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Debbie Amirault Camelin

Debbie Camelin

Debbie Amirault Camelin lives in Ottawa, Ontario, with her husband and three children. She is an eight generation Acadian with roots in Nova Scotia, Canada. Her poem "Intimidation" was inspired by a real-life event on a journey through South Africa in 2001.

Djembe Drum Beat

He placed his brown hand over mine
stopped my rhythm-less banging
and pulled the drum away
to cradle in his legs
and caress the taut skin
of the carved conical drum
comforting it against my assault.

I folded my hands in my lap
the proper lady thing to do
when defeat feels imminent.
I offered, "There is a rhythm in me
but it’s buried deep."
"Very deep", he assured me.

We continued the lesson
left hand gradually grasping the beat
right hand perfectly tone-deaf.


Intimidation by definition
can only mean     separation
pits one against the other
encourages retribution
     Mama Africa     she lived the struggle
evaded shadow men     witnessed Apartheid crumble

They confront the white policemen
demand to know why the boy
is being detained     his arm wrenched
behind his back an angled decoy
He is not from here
smirks the cop
though his hand loosens its grip
there’s no intention to stop
dark ladies step forward with looks of indignation
     Mama Africa     heard Freedom’s song
to reconstruct the System     reconcile the wrong

They contradict     the boy
lives down the street     ignore
inference he’s not South Africa
born     their eyes underscore
resolve to cease this interrogation
Stoic     they stand near the squad car
witness fear drain from the boy’s face
he cautiously grasps who the victors are
in this awkward altercation
     Mama Africa     weeps for her children
a vanquished generation     lonely African orphan

The police concede     release the boy
who upright stands a head taller
than the others     rubs his reddened wrist
flexes assaulted arm    adjusts his collar
distancing himself from this humiliation
As the cruiser pulls away     he
bows his head in humble respect
Ngiyabonga    thank you    voice of refugee
in his eyes deep satisfaction
     Mama Africa     allied to the land
marches forever forward     steadfast her stand

"Intimidation" was the winning poem in the 2006 Tom Howard Poetry Contest.

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