What’s dead might still show up on your doorstep, if you live near the sea.
In Eleanna Castroianni’s “All Dead Things Shall Come To Me”, the speaker of the poem has been charged with an uncommon gift in the ways of death-alchemy. The old inhabitations and spectral jettisons of the lives of others wash up nightly on their shore: “Trinkets and glass, ivory masks / Heart-shaped lockets, diaries, maps / Smashed toys and silver, shiny stones / Beads, bottles, buttons, buttercups, bones / Of whales”. These are the leavings of strangers, the castoffs and curiosities attached to people who they don’t know… but their skill in reanimation precedes them, and they are sought after for the talent of making new life from what is lifeless.
Do we live through our objects of good or bad use? This elegant, mechanical question whirs at the heart of what Castroianni has made here. The poem operates much like one of the creations of the seadwelling architect: it is a construction of hybridities, a vessel laced with sargassum and angelwings, leviathan bones and hopeful monsters in the manner of Frankenstein. Isn’t every poem this, speculative or not? Aren’t we always patching fates and stages and tenses together, shivering over catgut thread, hoping what we make will live into the dawn?
Castroianni’s speaker might be creating objects to keep their visitors going – “Porcelain dreams, cicada husks / Heart-shaped keys and bird-song dusks” – but like all ferrymen between liminal states, we’re left to wonder who brings them gold coins for their own eyes? What is this “gardener of graveyard gods” given, beyond a legacy of grafting new life onto old death? I love this poem because it makes me dwell on an ultimate architecture, of what we say we hold close for its beauty, when we want life to ache less.
This is the seventh installment of Other Kinds of Men, a speculative poetry reader in honour of Ursula K. Le Guin. Speculative writing, which encompasses the major genres of mythology, fantasy and science fiction, has often given voice to the most relentless and ungovernable urgencies of this age, and any other. Le Guin understood this: that to write about dragons, ice worlds and other seeming oddities was, in fact, to write into the messy, riotous complexity of ourselves. Here’s to dragons, and here’s to Ursula.