HOW TO MOURN YOUR DEAD

The Rhysling nominations deadline has been extended by a month, to March 15. I realised while checking which poems of mine are eligible that HOW TO MOURN YOUR DEAD is only available online in .pdf form, so I have reproduced it here for the sake of accessibility.

I wrote this after last year’s Disability Day of Mourning vigil, for which I will again be the Sydney site coordinator in 2018 (details forthcoming). It was published in Honi Soit in March and reprinted in AFTER SAGAMIHARA, a zine commemorating the first anniversary of the Sagamihara massacre.

My other Rhysling eligible poems are CRADLE THE SEED and WIND HOWLS/BATTLE COME DOWN, AFTER THE CLASH.

Content note: filicide, ableism, explicit violence.


 

HOW TO MOURN YOUR DEAD

 

how to mourn your dead:

gather the candles. find a flame to light them with. look deep inside your heart. fuel yourself with butane fear passion and pride. remember that you know how to burn. gather the candles.

gather the cripples. they will walk and wobble and wheel their way to you. do not worry if your halls are empty. they are full of ghosts. gather the cripples.

gather the names of the dead. the ghosts are with you but they do not know their own names. the ghosts are with you but they do not know where they are buried. the ghosts are with you but they have not been put to rest. james lloyd age 4 shot by his mother. jeni cazares age 3 months head smashed by her mother. janet cunningham age 43 hacked to death with a hatchet by her father. dorothy cunningham age 62 hacked to death with a hatchet by her husband. gather the names of the dead.

gather your breath. you will need it. there are so many names and so many deaths. fill your lungs with love and flame and fear and fury. fill your lungs with oxygen and poison and clear water and sunlight. remember that you have gone without breath before. speak the names and the deaths. hannah carroll age 6 burned with bleach by her brother. trevor horn age 8 life support disconnected by a hitman hired by his father. tracy latimer age 12 gassed by her father. michael messenger newborn died after his father shut off his ventilator. danielle tucker age 3 pushed down a flight of stairs by her adoptive mother. gather your breath.

gather your courage. you are not afraid of ghosts. you are not afraid of the dark. look to your candles. remember that your heart is burning low and hot. do not falter. speak the names and the deaths. pierre pasquiou age 10 pushed into the sea by his mother. daniel leubner age 13 burned alive by his mother. lillian lellani gill age 4 strangled by her adoptive mother. cassandra killpack forced to drink water by her parents until she died of water poisoning. terrance cottrell jr age 8 suffocated by church leaders attempting to exorcise his autism. summer phelps age 4 drowned in dirty water by her stepmother. james many white horses age 2 abused and neglected by his mother. alex spourdalakis age 14 poisoned and stabbed by his mother and godmother. elisa manrique-lutz age 11 poisoned by her father. martin manrique-lutz age 10 poisoned by his father. gather your courage.

gather the forgotten. look to their ghosts. promise them that they will be remembered. baby doe newborn denied medical treatment by his parents. baby mckay newborn head bashed against the delivery room floor by his father. female name unknown age 33 shot by her father. baby C age 5 months smothered by her father. B. L. age 13 months shaken to death by his father. unknown baby girl age 6 months drowned by her mother. infant girl newborn buried alive by her father. yu age 16 months poisoned with pesticides smothered and thrown off a bridge by his father. unknown male age 4 stuffed into a refrigerator by his parents and frozen to death. zhang (first name unknown) age 7 thrown from a 9th storey window by his mother. gather the forgotten.

gather your joy and your grace and your heaven and your forgiveness and your harmony. remember that you are surrounded by those you love and who love you. joy martin age 69 given a lethal dose of morphine by her daughter. grace carlson age 13 poisoned by her mother. heaven woods age 5 beaten to death by her mother and her mother’s boyfriend. forgiveness sibanda age 3 beaten by his father. harmony carsey age 2 neglected and abused by her mother. gather your joy grace heaven forgiveness harmony.

gather the candles. kill the flames. gather the cripples. kiss your lover and embrace your friends. gather the names of the dead. put them to rest. gather your breath. breathe deep and keep breathing. gather your courage. gather the forgotten. do not forget. gather your joy grace heaven forgiveness harmony. this is how you mourn your dead.

 

UNSPOKEN WORDS: a festival of writing

[image description: collaged text in pink orange & white on purple background, UNSPOKEN WORDS June 3-4 RED RATTLER: performances/workshops/panels/open mic reading space]

oh gosh there has been so much happening lately & i have so little time to think let alone to write anything about any of it. i am running desperately late on a numberof important projects (including salvaging my Honours degree – i have just yesterday managed to get access to Dragon dictation software which i am very much hoping will help with the writing of long essays with dislocated wrists part of that!!)

most recently neglected: my appearance in a series of panels & lectures on at UNSPOKEN WORDS, a festival of stories. the sunday evening session (including a poetry reading from myself) was Auslan interpreted by the excellent Auslan Stage Left. i am quite proud of the accessibility guide i helped develop which is available here.

the program is available here & lists the incredible lineup of artists and panels, including Hani Abdile, Evelyn Araluen, Maryam Azam, Stephany Basia, the Black and Deadly Women’s Poetry Circle, Emily Crocker, Winnie Dunn,  Stelly Gappasauress, Isaac Green, Dan Hogan and Stacey Teague of Subbed In, Lizzy Jarrett, Gabrielle Journey Jones, Holly Friedlander Liddicoat, Fayroze Lutta, Paige Phillips, Poesifika, Candy Royalle, Sea, Ella Skilbeck-Porter, Effy Marie Smith, Margarita Tenser, Thelma Thomas aka MC Trey, Bron Watkins, and Joseph Zane. the festival was MC’d and organised by Emma Rose Smith.

i ran 1 solo lecture, was on 2 joint panels, & read some of my poetry in the evening.

defining-ourselves-for-ourselves

[image description: white text on pink and blue background. PANEL – DEFINING OURSELVES FOR OURSELVES]

Defining Ourselves for Ourselves

Maryam Azam, Winnie Dunn, Robin M. Eames

11:15am – 12:15pm, main stage

Can we define ourselves by writing ourselves? We write ourselves, in whatever way possible for our individual needs, so as to create alternatives to single narratives. We need to see ourselves represented by people like us. Too many stories filter the whole world of experience through the gaze of abled cishet white people. This panel discusses the resistant power of telling our own stories, through the symbolic dialogue between living, visibility and text. We ask if and how we can write despite and beyond the dominating gaze of dual invisibility/hypervisibility that often occurs around politicised bodies.

CRIPPING THE LITERARY

[image description: white text on yellow and blue background. LECTURE – CRIPPING THE LITERARY: FINDING CRIP CULTURE]

Cripping the Literary: Finding Crip Culture, Learning Crip Language
Robin M. Eames

2:30 – 3:00pm, main stage

A fifth of Australians are disabled. So where the fuck are they? Are they at your poetry events? Are you reading their work? Are you listening to their communities? Are you fighting alongside them for their civil rights? If not, why? How do we change that? How can a gig, or space, or culture, be accessible (or not)? What are we overlooking? Why aren’t wheelchair users coming to our non-wheelchair-accessible events? How does disabled culture & community even manifest itself? For few answers & more questions, come to this lecture by Robin M. Eames, a disabled queertrans warrior poet who is only mostly dead.

queering-poetry

[image description: white text on pink and blue background. PANEL – QUEERING POETRY: WRITING OURSELVES INTO EXISTENCE]

Queering Poetry: Writing Ourselves Into Existence

Margarita Tenser, Isaac Green, Robin M. Eames

5:00 – 5:45pm, main stage

Three trans, queer, & disabled panellists speak about queering poetry, trans retrohistories, art & intersectional identity, living in ill-fitting worlds & bodies, finding ourselves in stories not made with us in mind, and writing ourselves back into the narratives.

unfinished-business-1

[image description: white text on pink and yellow background. PERFORMANCES – UNFINISHED BUSINESS]

UNFINISHED BUSINESS

Doors open (and dinner served) from 6:30, performances start 6:45. Main stage.

Hani Abdile, Winnie Dunn, Isaac Green, Robin M. Eames, Lorin Elizabeth, Dan Hogan, Elizabeth Jarrett, Gabrielle Journey Jones, Ella Skilbeck-Porter, Margarita Tenser, Auslan Stage Left

Come one and all to the biggest session of Unspoken Words! Hosted by the wonderful Lorin Elizabeth, this night will feature poetry readings by Winnie Dunn, Isaac Green, Robin M. Eames, Dan Hogan, Elizabeth Jarrett, Gabrielle Journey Jones, Ella Skilbeck-Porter and Margarita Tenser.

Hani Abdile will then present Absent Souls: A conversation with imprisoned souls. This new performance will be accompanied by a Q&A session and Hani’s performance of her own poetry.

This session will feature live Auslan interpretation thanks to Auslan Stage Left!

Dinner will be available thanks to Parliament on King, the social enterprise caterer. Beautiful food made with love. Proceeds from the catering are reinvested into hospitality training programs for locals with asylum seeker / refugee backgrounds at the King St café.

poster
[image description: event poster with a not-quite-complete list of artists, in the style of the featured image of this blog post, described above]

the festival was held at the Red Rattler Theatre, on the stolen lands of the Gadigal Wangal peoples of the Eora nation. sovereignty has never been ceded. always was, always will be Aboriginal land.

i really can’t emphasise enough how utterly awed, delighted, & proud i felt to be sharing a stage with such powerful & beautiful artists, & to have the chance to listen to their words. we did something really special last weekend & it gives me hope.

on disabled authenticity

today i had the unutterable pleasure of reading this article by Dan Monks, an Australian actor from the womb, who writes beautifully on the challenges of storytelling disability, & on the problem of authenticity, of choosing between the stories we want to tell and the stories that others want to hear. the following is a particularly excellent section from the piece in question:

But more than that, if when I first acquired my disability, I could’ve seen real, authentic representations of myself in the stories we as a culture tell, it would’ve changed the way I felt about my disability and the shame I experienced around it. When our bodies are seen and our voices are heard, we are telling the younger generation of disabled people that they are valid, valued members of our society, who deserve to been seen and heard in all their beauty and ugliness and humanity.

i think i have written here before that from age 5 i knew that i wanted to be a writer and nothing else. i used to staple weird little homemade books together & i wrote several 60-70000 word novel(la?)s over my HSC yr & gap year (one of which very nearly got published, & i will forever be terrifically grateful that it didnt, since i was going through a phase where i desperately wanted to be jeanette winterson but hadn’t quite figured out yet that the only person with the sheer guts & skill to be as fabulously infuriatingly vainglorious as jeanette winterson & get away with it is, in fact, jeanette winterson). i made money off my writing here & there and i got published in token lit mags here & there and then my disability (which truly onset in 2014 although in many ways has always been with me) started really degenerating & i just stopped. i used to fill shelves of notebooks of handwritten epics, but i just can’t write longhand like that anymore. even with wrist braces i can’t type for too long without dislocating my wrists & fingers. i cant focus on tasks or read long paragraphs (even if i wrote them! like this one!)

& fuck it all but i’ve started writing poetry? which is so utterly bizarre to me that i still can’t quite believe it. i have never been a poet. and yet recently i discovered my english workbook from age 7 and found the pages filled with poetry, and odd little sketches, and autistic earnestness, and alienly beautiful half-anecdotes. perhaps my poetry was always hiding inside me the same way my disability was. anyway it just makes sense to me now. i’ve lost a great deal of occipital lobe functionality but it’s like some pathways light up when others are obscured. fragmented things make sense to me. i’ve begun to really love polishing poems into something very honed & deliberate & that’s something that prose as a genre just doesn’t allow for in the same way.

it’s fucking hard & the world doesn’t make it easy but we find ways to get by. i’m so determined to fill the world with beautiful furious banal queercrip stories because i needed them so badly growing up and now. & whatever form those stories take, it doesn’t matter, we just need to put them out there. we have always been reaching out and storytelling and speaking. the world just needs to listen. we are here & we are alive & we exist in all our beautiful ugly unabashed authenticity, & we will be heard.

on storytelling

where do stories come from?

somewhere deep within? somewhere very distant? some rush of all external context & conversation & chance meeting & weather forecast? some communal well of pooled cultural knowledge and heritage and zeitgeist? some lucky collision of intent and happenstance?

who writes? who is heard? what stories do we tell? why do we tell them?

i don’t have the answers. i only have the questions. sometimes i think the point of a question is not to answer it, but to ask it, and keep asking. sometimes the point of a question is to remove the need for the question. or to provoke other, more important questions.

where do stories come from?

how do you explain the accelerating expansion of infinity? how do you explain dark matter? how do we explain absence when it can only be defined by presence? or presence by absence? how can we find words for everything and nothing? how can we make sense of the absurdity of the world, of marginalisation, of grief, of violence, of joy, of the bizarre intricacies of daily life, of the strangeness of existence at all?

where do stories come from?

when i write i pull something vulnerable out of myself and give it to the world. as writers we pull from ourselves and we pull from the world.

jeanette winterson phrased this beautifully in her novel Weight, a take on the myth of atlas and heracles:

autobiography is not important. authenticity is important. the writer must fire herself through the text, be the molten stuff that welds together disparate elements. i believe there is always exposure, vulnerability, in the writing process, which is not to say it is either confessional or memoir. simply, it is real… [consisting] of the inner life, of the sublime, of the poetic, of the non-material, of the contemplative.

…all we can do is keep telling the stories, hoping that someone will hear. hoping that in the noisy echoing nightmare of endlessly breaking news and celebrity gossip, other voices might be heard, speaking of the life of the mind and the soul’s journey.