Salmon Courage

slmocovSalmon Courage is NourbeSe Philip’s second book of poetry published in 1983 by Williams Wallace Inc. Stratford. It is now out of print but photocopies my be obtained from the author. Eight of the poems have been published in the anthology “Grammar of Dissent“*.


The Grammar of Love
The Gift Horse
Good News
The Hold Up
Sprung Rhythm*
A Habit of Angels*
Salmon Courage*
Black Fruit (II)
St. Clair Ave. West
Flemingdon Park
July Again*
Real Men
The Jelly Bean Oracle
What’s in a Name?*
Between Friends
Angola 1981
You Can’t Push Now*
Planned Obsolescence*




If no one listens and cries
is it still poetry
if no one sings the note between the silences
if the voice doesn’t founder on the edge of the air
is it still music
if there is no one to hear
is it love
or does the sea always roar
in the shell at the ear?

Online publication


St. Clair Avenue West

The bolt of fabric lay between us
covered in dust,
‘Burnt Sienna’, the price tag read,
seven dollars per yard
(he hadn’t gone metric yet).
“I want enough to cover one chair –
this chair here”.

The grimy light shafted us
spotlit dust
danced in particles.
He held up the shears
began to cut –
I stared
(believed for the first though I knew all along),
the blue veins,
the numbered wrist.

“It’s a nice chair . . .
Yes, I could do a good job for you.
And how soon would you want it?”
Careful you measured the chair,
“In two weeks time”
I looked behind, a latter day Janus,
saw them put down the whips, take up the guns.
“You can have it before”.
I looked ahead,
they turned off the ovens, and set up the homelands.
“And how much would it cost?”
I was thinking to trade
one Roots for a Holocaust.

He measured the cloth
sending up clouds of dust,
“That’s enough now
– three yards.”
I had given ‘It’ a name –
silent you shook your head, mouthed,
while they called it Ratings;

“Fifty dollars should do it all.”

Infinitives of silence held us apart:
to have
to understand
me, you, or the mathematics of it all
(you hadn’t gone metric yet anyway).
New math they called it,
and we were the B.C.D.’s – Basic Common Denominators –
silence divided by time,
one oppression by two realities;
the only remainder, one scrawny wrist
tattooed blue with numbers,
and branded memories that balk at talk.

excerpt from “St Clair Avenue West”)
©Marlene Philip 1983

Salmon Courage

But I will be salmon.
Wasn’t it for this he made the journey
downstream, my salmon father?
Why then do I insist on swimming
against the tide, upstream,
leaping, jumping, flying, floating,
hurling myself at, under, over,
around all obstacles, backwards
in time to the spawning
grounds of knotted dreams?
My scales shed, I am Admiral red,
but he, my salmon father, will not
accept that I too am salmon,
whose fate it is to swim against the tide,
whose loadstar is to be salmon.

(excerpt from “Salmon Courage”)
©Marlene Philip 1983


This book is currently out of print but available in photocopy from the author. Eight of the poems have been published in the anthology Grammar of Dissent*.

Poetry on the TTC (Toronto Transit) 2006