This is one of my favorite poems. Shane Koyczan has a way of cutting straight through to whatever he wants to say. As a performer, I love it because of its challenging rhythms and phrases, but as a human being, I love it because of its meaning. Here it is.
“You would say: ”Be still, be still my boy.”
Never son, because I wasn’t. Just some boy from a different dad. Seems like our only thing in common was our need for therapy, but we never went. We just spent quiet time together, as if silence was expensive, but we were both filthy rich. A question like “do you love me?” was an itch our doctors told us not to scratch.
So we just prayed someone would catch it, while rubbing us down after walking around with the weight of each other’s world on our shoulders. We had hearts like boulders, we played Sisyphus trying to push the other’s uphill, but we told our hearts: “Be still. Let no one move you, let no one lift you, let no one get through that stone wall you call skin, let no one in, because people are clumsy and they’ll break you, take you apart in the study.”
You tell the world that they knew you, as if knowing was enough to make them the most foremost expert on you. They’ll claim that everything you did or didn’t do was just another complexity solved as simply as a grade 2 problem. As if by age 7 my only problem was math. As if I was never 7 and more dedicated to figure out which path was quickest to the bathroom, so the bullies wouldn’t have the satisfaction of seeing me bleed on my clothes. And God knows you’d be there!
And so everywhere, like a nightmare I couldn’t stop having, I’d wake up shaking with you there making it worth saying: “Be still, be still my boy.” Never son, just someone who it seems you’re liking, just someone who it seems you never tried to know.
So somehow without moving we’d go through motions, to deserts daydreaming about a time when we were oceans, we were still trying to make our tides come in, as if we had been throwing messages in bottles into each other. And our refusal to actually write those messages was just another way to say – nothing.
We’d bring stillness home like a strayed dog and teach it to play dead. Tongues like leeches, we’d bled our voices dry, while a playing dead dog would try to teach us tricks like “Speak!” But we sat silent. Like two blind students trying to sneak a peek at their grade 6 teacher getting dressed, but we never knew what direction to look, so the kids next to us always whispered, “eyes on your own test.” And I hated you. All the way up until the day you finally spoke.
You said: “There will come a time when the world will look at you without concern, because you’ve always been still. They will look past you. You will be as unregarded as the scenery that people take for granted. You’ll be ruled in the perceptions of you that they have planted in their mind, but all the while you will grow. And after all the years you spent trying to know stillness the whole world will turn their heads unable to miss the moment when you decided to move. And there will come a time when you must move. Move with the full force you would find behind the eyes of someone who could’ve spent their life satisfying a million desires, but instead decided to conquer just one; move like a legion of natural disasters towards the monuments they have built in an attempt to declare greatness they have never earned; move as swiftly as the knowledge learned by the students of practice; move so they cannot dismiss you;like sunlight through stained glass, not around but through each mass, they would raise against you; move because being still is something they can never make you do; move my boy, because I love you.”
And I thought ‘Awesome! You totally taught me how to be stubborn. That’s great.’
But now that you’re gone, now that quality has turned trait, I find myself caught up in an endless debate ‘where’ vs. ‘when’. As if I am waiting for then to become now, so that the answers to ‘why’ resemble reasons like ‘somehow’. As if ‘somehow’ was enough to encompass the rough estimate I make when I decide what direction to take for the moment I break stillness. This heart is a juggernaut. One that you took the time to shape against all those who would hold up red tape in the path of the life I chose to live through.
This is much more than my meager declaration of love. This is my Thank You, and this is for a man who knew me well enough to know that should I ever choose to go through struggle , I can set my sails like a ship breaking through the neck of a whisky bottle. school was a boxing ring and the man in my corner made sure not to bring a towel to throw in.
I’ve been studying stillness, watched my mother fight and lose to an illness that forced itself upon her, as if it were the man she met after my father, the same man who couldn’t bother to stick around after the diagnosis. I have known stillness.
This is for my granddad, who had the good sense to take me to that man’s house, so I could ask him, why he did what he did, why? I will accept your apology, but you better make me belief that you’re sorry. So go ahead – move me.”