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Featured poet

Desiree Mckenzie

Desiree Mckenzie is an award-winning poet, arts educator, national poetry slam champion, voice actor, and photographer from Toronto. Her poetry and voice have been featured in works for CBC, When Sisters Speak, Clearco Financial, Button Poetry, Kids Help Phone, and Home Depot. She facilitates community poetry programming for organizations like JAYU, VIBE Arts, Unity Charity, Poetry in Voice, and Shakespeare in Action. In March 2021, she released her debut spoken word EP, Wet Hair, now available on streaming platforms. In December 2022, she opened for Rupi Kaur on her world tour stop at Massey Hall.

Desiree - Headshot 2 2022 - Desiree Mckenzie_edited.jpg

Featured poem

Bertie's Pepper Sauce

The islands.
It’s people,
So in touch with themselves,
Learning rhythm before they could walk,
tassa drums and steelpan before their own heartbeat.
Smiles before we could speak.


History tastes of calypso and chutney,
With a little bit of Scotch bonnet,


But my granny always lied about how much pepper she put in the Pelau.


I’ve wanted to believe that all this trauma can be boiled down to Caribbean time,
Always behind but always arrives with a smile.
Intergenerational cycles smuggling their way between the Trinidad cheese and Indian sweets in
Our parent’s suitcases when they immigrated here.


It’s so easy to believe that the things that hurt,
That happened,
Are more temporary because bruises can fade away,
Drunkenness goes away the next day,
The more broken we are as people,
The easier it is to sweep under the rug...
The same rugs we play on as children...


The same one our mothers fell to while being beaten by both husband and father,
The same one our fathers passed out drunk on.,


If these walls could talk,
The picture of my grandmother winning the Mastana Bahar in Trinidad holds a tune much
sadder than the one she sang that day...


It’s so easy to believe we’re OK when all of our friends say we’re the friendliest people they’ve
know.
When I promise you smiling is all they could do,


All we could hold on to,
When your culture direct deposits you pain,
A culture that clings to us like a curry stain,


Like the flag droops with all the tears we were never allowed to cry,


Our mothers,

Faster to say “I’s a Trini” before “I am a human”
Our fathers knowing “rum go kill meh whole family.”
And never fighting back.


These are the islands.
People so in touch with themselves.
They know rhythm before they could walk.
Hospitality like they’ve known you their whole life.


And pain,
like recipes, passed down.
Never written down.
Just felt.
Just known.
Our heads and hands heavy with pepper,
But we always deny how much is in the pot anyway.

More from Desiree

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