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Poetry Women Authors


by (author) Dionne Brand

McClelland & Stewart
Initial publish date
Mar 2010
Women Authors, General, Canadian
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Mar 2010
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Dionne Brand’s hypnotic, urgent long poem is about the bones of fading cultures and ideas, about the living museums of spectacle where these bones are found. At the centre of Ossuaries is the narrative of Yasmine, a woman living an underground life, fleeing from past actions and regrets, in a perpetual state of movement. She leads a solitary clandestine life, crossing borders actual (Algiers, Cuba, Canada), and timeless. Cold-eyed and cynical, she contemplates the periodic crises of the contemporary world. This is a work of deep engagement, sensuality, and ultimate craft from an essential observer of our time and one of the most accomplished poets writing today.

About the author


Dionne Brand is internationally known for her poetry, fiction, and essays. She has received many awards, notably the Governor General’s Award for Poetry, the Trillium Award (Land to Light On), 1997), the Pat Lowther Award (Thirsty, 2005), the City of Toronto Book Award (What We All Long For, 2006), and the Harbourfront Festival Award (2006), given in recognition of her substantial contribution to literature. She is a professor in the School of English and Theatre Studies at the University of Guelph.

Leslie C. Sanders is a professor at York University, where she teaches African American and Black Canadian literature. She is the author of The Development of Black Theatre in America, the editor of two volumes of Langston Hughes’s performance works, and a general editor of the Collected Works of Langston Hughes. She has written essays on African American and Black Canadian literature.


Dionne Brand's profile page


  • Winner, Griffin Poetry Prize

Excerpt: Ossuaries (by (author) Dionne Brand)

ossuary I
I lived and loved, some might say,
in momentous times,
looking back, my dreams were full of prisons
in our narcotic drifting slumbers,
so many dreams of course were full of prisons,
mine were without relief
in our induced days and our wingless days,
my every waking was incarcerated,
each square metre of air so toxic with violence
the atmospheres were breathless there,
the bronchial trees were ligatured
with carbons
some damage I had expected, but no one
expects the violence of glances, of offices,
of walkways and train stations, of bathroom mirrors
especially, the vicious telephones, the coarseness of
daylight, the brusque decisions of air,
the casual homicides of dresses
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
we grinned our aluminum teeth,
we exhaled our venomous breaths,
we tried to be calm in the invisible architecture
we incubated, like cluster bombs,
whole lives waiting, whole stellar regions,
discoveries of nebulae, and compassion
from the cities the electric rains pierced us,
the ceaseless bitter days folded like good linen,
the phosphorous streets gave off their harmful lights
we bit our fingernails to blue buttons,
we staggered at the high approach of doorways,
plunged repeatedly to our deaths only to be revived
by zoos, parades, experiments, exhibits, television sets,
oh we wanted to leave, we wanted to leave
the aspirated syllables and villages, the skeletal
dance floors, the vacant, vacant moons that tortured us,
when the jailers went home and the spectators drifted
away and the scientists finished their work
like a bad dog chained to an empty gas station,
for blue blue nights,
I got worse and worse, so troubling
I would fall dead like a specimen,
at the anthropometric spectacles
on the Champ de Mars, the Jardin d’Acclimatation
the mobile addresses of the autopsy fields,
though I could see no roads,
I was paid for losing everything, even eyesight
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
I had nights of insentient adjectives,
shale nights, pebbled nights, stone nights,
igneous nights, of these nights, the speechlessness
I recall, the right ribs of the lit moon,
the left hip of the lit moon,
what is your name they asked, I said nothing
I heard the conspiratorial water,
I heard the only stone, I ate her shoulder,
I could not hear myself, you are mistaken I said to no one
the chain-link fences glittered like jewellery,
expensive jewellery, portable jewellery,
I lost verbs, whole, like the hull of almonds
after consideration you will discover, as I,
that verbs are a tragedy, a bleeding cliffside, explosions,
I’m better off without, with vermillion, candles
this bedding, this mercy,
this stretcher, this solitary perfectable strangeness,
and edge, such cloth this compass
of mine, of earth, of mourners of these
reasons, of which fairgrounds, of which theories
of plurals, of specimens of least and most, and most
of expeditions,
then travels and wonders then journeys,
then photographs and photographs of course
the multiplications of which, the enormity of this,
and drill-bits and hammers and again handcuffs,
and again rope, coarse business but there
some investigations, then again the calculations,
such hours, such expansions, the mind dizzy
with leaps, such handles, of wood, of thought
and then science, all science, all murder,
melancholic skulls, pliant to each fingertip,
these chromatic scales, these calipers the needle
in the tongue, the eyes’ eye, so
whole diameters, circumferences, locutions,
an orgy of measurements, a festival of inches
gardens and paraphernalia of measurements,
unificatory data, curious data,
beautiful and sensuous data, oh yes beautiful
now, of attractions and spectacles of other sheer forces,
and types in the universe, the necessary
exotic measurements, rarest, rarest measuring tapes
a sudden unificatory nakedness, bificatory nakedness,
of numbers, of violent fantasms
at exhibitions again, of walks, of promenades
at fairs with products, new widgets, human widgets,
with music, oh wonders,
the implications
then early in this life, like mountains,
already pictures and pictures, before pictures,
after pictures and cameras
their sickness, eye sickness, eye murder,
murder sickness, hunger sickness,
this serendipity of calculators, of footprints
with fossils, their wingspan of all time,
at crepuscules’ rare peace time, if only,
like water, in daytime, no solace, so, so different
from solitude, all solitude, all madness,
so furious, so numerous, the head, the markets,
the soles of the feet, so burnt, so thin
and the taste, so meagre, so light-headed,
the cloud flashes, the lightning geometry,
the core of reflectivity so vastly, vastly vast
the wait now, lumens of aches, such aches,
the horizontal and the vertical aches of lightning,
its acoustics, loud pianos, percussive yet
strings and quartets, multicellular runnels yet and yet,
the altitude of the passageway, its precipitation
and grand arithmetic, the segments
the latitudes of where, where and here,
its contours, its eccentric curvatures,
so presently, angular and nautical, all presently
just fine my lungs, just fine,
hypothesis absolutely, but just fine,
why lungs, strange theory
oh yes and the magnitude of jaundice, trenches,
like war, continuous areas and registers, logarithms
so unexplainable, rapid scales, high notes
besides, anyway so thermal, atmospheric,
wondrous aggressions, approximately here,
elaborate like radiation and seismic, yes all over
the bodies’ symptoms of algebraic floods,
tiredness for one, weariness actually,
weary with magnetic embryos
petals, yes petals of sick balm please, now yes,
for my esophagus, analgesics of indigo,
of wires, of electric shocks, why eucalyptus leaves
of course lemon grass, labernum, please, lion’s claw,
remedies of cloves, bitter bark,
still birdless though, worldless
asthma with blueness, then music,
gardens truthfully, truthfully nauseous with
tonsured numbers, volumes of fibres, embroidery
and hair nets of violence, blue,
like machine guns, of course knives, extensions
of blueness, all right then wherever
same radiations, lines in the forehead,
tapers, electrodes, invisible to the eyes,
official hammers and corkscrews, official grass
official cities now for appearances after all this,
all these appearances, generous, for certain
scraggly, wan, and robust appearances
assignments and hidden schedules of attendance,
a promise of blindness, a lover’s clasp of
violent syntax and the beginning syllabi of verblessness

Editorial Reviews

Praise for Dionne Brand:
"[Brand] makes music and sense of our complex age."
—Jury citation, Governor General's Award

"Brand's luscious and ferocious lines go beyond a critique of dystopian realities to construct, in themselves, in their keen, lyric intelligence, an oasis of truth, compassion, and sensuality."
—Jury Citation, Griffin Poetry Prize

"[Inventory] shows there's no better chronicler of the ache in our body politic. . . . In the face of the desensitization that comes with a steady diet of the passing horrors contained in the daily news, Inventory is a kind of re-sensitization: lyrically compelling, impassioned and stirring."
Toronto Star
"Inventory is damning without being superior, sorrowful without falling into self-pity, joyful without becoming naïve. . . . Inventory is thought-provoking enough with these nuances of rage, despair, guilt. What makes it even more powerful, and hard to put down, is Brand's willingness to match the strength of these desolate lists with a strength of music, dream and intimate feeling."
Globe and Mail
"You don't read Dionne Brand, you hear her."
Toronto Life

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