Like burning coals nine bullets glide…
by Steven McCabe
The poem you see
is not the poem
(of some privilege)
in Upper Canada.
His ruffled sleeves
with grease and
has been singed
by musket powder,
a mishandled lantern,
eating and drinking.
Pausing to smoke from a packed horn pipe.
And more eating
and drinking and
striking the flint
on the other
(jabbing with the fork)
buckles and heaves,
beneath the fruits of commerce.
Utilitarian in its task.
How opposite to your
on the floor of an electric carriage.
A volley of
you gestured with.
A strange brew
My eyes are closed
upon your plight,
I do not love thee
or thy sacrifice.
One late summer night last July, 18 year old Sammy Yakim commandeered and emptied a streetcar in Toronto while waving around a small knife and holding his genitals. He was surrounded by a bevy of police officers and shot dead. One of the nine bullets might have missed. Then they tasered him.
I created a Sammy Yakim – Mayor Rob Ford (as merchant of Upper Canada) visual dialogue depicting ‘the chain of office’ as representative of corporate social values having little or no compassion.
Upper Canada (b.1791, the predecessor of modern Ontario) was considered by Reformers (see Upper Canada Rebellion) as a rigged game with ‘haves’ and ‘have nots.’ To contextualize this social dynamic: Sammy Yakim would not have been accorded the privilege afforded those with position or connections to the establishment of that time.
Could his life have been valued any less, anywhere, any time?
The idea for titling this post Like burning coals nine bullets glide came from poetic verse in ‘The U.E.; A Tale of Upper Canada’ by William Kirby:
Like burning coals two rifle bullets glide!
The Colton Map of Upper Canada (1855)
Another extraordinary post, Steven. I get your love and compassion. I want to contemplate the question about Sammy.
Thank you Narelle. I’ve wondered about the motivating factor in his behaviour. Was it psychiatric medication or street drugs or a cry for help or something else. All so tragic.
Yes, some love and compassion for this wayward child. He certainly behaved more as an irrational (desperate) child than an adult.
And when you say contemplate the question about Sammy. It could go any number of directions I assume (an assumption on my part).
You very likely refer to questions that haven’t occurred to me.
For me, this is about the right length for a documentary…. The layered time orientation is most effective. The poetry and photos, as evocative as when “reality” seems to distort while events actually unfold….but just enough to bring us there without being inundated and then becoming overwhelmed or inured. The varied juxtaposition of the two faces… the rifle scope image over the boy. Even the map of Upper Canada lends breadth and depth.
I appreciate, Steven, that it took my participation to understand what you are conveying here. It isn’t necessary for me to form an opinion to understand just on a human level. This is powerful. Communication on so many levels….my wheels are spinning…! Wow…masterful.
One of the things I greatly value about your work too, Steven, is that you draw us in and humbly invite us to participate with what you have orchestrated. The reward is there for those who stop and consider. Even more striking is that you don’t nail it down, and you don’t ask us to “get it” but you allow our voices to enter under your conduction always accommodating enough for our interpretations. It is powerful communication.
Thank you for helping me know and not-forget. The nine burning coals like the coals of incense on Isaiah’s lips. While justice waits, may Sammy know mercy and find peace.
Hi Jack, thank you for your observations. Yes the word ‘orchestrated’ is very apt. I appreciate very much that you have ‘stopped and considered.’
I think in terms of ‘nailing it down’ I almost feel guilty at times that I’m not more black and white about the matter at hand. But my nature is to find these trails that wander off and somehow (orchestrate) tie them together.
Whenever I try to be Che Guevera (for instance) my work is much weaker. too didactic, and loses any texture of mystery. Not any comment on Che himself but rather me.
Nine burning coals like the coals of incense on Isaiah’s lips. Wow. You’ve taken this to an entirely new level. Now we are in the realm of prophetic utterance. Now it is my turn to stop and consider.
How personal and beautiful that you have blessed Sammy with this prayer for mercy and peace.
Hi Jana, Really enjoyed your observations about your participation in the process. And thank you for your evaluation of how it (the posting) communicates.
I didn’t start off with the idea of including an Upper Canada reference but somehow the idea of the ‘Orange Order’ hit me and it went from there. Including the idea of finding a map. I recalled seeing a play years ago in Toronto about the Upper Canada Rebellion and this too suddenly seemed incredibly relevant.
It’s interesting that you suggest it is the right ‘length’ for a documentary. I’m imagining a certain number of stanzas and images equalling a certain amount of time. Our experience of this medium crosses many boundaries of perception… while scrolling an endless, digital page.
thank you again.
p.s. John’s reference below to your comment ‘wheels spinning’ brought this phrase again into focus. A very interesting choice of words relating to the ‘documentary’ feel you mention.
Just brilliant. I really liked the parallel rising tensions in the text and the images. We live in a callous system that abhors inconvenience.
‘Parallel rising tensions…’ Spoken like the photographer and storyteller that you are… I wish that incisive phrase had occurred to me as I designed the relationships of text to image!
Yes, your social observation is more than appropriate…revealing actions…at odds with our notion of ourselves as an advanced, liberal democracy.
I’ve been scrolling up and down a number of times and each time see and feel more…you have penetrated to the core on this one Steven and the subject is not an easy partner for art and poetry. I am with all other comments here and especially Jana’s…’wheels spinning…masterful’…a superb piece my friend, one of your best…
Sometimes I think that the people such as yourself who take the time to ponder these relationships of text to image are the ones who penetrate to the core by first enlarging the space around the core.
Your observation ‘the subject is not an easy partner’ is thought provoking:
Regarding poetry: It’s interesting to examine how social realism with references to tragedy, violence, class, economics, power, & irrationality can be examined. And what direction the stanzas and words take.
So in this case I created a dialogue mirrored with a visual counterpoint/dialogue as well.
Short but hopefully effective and I think you seem to think so which I very much appreciate.
p.s. It would be interesting to see how the masterful Tony Harrison would deal with the Sammy Yakim story with a full length manuscript. I wonder how he would approach the tragedy.
p.p.s. I just thought of Dylan’s song ‘The Death of Hattie Carroll’ and how he communicates injustice with a few images and incisive observations.
Stunning and disquieting. Very different to your other artworks.
I appreciate your observation. Perhaps the difference to my other works
is, in part, subject matter of visuals: I have manipulated realistic, news media photos of portraits and scenes to make them ‘new’ configurations (thus independent of copyright violation).
Or perhaps it is the documentary, social realism feel.
Or the subject matter and the tone of the dialogue (Dickensian?)
Possibly a sense of dread and finality like history bearing down with its verdict on one lost soul.
Or less ‘exuberant’ colour.
I’m examining it more closely to see what you are saying.
Very much appreciated.
Thank you deeply everybody for your comments. It took me several days to find time to reply but it was well worth the wait for me.
A bit of distance from the subject always gives one more insight and ‘an increase’ in understanding what is being said.
All these senseless things.
Astonishing layers of meaning. The way you pace the work, the words. Such consideration. Carefulness. This gentleness that holds so much power.
Thank you Karen. It’s almost (it seems) required of us to take in as many levels as we can in order to address such things fully. And in doing so it affects our receptivity and bearing. I really appreciate your observations.