On Being Destroyed from the Inside Out

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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.”

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August Reviews

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$).

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July Reviews

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).

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Strange Fruit

Take me back to Erwin, Tennessee
1916
The good old days
Hard-working folks
The salt of the earth
Husbands and wives and a whole lotta Jesus
Jesus

Two thousand five hundred
Men, women, and children
At her hanging
Like a day at the circus

The day before
The White man
Her master
Hit her behind the ear
Used a metal hook
Smashed her infected tooth
Because she stopped
Reached for
Food
A Watermelon rind

And so she killed him

The local blacksmith
Shot her five times
But she lived long enough
To be lynched the next day

The chain snapped
On the first attempt
And she broke her hip when she
Fell
Little White boys and
Little White girls
Screaming and
Running and
Laughing

The second time
The chain held
And she died
Buried
Beside the tracks
In the Clinchfield Railroad Yard
September 13th
It was a Wednesday

Strange fruit

June Reviews

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).

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Scarred and Full of Wonder

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.

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A Walk By the Lake

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”?

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After the Bombing/At the Zoo

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

A Mark, a Body, a Trace, a Grave

Testimony of Irene Favel, 75, attended the Muskowekwan Indian Residential School from 1941-1949[1]

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.”[2] 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.


[1] See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CReISnQDbBE

[2] See: https://www.economist.com/the-americas/2021/07/03/more-graves-are-found-at-canadian-schools-for-the-indigenous