In support of the Black Lives Matter movement, especially the protests occurring throughout May and June of 2020, we have collected some of the poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction published by Black writers in Understorey Magazine, as well as a new poem by African Nova Scotian writer Robyn Martelly. We have also updated and re-printed Issue 12, a full issue by and about African Nova Scotian Women. We recognise that systemic racism also affects Indigenous people and other people of colour. For more creative work on these topics, see our Teaching/Book Club page and our Past Issues.
Who am I?
A black man who no one sees?
I’m a black man, just trying to be free.
Free from discrimination, incarceration and poverty,
Free, just let me be free.
Free from stereotypes and mental slavery,
Free, will we ever be free?
Am I supposed to be ashamed?
Will I get blamed?
Just because I’m a black man.
Because it’s 2015.
And there’s women in the cabinet
But that might not seem so adequate
To women in the custody of the state
It might not seem that late for black women imprisoned at ever rising rates
Positioned by the colour of her skin to be a criminal by definition
Or it might just seem too soon for indigenous teen girls in Saskatoon
Kicked out of school in the afternoon
At night she’s trafficked on the streets and arrested as suspicious
Should we measure if our progress is finished
By the number of women ministers
Or maybe it should be the number of women prisoners
Perhaps we should consider the condition of women denied tampons or conditioner
Or something even simpler like extra squares of toilet paper.
Her body on camera so demeaning
In addition her visitors
Can be turned away for no particular reason Continue reading
We must persevere.
Even if the hands of society grab and pull at us,
trying to mould our bodies, our souls,
We must break away.
Even if the words of others speak to the darkest thoughts,
We must protect our minds.
Even if the lens only filters black and white
We must see in colour.
Even if the binds of the world begin to unthread,
We must stitch them back together.
When Black Loyalists came to settle in Birchtown, Nova Scotia, in the late 1700s, most arrived as “free blacks.” They were former slaves who fought for the British in the American Revolutionary War in exchange for land and freedom. When they arrived in Birchtown, however, they found themselves still indentured to wealthy white Loyalists in order to survive the harsh conditions. For many, promises of land, food and lodgings never materialized. Birchtown residents did the best they could to take care of each other, but many starved or died from disease. This so-called paradise was a living hell, but it was better than slavery and a master’s whip.
“Grace and Roberta” tells of two such settlers and the night of the Shelburne Riots, the first recorded race riot in Canada.
My name is Donna Paris
And I am Black History
The story, I am told, is that my great-great-grandfather came to Nova Scotia from Ireland once slavery was abolished in Great Britain. Despite the many hardships he faced, he managed to send his three sons to university and dream into the future so I can have the life I now live.
I am Black History
The story, I am told, is that my white great-grandmother came to Nova Scotia from France. She met and fell in love with a Black man. Her family said, “You can have him or you can have us.” Their union produced my grandfather, who produced my mother, who produced me.
A boat named No Justice floats in the bay.
Gleams of gentle light peek at the horizon.
I hear the incessant juddering of the grass cutter.
The dull hum, an unruly crowd–a thousand terns
descending. Their outcry fades, that word rises.
Spewed by the Amherst councilman.
Tattooed where the children watch–
at the base of Glace Bay’s skateboard park.
Overheard at the Toronto York School Board.
Like a knife scraped over my old wound
still tender to the touch.
(From Understorey Magazine, Issue 12, 2017)
thought they took it away
when they exchanged our crowns for chains
not knowing where I was headed
I tried to remember the footprints
In the sand
I followed the man
to a ship
On it engraved
Imagine walking into a space where you automatically feel out of place because nobody’s face is identifiable with your race and
Imagine walking into a store and being watched like a hawk, or getting pulled over by the cops for simply wanting to “talk” and
Can you imagine having the ambition to apply for a job position, only to later find out that your surname is under suspicion?
In the year 20/20 our vision cleared. The fog of hedonistic narcissism that had covered the earth during the last century lifted with an unprecedented suddenness. Robed gladiators donned their masks and shields, and their gloves came on, as they prepared to protect the innocent victims who had been stripped naked and thrown into the centre of the ring. Spectators sat glued to their sofas in the global colosseum, eyes affixed to screens, mesmerized by the indestructible, impenetrable enemy that had taken the entire globe by storm. Some remained indifferent to the suffering, perceiving themselves to be invincible. Others shivered in their seats, petrified they would be in the next wave of sacrifices. The gladiators valiantly formed the front line of defence.
As the far-off battle became a global war and casualties grew exponentially, a new haze began to blanket the populace. Ennui took hold of the masses and manifested itself in anxiety, depression, and boredom. Days passed without name, weeks flowed into months, and time stood still while the clock ticked.