Burning Sugar

Burning Sugar

by Cicely Belle Blain


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In this incendiary debut collection, activist and poet Cicely Belle Blain intimately revisits familiar spaces in geography, in the arts, and in personal history to expose the legacy of colonization and its impact on Black bodies. They use poetry to illuminate their activist work: exposing racism, especially anti-Blackness, and helping people see the connections between history and systemic oppression that show up in every human interaction, space, and community. Their poems demonstrate how the world is both beautiful and cruel, a truth that inspires overwhelming anger and awe -- all of which spills out onto the page to tell the story of a challenging, complex, nuanced, and joyful life.

In Burning Sugar, verse and epistolary, racism and resilience, pain and precarity are flawlessly sewn together by the mighty hands of a Black, queer femme.

This book is the second title to be published under the VS. Books imprint, a series curated and edited by writer-musician Vivek Shraya, featuring work by new and emerging Indigenous or Black writers, or writers of color.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781551528250
Publisher: Arsenal Pulp Press, Limited
Publication date: 09/29/2020
Pages: 112
Sales rank: 348,006
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.00(h) x (d)

About the Author

Cicely Belle Blain is the CEO of a social justice-informed diversity and inclusion consulting company with more than 100 clients worldwide. They are the founder of Black Lives Matter Vancouver and one of 150 Black women and non-binary people making change across Canada. Cicely Belle is an instructor in executive leadership at Simon Fraser University. Burning Sugar is their first book.

Read an Excerpt

Brandon, Manitoba

I found Black people between groves of wheat

drove hours along open road back to Winnipeg

heard whispers in the topography

Te-Nehisi said I could go anywhere

he told me in two hundred pages that Black folks could travel

said seeing the world is not a luxury

reserved for white men

we do travel though

some of us are still

on ships

Northern California

to be warm is to be held

soft hands touching under unblossomed orange trees in Northern California

sticky grass sweet air: tight and close but not choking

lurching on the precipice of discomfort

playing with fire

will we fall? will we burn?

will our hearts be ignited like kindling on winter evenings in childhoods far from here

we sing the diaspora song; an aching melody

on the white peaks of Atlantic waves

crashing crescendo

each note a drop of blood on the hands of white men

always washed away with the same salt that chokes us

grates away remnants of their crimes, so too does it erase us

black and brown and yellow and red

suddenly monochrome camouflage invisible

serpentine languages of our ancestors just daggers on our tongues

bullets in our souls

we are nothing more than shells trying to fill ourselves with meaning

tears, salty like the waters that brought us here

ships passing in the night we once were

now we are docked together, anchored to land that is not ours, nor theirs

wolves, bears, thunderbirds

stars are dying but we are reborn.

far from home, sticky grass, sweet air, tongues, tongues,

tongues of our ancestors reincarnated in us in ways we could never imagine, never deserve

but here we are, in Northern California blossoming like fruits

finding ourselves and loving and forging friendships and hurting together.

here we are

you may have broken us, severed us from old warmths

but here we rise eternally.


I keep coming back to you

I just don’t know what to say

never felt so much burning grief radiating joy explode upwards from sidewalks

a sign read “Cop Appreciation Day”

I felt all of us become smaller

I felt hearts bleed songs of yearning

like I was being buried alive

there aren’t words for a feeling of insignificance

we don’t matter here.

I crashed a funeral


I mourned a thousand deaths

I felt cotton beneath my bare toes

Homestead, Florida

Back waters

swamp, stink, stuck.

heartache buried alive

snake pattern claw tooth jugular

she told me what happened here

I started putting sugar in my tea

it’s a triangle that tastes like sweat

ocean waves that taste like piss

a Great Dane put his paws on my shoulders

I saw underground railroads in his eyes

mosquitos, fireflies, zaps.

this state is full of swimming pools,

littered with white towels

and acid

breeze, tsunami.

worlds end and begin here,

moonlight pledges to water at night

You are full of unrequited endings.

banana, mango, lychee

twelve years later.

Irma has been and gone

glorious groves lie broken in her wake

there’s tension between rednecks and Cubans

the air smells like gasoline and mangosteen

Hollywood, Florida

My grandmother tells stories of friendship;

1950s Spanish love affairs

red wine lips

calloused thumb hitchhiking

terracotta rooftops

books unfinished

post-war joy and heartache

African sunrise

freedom that tastes like lust

Jeopardy plays in front of TV dinners and whiskey on ice

aching limbs and tarpaulin skin

crook’d backs, rosacea, joints unhinged

Sixty years of chosen family rests between these aging bodies

the air is of salt and unending sunsets

I’m cross-legged on the couch

dreaming of gratitude and cross-Atlantic love 

Northfield, Minnesota

Black bodies against snow


Kente cloth wears thin over broken bones

snow, sun, dancing

vibrant diaspora calls me home

Africa lives between the snowflakes

icicles drip in tongues

We took a shuttle to Target

I’d never been there before or since

it was red and phallic in the icy wilderness

I shouldn’t have followed him

but femmes are made to believe that men will keep us warm

St Paul, Minnesota

I drink coffee.

it tastes bitter like gasoline on the Hudson River

I walk on glass bridges

my shoes vibrating with angst

I plan vigils in my mind

three years later, Philando Castille will die here

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