SEPTEMBER 25 2020
A short history of the Irish garden: you and your family are in the ground together. I won’t go into details, but it’s boring and slow work transitioning from human to compost. Above you, the surface warms and cools, moistens and dries in intervals, and when the soil reaches about 15 degrees celsius the seeds near the surface germinate. A shitty form of metamorphosis.
After Cré na Cille or The Dirty Dust: the gossip in the mass famine grave was probably more exciting than the bullshit of the middle-class cemetary, but when it’s someone you love in there you try not to think about class. I always felt inherently anti-burial but now that I know that you are a pile of dust on your parent’s mantle I feel more at ease with decomposing regularly, myself. The unmarked grave of an unknown man might have been better. Unlike the vocal graveyard in Connemara, I feel as though my house is loudly inhabited by you in the form of various insects that make their way inside when it’s warm, and I let them stay for five to ten minutes before killing them and moving on. The feeling of fear is a pleasant flashback: I know PTSD is complex but never expected to enjoy it.
They say that daffodils are the heralds of spring but I prefer to wait for primula to arrive. A soft chatter, not a scream. On the banks of Chincoteague Island where feral horses have lived for 300 years, saltwater cowboys herd the animals across shallow waters to sell them off to fundraise for the fire department. I take a boat ride to see them up close in late August one year, forget to wear mosquito repellant, and am bitten over thirty times on my legs. I come back sunburnt and itchy. You go down on me while I watch TV and we talk about how noisy the cicadas outside are at length. Six months later on a beach you threaten to kill me.
The pleasure garden, the pleasure ground, ‘a continuous and pleasing variety’ an ‘agreeable geometric flower garden’, the garden within the garden, the garden within the graveyard, the graveyard within the garden, the fernery, the rockery, the rose garden with ablas, damasks, gallicas and centifolias in bloom for nobody while the aristocracy are away from their ‘country seats’, the perfect whole, the perfect hole, a paradise out of a common field, a field of ‘commoners’ somewhere on the way to paradise.
I’m sitting across from my friend in a cafe in East Belfast as they tell me about a video game they have been playing called Hellblade and how it reflects a portion of their experiences with psychosis back to them, in a positive light. The character in the game has voices in her head, the Furies; her mother did too but she didn’t struggle with them in the same way. Senua, the protagonist, carries her lover’s head under her arm as she heads into hell to find him. My friend’s dead mother comes to visit them in their house, a house that smells of house fire, a smell you never forget after your own house burns down. I think it’s mostly the smell of the burnt uPVC window frames. “YOU ARE SURROUNDED BY ALLIES THE MINUTE YOU DECIDE TO BE” - I heard this either on a podcast or a TV show, but I never really considered who these allies could be beyond the confines of this celestial sphere we share. I forgot the dead can do this work, too.
I read about Orpheus and Eurydice and romanticised it when I was in a bad non-relationship with someone who drank a lot. I was Orpheus, naturally. In the film ‘Portrait of a Lady on Fire’, the myth of Orpheus is used to recentre the female gaze, pointing to queer looks of longing as forbidden visions. Forbidden visions can ruin you but being a ruin has always been attractive, I guess. The Irish landscape is full of them: picturesque decaying objects, remnants of a landscape destroyed by colonisers, a style the English eventually lifted and brought into their own garden designs as brutish accessories, architectural taxidermy. Whether these can be considered monuments or anti-monuments, I’m not sure.
“I know the difference between what I can't do and what I refuse to do.” (1)
Like most femme tombs, the Burren and its complex ecosystem of karst hosts the most diverse orchid population on the island. You rarely hear of ‘stone femme’, the hardness of rock traditionally aligned to masculine of centre bodies, but its rejection of floral fertility speaks more to me, and the alignment of abundance with an area that resembles the moon feels almost too good to be true. Somerville and Ross, a pair of queer 19th century writers from West Cork, are buried side by side in Castletownsend’s Church of Ireland cemetary, one with a cross for a headstone and the other an organic rock formation. Saxifrage, a small alpine wildflower, translates as “stone-breaker” and they grow huddled between rocks and in shallow depressions. A particular species of saxifrage rapidly colonised bomb sites in England, earning itself the name London Pride. Narratives of recovery and post-trauma are always littered with pride, but still I prefer shame. It is unclear, historically, whether Somerville and Ross ever actually were a romantic couple, but those headstones are as legible as a longing look across a gay bar to me.
Traveling through the world trying to avoid being touched is not new.
Collective grief can be communally addressed if we approach healing through the lens of the decolonial and not the colonial. It is easier to say this out loud than to know what it actually means. I think a key difference is that healing won’t necessarily make you a better worker.
‘Chaos theory proposes that the same processes that produce chaos also produce structure. Non-linear mathematical systems that produce chaotic results by a process of continuous iteration also ‘settle out’ periodically and produce regular patterns. But likewise, systems that produce regular patterns also produce chaos, and this is especially visible in the process of evolution. Living organisms reproduce themselves with high degrees of accuracy, but they also produce errors or mutations. Mutations indicate a capacity for interaction with the environment that produces structural change.’ (2)
As always, I return to abstraction.
After I wasn’t dead: a paradise out of a common field, again.
Another quote from Leslie Steinberg in Stone Butch Blues: “I’m sorry it’s had to be this hard. But if I hadn’t walked this path, who would I be? At the moment I felt at the center of my life, the dream still braided like sweetgrass in my memory. I remembered Duffy’s challenge. Imagine a world worth living in, a world worth fighting for. I closed my eyes and allowed my hopes to soar. I heard the beatings of wings nearby. I opened my eyes. A young man on a nearby rooftop released his pigeons, like dreams, into the dawn.”
(1) Leslie Steinberg, Stone Butch Blues, 1993
(2) Shaun Bartone, “Strange Attractors: Queer, Chaos, and Evolution”, 2015