“XIX — the story of death by O” by Whitney French

water is the keeper 

holding memory within its waves; 

the washing of death.
 

scarred skulls splash against 

the shore, liquids drying from 

a crisping corpse, 

shapes your mind to die.
 

ocean asks to save this,  

to solidify this transition 

to the next world 

in a wave; 

the water crushes the building 

of a life, making the cycle  

true in the eyes 

of the universal, 

making the gates from one ancestor 

to the next 

open. 

 

an open sore on the ocean’s  

lip, a canker crusted 

by the crescent cove, 

a cave where 

these finite bodies 

return to the sea. 

 

we leave it to others 

to grieve, 

we believe forgetting 

is the greatest disservice 

to the dead, but what 

if wrongly remembering 

is the thing that truly makes 

bodies roll in their grave? 

slave narratives twisted 

to fit a story to free those 

without chains. 

 

trick the future 

by juggling histories. 

alternate truths 

dividing light with the space 

that legacy creates, 

that a dead (wo)man’s silence 

placates.  

 

the moon 

was once a sacred place 

a retreat from the  

sludge of the Earth 

from the misfortune of  

being a human, 

although never intended 

to entertain visitors 

the lunar lady 

welcomed us anyway, 

not knowing we were 

the wretched of the earth 

that we naturally destroy 

and drain the dignity 

out of all we touch. 

 

but before we 

basterdized the moon 

before storytelling 

was sacrilege, 

we held on tight to the  

sombering, soothing story 

of death. 

 

almost safe in its inevitability 

almost scary in its ability 

to make any asshole 

a saint once (s)he’s 

stopped breathing. 

 

memory holds even the dead 

accountable. 

memory flows like a river 

caught up in its own 

rush, but forgetting 

the dead may be the only way 

we can reset humanity.

 

Copyright © Whitney French. Originally appeared in Canthius, Issue 02, Spring-Summer 2016.

 

 

Whitney French is a storyteller and a multi-disciplinary artist. She is the editor of Black Writers Matter, a creative non-fiction anthology published through the University of Regina Press. Her writing has been published in Geist Magazine, Quill & Quire and anthologized in Black Notes: Young Black Voices and The Great Black North: Contemporary African Canadian Poetry. She lives in Toronto. 

 

 

Canthius celebrates poetry and prose by women, trans, nonbinary, Two-Spirited, and genderqueer/gender non-conforming writers. The magazine is published bi-annually on the unceded territory of the Anishinaabeg and the traditional territory of the Ojibway and the Mississaugas of the New Credit. Recognizing the historical underrepresentation of certain groups in the Canadian literary arts, Canthius is committed to publishing diverse perspectives and promoting equity in the literary arts.