Dionne Brand: “ Hard against the Soul ”



I saw this woman once in another poem, sitting,

throwing water over her head on the rind of a country

beach as she turned toward her century.  Seeing her

no part of me was comfortable with itself.  I envied her,

so old and set aside, a certain habit washed from her

eyes.  I must have recognized her.  I know I watched

her along the rim of the surf promising myself, an old

woman is free.  In my nerves something there

unraveling, and she was a place to go, believe me,

against gales of masculinity but in that then, she was

masculine, old woman, old bird squinting at the

water’s wing above her head, swearing under her

breath.  I had a mind that she would be graceful in me

and she might have been if I had not heard you

laughing in another tense and lifted my head from her

dry charm.




You ripped the world open for me.  Someone said this

is your first lover you will never want to leave her.  My

lips cannot say old woman darkening anymore, she

is the peace of another life that didn’t happen and

couldn’t happen in my flesh and wasn’t peace but

flight into old woman, prayer, to the saints of my

ancestry, the gourd and bucket carrying women who

stroke their breast into stone shedding offspring and

smile.  I know since that an old woman, darkening,

cuts herself away limb from limb, sucks herself white,

running, skin torn and raw like a ball of bright light,

flying, into old woman.  I only know now that my

longing for this old woman was longing to leave the

prisoned gaze of men.




Dionne Brand was born in Trinidad in 1953

and graduated from University of Toronto in 1975.

She is black, lesbian, feminist – three powerful things.

Toronto’s Poet Laureate,  she is also the 2011 winner of

The Griffin Poetry Prize for her long poem Ossuaries.

The companion poems above are excerpted from

Brand’s series  “Hard against the Soul”, part of

her collection,  No Language is Neutral

© 1990, Dionne Brand.