Reckoning and resilience: Integrating the Great White North

A selection of four poems from prolific poet and novelist Cyril Dabydeen

My mother in British Guiana (source: family album)

Posting Maria

Phases of the moon. Again mirrors. Worlds in her.
Films she would make. Memories, you see.
What I do not see. Offerings in the obligatory hour.

Belief in Godhead. Now a far country. A grandmother
in Hamilton close-up. Other places on the horizon.
South Korea. Sunset at a glance, and the rainbow again

making arcs. Where now the Little Rock Nine?
Where the Central High School fire burning?
Segregation, not desegregation. Civil rights.

Let the South re-enact the Civil War. Living in
America. Asia. India. Canada. California.
Who, Minnijean? Northern Ontario, here I come.

War’s only draftdodger. Vietnam Peace: oh peace.
Bringing you home. Real home. Without obeisance
or forgetfulness. Only with the sense of forgiveness.

Paradise, I hear you say. Again the moon’s phase.
Remembrance or forbearance. Other landmarks.
The world’s only place. A grandmother’s offering

handed down. Film-shoots. Camera lens zooming in.
What’s more remarkable, civil rights, remember?
Human rights. Permission granted. Nothing omitted.

A Mermaid Never Dies

for Shary Boyle, artist

She insists on being herself, alone,
      sexual from the beginning,
what the signs foretold far, far below—
      territory in the making. Rebirth only,
parturition you see, an offspring underwater,
      the ocean coming closer.

Sexless, what’s taken for granted—
      not denying, but only believing;
no shame now being tail-less. O Shakespeare!
      She becomes herself with certainty
to behold rising again to the surface… 
      I let you know more about

making eye contact with you because
      of locks of hair spread out, and
who I will have become but unknown
      Caliban looking long in the mirror,
going down in the ocean—
      timeless once again.

Her Lament

—not a ghazal


With the moon’s sadness she pines away
in this city unlike the village where she
comes from with its balmy night air

the trade winds blow into her hair,
frangipani and jasmine with her,
but now it’s a restlessness of sorts

ice and snow and strange feelings
she doesn’t really understand
about herself being all alone

the store she works in from nine to five,
and the sun’s gone from her eyes…
she keeps going back and forth

remembering where she came from,
the familiar moon high above—
she wonders why she’s here now.


She springs back into action, skating
with almost lightning speed, then
looks out from the window… she’s

no longer blinded by the snow but
dazzles… twisting and turning,
a pirouette again; oh, no time

for nostalgia and she will soon attend
an evening class hoping for betterment:
new words and phrases… coming to her

she opens doors with a firm grip,
making memory out of nothing,
days and nights long past

hibiscus and sunflower are yet
with her as she smiles, heaving in
hard because of what’s deep inside her

carrying her along once more in
her individual style and being back
in her village once in a while

Gimlet Eye

Ways of reckoning—
      with another lookaround,
where I said I have come from
      as she flutters her eyes.
Laughter I take note of with
      a keen eye or ear, rhythm only,
a whim or fancy you must know—
      remonstrance I will bear.
Breathing in harder, the body’s own way,
      turning my head in another
direction and waving to you,
      coming to grips with what
I must only cope with, being
      defenceless from the start.

Cyril Dabydeen is a noted Canadian poet, short story writer, novelist and anthologist. His recent books are My Undiscovered Country (Mosaic Press), God’s Spider (Peepal Tree Press, UK) and My Multi-Ethnic Friends (Guernica Editions). Other titles include: Jogging in Havana, Black Jesus and Other Stories, My Brahmin Days, North of the Equator, Imaginary Origins: New and Selected Poems, and Drums of My Flesh (nominated for an IMPAC/Dublin Prize and winner of the Guyana Prize for best novel). His new book Forgotten Exiles: Short Stories will be published in June 2024 (Mosaic Press, Ontario).

Cyril won the Okanagan Fiction Prize and the Canute A. Brodhurst Prize for fiction. His work has appeared in the Oxford, Penguin, and Heinemann books of Caribbean Verse, and in over 60 literary magazines, including Poetry (Chicago), The Critical Quarterly (UK), The Warwick Review (UK),The Fiddlehead, Prism International, Canadian Literature, Prairie Schooner, The Dalhousie Review, and Queen’s Quarterly. Cyril was Ottawa Poet Laureate from 1984 to 1987 and taught writing for many years at the University of Ottawa.

For more on Cyril Dabydeen’s work, please see Ars NotoriaToronto Metropolitan University, and Peepal Tree Press, and follow him on Instagram @cyrildabydeen.