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Read an Excerpt from Shane Rhodes' Dead White Men

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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.

Related reading

Dead White Men

A vital collection that interrogates the stories of the dead white men that litter our histories and landscapes.

Juxtaposing the seemingly benign names of Europeans that permeate our geographies with the details of their so-called discoveries and conquests, Dead White Men turns ideas of exploration, discovery, finding and keeping back upon themselves. Engaging with exploration and scientific texts from the fifteenth to the nineteenth centuries – texts wrapped up in the history and ongoing present of colonization – this collection builds a fascinating poetry of memory out of histories that are largely forgotten.