I go to the graveyard to think. And to speak. I watch the people in their boxes dead and waiting to die. I cannot remember which of my homes this is, which street, castle or group. I go because their deaths remind me of all the coffins I have lived in – ready me for the offering. This is my safety when I forget my mouth full of graves and the gravediggers in my spine tiptoeing across their hungry mouths.
The coffins are in, they are back from being lonely elsewhere and here, somebody will listen to them. They have all these bones to spend but nowhere are they so tender but here. The bone collectors come around with their metal detectors, they wait for these coffins to thrust their skeletons to the surface decorated with the medals of their previous deployments. As the exhumation continues, we hollow ourselves to prove that we are weak and thus pure. The collector will throw the bones down at the shrine, dissatisfied with their diagnosis she will move them until they fit. The bones are now blessed and ready to be spent.
I don’t always remember well enough what happened to steel my argument with assurance. The movement in my chest and the sinking of my stomach mean nothing if there is no body count. And yet they believe me – even as the fog clouds the edges of my vision. Even when I forget to remember, because my Blackness is all they need know. There is a story in this black, even though I do not know it yet. I do not know it but I am worthy of safety, for now – so long as they know that I too have pain, that I too am powerless. I have been trying to breathe through these movements in my chest; to speak but this safety is suffocating. The lifejacket is dragging me further out to sea, the water is blurring my vision and seizing my chest until all I had to say comes out in gasps of desperation. Again, I am helpless – now, I am worthy of audience. The ritual continues, until we all lay bound and ready for sacrifice. There is no sign of the Deity, so we lay there speaking but in silence – here, we are safe.
I cannot remember where or when I wrote this. And yet, as soon as I read it, I remembered how it felt to write. Like a hollowing of the self. Like looking out over the graveyard, fighting conflicting struggles for the privilege of trauma and humanity. Like sacrifice for the promise of visibility.
I spend a lot of time thinking about ghosts. The ones we revive to try to bury. I wonder how they feel and taste, how they think and act; and yet I know. I feel them kicking and screaming under the surface, knocking the wind out of us whenever we hang on the precipice of exorcism. I feel them isolating us as we build community. I feel them. They permeate every aspect of this ritual of politics in which I have immersed myself, or in which have been immersed. I spend more time contemplating my position. This space in which I scream at my comrades for visibility and yet feel consumed to nothingness by my sisters. And now these thoughts must spill on to pages, lest they join the spectres which haunt me.
“Genuine love is rarely an emotional space where needs are instantly gratified. To know love we have to invest time and commitment…‘dreaming that love will save us, solve all our problems or provide a steady state of bliss or security only keeps us stuck in wishful fantasy, undermining the real power of the love — which is to transform us.’ Many people want love to function like a drug, giving them an immediate and sustained high. They want to do nothing, just passively receive the good feeling.” bell hooks
I have come to rationalise the politics of safety as ritual. It has its own (flawed) logic but it produces, for that moment, something very real – something which brings us back to the shrine for worship. We, sick patients, come seeking healing and restoration. They, those who came before, pass down their own medicines. Soon we too become ailing doctors.
We define these spaces as safe to keep ourselves safe. We invest in the most mephistophelian of myths – that the danger is on the outside and that here, on the inside, we are out of harms way. [We know because we have seen. All those fiendish ghouls and trolls cast out, we must stay open so we can cast out the bad blood.] That so long as we are bleeding we are safe.
We see the balm and think it a cure – keep our wounds wet and anointed, festering and open. We use the balm to remind ourselves that we are in pain and thus pure. That we are in pain and thus can do no wrong. We rub our wounds in the open so everybody will know that we are in pain and that we too require protection.
I mistook your fingers in my wounds for safety. Where is the healing in that?
We do not cower, we brandish our weapons to show that we are not afraid. And yet, the practice of safety is all too often a practice of fear. We cannot speak for the ghouls and trolls wait on the sidelines to celebrate that we are weak but not safe. Through this repression, we find the ghouls in ourselves, ugly and violent. The whip grows fervent. We dispose of those whose wounds are not gaping enough. Cut deeper; bring your bones with you to the altar.
To keep ourselves safe, we must guard the gate. The effigies of violence make our bones ache, they must be cast out. We cast out the unintersectional. We cast out the unreconstructed. We cast out the appropriators. These things are bad because they make our bones ache. Our bones are always aching. They ache because our fears loom over us. We do not know why we fear but we do. The whip reminds us of what to fear.
The practice of safety is all too often the practice of violence. Here, at the intersection of blackness and womanhood, my wounds set an example and my wrath is fearsome. Before I speak, I must remind them that I too am a victim, I too am weak and thus pure. Some days they believe me. Somedays their bones ache louder than mine. Somedays I leave the bones I’m sure I have in my nightmares.
I gave you my bones to pick your teeth with. Where is the safety in that?
“For me, forgiveness and compassion are always linked: how do we hold people accountable for wrongdoing and yet at the same time remain in touch with their humanity enough to believe in their capacity to be transformed?” bell hooks
The movements in my chest happen as stasis. My chest is moving but I am not breathing; or growing. To succeed, the ritual must immortalise our trauma. We cannot interrogate it. We cannot touch it or taste it. If we do the mirage will fall and behind it the same violence we were always running from. And how sorry is this irony. That the ghouls have conjured our ghosts and yet we did not know it was they who uttered the incantation. That we had thought our own language appropriated when it is really their own sorcery. And what have we lost in this time, that we are more alone today than when we started building our communities in graveyards.
We say oppression when we mean trauma. We say trauma when we mean oppression. For our wounds to be radical, we must be alone in having them. We know real pain. We know what is authentic. It is real if you are oppressed. You are real if you are oppressed and yet you are not. We must remind the ghouls that they are too strong. They must know that they are strong and thus impure. We do it when we think we are talking to people who have ‘power’. We do it when we think we are defending the ‘powerless’. We do it to the very people who we claim to be ‘protecting’. We turn our backs on the red raised scars.
I can no longer see the ghosts in me, or the skeletons. I have spent all the spines in my tongue. The site of the wound is wet and anointed, open and festering, until it is too painful to speak. Again, we are atoms, as we always were. Again, we are speaking in silence. We have forgotten the spectres in the face of our wounds. The contradiction is dangerous but heady, a balm but no cure. The pretence of structural analysis supported by a convergence around the individual. The liberal masqueraded in the language of radicalism. The ghouls have colonised our silence. We are ripping ourselves open to speak. There will soon be no bones left to spend. And for what?
Why are we fighting a war that we think we will lose?
I have watched the bone collectors rob graves many times before. I have written this many times before. Always too bloody and mistaking the rattling bones for night terrors. I have written it now, and yet somehow still feel hollow.