The anarchist pop star had a baby with the son of a billionaire. It’s a little green-grey wad of cash and guns. Proof, for those who needed it, that she hadn’t really meant the things she’d said.1
I think about the pop star’s baby with the billion-heir often.
I think about it, that little green-grey wad, the amalgamation of cash, of guns—about that colour at the intersection of wealth and violence, infinitely interlacing strands of the same fabric all come together. I try to understand the colour, to put the complexity of it into words. The green-grey wad, as murky as dirty water. Opaque, which works for it. That wad would love to cover up the banality of the truth: that wealth comes from the barrel of a gun.
A wad isn’t just a crumpled-up thing—it’s also a stack of bills. Opulence, you see, presupposes scarcity—it blooms brightest in the garden of other people’s misery. That intimate relationship between money and violence. This baby was born a gunslinger.
The baby that Anne Boyer describes isn’t actually grey. More grey-ish. Nor is it green—more green-ish. In fact, if you look closely, it’s an ever-shifting, mutable hue. Hence the -ishes. It’s forever on the doorstep of another shade, metamorphosing, a decomposing organ. Did you know that? A dead person’s kidney goes from brown to black. The trachea, which starts out white, becomes red, before landing on olive-ish. Colour is movement—it traps us in the steps of a dance, one that no one is allowed to sit out.
For a long time, I believed that poetry was prophecy, could tell us about the future: coming deaths, impending technological breakthroughs, new elements pulling up a chair at the periodic table. But that’s not quite it. Rather, the images in poems are ones that necessitate—that must continue to necessitate—new words entirely. In which case, poetry isn’t prophecy but, rather, outside of time entirely. It’s not a question of what happens—poetry is outside of time. In fact, there’s a much greater likelihood that poetry happens to you, while many things, which may seem more important than poetry, won’t.2 That’s Jean Cocteau, speaking to the year 2000 in a YouTube video. In short, poetry isn’t current events—but nothing happens without it.
Did Anne Boyer know the baby at the intersection of art and commerce she was writing about would one day breach the surface of the world we live in, that, three years after her book came out, that little green-grey thing she’d imagined would be real live tabloid fodder?
After all, the poet isn’t an inventor. She’s simply describing what’s already there. Because what is reality, like the green-grey baby, except proof for those who needed it?
In May 2018, the Canadian singer Grimes, self-proclaimed anti-imperialist, drew the curtains back on her new relationship with billionaire businessman Elon Musk, the 23rd richest person in the United States. Before the great reveal, of course, she made sure to wipe the phrase “anti-imperialist” from her Twitter bio. A bit of an awkward signifier, after all, for someone who’s dating a guy publicly committed to colonizing Mars.
I knew Grimes as the princess of Montreal’s underground scene, ruler over dusty lofts and the chemicals we used to loosen up. She had green-ish, black-ish, pink-ish hair; she locked herself in studios for days on end, without eating or sleeping, working on birthing new albums of experimental music. A cyborg, pop and metallic, bathed, bathed in clouds of shimmering soot, wielding a sword and speaking in snake-like tongues. Her songs sounded like a high kicking in. The speed with which we came down.
I bring her up because we went to the same university, she and I, because she was the friend of one friend of mine and the lover of another. At one point, long before she was going out with one of the world’s most powerful men, before she was promoting her music on billboards that blared that global warming was a good thing, I used to feel a kinship with her. One of my exes told me about the parties she used to throw, once—her dingy apartment, the grunge in her bathtub, a black-ish juice. It was grimy, he said. It was Grimes. Of course, that dinginess, that grunginess, that griminess isn’t new to me—it haunts just about every affordable apartment in this town. Even as I write this, there are rivulets of rain coming through the ceiling.
When news of Grimes and Musk’s item-hood broke, I was seeing a well-known sociologist. Thirty-something, shavenheaded, rebel without a clue. The type of socialist who can’t feel anything when he’s wearing a condom, you know the type. So radical, with his all-black outfits, his various pins and patches. He lived in Los Angeles, worked for a publicly traded company and drove a Beemer. I remember how shocked he seemed when we discussed his beloved singer’s dirty laundry. A capitalist Grimes? It was more than he could take. He was dejected, practically disgusted. But I think maybe he was most disgusted by the Grimes he felt beating inside his own ribcage.
There’s nothing more repulsive than seeing your own weaknesses in another. That’s why we’re so revolted by corpses—we see in them our own fates. One day, that’ll be us, a disgusting mess whose shame our loved ones will have to cover up from surviving onlookers.3 To be disgusted is to be nauseated—a desperate spasm, an attempt to distance the self from the self.
What had Grimes done, in shacking up with Mr. Imperialist, if not render visible the inherent contradictions of the 21st century, the ones constantly threatening to rend us all limb from limb? Everything is both itself and its own opposite. Even the desires that drive me are contradictory ones. I both love and hate the idea of the world ending. In fact, I often catch myself awaiting the apocalypse, even opening the door for it a notch. I accept it as the “natural” conclusion of the elastic experience of existence—one that’s already pulled taut and ready to snap.
Buried deep in the heart of my apartment, alone in a global pandemic, I won’t think of anything, except buying myself a grapefruit candle online. I’ll want my world to at least smell nice while it’s ending. I’ll learn how to bleach my hair from YouTube videos. I’ll take the online test that lets you know how many Earths we’d need if everyone had the same patterns of consumption as you do. It’ll tell me: 3.6 Earths. I’ll apologize for that.
Hell, I apologize for everything. Sometimes even for apologizing. I’ve got 3.6 Earths in my gut and another one stuck in my throat. Some days, I beg for the end of the world the way Catholics ask for forgiveness. It’s soothing, in a way, to imagine my own end.
I think about my L.A. sociologist. I wonder whether he really thinks he can escape from the dissonance this century has trapped us all in.
If so, I think, then pray for me, Saint Sociologist.
1 Anne Boyer, “No World But the World,” Garments Against Women, Ahsahta Press, 2015, p. 18. A French-to-English translation via Daphné B.’s version; the original reads: “The anarchist pop star had a baby with the billionaire’s son. It’s a green gray blur of guns and money. It was proof for those who needed it that she didn’t really mean what she said.”
2 “Jean Cocteau s’adresse a l’an 2000,” viewable at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3-t1Wo8JEdQ. My translation. “Elle ne correspond pas à ce qui se passe; elle est inactuelle;” “Il y a quelques chances pour qu’elle vous arrive, alors que beaucoup de choses qui semblent plus importantes ne vous arrivent pas.”
3 Georges Bataille, “La Mort,” L’Histoire de l’érotisme, Gallimard, 1976, p. 79. My translation. “Ignominieuse pourriture dont nos proches auront le soin de dérober la honte à la vue des survivants.”
Alex Manley is a Montreal/Tiohtià:ke writer and editor whose work has been published by Maisonneuve Magazine, Hazlitt, Grain, Vallum, and the Literary Review of Canada, among others. Their debut poetry collection, We Are All Just Animals & Plants, was published by Metatron Press in 2016. Their second book, an English-language translation of Maquillée, will be published by Coach House Books in the fall of 2021. Author photo by Blair Elliott.
Poet and literary translator Daphné B. lives and works in Montréal. She spends much of her time reading, writing, and watching YouTube videos. Previous publications include Maquillée in 2020 (Marchand de feuilles), Bluetiful in 2015 (Les Éditions de l’Écrou), and Delete (L’Oie de Cravan) in 2017. She has also written for a number of magazines and appears regularly on the Radio-Canada radio show Plus on est de fous, plus on lit.