they were written at KEYBOARDS!, a live-writing poetry event in Peterborough, Ontario
Noise noise noise noise noise.
A million million voices try to talk one on top of the other. It sounds like music. It sounds like the worst jazz you have ever heard.
The effect of all the voices is to make you feel screamed at, but no one is screaming. They are speaking with only a note of urgency. They are not shouting, but they know they should be heard. That you should hear them and that they must say their piece.
This is just when you first go through the gates. This is nothing yet.
The gates, by the way, are tall and iron and topped with diamond-shaped spikes. They are there for a very specific purpose: because the boys of the town will try to sneak in and put mirrors on the graves. The gates will not stop the boys from trying, but they will stop all but the most resourceful boys from getting into the graveyard. In the time before the gates, that everyone remembers but no one was alive for, there were shards of mirrors all over the graves like magpie confetti. No one remembers why, but the boys know that this is what they are supposed to do. The gates are especially needed at holidays.
After you have recovered from the shock of all the voices – because it will be a shock, even though I’ve told you about it now – you can start walking into the graveyard. If you step too close to someone’s grave, there will be a hush. This will be tempting. But you should be careful, because the longer you linger by any one grave, the harder it will be to go back into the fray. Once, a girl who was not prepared ran into the graveyard at night time. She was overwhelmed by the voices, and she sat down on a grave to rest in the peace. They found her the next morning, lying on the rectangle of grass as if it were a down mattress. They were never able to wake her. This is another of the stories – the ones that everyone will tell you.
If you listen carefully, you’ll start to pick individual voices from the noise. You should listen to them. It will be hard. It won’t be hard to catch the thread, to latch onto a voice and follow it. But it will be hard to stop yourself from shaking it off once you do catch it. They don’t scream, the voices, but they do not flinch from the truth.
These are the graves of the strangers. None of them exist anymore. If they do exist, in an outnumbered molecule of someone’s blood, someone is not telling. I doubt that anyone will ever tell.
You will make your recommendation to the town council by the third of November. We didn’t know these people. Their traditions were not ours, and they are gone now. The land could be put to good use.
word by Charlotte Joyce Kidd
“This story could be about anyone.
My own familial and ancestral background is Jewish, and it’s a group that has been dodging annihilation throughout history.
Religious, racial and ethnic persecution happens and has happened everywhere, and too often results in genocide.
I also wonder about the living’s obligation to the dead in regards to burial wishes and traditions, especially in cases where the desired ritual of the deceased seems obsolete or culturally irrelevant. I was a voracious reader of Egyptian mythology and history growing up, and I questioned the ethics of excavations and exhibitions as much as I revelled in seeing them. Although it was anthropologically exciting and potentially important to dig up a Pharaoh’s grave, what if he had been right to believe that he needed a pyramid of clay figurines to survive in the afterlife? Had we just destroyed his vision of paradise? We can dismiss the desires of the dead as quaint, erroneous, or even morally wrong, but we don’t get the opportunity to argue; we can only choose to refuse or honour them.
In this piece, I tried to create an image of a society that may no longer believe in traditional burial, that has no connection to the buried, that exists on land that has no meaning to them but is historically deeply significant, that perhaps is even responsible for the elimination of a certain group, and finds itself struggling with the presence of a vanished people.”
colour by Julien Coquentin
I try to hold her hand and find that her nails are dug into her palm, so deep into her palm that I think they must have sunken into it, that they’re gone.
I try to touch her hair and I can tell that she doesn’t feel it.
“What are you thinking about?” I ask.
“I’m not,” she says.
“Then where are you?”
“I’m getting wrinkles in my forehead.”
“I don’t think so.”
She brings her forehead down to my eye level and zooms it in.
“There’s nothing there.”
“I can feel them,” she whines, and she puts her fingertips to her forehead.
“I promise,” I say.
“I scrunch my forehead when I worry. And I worry all day.” She breaks down, starts to cry on the subway, and I don’t know what to do.
Late, sitting in bed, she says, “It takes me so long to do anything. It takes me hours to clean the kitchen. How long does it take you to clean the kitchen?”
“It’s okay,” I say.
“I don’t have ideas anymore. It’s just a jumble of letters in my head. They’re all shaken up in there. Like Boggle.”
I don’t know what to say. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay. It’s not your fault. I’m sorry.”
She takes my hand. She strokes my palm.
“How was your day?”
“It was good,” I tell her. “I got a lot done at work.” It sounds inane.
She snuggles in close to me. She puts her nose in the crook of my neck.
“If it snowed for a week right now, what would you do?”
I laugh. “What do you mean?”
“It snows for a week, right now. It snows so badly that we can’t leave the house. We can’t do anything. We’re stuck here. What do you do?”
I put my arm around her. “I stay here.”
“Noooo,” she says. “Come on. You have to do something.”
“I rip up the carpet on the living room floor. I shred it into fluff. I turn the fan on and blow it around the apartment. It’s like a snow globe inside, but it’s warm.”
She laughs. “I coat myself in egg whites and then dance around the living room until I am covered in fluff. I am the beige abominable snowman.”
“Me too. Then we lie down on the floor. And we make love, two yetis who only know the cave that is this living room.”
“Just our furry bodies against each others’.”
“Just a wall of snow.”
“No hours ticking. No family calling.”
I reach for her hand, and it’s curled again.
“Is everything okay?”
“It is, it is, I don’t know.”
I try to do it. I try to close my eyes and fill my mind with letters, with nothing that means anything, with just the wheel that turns and never stops. She’s crying again. I love her.
word by Charlotte Joyce Kidd
The repetitive letters and the feeling of people watching reminded me of the hyper-awareness, the externalization, that occurs in the throes of an anxiety attack. The thing about loving someone living with a mental illness is that there is nothing to do but encourage them to seek help and not stop loving them. Often, they know they are sick, but they don’t know how to fix it. Sometimes they want help and don’t know how to find it, or don’t have the resources to find it. I spent a lot of time on this piece, because the art resonated with the feeling of anxiety.
colour by Yukai Du
“The first rule,” Joanna says, “is make sure nobody’s watching.” She tells me that because she wants me to be ready for anything. “It’s pretty obvious.” She rolls her eyes.
Make sure nobody’s watching. I say it three times in my head. I know what obvious means.
Joanna is five years older than me. We have the same mother but we live in different houses. She has a boyfriend named Peace. He’s waiting in front of The Bay because he can’t smoke inside. We’re walking around the mall looking for a store that looks easy for my first time. The mall is shaped like an L, and we’ve already passed every store. Joanna is chewing gum and blows little bubbles, over and over.
“Can I have some?” I ask. “Gum?”
Joanna stops in front of a store called Girl Thang. She tilts her head, staring into the store, and blows another bubble. “This is good,” she says.
As we walk through the entrance she whispers, “Just be normal.”
Just be normal, just be normal, just be normal.
I follow Joanna over to a table covered in T-shirts. Just be normal, just be normal, just be normal. I try to lean on the T-shirt table in a normal way.
Joanna glares at me. “Pick something to try on,” she says, in her fakest friendly voice. I look for things that don’t have a plastic tag on them, just like Joanna told me. I find two blue T-shirts that remind me of water and the sky and a sweater with a panda bear on it. I walk back over to Joanna but she motions for me to follow her and goes into a changeroom. Make sure nobody’s watching, make sure nobody’s watching, make sure nobody’s watching. I look around. The only person in the store is a girl at the cash register. She’s biting her nails from the sides.
“This is good,” Joanna says in the change-room. “It’s expensive.” She shoves the panda bear sweater into my backpack.
“What now?” I ask.
“We have to buy something,” she says. “You always buy something.” Joanna chooses a cheap T-shirt she didn’t even try on.
We walk up to the counter and the girl smiles at me. “You didn’t like that bear sweater? It’s adorable.”
Joanna smiles. “She has bad taste,” she says. She takes her wallet out of her coat pocket and there’s a stick of Juicy Fruit in foil stuck to the outside.
We don’t want the receipt.
Joanna slips the gum between her lips and I make the foil into a swan and when you pull the tail the wings flap.
At night, I sleep with the panda bear sweater. I fall asleep.