Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

BROWN IS STILL BEAUTIFUL

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When the Civil Rights, Feminist and Anti-War movements converged in the Sixties, I became friends with Rosemary Brown, who will be honoured with a Canadian stamp this February, Black History Month. I wrote the words and Rosemary talked the talk. She became the first black woman to serve in the BC legislature and almost became the first black woman to head the NDP. That is a long story, and there were many broken promises, but Rosemary never lost her sense of humour or her love of song to alleviate the stress of the moment.

I now sing in the Victoria Soul Gospel Choir, and sometimes ask our director, Checo Tohomasso to sing "Unchained Melody" Motown style. It beings back memories of Rosemary, whose mighty heart gave out.

I have sent this poem to my former student Eva Van Loon for inclusion in the anthology of 49 poems the Powell Rivers Poets Guild are sending to President-elect Obama. If you have a Canadian poem to contribute, their address is mattalaw@gmail.com.

IF
for Rosemary Brown

The blind singer said he could see with
his ears, and his pitch was perfect. We sang
his song while we stuffed envelopes. We
sang it while we knocked on doors. We
danced on the edge of the flat world. We
were not afraid of falling into better times,
where everyone would be colour blind.

Rosemary is for remembrance, and it means
“dew of the sea.” “Lonely rivers flow to
the sea, to the sea,” we sang, “to the open
arms of the sea.” And then she laughed,
making the sound of waves slapping the
beach like the slipper dances of our African
foremothers, who hummed and hollered,
drowning out the rhythm of oars crossing
the Atlantic from the Dark Continent
to a Brave New World still to be born.

How could a woman born on an island
not struggle to swim through the songs
of protest and longing, toward a great
confluence as silent as melting snow?

“Brown is beautiful,” we liked to say,
because that was the colour of silt from
mighty rivers, the blend our children made
when they mixed everything on their palettes,
earth, air, fire and water, together.

In those days, when two women riding
in an old Volkswagen with the top down
dared to dream, we headed for Spanish
Banks, the beach where our children and
grandchildren, born and unborn, waited for
the tide to change, believing, if we sang
loud enough, everyone would hear, and
everyone, pitch perfect as the man who sang
in his chains like the sea, would be free.

For Black History Month and her commemorative stamp, 2009

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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Linda Rogers

Linda Rogers is the author of the novels Say My Name (Ekstasis Editions, 2000), Friday Water (Cormorant Books, 2003) and The Empress Letters (Cormorant Books, 2007). She has also published several collections of poetry, including Love in the Rainforest (Exile Editions, 1996), Heaven Cake (Sono Nis Press, 1997), The Saning (Sono Nis Press, 1999) and The Bursting Test (Guernica Editions, 2002).

Go to Linda Rogers’s Author Page