Author of the Month: Cyril Dabydeen (Ottawa Poet Laureate Emeritus)

Cyril Dabydeen


--for Alana


Wherever he is,

let him be, in what nether

world it may seem--

a farther place.


Those knowing eyes,

looking at me, his face

and manner too, my tabby

Zeus he will always be.


Inside, in his home,

then outside looking out

long on Somerset Street,

passersby knowing him.


His vulnerability, yes,

sometimes purring,

living his own life--

I didn’t know much about


Remembering him only,

a lifetime, far away--

memory, or consciousness,

his soul, you see.


Spirit locked in, with mine,

nothing less, now gone--

our Zeus, always with

a blessing I know.



In her own space,

vibrations only

in the cave


An ashram where

she dwells with

an inner glow


The heart’s own place

I’ve come to know,

the soul’s journey


Wandering far--

but how far,

I will never know


Looking up at the mountain:

harmony it seems,

universal being


Hands folded, knees bent,

her face reflecting

the stars I imagine


The Himalaya no less,

making meaning

out of nothing


Being herself only,

life everlasting

I yearn for






A choir of words I sing to you,

the self with other longings


the oath taken, calling out

from a distant place, and


being a believer because

of the mote in my eye


seeking affection always,

wanting forgiveness only


singing louder to you--

with the cathedral of hope,


what I never knew before,

but will keep longing for


paradise I let you know

walking in the Garden,


my Gethsemane with longings

down through the years.



He asks me what I am,

if an Indian and to know

where I was born.


Ukraine he’s from, oh

with strong Russian ties

now living in Canada.


What kind? he asks me,

Indian South American style,

I will let him know.


Places we care about; and

am I an elephant Indian,

or a bow-and-arrow Indian?


Being only who I am

indeed, you see—

always in my style.



--Barack Obama, A Promised Land


Taking off our shoes

we entered a simple room with

a floor of smooth, patterned tile,

its terrace doors open

to admit a slight breeze

and a pale, hazy light.


I stared at the spartan floor

bed and pillow, the collection

of spinning wheels, the old-fashioned phone,

a low wooden writing desk


Trying to imagine Gandhi

present in the room, a slight,

brown-skinned man in a plain

cotton dhoti, his legs folded

under him

composing a letter

to the British viceroy


Charting the next phase of

the Salt March; and in that moment

I had the strongest wish

to sit beside him and talk--

to ask him where he’d found


the strength and imagination

to do so much with so very little,

to ask how he’d recovered

from disappointment;

(more/new stanza)


he had more than his share; and

Gandhi hadn’t been able to heal

the subcontinent’s religious schisms,

--prevent its partitioning into

a predominantly Hindu India, and

an overwhelmingly Muslim Pakistan

--do you know?


 (Found poem)



BIO Cyril Dabydeen-- “a noted Canadian poet” (House of Commons, Ottawa), 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/Fiction (Guernica Editions). Other titles include: Jogging in Havana, Black Jesus and Other Stories, My Brahmin Days, North of the Equator, Imaginary Origins: Selected Poems, and Drums of My Flesh (IMPAC/Dublin Prize nominee and Guyana Prize winner for best novel. A twice nominee for the Pushcart Prize, he won the Okanagan Fiction Prize and the Canute A. Brodhurst Prize for fiction. Cyril’s work has appeared in the Oxford, Penguin, and Heinemann Books of Caribbean Verse, and in over 60 literary magazines, eg., Poetry (Chicago), The Critical Quarterly (UK), The Fiddlehead, Prism International, and Canadian Literature. He is Ottawa Poet Laureate Emeritus. He taught Writing for many years at the UofOttawa. He has done over 300 readings across Canada, the USA, Europe, the Caribbean, and India.

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