You ask yourself if you could ever live opposite a graveyard or cemetery. And that’s what you’re doing.
You walk out the back door, squeeze past the pristine car that’s too large for the backyard, turn right alongside the house and you’re facing the always six lanes of traffic, three by three. The heavy automobile flow is a psychic safety curtain that hangs between you and them, as a lone pedestrian dealing with the issues of getting across the street, simple as that. You can do this.
On the other side is the square cemetery. Paths go around the perimeter and through the middle creating shortcuts to the City Park and downtown. What initially felt like a taboo has become your familiar route. The cemetery is alive and dead, critiqued in one of its online reviews as “in deplorable condition…is this how the city treats our beloved?” Slabs of stone are engraved with names of the long or shorter dead of Halifax, buried here in the Christian tradition of digging a hole large enough for a coffin, itself large enough for the corpse and sealed up in the soil out of sight, with a few grams scattered by the mourners before the workers move in to finish the job, make it tidy. Up goes the hopeful soul or has that already happened because the death moment is long past. She was unconscious in intensive care for five days and the nurses suspected her time was up. He would have preferred a cremation but forgot to make a note of it.
The grass is mown each week by a former unemployed man in heavy jeans, grasping the stand-on hover mower as it zips around up and down, passing between and over graves, with him on it. He drives it with determination and agility, reversing to back up or re-trim when necessary. Although he’s from the tidy crew he can’t contain the growth and sabotage of the largest plant forms, accepting that most of the disarray here is created by the flourishing trees. Enlarged roots and fallen branches break up the regular lines and blur the spaces between the plots. This is a place of quiet death and organic evolution. The trees benefit from human decay. The slabs crack and fall over. The names inscribed in the 19thcentury fade and disappear in the now.
Mark’s car love is real. Yours is entwined in the older technology of a five door without value and was never actually this intense. His is fuel efficient with leather seats to mould and sink into like the finest armchairs. Hypersensitive, it squeezes into the driveway, sending out messages of accuracy and danger. He tells you how the love began and how he couldn’t resist. It’s an emotional moment. The shiny black of the bodywork, the dark sheen, globally the most popular colour of automobile, portrays an image of confidence and efficiency. The bodywork, the sprayed high-gloss enamel finish, reflects sky and surroundings with a polish and precision unrivalled by other hues. Here black is more than a colour and transcends taste, choice, style or self-image. It’s the black page in Tristram Shandy, the black square of Vladimir Malevich, the black painting of Ad Rheinhardt, the black ink that eases out of the tube and ingrains fingers so you look like the manual worker you long for. Even when the car is decayed and dumped, the sheen, now dimmed to an indeterminate grey-black matt surface, perfectly holds dust, pollen and other air droppings. While in its pristine state the near world reflects back at us from the almost glass surface of the bonnet, hood, lid or nose of the vehicle, immersing us in a dark space so intense as to fade out into colourlessness. The car is black and not a hearse.
You now walk through this cemetery most days, occasionally catching visitors or mourners at the recent graves. This land was neatly staked out using a ruler, claimed and now owned by the city. The Old Burial Ground downtown is smaller, more haphazard, and came about through necessity. This one was mapped out by the city fathers, a square next to it for the City Park, another one for the Museum over there. This square is for the dead, the laid to rest, fallen asleep, put out of their misery, murdered, self-killed, perpetually dreaming. The grief is tangible in the soil and air. And it’s also imaginary, time healed. It’s a plot of land that holds stones, trees and bones. The lost, gone, once here, alive now dead, more dead than alive, skeletons perhaps communicating underground like tree roots, mothers, grandfathers, aunts, great uncles, babies, gone, vanished, disappeared, while the still alive, the kicking, are unable to access rituals of ancestral contact. No one showed them. Death is best forgotten. It’s a foreign land.
There’s another level of endemic grieving close by, ingrained through decades and centuries of theft, loss, intimidation, slaughter, broken promises and disempowerment, a remorseless mourning for what was stolen by these dead ones, your ancestors, who are here privileged by a graveyard, with social standing guaranteed by the grandeur of a monument costing money. You take our land and our way of life, our future and our prospects, and you stick us in an uninhabitable place, pollute the river and call it a reserve. You forcibly remove our great grandparents from their homes to residential mission schools to learn your language and lose their identity. You beat the Mi’kmaw out of these lost children if you hear a single word spoken. You speak of the devil and in Christ’s name. Now you shift the blame and leave us to it, hands clean our problem.
Give us these fine downtown fields of rich soil composted by your dead, you the great polluters of our land. Give them over or we will take them by force. You’re a voracious, dishonest self-righteous rabble, and an embarrassment to our ancestors.