by Faith Arkorful
Faith Arkorful has had her work published by Hobart, Canthius, The Puritan, and the Hart House Review, among other places. Her poem "Vacation" was recently selected by Hoa Nguyen for inclusion in the Best Canadian Poetry in English 2018 anthology. She was born in Toronto, where she still resides.
The night I get a call that my cousin has been murdered
my mother and I are in the garden. My mother will try to blame his
death on our family's warm-bloodedness, on her own father's
perennial habit of disappearing and reappearing. She will
blame this all on my grandfather's voice, sticky and stupefying
like slow-wining on a hot evening with your favourite person.
The found objects of familial relations are not discoveries,
and more akin to unwanted gifts. As a child, my mother went
looking for her father and found shade under the leaves of
a fig tree. She found, amongst other things, a garden.
Cousin found a gun. I find, in the hollow of a lily, an
echo that sounds like: your cousin might have deserved to die.
I don't know where to put the memory of a person who
is wicked just as much as they are my kin. I have so
many relatives wreaking havoc in the shadows. This cousin's
memory, like the flowers my mother clips from this garden,
is freshly cut and heavily watered. But right now, if only
for the evening when all the flowers bloom, you can exist
beyond the life you lived and the life you took.
His heart was buried in a terracotta pot, even though his
marrow soaked right through. This family has never been
good at cheap disguises. And I could be a killer too,
with the way I've taught myself to reanimate the dead with
new voices and nicer past lives.
Sometimes I touch my mouth and taste blood.
After they have put my cousin back in the ground, we go into
the garden and find that a beast has eaten all the good plants.
My mother runs the cutlass through the earth, looking for
something to salvage.
In the mess, cousin, I see the ecology
of your body - limbs like tangerine flesh, bone like the
rind of an unripe lime. We are the children of a farmer.
When they found you, this the way you would have wanted
your body to have been. The way my body might have been,
had my mother not found salvation in the earth on her
quest for the unreachable.
The jaws of a molosser carry the myth
of permanence. For eleven years I stuck
my hand in the dog’s mouth waiting for
the rumour to exist in real time. When a
child asks for a dog they are asking for
an encyclopedia on love. And I loved him.
Gave him a birthday so the world would be
forced to keep notes on the bewilderment
of his life. My mother was always suspicious.
When dad came home with the dog she looked
into his giant glassy eyes and was convinced he was
some angry dead relative that had crossed the water
to torment her by chewing up her shoes.
In Bylands, she went barefoot par Sundays, god’s day.
I could only forgive her forty years later, when her
head was heavy with wine and she had only enough
words to only acknowledge his wobble or the way
the hair on his neck stood permanently pointed.
The vet takes his body somewhere and my love grows only
in his absence. I learn resentment and forgiveness.
I find out the ways in which bereavement busies the body.
Brings about the most bizarre of hallucinations.
Did you know a ghost dog never stops
barking, even when you command
it otherwise? When I learn this, I learn
the secret to forgive her. All dogs
have to die, she says.
I repeat this in my head even though
it is the kind of thing you only realize when
spoken from a mouth not your own.
I repeat this and remember that where
my mother is from, dogs come and go like
sunshowers. Like witches falling in love with one
another, this dog’s life is full of an
untouchable magic and incredible viciousness.
I can forgive her and live freely in the truth that
when the house is silent I hear the dog
growling. Hear his nails dragging across the floor at night.
If the sounds of a haunted house eventually fade,
I know my adoration never will