not book reports, not scholarly, not comprehensive

but                        snapshots

reading Brand2. Our inheritance in the Diaspora is to live in this inexplicable space

The mornings remained dark longer and longer in October and into December. I was reading Dionne Brand’s Map to the Door of no Return. Some mornings, pronouncing pages upon pages of her words left me dizzy with inhalation and exhalation. Reading aloud, I slowed to ride my own breath to persevere word by surprising word into this amazing book which entirely re-defines the word diaspora. Say the word aloud: the sound of disappearance, loss, finality.

I hadn’t read Map to the Door of no Return before, so I never knew where I would land.  Literally. It could be Trinidad, Brand’s island of Afro-Caribbean birth; it could be Grenada during the 1983 invasion; could be Amsterdam where a Black woman stood displayed in a brothel window; or the teeming city of Toronto where a single mother battled the courts or the welfare system; or it could be the backwoods cabin in a forest wilderness where, always the outsider and always alone –– Brand wrote.

The book is its own self: short essay-memoir-poem texts that defy categorization. Sometimes a longer piece will be separated into shorter numbered sections, creating the surprises and dissonance of juxtaposition. Demarcating these texts are short quotes or musings entitled “Maps.” Here is the first map: The rufous hummingbird travels five thousand miles from summer home to winter home and back. This hummingbird can fit into the palm of a hand. Its body defies the known physics of energy and flight. It knew its way before all known map-makers. It is a bird whose origins and paths are the blood of its small body. It is a bird whose desire to find its way depends on drops of nectar from flowers.

The last “Maps” entry: It is not a question of rootlessness but of the miracle of roots, the miracle of a dialogue with eclipsed selves which appearances may deny us or into which they may lead us (Wilson Harris, quoted).

The book opens with thirteen year old Dionne Brand asking her grandfather, over and over again, where their people come from and his not answering. Out of his not-answer grows a gap. … the rupture this exchange with my grand-father revealed was greater than the need for familial bonds. It was a rupture in history a rupture in the quality of being. It was also a physical rupture, a rupture of geography.

The book ends in Vancouver in the year 2000. Two women of African descent ride a city bus driven by a man from Africa. A Salish woman whose ancestors had lived on the land which became Vancouver gets on the bus. She asks the driver for directions. Brand says, despite the others who might have been on the bus, there were only four people in this drama: the two women of African descent, the African driver, and the Salish woman, as they drove over and along and across ancient Salish pathways which have been obliterated except in peoples’ memories.

The door is a place, real, imaginary and imagined. As islands and dark continents are. It is a place which exists or existed. The door out of which Africans were captured, loaded onto ships heading for the New World. It was the door of a million exits multiplied. It is a door many of us wish never existed. It is a door which makes the word door impossible and dangerous, cunning and disagreeable.

There is the sense in the mind of not being here or there, of no way out or in. As if the door had set up its own reflection. Caught between the two we live in the Diaspora, in the sea in between. Imagining our ancestors stepping through these portals one senses people stepping out into nothing; one senses a surreal space, an inexplicable space. One imagines people so stunned by their circumstances, so heartbroken as to refuse reality. Our inheritance in the Diaspora is to live in this inexplicable space. That space is the measure of our ancestors’ step through the door toward the ship. One is caught in the few feet in between. The frame of the doorway is the only space of true existence.

[Dionne Brand, Map to the Door of No Return]

Advertisements