TO BE AT THE MERCY OF THE SKY
by Billy-Ray Belcourt
in front of me, 1947; a fractured door; rotted wooden beams. behind me, an old forest of gone peoples. these are what’s left of an indian residential school in joussard, alberta. what remains exceeds the infrastructural remains. we are caught up in the afterlife of captivity. cages were made out of bodies, and then bodies out of anything that was left behind. this is the world we have inherited. it is infused with the violence of being left to float in the air like an unanswered question.
it is an afternoon in june when i return to this primal scene, this open wound. the air clots, as if to make a fool out of my lungs, as if to remind me that having a body were a sick joke i was never in on. air enters, and out comes smoke.
there is something unsayable about this type of return. it makes words crumble in my mouth. they taste like dust this time. it feels ndn to be pulled anew into a scene of injury like this one.
it is summer, so rich white people are camped on the shores of lesser slave lake, just a few feet away from this prison house. they think nothing of it. not thinking is a way to think the world. they bathe in the aroma of violence, but unlike me their sense of self stays intact. a self that’s been dragged through the dirt of bad social structures cannot bear this kind of looking.
one day, the government of alberta might make this place into an historic site. i can see it now: a spectacle during which white politicians crawl out of the bloody maw of the past, smiling with the carcasses of words like history and forgiveness hanging from their lips. they mistake the red on their skin for sunlight.
to be ndn is to know that a spectacle isn’t always an event.
online dating bio: i want to refuse the non- event of the present with you. my hobbies include: not dying, apologizing to the future, and slow dancing to the tune of bryan adams’ “heaven” with white men who won’t find it in themselves to love me.
i am fixed by the darkness that emanates from the doorway. it is a thick nothingness at which i feel compelled to stare. nothingness is a thing. a lot of indians live there. i don’t blame them; who needs a map when the world is labyrinthine? who needs geography when there are doorways everywhere?
does the sky look like it could fall apart at any given moment, or is that just me?
here, i have no words for things like priest or prayer. the dead come back from the dead for at least the possibility of revenge. revenge is something more satisfying than justice.
did you know: a group of indians is called a murder?
a white boyfriend of mine wanted me to be less beholden to the clouds. i told him that we are all at the mercy of the sky, for better or for worse. part of me still thinks that he didn’t deserve to know about this mode of attention, about this art of description. but i can’t keep secrets: i am addicted to the high of letting my own words betray me.
there is no shelter under skies like these. when i was a little boy, my mooshum told me a story about the day the sky fell down. the sky is still falling, but only indians can tell the difference. i look up, and down comes an endless parade of half-smiling children.