Speaking in Tongues

When the sun set on Jerusalem,
I watched the ultra-Orthodox sway
in prayer at the Wailing Wall.
I heard the adhan, but I could not enter
the mosque as I am.

At the Holy Sepulchre, I remembered
the mantra my transcendental meditation
guru gave me when I was six.
There was no God in my childhood home,
just Nietzsche angst quelled by om.

Funny, even though you grew up
filled with the Holy Spirit ,
you did not learn how
to speak in tongues
until I baptized you
with my sweat.

I know nothing of your God,
but I know everything about surrendering
to your body and your mouth
breathing life into me.

I want to say sweet Jesus
and amen when I hold your body
so tightly that I feel like I’ve been resurrected.

In my bed, your heart
beats an ancient hymn
that sounds like home to me.
I am still godless but you have given me
something I can believe in.

—Candice G. Ball

Why I took up contortion at age 47 & joined Sam’s Circus

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The amazing Samantha Halas.

When a friend I met through the yoga community invited me to join him at a contortion class, I immediately said yes because I am always down to try something new. Some people collect material stuff; I collect experiences. I thought it would be a one-off novel way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

I had no idea what to expect. I just knew that Samantha Halas, Winnipeg’s most famous contortionist, taught the two-hour class out of a church basement in St. James. When my friend and I arrived, we were guided down to a church basement that looks like a play area for children. Mats shaped like puzzle pieces cover part of the floor. There are stall bars, gym mats, fit balls, and contortion canes.

Samantha greeted us, exuding warmth and confidence. Although I had only seen photographs of her wearing exotic costumes in contortionist handstands or poses that showcased her extreme flexibility, I would have recognized her because of her big, soulful eyes, her perky chin, and her Bettie Page bangs. Her face is made for theatrical performances. She has a dizzying array of expressions, which has set her apart from other contortionists.

My face would have had an expression of relief when I surveyed the students. I was not the only middle-aged person, but many of the students are in their early to mid-twenties—and the exceptionally flexible ones seemed to all be named Anastasia. In fact, there are so many women named Anastasia that one goes by “Banana” in class.

The class always begins with a warmup with bands to open up shoulders and the back. Every two-hour class is different, but in general, Samantha focuses on splits, backbends, and contortion elbow and handstands.

I found it daunting to see one of the Anastasias warm up her back by arching so far back her head almost touched her derrière, but every single person in the class offered helpful tips and encouraged me.

During the second class I attended, we focused on splits. I have a fairly decent centre split, but when Samatha said, “Very good. Now go into oversplits off the gym bench,” I thought “What?” But I did it. She reads bodies very well and has an uncanny ability to push everyone far enough that they grow but don’t get injured.

Until I took a class, I did not appreciate how strong contortionists have to be to support their weight—and sometimes other contortionists’ weight depending on the choreography. That’s why at the end of every class, we do around 100 push-ups and intense core work.

I took my first class in December when I was still 47. Now it’s time for full disclosure: I was dating the friend from yoga and he’s much younger than me. A few weeks after I turned 48, February 19 to be exact, the relationship ended primarily because of the age difference, but we’ve remained friends. Even though I had been doing walkovers at my yoga studio for years and pushing the limits of my backbend in hot-yoga class long before I got involved with a younger man, I started to question everything. Are these activities age appropriate? Is it bad to push a middle-aged body even though it feels right? Am I having a mid-life crisis?

I turned to Samantha and she encouraged me to shake off all the doubts. “I think a surprising number of people talk themselves out of things they want because of notions of age or because they think somehow people who are good are just dealt the right cards to get there,” she said. “And although I’m sure that’s true in some cases, more often than not, we all are fighting our own battles—even the people we admire have their own battles. I love contortion because it has helped me become a person who works hard for what she wants and overcome fears and barriers though determination.”

It delighted me that a dear friend in her early 50s started going to Samantha’s beginner class after she saw my Facebook repost of the class schedule. “A handstand has always been on my bucket list,” my friend told me. She loves the classes and admires Samantha’s physical and emotional strength. (A subsequent blog will focus on her journey.)

For me, taking up contortion goes beyond the physical. Stretching past the point of comfort is a metaphor. I don’t want to live my life in a cushy comfort zone. I want to push myself to reach farther, dig deeper and get stronger.

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Sam suggested I do a backbend off a mat and go down on my elbows so I can feel my back opening up. This will prepare me for greater feats such as scorpion.

Some of Samatha’s protégés will join Cirque du Soleil; students like me won’t ever perform, but we will grow as people because we have taken on something challenging. “People can find challenges in anything from learning how to fix a car, speak a language or dancing,” said Samantha. “If people are curious, I think they should try regardless of age. If you only compete against yourself, you will always win.”

Whenever the sexist, ageist voices start nattering at me, I think of Alicia Keys’ response to Adam Levine when he teased her about wearing some makeup after she took a bare-face stance, “I do what the fuck I want.” All women should do what they want.

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My first time up in a handstand in canes. It was exhilarating. 

 

Reunion

Full Moon with Silhouette Trees

Rustling leaves in moonlight
blue shadows on white sheets.

How did we meet again
in this prairie city of bridges?
We should have found each other on the Metro.
Paris is used to this sort of affair.

Your eyes glow like amber
Shhhh,
you say
when I warn you
of the dangers.

Be careful, be careful,
I say
before I get drunk on
your tongue.

A simple rise and fall
but your breathing
sends a flutter
through my body
like a butterfly
in a glass jar.

Undulations–
breathing you into me
blue shadows writhing on white sheets.

My body forgets
distance and years apart—
the ache of longing gone for tonight.

—Candice G. Ball

 

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September

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Snakeroot, may apple, cotton root,
hot baths and pennyroyal—
she’s collecting seeds, potions in brown jars.

How she wanted to miscarry,
but she still felt it in her breasts,
heavy pressed against Saturday night’s dress.

Rue, the morning-after-
pill, mustard baths
but the seed went astray, multiplying.

She remembers July, the sultry sky
when she kissed him—
how the last star winked, said yes.
Yes at 3:00 a.m. tangled in secrets
and sweat. Oh, the wine, stars and seeds!

No wishes upon these late stars,
already spent. Leaves fall
yellow, brown and ash.

She chokes on the fumes—
nauseous in a Greyhound heading
south for the procedure.
The child inside her runs and hides,
a fugitive in her body.

In Fargo, gin and tonic and strong cigarettes
to gather lost thoughts,
crossing borders, ripe fields and dairy cattle.

Alone in the prairie landscape: terrible grey seeds
and sky sink in her belly. Fallen leaves.
She wants to forget September.

—Candice G. Ball

BFF

Two women holding hands

She’s the first one you called after you woke up, got dressed, and stumbled out of an apartment—and she made you laugh even though your head hurt and you could barely remember your own name. She’s the one you trust as much as your own dog to sniff out suitors. She knows how many lovers you’ve had and how many you regret.

She answers the phone burping out hello because she knows it’s you without checking call display. You can’t use your fake-happy phone voice with her when you want to cry or shout because she’ll call you on it. Her voice picks you up faster than a triple-shot latte and she gives you more comfort than a huge bowl of pasta. She’s your ninja cheerleader in a power suit and she will take down anyone who fucks with you.

You send her half-naked selfies and ask if your boobs need more oomph. She’s the only one who’s privy to your retail-therapy sessions and your pizza benders. She has navigated every dark, dirty corner of your character. She’s the keeper of all your secrets and your best-of and worst-of moments. She’s your wonder woman and wonderwall and her love made you the beautiful, resilient woman you see reflected back at you in her eyes.

—Candice G. Ball

 

 

The Dame, The Detective, and Dahmer

Dahmer Detective

When I sat down to have my first face-to-face coffee with Robyn Maharaj in 18 years, I thought we’d talk about Canadian literature, dogs, and perhaps West Indian cuisine. When she told me she had just completed a book about Jeffrey Dahmer, the light-hearted talk came to a screeching halt. I looked into Robyn’s enormous brown eyes and asked her what compelled her to pursue this journey into the heart of darkness.

I knew Robyn as a poet and an important figure in the Winnipeg literary scene, not as a true-crime lit fan. As we drank coffee on the patio at the Starbucks on Pembina on a sunny afternoon, she explained how her email exchanges and meeting with Detective Patrick Kennedy compelled her to finish the detective’s manuscript and tell the Dahmer story though his eyes.

Jeffrey Dahmer’s story has been told before and he has been psychoanalysed ad nauseam. Robyn Maharaj and Patrick Kennedy’s forthcoming Dahmer Detective: The Interrogation and Investigation that Shocked the World (Poisonberry Press) is the story about a good detective and a good man. Dahmer Detective chronicles the six weeks Kennedy spent with Dahmer leading up to his confession.

The conversation Robyn and I had was too good to keep to myself, so we turned our coffee date into an impromptu interview. The Q&A offers some insight into the process that Robyn went through working on the book. Dahmer Detective officially launches at McNally Robinson in Winnipeg on September 20, 2016. 

What led you down this macabre trajectory?

I wanted to write a piece on Jeffrey Dahmer and to speak with someone who knew him well. I wanted to know how evil Jeffery Dahmer was. I knew his crimes were evil, but he always struck me as polite whenever I saw him sitting in interviews talking about the crimes he committed and why he thought he had done them. I felt compelled to learn more about his story and see other sides of him rather than just the evil serial killer, necrophiliac, and cannibal.

I started to reacquaint myself with the case and looked up some videos online. That’s how I learned about Patrick Kennedy. Patrick Kennedy was the lead detective on the case and he interviewed Dahmer extensively. He wasn’t one of many detectives on the case; he was the one detective that Dahmer insisted on speaking with.

Through email, I got in touch with Patrick Kennedy and we wrote back and forth. Those exchanges compelled me to want to meet him. Normally, as a freelance writer, I don’t meet the people I interview, but something about Patrick made me want to take the trip.

I drove down to Madison, Wisconsin for a film festival and saw a film Patrick Kennedy was interviewed in called The Jeffrey Dahmer Files (now called JEFF: the movie when purchased by IFC). He was one of three people featured in the film. We met in person and I interviewed him. That interview gave me the framework for the magazine story I wanted to write. At the time, he asked me to read a manuscript he had written about the Dahmer case almost 20 years before and offer him some feedback. I felt honoured he asked me.

I took the manuscript and about five days after we had our initial and only meeting, he died from a heart attack. I went ahead with my article and got it published and sent his widow the link to the article. We corresponded and decided it would be a great legacy for Patrick to see his project through to the end and get his book published.

Did you get the answer to your original question about whether Dahmer was truly evil?

Kennedy and I—and maybe a handful of people in the world—can separate Dahmer’s actions from his personhood. He was a very strange, lonely guy. He had no friends at all and he had a difficult time connecting with people. He had a lot of time on his hands that allowed him to explore dark fantasies. How Patrick put it, after spending weeks with Dahmer, is that Jeffrey was a pathetically lonely man. Although Patrick viewed Dahmer’s actions as evil, he admitted that Dahmer often came across as likeable and unassuming.

I think we can learn some lessons about loneliness and fantasy from the Jeffrey Dahmer story. When you hear accounts about mass murderers shooting up theatres, you later learn that they’re often very lonely and live in a violent fantasy world. It’s only by hearing these terrible stories that we can glean insight into how to address the root of the incredible loneliness.

Dahmer’s confession provided insight and showed the complexity of different facets of his personality. The fact that his father stood by him also humanizes Dahmer. He loved his father and grandmother very much and made it clear that they were not to be blamed for his own sickness. He was a gay alcoholic who worked at a chocolate factory and had very little ambition.

What drove Dahmer to kill?

It was his sexual drive. His sexual fantasies were very twisted, but he wasn’t a torturer. There are serial killers who feed off the fear and pain of their victims, but for Dahmer, he felt that when he killed people, he was doing it in the most painless way possible. He drugged them, waited until they were unconscious, and then strangled them. He didn’t want the confrontation and he didn’t want to fight his victims. His real goal was necrophilia. He wanted to fulfill his sexual appetites and not have that person ask anything of him.

How did you cope with being immersed in Dahmer’s world while working on the book?

I am a fan of the true-crime genre, but I do not like violence and gore. Although Patrick’s manuscript did go to some very dark places, a lot of it is written in a matter-of-fact style. He did a really nice job going into some of the detail that invariably is going to make some people very uncomfortable. We’re talking about necrophilia and cannibalism. For the record, my mom hopes my next book will be on something nice, like organic gardening, but I had to see the manuscript through to publication.

Although the book focuses on Kennedy’s experience extracting a confession, we may as well get the uncomfortable facts out of the way. What were Dahmer’s crimes?

Dahmer had 17 victims from 1978 to 1991. His very first victim he killed at age 18. He had about a nine-year-hiatus and then he killed again. He tried to stop himself but he eventually succumbed to his desires. He dismembered the bodies and would eat parts and put other body parts in acid drums to destroy evidence.

Most of Dahmer’s victims were African-American men. People questioned whether he was racist, but Dahmer said his victims were the men he found attractive. He would go to the gay clubs and watch them dance and a lot of them had the body type he liked. He liked their musculature and skin colour.

There is something called somnophilia also known as the “Sleeping Beauty Syndrome,” and those afflicted by it really want a lover who is incapacitated. It’s the desire to be able to do whatever they want without having a reciprocal lover. That is the fantasy that fuelled Dahmer’s crimes.

Did you feel close to Milwaukee Homicide Detective Patrick Kennedy while working on the book?

I did. He was a great guy. Because I was reading his manuscript when he died, it really shook me up. Even though I didn’t know him well, I felt there was a connection. The other thing was that the day he died of a heart attacked marked the sixth-year anniversary of my own heart attack. I fully recovered but Patrick’s proved fatal. I survived my heart attack and he didn’t and I felt a responsibility to get Patrick’s story in print.

He had a very full life with three grown kids and six grandchildren. He was also a professor of criminology at two universities. He gave back to the community through his involvement with an inner-city sports program. The focus was on sports, but it allowed police to connect with kids and mentor them. The police would help the kids with homework and listen to the kids’ problems. This six-foot-seven police officer became known as “Coach Kennedy” and he organized basketball competitions.

I felt compelled to take his project through to completion. The investigation took place in 1991. Detectives did not have all the forensic tools we have now. To get a confession involved great skill as an interviewer. He was a gifted detective.

You mentioned that systematic racism in the Milwaukee police force may have played a role in Dahmer’s getting away with his crimes for so long. What led you to draw that conclusion?

There was a crime involving a 14-year-old Laotian boy named. Konerak Sinthasomphone. Jeffrey Dahmer mistook the boy for much older and picked him up. Back at Dahmer’s apartment, he gave the boy drink with drugs in it and the boy passed out. Dahmer decided he wanted more beer—he was a raging alcoholic— so he left the boy and went to the store. The boy woke up intoxicated but managed to stagger out to the street.

A woman saw the boy and took a windbreaker from the back of her lawn chair, covered up the boy, and tried to help him. A neighbour had called the police and they waited for the police to come. When the police arrived, the woman said, ”This boy is in trouble. He looks like he has been assaulted. You need to help him.” The police said that before they did anything, they would need to gather some more information. They were trying to talk to the boy, but the boy didn’t speak English and he slurred his words.

So this blonde-haired, blue-eyed man shows up with a six-pack and asks, “What’s going on here?” The police say that the boy came out of the apartment and they were trying to ascertain what’s going on. The people around identified Dahmer as a resident of the building, but Dahmer tells the police that the boy isn’t a teenager. “He’s of age and he’s my boyfriend,” he said.

He convinces the police to come up to his apartment. There’s actually a dead body in the apartment, but of course the police don’t know that. They take the boy back up to the apartment with one arm on each officer and Dahmer claims he can produce the boy’s identification. He looks for it and eventually says he can’t find it but offers some Polaroids he took earlier of the boy smiling with a drink. He finally convinces the police that his story is true and they leave. A half hour later, Dahmer killed the boy.

He had this uncanny ability to convince the police because he was white, polite and soft-spoken. The woman on the street was African-American and there were other teenaged girls who said, “I think this boy goes to our school. I think he’s only 14.” The police chose to believe the white guy and dismissed the woman and girls as hysterical. The issues of race and criminal justice were problems that Patrick wanted to work on. Police behaviour is very timely right now in light of Black Lives Matter and the deaths of black people at the hands of police.

How did you structure the book?

The story is told in first person. Patrick begins the book by describing getting ready to work the third shift. He tells the story of catching Dahmer and interrogating him. The story wraps up on the final day when Dahmer plead guilty. The only thing that was up for debate was whether he was sane or not. Dahmer was found sane and sentenced to prison for the rest of life. Patrick ends the story in and amongst all the media hoopla about the guilty verdict and the families’ receiving closure. Kennedy comes home and he’s alone.

I did an introduction that places the story and 1991 and describes the milieu. I kept the story in Patrick’s first-person narrative and added an analysis at the end of the book. The final part is my interview with Patrick and his observations and insights on Dahmer and a biography about Patrick.

Who’s the target audience for this book?

I think this book will appeal to anyone who is interested in the true-crime genre. I think it is also interesting from a criminal history perspective. I am hoping too that there might be some interest from the criminal justice side of things because Patrick did teach criminal justice. He tried to work very closely with the training of new officers and better screening. As I previously mentioned, there were incidents where Dahmer managed to fool police. Patrick wanted to make sure history did not repeat itself and address the systemic issue in the justice system. It’s a tragedy that he died at the age of 59, but this book will allow his legacy to live on.

Written by Candice G. Ball
Copy Edited by Vikki Wood

 

Player

Darling, I saw the ending before we even began.
I knew you were a player
with your well-rehearsed romcom script
John Cusack smile and man-of-the world swagger.

I surrendered to the sport
of hunting the hunter,
leading the minotaur into my labyrinth
walls inside walls—
you didn’t know if you were going or coming.

Even though our post-coital confessions
comforted me in the rosy-cheeked aftermath,
I counted on your withdrawal.
I needed you to play your part. If you cared,
there would be no poem.

—Candice G. Ball