Poetry Pause: Chantal Gibson – Cease n Desist

Poem author: Chantal Gibson Poem title: Cease n Desist: From the desk of Viola Desmond Poem: February 14, 2012 Dear Government of Canada, It has come to my attention that your organization has released a postage stamp bearing my likeness for the expressed purpose of recognizing Black History Month. This honour comes on the heels of the official apology and free pardon issued to me, posthumously, in 2010 by the Province of Nova Scotia. While I recognize the concentrated effort to make right the past and restore my good name, I question the methods you’ve employed to place me in this position of high regard. Please stop calling me the Canadian Rosa Parks. Can’t a good woman be Black here, without being draped in American context? Was Jim Crow at the New Glascow Roseland Theatre that night? Look. Look. Just look at it. Can you see Him sitting there, front and center, in those empty seats? Selling me that balcony ticket when I asked for the floor? Pointing me upstairs, then calling the cops when I said No? Dragging me by the arms til my skirt wrestled around my hips, til my shoe broke loose, dangling from my ankle? Can you see anyone offering to help me?—jailed and arrested, before de Havilland pulled the knife, and charged twenty dollars for a penny crime. Tell me, what is there to smile about? 61 cents, I see the price of erasure. Pardon me for being blunt, but what in Sam’s simulacra were you thinking? I went south for a reason, and not even Jim Crow could stop me from crossing that border. Pardon me for being tired of unravelling the myths from honorable intentions. Your good people have a history of doing very bad things to brown folks, so stop. Stop it. Don’t flatten me with your flattery. It’s not that I can’t appreciate the recognition—I just don’t want to. I can reconcile the smile for the cause, but let’s get real: I was not smiling that night. So, lookit. Let this be a lesson. If our neighbours to the south replace Andrew Jackson and put Harriet Tubman’s miserable mug on the twenty—you’d better put mine on the ten. End of Poem. Copyright © Chantal Gibson Chantal Gibson is a poet-artist-educator from Vancouver working in the overlap between literary and visual art. Her debut book of poetry, How She Read (Caitlin Press, 2019) made the CBC 2019 Best Books list. This genre-blurring collection blends art, literature, history and pop-culture, forging new spaces that challenge and celebrate representations of Black womanhood across the Canadian cultural imagination. Named one of CBC’s top 6 Black writers to watch in 2019, Gibson is an award-winning teacher in the School of Interactive Arts & Technology at Simon Fraser University.