By Kamara Dyer Simms
Artwork by Kamara Dyer Simms
Edited by Hannah McGurk
Dionne Brand’s At the Full and Change of the Moon was the focal novel for my undergraduate dissertation on Black futurity, nonlinear temporality, and imagination. While I’m not convinced that diversifying the curriculum within the current academy has enough bearing on any decolonial or anticolonial work that disrupts the academy, I still meditate with how I’ve been gifted by this novel and my accompanying piece of scholarship — how the philosophy ritualistically grounds me as a scholar and creative, how the prose holds me tenderly and with fullness, and how the metaphors guide me to dream futures for myself and my loved ones “with no hope of gratitude or remembrance” (Brand 21-22). Brand’s prose is poetry, and communing with her work continues to move me to imagine beyond what the carceral and linear structures of time dictate.
In this early early morning when morning wasn’t morning and nothing was anything yet; this morning when trees and grass and rock had not yet gathered themselves into their shapes, when life was not even life itself, when anyone could change into what they might be, this morning like any morning in the world for Marie Ursule was not a sign of anything certain. Hadn’t life ceased to be certain long ago, hasn’t every turning stood still, hadn’t every stillness turned to motion long long ago? And what was memory when she felt it loop and repeat, when what she was about to do she had imagined done already, like a memory.
— Dionne Brand, At the Full and Change of the Moon
At the Full and Change of the Moon focuses on several narratives within the same Caribbean (diasporic) familial lineage. Burgeoning from a mass suicide slave revolt in 1824 Trinidad, the novel is consumed with unearthing some remedy to the violence of chattel slavery and its afterlives. For Marie Ursule, the matriarch of the familial lineage integral to the novel, futurity is both her own death and the continuance of her lineage: “She was ruined already. She was tied to this morning” (Brand 6). For Bola, Marie Ursule’s daughter, futurity is orientating her politics around affect and her body, rejecting her past and focusing on being present: “Bola understood it more like lust, a taste in the mouth and a need that hollowed the face in craving” (Brand 47). For Young Bola, the great-great granddaughter of Bola, futurity is situated in the past, refusing to acknowledge the passage of time, and in her relationship to the ghosts of her deceased grandmother Dear Mama and her other ancestors: “I did not understand and only knew from memory but not from any life” (Brand 279). For these characters, enacting their futures involves some reconciliation with the past and present; their futurity is continuous.
In the novel, Marie Ursule orchestrates her own death as a form of envisioning and embodying her own futurity and freedom. The morning of the mass suicide slave revolt led by Marie Ursule and the Sans Peur is described as both sorrowful and tender in Brand’s prose: “She had gathered the poisons the way anyone else might gather flowers, the way one gathers scents or small wishes and fondnesses” (Brand 1). Death is conveyed as a transcendence — it is communal, peaceful, and looked upon with gratitude: “Woorara they called it [the poison that leads to their collective deaths], their secret to rigour and breathlessness” (Brand 2). Through her death, Marie Ursule wills a future for her daughter Bola, who becomes the blueprint for her futurity: “This child who was her vanity was now her leavings” (Brand 8). Marie Ursule’s freedom from body and living translates to the absence of her corporeality; this refusal acting as a negation to her materiality and value as property under chattel slavery, and as the affirmation of her spiritual presence in her familial lineage in generations to follow.
In another century without knowing of her, because centuries are forgetful places, Marie Ursule’s great-great-grandchildren would face the world too. But even that forgetfulness Marie Ursule had accounted for. Forgetfulness is true speech if anyone listens. This is the plain arrangement of the world, they would think, even if they knew different, even if they could have remembered Marie Ursule. They would say: This is the plain arrangement of the world, this I have suffered, this I have eaten, this I have loved. When she woke up that vermillion morning,… she had taken account of forgetfulness and remembrances.
— Dionne Brand, At the Full and Change of the Moon
By focusing on the sentience of dreams in the novel, Brand makes a direct comparison between the act of dreaming and the process of remembering: “what Hirsch and Spitzer call “points of memory” or “points of intersection between past and present, memory and post-memory, personal memory and cultural recall” (Richardson 3). The search for the maroon settlement of Terre Bouillante, as first explored by the character Kamena, is made up of “sightings buried in a terrible poetry” (Brand 54), measured through the sounds, textures, and colours of the natural world. In Kamena’s connectedness to the land, he is disconnected from the passage of time: “You must be famished and it must be after the rains come and count out twenty or so macaques, five parrot heartbeats, the green ones, and sixty-five feathers, that is how long it takes” (Brand 59). Through Kamena’s cryptic escape mappings, Brand shows that the imagination and the real must be interchangeable for marronage and Black futurity to be possible.
Dionne Brand’s At the Full and Change of the Moon is both tragic and beautiful; a meditative map of continuance and healing. In Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route, Saidiya Hartman argues that in order to consider futurities, the archive must contemplate the confrontation with death experienced by the Black subject: “[t]o read the archive is to enter a mortuary; it permits one final viewing and allows for a last glimpse of persons about to disappear into the slave hold” (Hartman 17). Brand’s poetic critique on the documented archive and memory argues that death is not simply disappearance or finality, as long as stories are sustained through the rememory* of Marie Ursule’s descendants. Black futures find home in our communal imaginations.
*A term coined by Toni Morrison in her novel Beloved, defined as the act of remembering a memory and the continued presence of what has disappeared or been forgotten. “I was talking about time. It’s so hard for me to believe in it. Some things go. Pass on. Some things just stay. I used to think it was my rememory. You know. Some things you forget. Other things you never do. But it’s not. Places, places are still there. If a house burns down, it’s gone, but the place—the picture of it—stays, and not just in my rememory, but out there, in the world. What I remember is a picture floating around out there outside my head. I mean, even if I don’t think it, even if I die, the picture of what I did, or knew, or saw is still out there. Right in the place where it happened” from Beloved (2007) by Toni Morrison.
Brand, Dionne. At the Full and Change of the Moon. Grove Press, 1999.
Hartman, Saidiya. Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008.
Morrison, Toni. Beloved. Vintage, 2007.
Richardson, Matt. The Queer Limit of Black Memory: Black Lesbian Literature and Irresolution. Ohio State University Press, 2013.
Nourished by metaphor and sound, kamara dyer simms (she/they) is a facilitator-producer meditating with Caribbean poetics, sound alchemy, and Black lesbian feminism to theorise about marronage and nonlinear time. Twitter and Instagram @dreamsofaugury