She said I was the whitest black person she’d ever met and
she laughed when she said it
A kind of nervous jagged laughter the rest of the room tried
to gloss over
Like a white glove over a black hand
I wanted to show her a colour wheel
Point at it
Point at myself
And then say, “Where am I on here?”
How black did I need to be?
How black would I need to be to avoid hearing things like
And if I wasn’t black enough
How black was too black?
My shade deepens and dilates
Shifting shape with the size and timbre of the room
My nebulous form frightens some and pacifies others
Making for a self-relationship fraught with confusion
If I’m not black enough, then I must be some colour
Could I be grey?
“Which of your parents was white?
That’s what they actually say
There must be something else in my broth of being
Something in the mix to make up a strange thing like me
Am I too black to be walking behind her in the evening?
Can I black my way through the barber shop?
Am I black enough to darken her bedsheets with my
shadow at night?
She later apologized to me
Under the strobing beams
Of the black-owned danceclub
In front of the white DJs
Playing black music to other white people
But I still won’t call her White Girl
Because living with absence of colour might be just as tough
As it is coping with the whole blinding spectrum
The gradients of Civil War black and Kenyan black and
And French Canadian white and Scandinavian white and
Do not have to matter tonight
Because I am not black, you are not white
I am me and you are you
WALK-ON PART OF A BACKGROUND SHOT FROM A MOVIE I’M NOT IN
In a slippery movement,
smell of basil and wheat beer on her hands—
I begin to paper the walls of solitude.
The quiet harbor, the black that presses into the point.
The on-ramp’s gentle maw opens and closes
as I pass through over many years.
It has been many years now. I cannot write town
out of grief. What is the mourning period?
I fall on a shield, and do not contain this.
Put memory and what we puzzled out
of death into the river, the harbor, against the bridge,
to the left of the gas pump, the slick of our lovers mouths,
mend hems with the string of it.
Tethered to this. Loss is all mine. Unflappable.
No more love even for you, or anger, even.
Pan out. The matte lip of the camera mouthing.
War has always been interested in me, she begins.
Roland Pemberton is a poet, rapper, producer and DJ from Edmonton, Alberta currently based in Montreal, Quebec. Releasing music under the name Cadence Weapon, his albums Breaking Kayfabe and Hope In Dirt City were shortlisted for the Polaris Music Prize. He served as Edmonton’s Poet Laureate from 2009 to 2011. His poem “Monuments (The City in Three Parts)” is currently exhibited on lightposts across Edmonton’s Jasper Avenue as part of a public arts initiative commissioned by the City of Edmonton. He hosts a quarterly poetry reading and live performance series called At Street Level in Montreal. His writing has been published in Pitchfork, The Globe And Mail, Matrix Magazine, Maisonneuve and Now Magazine.
Olivia Wood is a poet and essayist living in Montreal. Her recent works include A Work No One Told You About and the zine series Presumpscot.
Find both authors at Metatron Press.