Writer in Residence

Insomniable Grief

By NShannacappo

Many moons have fallen this way since last did I stand here,

the stairwell yawning before me,

my naked feet cold and full of pain in the night surrounding me

and beneath me gaping back an ocean brackishly midnight

with reflective stars laughing at me from its unbroken face

and so I stood once more all over again upon these infinite stairs ascending

pallid moonlight silhouetting me on these empty stones


“I did not mean to die,” I said to she

Words unfelt in my heart fell from my lips and into her hands were caught

Held tightly,


as if flames of candles in the wind of time spent and gone this way

“I did not mean it...”


She said nothing to me this night

as in many nights since that last lingering here

my spirit guide stood there in the night's light

half-folded and silent as if she was not waiting anymore

as if she never had been before

her gaze never leaving the sight of me

with her empty eyes filled to the spilling of life lived and passed...


and there in the night abound I heard her cries in the howling of lament

beneath the moonlight across the ocean and I wept an echo of all the tears I have felled before

with the cries of my wolves lingering on into the foreverness

bleeding across the brown skin beneath these my eyes

scraping the stained skin to the bone with white streams never-ending

“I did not mean to die,”


I scream out and scream out again and again I scream

without a sound for I have nothing left in this side of me

echoed by the wolves white as death and black as life

howling under the moon

as they drown in the sorrows leaked from my soul


“I don't want to think about your right now, I don't

my grandmother who never knew me, I don't want to think about you right now

you're dead

In the morning that wakes for me, I don't

my brother who I never requited, I don't want to think about you right now

you're dead

In the day that stretches out for me, I don't

my sister who I never got to know, I don't want to think about you right now

you're dead

In the evening that claims me so tightly beneath the setting of the sun, I don't

my brother who flew through our lives, I don't want to think about you right now

you're dead

In the night that breathes and sings for me, I don't

my father who... my father, I don't want to think about you right now

you're dead


“I did not mean to die,

even though I didn't,

I nearly did,

left and didn't come back...

I did not see you in the darkness I fell into that night

when my heart they held together

pieced back together

I did not come to this stairway,

I didn't

I did not see you, my guide

I didn't

I did not hear you singing in the night, my wolves

I didn't

It was just darkness


and dark

and dark

and DARK!






I was bereft...






“I did not mean to almost die on you,” I hear myself whisper at night

in the waking of day, when breath falls lightly into wakefulness

and across the room I see you


when it is too dark to see anything at all

except this empty stairway that reaches nowhere at all


“What's wrong with you?” my spirit guide says to me

and her voice sounds like a child's looking into my soul

whenever I hear the words

“Hiya Baabaa...”





Author's Note

This one I wrote a few months after coming home from the hospital, I've left it pretty much the way it came out, maybe edited out some obviously big spelling errors, and thank you grammarly for that wee bit of help in the home stretch. Sometimes when you write something down you'll want to edit for content and make it as focused and powerful as you can. Really hone in on the message and then sometimes you'll want to look back on that moment in your life when you wrote it and remember with all clarity what it was that you felt. In those writings, I feel that every word and line, the way you chose to break them it all holds a key to who you were in those moments, they paint the picture of your emotions.

It's the raw you. Hang on to those moments, hang on to those scribblings, they'll always mean something to you. They'll always be a pure glimpse into your past self and how you became who you are now. 

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.

NShannacappo is a Nakawe graphic novelist and poet from Rolling River First Nation in Manitoba. He's Eagle clan and currently living, working and playing in Ottawa. You can find his stories in the Indigenous anthologies called Sovereign Traces - Not (Just) (An)other, Vol 1 and Sovereign Traces – Relational Constellation, Vol 2. The graphic novel Mashkawide'e (Has a strong heart) was published by Senator Kim Pate and copies can be found by contacting her office. Neal published his own creation, The Krillian Key in November 2020, and is working on If I Go Missing which is being published by James Lorimer & Company Ltd., and Niikaniganaw (All My Relations) commissioned by a group of healthcare researchers.