Dispossession in Five Acts [or How to Be a Model Minority or Not] by Moni Brar
Winner of the 2023 Ralph Gustafson Prize For Best Poem
& these hours where finally
the fucked-with be unfucked-with – Canisia Lubrin
1 At the age of 10, father learns the power of land
when a white man draws
The Radcliffe Line
—through soil—through families—and 88 million futures— a fault line of forced migration—
—a line through a subcontinent—through my father’s body—.
He re-assembles the cleaved halves
and learns to walk again.
2 You and your friend debate about legacy. [You’ve learned debate is a nice word for argue.]
He’s worried about leaving a legacy for his children. You argue that legacy is an egoic hunger
with a heavy cost. He wants to be remembered for something by someone. You say that we will
all be forgotten soon enough. [You speak from experience.] You ask him to look to the
cathedrals and monuments. Whose names are engraved on the plaques? The men who had them
built, or those whose black and brown hands did the building, the steady layering of toil with
3 You tell her what you’re doing to decolonize yourself,
you the once-colonized-now-turned-colonizer
trying to rebalance the scales, for all the taking
you’ve done since you arrived a few decades ago.
She looks at you blankly. You realize she will do nothing.
Why would she after all these centuries
when history has served her so well?
You want to ask her how it feels to have a life built
on genocide not once, but many times over.
You want to ask her: From what weakness
do you draw your endless strength? Enough to topple nations
and me, your story always eclipsing mine.
4 You’ve lost your voice, somewhere between
the lounge and the lunchroom,
perhaps between the sofa cushions.
How do you squeeze it into this space
filled with big voices and big, luscious lives,
where every want is met head on?
You long to inhabit a body that knows how
to swagger, to proceed with surefootedness,
a body that exudes an I Belong Here presence.
You are ashamed to admit
that you long to be like them,
to be mowing the crisp green lawn
of pioneered land,
to be laughing, lakeside cabining,
normalizing and nuzzling
this coveted narrative of what it means to live
in the land of the true north strong and free.
5 Learn the language inside the language. They will say there is enough space, but you
know this is not true. They have the luxury of mental, emotional, and physical space to
write about golden tipped butterflies and the soft sway of spruce, while you write about
survival and scraps. Learn the language inside the language. Do not combine the
words white and fragility and privilege because it will cause them to change their
gait as if walking on eggshells sprinkled on an active tectonic plate. You want to warn
them not to confuse intelligence with education. While their ancestors were
manipulating systems to benefit themselves and future generations, yours were feeding a
village on rice dust. Learn the language inside the language inside the language.
— Moni Brar
was born in rural India and raised in northern BC on the land of the Tse’Khene. She is the winner of the 2022 Lieutenant Governor of Alberta Emerging Artist Award and a finalist for the Montreal International Poetry Prize. She believes art contains the possibility of healing.