IF I HAVE A BODY, LET IT BE A BOOK OF SAD POEMS

i keep listening to a song by tom odell called “grow old with me.” i am hung up on the enormity of that kind of project, of asking someone to architect a livable world with you. what a blessing and a curse!

last night i hooked up with a man who insisted he was 42, but i suspect he was older given the soft and mournful and reckless ways he met my body with his. it was 9 pm and we were making small talk and he told me a story about how a relationship of his had started and ended at the same ski resort in france. he recently returned to that resort, and was caught unawares by a wave of memories about his ex-boyfriend. today, he lives alone in a houseboat, unwilling to disappear completely in another body. i wonder how he could have expected anything but the past that is never just the past [1] to haunt him. i wonder if that is why he wanted to sleep with me last night. i wonder if that is why i invited him over in the first place. i should have said: i don’t have it in me to transform you.

if i have a body, let it be a book of sad poems. i mean it. indigeneity troubles the idea of “having” a body, so if i am somehow, miraculously, bodied then my skin is a collage of meditations on love and ontology and shattered selves. ok yes, i have been reading a bit of psychoanalysis lately. forgive me. i am desperate. desperate to figure out how someone like me is still here. if i know anything, it is that “here” is a trick of the light, that it is a way of schematizing time and space that is not the only one available to some of us. maybe i am not here in the objectivist sense. maybe i am here in the way that a memory is here. now, ain’t that fucking sad and beautiful?

[1] This formulation comes from Christina Sharpe, In The Wake: On Blackness and Being (Durham: Duke University Press, 2016).

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GRIEF AFTER GRIEF AFTER GRIEF AFTER GRIEF

1. my body is a stray bullet. i was made from crossfire. love was her last resort. his tongue, a revolver. i come from four hundred no man’s lands.

2. ‘smell my armpit again / i miss it when you do that.’ [1]

3. his moaning is an honour song i want to world to.

4. ‘no’ is the only english word you can’t pronounce properly.

5. the condition of indigenous life is one of survivor’s guilt.

6. it is july 2016 and the creator opens up the sky to attend a #blacklivesmatter protest. there, she bumps into weesageechak and warns him that if policemen don’t stop killing black men she will flood america and it will become a lost country only grieving mothers will know how to find. this, she says, is how the world will end and be rebuilt this time.

7. haunting is a gender. gender is another word for horror story.

8. ‘i can hear him screaming for me, and i can hear him saying, ‘stop, honey help me.” [2]

9. i am still trying to figure out how to be in the world without wanting it. this, perhaps, is what it means to be native.

10.

lilting


NOTES

[1] from Lilting (2014, dir. Hong Khaou).

[2] see http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/rcmp-gleichen-christian-duck-chief-excessive-force-1.3521620.

 

 

 

THE CREE WORD FOR A BODY LIKE MINE IS WEESAGEECHAK

the cree word for a body like mine is weesageechak

the old ones know of this kind of shape-shifting:

sometimes i sweat and sweat until my bones puddle on the carpet in my living room and i am like the water that comes before new life

i was born during a falling leaves moon. which is to say: i have always been good at sacrifice

it is believed that women are most powerful during their moontime and because of this do not take part in ceremonies in order to let the body cleanse itself

there are weesageechak days when gender is a magic trick i forgot how to perform and my groin floods and floods trying to cleanse itself like the women and i too become toxic to men who have built cages out of broken boys

maybe if i surrendered myself to Grandmother Moon she would know what to do with these pickaxe wounds:

there is so much i need to tell her about how my rivers and lakes are crowded and narrowing. how i managed to piece together a sweat lodge out of mud and fish and bacteria

she gives me the cree name weesageechak and translates it to ‘sadness is a carcass his tears leave behind’

and the crows and flies who don’t care about gender will one day make away with my jet-black finger nails and scraggly armpit hairs and lay tobacco at my grave and tell their crow and fly kin that i was once a broad-shouldered trickster who long ago fell from the moon wearing make-up and skinny jeans

sacred

a native man looks me in the eyes as he refuses to hold my hand during a round dance. i pretend that his pupils are like bullets and i wonder what kind of pain he’s been through to not want me in this world with him anymore. and i wince a little because the earth hasn’t held all of me for quite some time now and i am lonely in a way that doesn’t hurt anymore.

you see, a round dance is a ceremony for both grief and love and each body joined by the flesh is encircled by the spirits of ancestors who’ve already left this world. i ask myself how many of them never knew what desire tasted like because they loved their kookums more than they loved themselves.

i dance with my arm hanging by my side like an appendage my body doesn’t want anymore. the gap between him and i keeps getting bigger so i fill it with the memories of native boys who couldn’t be warriors because their bodies were too fragile to carry all of that anger. the ones who loved in that reckless kind of way. you know, when you give up your body for him.

and i think about the time an elder told me to be a man and to decolonize in the same breath. there are days when i want to wear nail polish more than i want to protest. but then i remember that i wasn’t meant to live life here and i paint my nails because 1) it looks cute and 2) it is a protest. and even though i know i am too queer to be sacred anymore, i dance that broken circle dance because i am still waiting for hands who want to hold mine too.

– billy-ray belcourt

COLONIALISM: A LOVE STORY

By Billy-Ray Belcourt

1. Colonialism broke us, and we’re still trying to figure out how to love and be broken at the same time.

2. The first time he told me I was beautiful, I thought that he was lying. I thought that beauty was a plot in a story I had been written out of a long time ago.

3. What happens when “I love you, too” becomes a substitute for “I can’t,” when his hand finds your body and it feels like he’s taking pieces of it? Perhaps this is what they meant by ‘love requires sacrifice.’

4. He didn’t know a body was something you could lose in the first place, that sometimes bodies don’t always feel like bodies but like wounds.

5. Oftentimes I smell him days later, the residues of a body you could only talk about in metaphors, a body you still write thank you letters to because it helped you love yours, too.

6. He told me he’d take a needle and stitch our bodies together with the thickest thread, and then maybe we could finally begin to heal.

7. We don’t yet have a word to make sense of that initial sense of loss: of a body feeling like it doesn’t belong to you anymore. Sometimes the act of enduring itself becomes too much to bear and you forget how to go on in a world that didn’t want you in the first place. How do you mourn something you can still see in the mirror?

8. ‘Are you femme,’ he asked. ‘Because I’m not interested in that,’ he answered.

9. He lost his body back then, so he searched back alleys and bingo halls for it. But all he found were more Indians like him, ones whose scars told stories dreamt up in the darkest dormitories, stories about an elsewhere so otherworldly you could tell the difference between a wound and a body.

10. COLONIALISM. Definition: turning bodies into cages that no one has the keys for.

LOVE AND OTHER EXPERIMENTS

By Billy-Ray Belcourt

1. He told me he was into natives, but he couldn’t love the traumas hidden in my breathing.

2. How do you tell a ghost that it’s already dead, that its body is a fairy tale you stopped reading a long time ago?

3. What happens when wounds start to work like bandages?

4. One time I slept with a man who looked like he was dying. Each time his body found mine it felt like he was collecting fragments of it. It was as if I were an elixir, a potion that could extend his life if he just took me long enough.

5. Sometimes love feels like vanishing, like taking apart pieces of yourself and giving them to someone who can’t use them.

6. He was native, too, so I slept with him. I wanted to taste the same histories of violence that I couldn’t get rid of with mouthwash. I wanted to smell his ancestors in his armpits, the aroma of their decaying flesh, how they refuse to wilt into nothingness. I wanted to touch his brown skin, to make a kind of friction so complex other worlds would emerge in our colliding.

7. What happens when ‘decolonial love’ becomes a story you tell yourself after he falls asleep?

8. He was my own kind of drug: the more I used him, the better I felt; the worse I felt.

9. I tell him: you breathe us, we are in you, look at the blood on your hands.

10. Sometimes not loving is the most radical thing you can do.