Shane Koyczan performs at the Words Aloud 4 Spoken Word Festival in Durham, Ontario, Canada, November 2007. DVDs of Words Aloud performances and interviews available at www.wordsaloud.ca
The Crickets Have Arthritis
By Shane Koyczan
it doesn’t matter why I was there, where the air is sterile and the sheets sting.
it doesn’t matter that I was hooked up to this thing that buzzed and beeped every time my heart leaped, like a man whose faith tells him:
gods hands are big enough to catch an airplane
or a world,
doesn’t matter that I was curled up like a fist protesting death,
or that every breath was either hard labor or hard time,
or that I’m either always too hot or too cold
it doesn’t matter because my hospital roommate wears star wars pajamas,
and he’s nine years old
His name is Louis
and I don’t have to ask what he’s got, the bald head with the skin and bones frame speaks volumes. The Gameboy and feather pillow booms like, they’re trying to make him feel at home ‘cuase he’s gonna be here a while
I manage a smile the first time I see him and it feels like the biggest lie I’ve ever told.
so I hold my breath
cuase I’m thinking any minute now he’s gonna call me on it
I hold my breath
cuase I’m scared of a fifty seven pound boy hooked to a machine, becuase he’s been watching me, and maybe I’ve got him pegged all wrong, like
maybe he’s bionic or some shit.
so I look away.
like I just made eye contact with a gang member who’s got a rap sheet the length of a lecture on dumb mistakes politicians have made. I look away like he’s gonna give me my life back he minute I’ve got something to trade, I damn near pull out my pack and say
but my fear subsides in the moment I realize Louis is all about show and tell. he’s got everything from a shot gun shell to a crows foot and he can put them all in context like:
See, this is from a shooting range and
see, this is from a weird girl
I watch his hands curl around a cuff link and a tie tack and realize that every nick knack is a treasure and every treasure’s got a story and every time I think I can’t handle more he hits me with another story. says:
See, this is from my father. see, this is from my brother. see, this is from that weird girl. see this is from my mother. it took me two days to figure out that
that weird girl, is his sister.
took him about two hours today after she left for him to figure out he missed her.
they visit every day and stay well passed visiting hours. because for them that term doesn’t apply. but when they do leave Louis and I are left alone and he says the worst part about being sick is you get all the free ice cream you ask for. and he says the worst part about that is realizing that there’s
nothing more they can do for you. he says:
Ice Cream can’t make every thing ok.
and there’s no easy way of asking and I already know what he’s gonna say, but maybe he just needs to say it so I ask him any way. Are you scared? Louis doesn’t even lower his voice when he says
I listen to a nine year old boy say the word Fuck, like he was a thirty year old man with a nose bleed being lowered into a shark tank, he’s got a right to it and if it takes this kid a curse word to help him get through it, I want to teach him to swear like the devil was sitting there taking notes with a pen and a pad but before I can forget that Louis is nine years old he says:
please don’t tell my dad.
he asks me if I believe in angels,
and before I realize I don’t have the heart to tell him, I tell him Not lately, and I just lay there waiting for him to hate me. but he doesn’t know how to, so he never does.
Louis loves like a man who lived in a time before god gave religion to men and left it to them to figure out what hate was.
He never greets me with silence. only smiles. and a patience I’ve never seen in someone who knows they’re dying. and I’m trying so hard not to remind him, I’ll be out of here in a couple of days, smoking cigarettes and taking my life for granted. and he’ll still be planted in this bed like a flower that refuses to grow, I’ve been with him for five days and all I really know is Louis loves to pull feathers out of his pillow, and watch them float to the ground, almost as if he was the philosopher inside of the scientist ready to say that its gravity that’s been getting us down. but the truth is
there’s not enough miracles to go around kid,
and there’s too many people petitioning god for the winning lotto ticket. and for every answered prayer there’s a cricket with arthritis, and the only reason we can’t find answers is the search party didn’t invite us, and Louis right now the crickets have arthritis
so there is no music.
no symphony of nature swelling to crescendos, as if we bent halo’s into melodies that could keep rhythm with the way our hearts beat.
so we must meet silence with the same level of noise that the parents of dying nine year old boys make when they take liberties in talking with heaven. we must shout until we shatter in our own vibrations then let our lives
echo, and grow
echo, and grow
echo, and grow
grow distant enough to know that as far as our efforts go we don’t always get a reply. but I swear to whatever god I can find in the time I have left I’m gonna remember you kid. gonna tell your story as often as every story you told me, and every time I tell it I’ll say see,
there’s bravery in this world
there’s 6.5 billion people curled up like fists protesting death, but every breath we take has to be given back, a nine year old boy taught me that.
so hold your breath. the same way you’d hold a pen when writing thank you letters on your skin to every tree that gave you that breath to hold.
then let it go. as if you understand something about getting old and having to give back
let it go like a laugh attack in the middle of really good sex
the black eye will be worth it.
because what is your night worth without a story to tell, and why wield a word like worth if you’ve got nothing to sell. people drop pennies down a wishing well as if the cost of a desire is equal to that of a thought. but if you’ve got expectations expect others have bought your exact same dream for the price of the hard work, hang in, hold on mentality, like I accept any challenge so challenge me
I’ve brought a knife to this gun fight, but other night I mugged a mountain so bring that shit I’ve had practice.
Louis and I cracked this world wide open and found the prize inside because we never lied to ourselves, never told ourselves it would be easy or undemanding.
so we sing in our own vibration and dare angels to eavesdrop and stop midflight to pluck feathers from their wings and write demands on gods hands
take the time to catch you
so that even if god doesn’t, it wasn’t because we didn’t try.
I don’t often believe in angels, but on the day I left Louis pulled a feather from his pillow and said this is for you,
I half expected him to say
See, this is the first one I grew.
© Shane Koyczan
Shane L. Koyczan (born 22 May 1976) is a Canadian poet and writer. Born in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Koyczan grew up in Penticton, British Columbia.
In 2000, he became the first Canadian to win the Individual Championship title at the U.S. National Poetry Slam. Together with Mighty Mike McGee and C.R. Avery, he is the co-founder of spoken word, "talk rock" trio, Tons of Fun University, aka TOFU. In August 2007, Koyczan and his work were the subject of an episode of the television documentary series "Heart of a Poet," produced by Canadian filmmaker Maureen Judge for broadcaster Bravo!.
Koyczan has published two books, poetry collection "Visiting Hours," and "Stickboy," a novel in verse. Visiting Hours was selected by both the Guardian and Globe and Mail for their 2005 Best Books of the Year lists.
Koyczan’s "We Are More" and Ivan Bielinski’s "La première fois", commissioned by the Canadian Tourism Commission, were unveiled at Canada Day festivities on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on 1 July 2007. Koyczan performed a variation on his piece at the Opening Ceremony of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
Koyczan also collaborated on Vancouver-based musician Dan Mangan's Roboteering EP on the track "Tragic Turn of Events - Move Pen Move."