Friday, February 24, 2012

the american civil war



i'll try to explain this, but i don't know if it will come out right. a long time ago, in the united states, they had themselves a civil war. a lot of people shot each other, burned down a lot of things, mostly people died from the sicknesses that accompany deprivation. which is what happens in war, apparently, all the good things that make life worth living kind of get destroyed.

the civil war was a kind of madness that overtakes people sometimes. there really isn't much to justify it, slavery wasn't abolished until about halfway through the war, and then only as a strategic decision. lincoln's desire throughout the war was to keep the "union" together. which is a nonsensical reason to kill hundreds of thousands of people. so in essence lincoln was as insane as the mad hatter. robert e lee, who ordered a suicidal charge at gettysburg, sat on his horse and met the troops returning, blooded and broken, repeating "i'm sorry, i'm sorry" - because he had ordered them into a futile attack. and for this he is seen as noble. but of course, he was doing that so that his bosses back in the south could keep whipping and raping and crushing the life out of black people. so robert e lee's notion of nobility is insane.


lee


despite the protests of southerners, the confederacy's desire for independence was insane too. they were in a huff because they thought lincoln might end slavery, so they decided to leave the union of the united states. that's a pretty terrible reason, however you look at it. they were willing to kill a bunch of people to defend their culture, which was a disgusting culture not worth saving. it was based on the notion that white people should dominate millions of black people. if the south were not part of the united states but existed in some asiatic country - say cambodia - it would be scorned as brutal and uncivilized tyranny.

there are many stories of individual heroism and villany. this is what made the mythology. the union soldier macpherson once rode accidentally into a battle only to run up against a wall of confederate soldiers. they ordered him to surrender. instead, he doffed his hat, turned around, and rode for his own line. the confederate soldiers shot him in the back. that was sad, but as a soldier, macpherson often told his men to ride into a hail of gunfire. and perhaps, had he lived, he would have gladly joined his buddy custer when he went to kill indians after the war. the men and women who acted in extraordinary fashion in a cause that should have sent most of them to an insane asylum do seem heroic and villanous, if only you forget they were killing each other to keep a country together whose main goal was to wipe out the natives who lived there and take their land, or keep a country apart so that they could keep torturing and crushing the life out of people who had another colour of skin.


custer


there is a new way of telling this story, that the civil war didn't need to be fought because they could have found another way to end slavery. this is the view of ron paul and other crackpots. this ignores of course, that the war was fought to preserve slavery, so that it couldn't be ended. and to this day the south is much like what nazi germany would have been like had they grown old. they lost their enthusiasm and so mellowed out like an abusive grandfather. blacks are still treated like dirt in the south, its just less hysterical now.

the north's victory over the south was hardly a noble one. within ten years the era of jim crow laws came into being, and the south remained very much a racist society for oh - a hundred years, and even now "southern culture" is still treated fondly and patronizingly, as if pompous elitism were somehow charming, and puffy white ignoramuses still lead them into brutal and idiotic political tragedies. the freeing of the slaves led to a society so resentful of black people that between the end of the war and about the mid-1960s they were lynching - that is, torturing and murdering black people - at about 2 or 3 a week at its height.

what all this shows is that despite all the mythology of a noble victory, the truth is the united states is a place caught between extremes of evil and good, and the compromise is ugly and unhappy. the civil war wasn't between two americas, it was between america and itself, and humanity an afterthought. and to this day that country still struggles to admit its own horrific soul. and every victory comes at a cost that defies its rationale.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

residential schools



amnesia is a self-inflicted wound. its the wound that follows the wound. in olden times, it was never the cut that killed you, it was the gangrene and the rot. black holes are implosions that suck in everything around it, so the physicists say, until even light can't escape. until you cannot see it anymore. we only know its there because its twisting everything around it, getting bigger and bigger.

a long time ago there was a big turtle. it lay in the middle of a big lake, happily gurgling the water and watching the world as slowly as it takes a cloud to drift from one side of the sky to the other. the turtle was so big and slow that grass and trees and even littler lakes grew on its happy back. every once in a while it took a walk around the lake and the animals used to roll on their backs laughing at the sight of those trees and bushes and little hills of mud rocking crazily back and forth as the turtle lurched on its lakey tour.

but mostly it just sits and breathes and watches the fishes go by.

and then one day the animals decided it was safe to sit on the turtle's back, and so they did and tested the ground. and then after a little while they began to make little dens and nests and caves. crows and foxes and owls and bears and deer and wolves and sparrows came. and they made children and soon enough the grandchildren of the animals thought the turtle's back as the best house in the world.

and one day, wouldn't you know it? the crows and the wolves and the deers and the bears gave birth to the little people, who danced and roamed around on the turtle's back and swam in his lakes all the while he gurgled happily in the great big lake he mostly half-slept in.

and the little people, swimming around, discovered the turtle's head one day, his eyes and his gurgling mouth and his fat nostrils. and they told their parents all about it, the land is alive! it's actually a big turtle! and everyone then was very careful how they treated the ground they walked on, so as not to disturb their benefactor.

and so things passed for a good long time.


but then one day big black boats appeared at the turtle's back. and other little people came onto the edge. some said they were from another turtle far away, others said they came from hell. wherever they came from, they appeared to be very lost, because they were looking for something they could never find. they were angry and scared. they kept thinking everything was going to bite them. and every time something didn't bite them, like a shrub or something, they laughed nervously and and kicked it and bit it and showed the others there was nothing to fear. and if something, say a mischievous wolf, bit one of them, they all gathered together and chased the bastard down as if it were the end of the world.

and they built towns and forts on the turtle's back and cut down many old trees to build the houses. and they didn't like the little people who lived there, and tried their best to make these people talk and act like them, so that they could trust them. but the little people didn't want to be like them and there were many problems.

and once the nervous people were strong enough and the little people weak enough, they began to steal their children and teach them how to be more like them. they stole as many as they could, and they stole many. they taught the children of the little people how to be like them, how to be not like their parents, and then they sent them home. it was a strange plan. but scared people do all sorts of strange things. for you see, they are so afraid of dying that they try to kill everything that will make them die until the world is full of death. and everyone has to put up with them and be changed forever by them.

and the children of the little people grew up lost like the nervous people. lost on their own turtle's back. and they were sad and broken, like the trees the nervous people chopped down. just like them. this went on for years, and all the while the nervous people built cities on the turtle's back and big towers of black smoke and green smoke, and they dug big holes in the turtle's back. and the children of the little people, running lost among the strange tangle of highrises and highways and open-pit mines, even though they were lost, so that they could barely remember the forests of the turtle's back, still groaned aloud when they saw the holes in the turtle's back.

and this is the story everyone tries to forget


Wednesday, February 01, 2012

the rocks


the waves keep coming up against me, the riddles, the edges. the great ocean lurching, all the giants, a scared child, a billion scared children heaving forward, rocking back, over generations and generations, waves and waves. the now just a stick in the water of the great amniotic blue. i breathe the air of it, smell the water of blood and dirt and generations of trees, the grandfathers of these cedars, and their grandfathers, all in this dirt, the ones that stood alone and while the anishnaabe woman walked between them, the irish farmer against them, the drunken bush boys that punched each others' faces in the holy eternity of cedars.

i see the movements of people and trees, seeking peace and finding war. i see me (as in - us), swarmed with imaginary myselves, what could have beens, what weres, what i thoughts i wasses. the warm or cold days. the kid in the toronto jail "well, at least i gave you something to talk about" trying to make me or us something worthy other than a spectacular sorrow, because violence is funny to those because its funny because its true. these ancient romans disguised as canadians, these natives disguised as ancient history, these histories informed they are not present and should go home, even though they eddy around their legs. even though they flood the future.

but i have faith in you, the same kind of faith i have that these sleeping throbbing cedars will breed new cedars next spring; some among the coast salish say there are tunnels running among the mountains and the rivers, that connect this place to that. they find dead bodies of failed travellers at their mouthes sometimes. i feel old, like a stone in some valley with moss and dead bugs all over it, ready to turn back into rivers of fire a billion years from now like i did a billion years ago. but when that comes i'll be different, i'll be also all these memories of when it was now and young and rare and the skies were tangled in the planet's hair.

i am a thing that is moved by all the animals inside me and all the ones outside me. but a billion year old stone is a god in the river. i was once an ocean of fire that made all of you, and will be that ocean again. all i have to do is be still while i am walked across, you and a thousand wolves, and i am so still that when you pass it takes a million years, and the silence in me is an ocean,