of sweetness
and yes
of darkness too