Shane Rhodes' Dead White Men (Coach House Books) takes a frank, poetic look at the voices that have been included and excluded from history and from the narratives of exploration and so-called discovery.
Eduardo C. Corral called the collection "a provocative and galvanizing read [that] should be widely read and taught, and Jordan Abel praised the book as "a searing indictment of colonialism [and] also a painful reminder of the violence that underpins the logic of exploration."
Unflinching and tough, the collection is being heralded as a vital read, which is why we are pleased to present an excerpt here on Open Book.
Gold by Shane Rhodes from Dead White Men
For it is beaten and we are beaten for it:
crushed, mixed with mercury, stomped by foot.
Because of an uncharacterized glaciolacustrine unit
and an over-steepening of the downstream slope,
failure of the Mount Polley tailings pond
was attributed to the passive voice. The longhole up
plunge, down dip, and at depth. An unlikely event
officials repeated upstream from the town of Likely
and the T’exelc and Xatsull reserves. Rare.
He saw, then, some of the Indians wore gold rings
and choice blue stones in their nostrils and ears.
Auriferous. Lustful as any cyanide destruction circuit.
A nug, a lump, a rough unshapen mass. Like my father
before me, I too am a competent Nozzelman
needed for heavy lifting in the mucking cycle,
performing pre- and post-blast functions by hand
at, thank god, $23/h. Child to the sun.
After the Indians and mules were dead,
the English brought in slaves from Angola.
Rich as Potosi. The toxins were deadly
and certifiably organic. They held his feet
to flame until the marrow spurted and still,
for the life of him, he could not tell them
where they would find it.
For it finds its way to us and into us whether
through means magmatic, aeolian, or lithified.
The ore body attacked mercilessly
by percussive and rotary actions,
the hydraulic multi-boom jumbo hammering
the exposed rock face. One covered my eyes,
then they made me fall to the ground and tore off all my clothes.
Pulverized rock, cyanide, and water held in suspension
like doubt. Then they cut out her tongue. The loss
of containment was sudden: the quick-moving slurry
– trees, mud, debris, and waterborne arsenic –
raising the downstream lake. Fear retreated then
to the doré body and High Grade Zones.
Little thought to standard grind and carbon-in-pulp
extraction. Little care for how it glows golden
white on skin. One of the cleanest lakes in the world
now the country’s most urgent news release.
Six nines fine. Buried deep in Manhattan granite.
It fell with such weight to the bottom of Lake Texcoco
held in the arms of men.
For it is malleable and fit to any purpose.
‘Seekers of gold dig much, find little’ or so said
Heraclitus, gold digger, speaking to the media
at the wildcat mine as the army torched the town.
‘Dead metal,’ Paracelsus added, ‘vulgar,
without a soul.’ Convulsions. The tailings pond
‘near drinking-water quality’ though the Do Not Use
advisory is indefinite. Blood in the urine.
After removing his Rolex, the disgraced geologist
jumped from the Alouette and plunged
into the Busang. Cast in the highest-quality alloys,
pyrochemical molten salts, and riverine tailings.
First the ears, then the nose and lips – and still,
though dying to tell them, she did not
know where they could find it. Chiselled
from permafrost, Frobisher’s ‘Black Ore’
good for nothing but metalling roads in Dartford.
Confusion. It holds a bite’s indent
as cyanide leaches through the heap. Now
everything I touch, even the circuits
of this keyboard as I type: ‘First they rackt him,
fastened his Neck to a post, two men holding
his Hands as they poured the molten gold
down his open throat.’
For we are fuel for its beneficiation
or its overburden. At the edges you can see
how Rembrandt applied gold leaf then buried it
beneath coat after coat of oil paint
through which now shines a golden sheen.
The underhand cut and fill. Pounded for days
between animal skins, then brushed on wet gesso:
one metric ton of Mexican gold to gild
the Catedral de Santa Maria de la Sede.
Burnished with dog teeth.
After the second tower fell, his first thought
was not pity for those who had died,
fear it would happen again or anger
at those who had done it, but ‘buy gold.’
Tender. Barely legal. A safe haven
in this uncertain future. Hushing and booming,
they pried crowns from the dead for the Department
of Economy and Administration.
Brushed with gold dust, she raised her arms
high above the rising lake. Infinitely fungible.
The company remains committed
to rehabilitating the affected zones.
Since no human could need so much,
the Aztec assumed the horses ate it.
Visit the Coach House Books website for more information about Dead White Men by Shane Rhodes.
Shane Rhodes is the author of five books of poetry, and has won awards including an Alberta Book Award and the National Magazine Gold Award for Poetry. He lives in Ottawa, Ontario.