Who on earth is left who did not say an awful thing, the clerk wonders. Who. Who did not disguise it as sophistication, as knowledge, as wit. What jaded poses dismiss all dreadfulness. How the author bears all this is alarming. And that isn't even the worst. Such memory loss you have. Melanctha. My amnesia is useful. How many micro-abrasions, as they say, do you think I could take?
Rose Johnson was careless and was lazy, but she had been brought up by white folks and she needed decent comfort. Her white training had only made for habits, not for nature. Rose had the simple, promiscuous immorality of the black people. Rose Johnson and Melanctha Herbert like many of the twos with women were a curious pair to be such friends. Melanctha Herbert was a graceful, pale yellow, intelligent, attractive negress. She had not been raised like Rose by white folks but then she had been half made with real white blood.
Each sentence is a razor blade. Toklas says (and still I am honouring the conceit) ... And still you are honouring the conceit. Can you call it a conceit anymore, truly? You're right of course but Alice says that when Gertrude Stein wrote this it was the first definite step away from the nineteenth century and into the twentieth century in literature. Well all that is certainly generous, the clerk laughs. Sometimes the clerk laughs an uncontainable laugh. An unruly, veering laugh. It veers and it cracks and the author hears it like a bone being broken when a car hits it out of the blue. And even so, the author quotes Alice B. Toklas, Gertrude Stein concluded that negroes were not suffering from persecution, they were suffering from nothingness. She always contends that the African is not primitive, he has a very ancient culture and there it remains. Consequently nothing does or can happen.
Didn't Hegel say that? It's all I remember of Hegel. The clerk is laughing now like machines cutting gravel in a quarry. See Picasso's Acrobat and Young Harlequin, 1905. Just to state the obvious, the clerk states the obvious. These effete and childish paintings, their organ-grinding stupidity. Then observe the utter ripping of Picasso's sensibilities, the shredding of his senses when the African sculptures entered him. Then, Head of a Woman, 1907. Head of a Man,. 1907. The author and the clerk mimic Alice with their hostile pity, ... the charming early Italian period to the intensive struggle which was to end in cubism.
Is there an essentialism creeping in here. The tentative author. No, a tiredness with having to recuperate, from essentialism, the conversations going on in the African sculptures so they may go on their way. In a future uninterrupted they break their own mythologies. Will I? The plaintive author. Who knows.
Copyright © 2018 by Dionne Brand
All rights reserved.
Reproduced by Poetry Daily with permission.
Dionne Brand’s literary credentials are legion. Her most recent book of poetry, Ossuaries, won the Griffin Poetry Prize; her nine others include winners of the Governor General’s Literary Award, the Trillium Book Award and the Pat Lowther Memorial Award. Her novel In Another Place, Not Here was selected as a NYT Book Review Notable Book and a Best Book by the Globe and Mail; At the Full and Change of the Moon was selected a Best Book by the LA Times and What We All Long For won the Toronto Book Award. In 2006, Brand was awarded the Harbourfront Festival Prize for her contribution to the world of books and writing, and was Toronto’s Poet Laureate from 2009 to 2012. In 2017, she was named to the Order of Canada. Brand is a Professor in the School of English and Theatre Studies at the University of Guelph. She lives in Toronto.
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