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At the Library:
Montreal, Quebec circa 1950

Beth Brown Preston  

At the Library: Montreal, Quebec circa 1950


Portrait of a Black man as scholar among ancient volumes:

Abandoned by his native country for Canada,

followed the North Star to the destination of his mind’s bright freedom.

His desire to write of the slaying of monsters:

“Then Beowulf spied, hanging on the wall,

a mighty sword, hammered by giants, strong and blessed

with a powerful magic, the finest of all weapons.

But so massive no ordinary man could heft

its carved and decorated length. He drew the sword

from its scabbard, broke the chain at its hilt.

Then savage with anger and desperate

lifted the sword high over his head

and struck Grendel dead with all the strength he had left…”


And the Black man wandered that library’s dusty corridors

in a sacred building nestled on Montreal’s steepest hills

gathering the endurance of mind to conquer his task:

to render the poem, so early it was sung only to kings,

a ballad, written by no one knows, yet passed on, in tradition,

glorifying the fierce and brave deeds of a warrior.


And the Black man himself became a warrior,

wielding the sword of language, fighting the good fight,

who basked in the light of a certain fame,

never worried about the consequences of his bravery,

save his own honor, of greater value than any poem.


The Black man rendered dreams a world without monsters.

Beth Brown Preston is a poet and novelist with two collections of poetry from the Broadside Lotus Press and two chapbooks of poetry. She is a graduate of Bryn Mawr College and the MFA Writing Program at Goddard College. She has been a CBS Fellow in Writing at the University of Pennsylvania and a Bread Loaf Scholar. She is at work on a debut novel, Circe's Daughters, and two new poetry collections, Oxygen I and Oxygen II. Her work has been previously published in the pages of The African American Review, The Black Scholar, Callaloo, Obsidian, Pennsylvania Review, Rain Taxi, Sinister Wisdom, Storm Cellar, That Literary Review, and other literary and scholarly journals.

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