Telling you about what I have experienced, the things I have witnessed, has no use. There is no point of application. Relating these things comes with no take away lesson. There is no message or meaning to them. There is no comfort for me in sharing them and no hope for you in bearing second-hand witness to them. They cannot be unseen, unread, unheard. All they can do, as Maria Stepanova observes (drawing on the work of Varlam Shalamov), is “destroy you from the inside out.”
Discussed in this post: 21 Books (Virtue Hoards; The Revenge of the Real; Undoing the Demos; Capital Rules; A World Without Police; How to Blow Up a Pipeline: Object-Choice; The Hero’s Way; Sync; On Time and Water; Cyclonopedia; The Society of Reluctant Dreamers; Belladonna; The Case Worker; The Death of Vivek Oji; A Touch of Jen; While the Earth Sleeps We Travel; Selected Poems of Langston Hughes; Romanian Poems; Austerity Measures; and Voodoo Hypothesis); 2 Movies (Pig; and The Green Knight); and 2 Documentaries (Framing Britney Spears; and McMillion$).
I am still a month behind with this. Nevertheless. Discussed in this post: 15 books (How to Change Your Mind; The New Way of the World; Never-Ending Nightmare; Family Values; On Violence and On Violence Against Women; Culture Warlords; Lectures on Russian Literature; Extinction; An Untouched House; Pastoralia; The Encyclopedia of the Dead; Dancing in Odessa; Letters in a Bruised Cosmos; Becoming Unbecoming; and They Called Us Enemy); 2 movies (Fugue; and Nosferatu the Vampyre); and 3 documentaries (Heimat is a Space in Time; Perfect Bid; and All Light, Everywhere).
Better late than never, right? Discussed in this post: 13 books (Mothers and Others; Neoliberal Legality; The Strange Non-Death of Neoliberalism; The Birth of Biopolitics; The Ku Klux Klan in Canada; Just Us; The Cunning of Recognition; White Magic; A History of My Brief Body; Embers; Parallel Stories; A Swim in the Pond in the Rain; and Before the Next Bomb Drops); 3 movies (Identifying Features; Riders of Justice; and Vitalina Varela); and 2 documentaries (Feels Good Man; and The Rise of Jordan Peterson).
We come into the world scarred and full of wonder. We bring with us the unhealed wounds, anxieties, and traumas of our ancestors. Already in the womb, our DNA is methylated by whatever discomfort, discord, or distress existed in the environment of and around our mothers. We are born afraid of things that we have not yet encountered because our ancestors were afraid of these things. We are born predisposed to certain kinds of illnesses and dis-ease. Our deaths are already recorded in the roots of our genealogies. So we come into the world scarred. Marked. De-formed. And yet. And yet we come so full of wonder. We don’t come seeking specific answers or solutions to specific questions or problems, we come with an open curiosity. We come to the world playfully. We come predisposed to awe and laughter. And love. We come into the world scarred but full of wonder and loving unconditionally. This is the stage of childhood. Especially early childhood. Although some children are given no opportunity at all to have a childhood.
I slapped the mosquito on my elbow and watched her die on the palm of my hand. Not knowing what to say, I recited a bastardized version of Raymond Carver’s “Late Fragment” to her:
Did you get what you wanted from this life, even so? To call yourself Beloved To feel yourself Beloved on this earth
Well, did you? I asked, as I flicked her dead body away. What does a mosquito want from life? Do other creatures go through life haunted by a desire to matter? To be loved? To be understood so well that their wrongs are not held against them? To experience the ineffable “something more”?
Before the bombs fell on Berlin In the course of 363 air raids The British dropping 45,517 tons of bombs The Americans dropping 23,000 tons of bombs While the Soviets Managed to drop 40,000 tons of bombs In a mere two weeks As they advanced on the city Before all of this 3,715 animals Lived At the zoo Afterwards 91 animals Were left
Eight out of nine Elephants Died The first elephant killed Was the first casualty Of the first bombing raid August 26, 1940 Six of fifty bombers crashed Two Berliners were lightly injured A woodshed in the suburbs destroyed And one dead elephant
The Allies improved Killed seven elephants in a single raid November, 1944 When 753 British aircraft Dropped 2,500 tons of bombs In twenty-two minutes And a human-induced firestorm Raged through the city Reminiscent of Operation Gomorrah (34,000-42,000 killed) Foreshadowing Operation Thunderclap (25,000 killed) And Operation Meeting House (90,000-100,000 killed)
Siam The ninth elephant Went mad With terror and grief And survived Until Like the rest of us He didn’t anymore
Testimony of Irene Favel, 75, attended the Muskowekwan Indian Residential School from 1941-1949
I had a very very rough life I was mistreated in every way There was a young girl She was seven year old She was pregnant And what they did She had her baby Yet they took the baby Wrapped it up in nice pink outfit Took it downstairs I was in the kitchen with the nuns Where [we’re?] cooking super They took the baby into the What do you call that Where they make a fire and all that To heat up the school [Another voice calls: Furnace room] They threw that little baby in there And burned it alive All you could hear was
*Short, sharp, truncated breath, somewhere between a hiccup and a cry that is instantly cut-off*
That was it You could smell the them You know The flesh cooking It’s a big mistake when people say we’re treated good No way There’s a lot of things that happened in those boarding schools
PostScript: After May 27, 2021, when an announcement was made that an unmarked mass grave of 215 Indigenous children was found at the Kamloops Indian Residential school, action was taken on decades-old survivor testimonies about unmarked graves at the Muskowekwan Indian Residential School. On June 1, 2021, it was reported that the bodies of 35 children were found in unmarked graves at the Muskowekwan Indian Residential School. We do not how many babies were thrown into the school furnace. According to the Eurocentric standards of proof deployed by Canadian historians, that kind of grave leaves no mark. Is an empty hole a grave? An empty room? An empty furnace? If there is no trace of the body, how can it be found? If it cannot be found, how can it be counted? If it cannot be counted, how can it count?
Irene Favel is the mark. Her people are the body. Her word is the trace. Canada is the grave. And in just one month, 1,148 dead Indigenous children have been found in unmarked graves at Indian Residential School locations across Canadian-occupied territories. According to The Economist, this confirms “what many indigenous [sic] groups have long suspected.” But this is not true. It confirms what many Indigenous groups have long known. And it also confirms what Indigenous groups have long reported to us, Canadians, occupiers, killers, who have always walked away with a smirk or perhaps even a tear, saying, with all of our Eurocentric certainty and relief:
“Maybe. But you can’t prove that.”
Irene Favel died on January 21, 2021, four months prior to the report about the mass grave at the Kamloops Indian Residential School. She was 8 years old when she arrived at the Muskowekwan Indian Residential School. She lived there until she was 16. But that doesn’t mean she ever left it. Or, rather, that it ever left her. Canada, after all, is simply the Indian Residential School system writ large. Irene was 87 years old when she died. Canada just turned 152.