From thirsty

This city is beauty

unbreakable and amorous as eyelids,

in the streets, pressed with fierce departures,

submerged landings,

I am innocent as thresholds

and smashed night birds, lovesick,

as empty elevators


let me declare doorways,

corners, pursuit, let me say

standing here in eyelashes, in

invisible breasts, in the shrinking lake

in the tiny shops of untrue recollections,

the brittle, gnawed life we live,

I am held, and held


the touch of everything blushes me,

pigeons and wrecked boys,

half-dead hours, blind musicians,

inconclusive women in bruised dresses

even the habitual grey-suited men with terrible

briefcases, how come, how come

I anticipate nothing as intimate as history


would I have had a different life

failing this embrace with broken things,

iridescent veins, ecstatic bullets, small cracks

in the brain, would I know these particular facts,

how a phrase scars a cheek, how water

dries love out, this, a thought as casual

as any second eviscerates a breath


and this, we meet in careless intervals,

in coffee bars, gas stations, in prosthetic

conversations, lotteries, untranslatable

mouths, in versions of what we may be,

a tremor of the hand in the realization

of endings, a glancing blow of tears

on skin, the keen dismissal in speed

Dive in

  1. How does the speaker feel about the city?
  2. How are similes — “innocent as thresholds / and smashed night birds, lovesick, / as empty elevators” — used throughout to set the atmosphere of the poem?
  3. How does the poem portray the non-human life in the city — animals, even inanimate objects?
  4. The speaker wonders “would I have had a different life” if she hadn’t identified so closely with “broken things.” What do you think?
  5. If you were reciting this poem, what tone would you use? What does it mean to feel, as the speaker describes, at once intimately bound to and held by “brittle, gnawed life” while also only finding human connection in “careless intervals”?
  6. Where do you live? Think of all the life and activity around you that most people tune out as they move through their days. Try to tune in as sensitively as possible to the layers in your environment. Write from a place of deep observation.




Hear Dionne Brand read this excerpt from her book-length long poem thirsty:


As well as being a poet, Dionne Brand is also a novelist, essayist, and documentarian. You can watch an excellent documentary she made in 1991 for the NFB here:


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Bibliographical info

Excerpt from THIRSTY by Dionne Brand. Copyright © Dionne Brand, 2002, used by permission of The Wylie Agency (UK) Limited.

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