before after/after before



                                       in the after that we long for
do we go
                           back
to the before                                            
that was  will
                       we
        can
we
should    we
                        now that CO2 emissions drop
the air clears
what do we choose
as we long to hold
                                   close
                      laugh with
in the before
of “I can’t breathe”
& refugee camps 
of caged children
& the homeless
of the gig economy
                               missing the safety
of nets 
            the gods laugh
            we curse
even as we worship
at the altars of all that
has brought us here
                                 will we can
should we                                                   
                      must






in this together



in this together
                                 are we
where together was
never
          in this together
of doll house condos
at millionaire prices
                                 rocketing rents
that never return to
in this together
 
where there are banks for food
and banks of money for those
who have too much
and care too little
in this together where rents
corral the young, the poor, the worker
into small
       smaller
the smallest of rooms at prices
that have taken flight,
nor was in this together present in gently
gentrifying neighbourhoods
corporate welfare
and bank bailouts
 
in this together
of boil-water advisories
grassy narrows* and forked-tongue treaties
in this together of fracking the earth
in this together of drill baby drill
in this together of the burning amazon
in this together of the melting arctic
in this together of the death of coral reefs
how are we
                       in this together
 
of the hold
                       where
self found we
in this together of song
that sang of being
in this together
while the blue orb spins
                              silent
gently glides on its
ellipsis as in this
together we together
                              were
never
not
                                in this
together…

 

 

 

 

*Between 1962-1970 the people of Asubpeeschoseewagong (Ojibwe) or Grassy Narrows First Nation were poisoned through their water by a pulp and paper mill located in their community.  They have not yet received adequate compensation and continue to suffer the effects of this environmental disaster.

 



 


  Assemblage
 


…in an altered time  my breath catches yours  my question to myself  what poem would I have written  if what has happened   already   hadn’t already happened  what song  would my throat have sung  in between the notes  moving with the breath of breath…what dance have danced me…

 

when i began this i felt as if COVID-19 stalked us, lurking behind doors, entering through keyholes—

 
when i began this the first thing i asked myself every morning on awaking was how many had died—
 
when i began this i once lay in bed and counted the number of lovers i had had and laughed—
 
when i began this i felt as if our fear petrified us—
 
when i began this we cowered behind our doors—
 
when i began this people baked sourdough bread—
 
when i began this i didn’t—
 
when i began this i thought of the Mazda advertisement with the refrain “Zoom, Zoom, Zoom” when i first heard about Zoom—
 
when i began this i had not yet come to hate the word pivot—
 
when i began this my mother and father were both dead, yet i was not an orphan—
 
OTTAWA URGED TO SANCTION CHINESE OFFICIALS
 
when i began this i had two brothers and one living sister who does not speak to me—
 
when i began this people gave each other a wide berth on the
streets—
 
when i began this i fell in love with Audre Lorde’s words and wisdoms all over again—
 
when i began this i had to use the master’s tools—
 
when i began this i wanted not so much to dismantle as to destroy the master’s house, with or without his tools, and by any means
necessary—
 
when i began this i enjoyed making white folk step off the sidewalk—
 
when i began this i did not know who George Floyd was—
 
when I began this i knew that Minneapolis was in Minnesota and that the source of the word was Indigenous—
 
when i began this i did not know that the Minne in Minneapoliis was a Dakota word meaning water—
 
when i began this i did know the word Minne ha-ha and I loved the sound of it—
 
when i began this i combed my hair every day—
                 
                                    TRUMP STEPS UP CHINA OFFENSIVE
 
when i began this my greatest fear was being in an airplane that was flying through turbulence—
 
when i began this i mourned and rejoiced—
 
when i began this my toes were painted ox blood red—
 
when i began this Black lives mattered—
 
when i began this the idea that police forces should be defunded or abolished was unheard of— 
 
when i began this Aunt Jemima still appeared on pancake syrup bottles—
 
when i began this the statue of the former slave owner Edward Colston had not yet been thrown into the Bristol Harbour—
 
when i began this three young Black girls had not yet danced on the plinth on which Colston’s statue stood—
 
when i began this i had no idea what deep and visceral satisfaction i would get from watching statues topple—
 
when i began this no statues of Robert E. Lee had been removed or pulled down—
 
when i began this all the statues of King Leopold were intact in Belgium—
 
when i began this the statue of Christopher Columbus in Baltimore had not yet reached its expiry date—
 
 
The obelisks of ancient Egypt represented the benben,
 the primordial mound upon which the god Atum
stood at the creation of the world. ...
The Egyptians believed a day would come
when the gods would die and all
would return to the uniformity of primordial chaos. 
Ancient History Encyclopedia
 
 
when i began this the state flag of Mississippi had not yet been finally furled—
 
when i began this the Confederate flag still flew at NASCAR—
 
when i began this we feared a virus that appeared to stalk us—
 
when i began this the populace sheltered in place, were shut down or locked down—
 
when i began this we did not wear masks—
 
when i began this the land had already been stolen—
 
when i began this the people had already been stolen and brought across the black waters—
 
 
For the artist Michael Parker, the unfinished obelisk
raises questions about hierarchy, failed power structures,
and the relationship between the power of a single person
who commands over many. Maggie George (KCET)
 
 
when i began this the owners of the Washington Redskins did not intend to retire the name the team—
 
when i began this the owners of the Washington Redskins believed that the name would remain for another hundred years—
 
when i began this time appeared to have come to a stand still—
 
when i began this time appeared endless—
 
FIRM SAYS NEW TEST DETECTS VIRUS IN 5 MINUTES
 
when i began this Black Lives Matter did not have majority support among Americans—

when i began this Gwendolyn Brooks had already described John Cabot going “down in the smoke and fire/and broken glass and blood”—


when i began this i had only seen a police precinct under attack in
movies—

when i began this America was the most powerful country in the world—


when i began this Gwendolyn Brooks knew that John Cabot would ask the the Lord for forgiveness not for himself but “these nigguhs that know not what they do”—


when i began this there was first the land, then the land and next the land and my is-land—


CANADA, U.S. MAY EXTEND MUTUAL TRAVEL BAN INTO AUGUST

perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with
death. Pablo Neruda.

when i began this—

when i began—

when i—

when—


 
 
 

     



 

[Born in Tobago, M. NOURBESE PHILIP is an unembedded poet, essayist, novelist, playwright and independent scholar who lives in the space-time of Toronto where she practised law for seven years before becoming a poet and writer. Among her published works are the seminal She Tries Her Tongue; Her Silence Softly Breaks and the speculative prose poem Looking for Livingstone: An Odyssey of Silence. Her book-length poem, Zong!, is a conceptually innovative, genre-breaking epic, which explodes the legal archive as it relates to slavery. Her most recent work is Bla_K. Her fellowships include Guggenheim, McDowell, and Rockefeller (Bellagio). M. NourbeSe Philip is the 2020 recipient of PEN/Nabokov Award for Achievement in International Literature.]


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