T∫B∫R TIDAL BASIN REVIEW Fall/Winter 2010
T∫B∫R TIDAL BASIN REVIEW Fall/Winter 2010
Tidal Basin Press Founded 2010 Washington, DC
Editors Randall Horton – Editor-in-Chief Melanie Henderson – Managing Editor Tori Arthur – Fiction & Non-Fiction Editor Truth Thomas – Poetry Editor Fred Joiner – Poetry Editor Marlene Hawthrone-Thomas – Photography Editor Editorial Assistant Elizabeth Larkin Fiction Reader Gail Upchurch
Tidal Basin Press, LLC Tidal Basin Review Founded 2010, Washington, DC
www.tidalbasinpress.org A Publication of Tidal Basin Press, LLC
Cover Art by Margaret Bowland,
Another Thorny Crown series, Gray J, 2010, Oil Paint on Linen Layout Design, Melanie Henderson
For broad distribution. Electronic version not for sale. To purchase print version, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.tidalbasinpress.org. © All Rights Reserved, Tidal Basin Press, LLC, Washington, DC.
Boxing in the Academy Undressing
Reginald Dwayne Betts
For the City that Nearly Broke Me
B. R. Bonner
The Human Cry
Party, Chelsea Gallery
Leola Dublin Macmillan
Black Girls and Beauty: Contextualizing the Work of Margaret Bowland
Gray J FEATURED ARTIST/INTERVIEW Murakami Wedding #2
DĂŠLana R.A. Dameron
How I Love Him
Plight of the Overseer Emancipation Test #1,008
Keith S. Wilson
The Lost Quatrain of the Ballad of a Red Field
Dose of Reality
Tracy Chiles McGhee
The New Year Until He is No Longer Water-robe
Life and Death and a Penis
Magnolia in January Portrait of a Day, First Day
Another Thorny Crown #2
Nancy Carol Moody
After the Garden, We Bathe What the Construction Site Knows
The Last Robin of Autumn
Enzo Silon Surin
Death at the Fruit Stand on Market Street breath is like a perchance of
The Ways In Which Water Speaks
Cleaning Grandfather‘s Office
Another Thorny Crown
Kristine Ong Muslim
For Little Jimmy Dead Eyes, On His Next Birthday
Say Carolina On My Way to Grandma‘s Funeral
Bacchus at the Plow – First Rhetorics A Rhetoric for Readership
The Terrible Village
Daniel W. Davis
No Good Deed
Flower Girl #2
L. Lamar Wilson
June 26, 2009: The Morning After Dust to Dust: Blacksburg, Virginia
Curtis L. Crisler
DJ-  (the hot track) 9/11/2010 —for SC
Crews The City Has Changed
BOXING IN THE ACADEMY
- for Barbara Christian
The thesis to
cross of the t. The spelling to be
scholar to approve. The word to define.
The job to be found. The
to argue. The essay to revise. The concept
The race for a theory. The
no windows. The
music. The value.
talk with no face.
THOMPSON â&#x2C6;Ť 6
UNDRESSING Becky Thompson
water lilies floating in a thunder storm
dancers begin circling
drummers initiate Ellegua
At the bon fire
night rises from the east
my stilted bones soften
slide into the circle I slip off my top drums inside my thighs
then smoke energy radiating red and orange embers
THOMPSON â&#x2C6;Ť 7
FLOWER GIRL, 2009
Oil paint on linen, 44 x 52 inches, 112 x 132 cm
BOWLAND â&#x2C6;Ť 8
FOR THE CITY THAT NEARLY BROKE ME
Reginald Dwayne Betts He heard your rumors,
stories a mother‘s ear abhors, echoes of Barry Farms & Trinidad, Simple City & Stanton Terrance, blocks & bodies – this Capital, home of the Bullets & Bernard King‘s busted knee, home of percussion, beat downs & the crossover, the hands up, the stutter step then step back, home of Len Bias‘ death & crack vials, the Mecca –Howard U, that frontispiece staring at a casket, you owned the pocket, the rhythm that had him & his boys holding on to claims of you, pretending that Swann Rd., Rushtown, Gas Station & all the neighborhoods they‘d shout out over bass & drum kick were in your borders instead of circling them like so many toothless wolves.
BETTS ∫ 9
FOR THE CITY THAT NEARLY BROKE ME Shawn, Malik, DaQuan â&#x20AC;&#x201C; names scarred by the hurt of Maryland, Mississippi, & Alabama Avenues, names robbed of bodies by all these avenues bearing the monikers of slave states, all these names shaped by the sound of Wink & his progeny, conga players banging out time on flattened globes, that mean pocket filling coffins & classrooms. What will you say to the gunmen? They blend into your landscape convincing themselves the names & young faces tatted on t-shirts & jackets are more than clear closed caskets, more than graffiti written on a wall no one reads.
BETTS â&#x2C6;Ť 10
FOR THE CITY THAT NEARLY BROKE ME There is always blood, & there is always what they & especially you don‘t do about it. Details forgotten in the birthright of dead on arrival: crayons broken in hallways crowded with piss, the last swig of a bottle that‘s known too many hands, Malik‘s head slumped in his brother‘s lap. He once saw a man drinking Hennessy on a stoop with his son, passing their kept secrets through the brown liquid they sipped. Malik makes him think about cognac splashing against concrete, & the stories that knives make disappear. You bury bodies & memories, only tell parts of stories, offer anyone who listens a way BETTS ∫ 11
to believe in grief. But he wants a way to handle life with the audacity of riding the Metro bus for seven stops to get to a school on the other side. That audacity.
BETTS â&#x2C6;Ť 12
FOR THE CITY THAT NEARLY BROKE ME Stress this: the lit end of anything will burn you. Stress this: running will never save you. The day after Christmas a body was given back to the dirt, & that's just a slick way of saying this manâ&#x20AC;&#x2DC;s first son caved, fell to the pressure, to the indent the barrel made against his temple. Stress this: we never gave a fuck, not about Malik or how the bullet didn't split the air, but split the edged up, precise hairs on caesar. & all be Brutus, saving a man years of fearing death.
BETTS â&#x2C6;Ť 13
THE HUMAN CRY
One cold day in May of 1978, as meandering rivers of impatient Portenians flooded the streets and avenues of downtown Buenos Aires, she emerged from the crowd, bundled in a woolen scarf and heavy tweed coat. She moved swiftly down Corrientes Avenue, past the lampposts and unshuttered shop windows, through the billowing exhaust fumes of diesel microbuses and taxis, penetrating the smoke of the street vendor fires and the wafting smell of roasting walnuts. She was that perfect blend of the Old and New Worlds, with dark, penetrating eyes, a slender figure, and espresso-colored hair that fell suantly over her shoulders. A smile lit her face as a young pibe standing by a bus stop bench caught sight of her and attempted to make conversation by throwing her street pick-up lines, those ridiculous mating calls we affectionately refer to as piropos. She shook her head at him, still with a smile, and continued down the street. ―Her name is Alejandra,‖ Lucho told me. ―She‘s the owner of the printing shop on Montevideo.‖ We were sitting in the El Colonial hotel restaurant, our table next to a large window facing the street, eating American style breakfast and reading the newspaper, watching for the movements of the woman called Alejandra. ―What do we know about her?‖ I asked. ―Not much. Her family is from the province of Santiago del Estero. She came here to attend the university, and later obtained a graduate degree in the United States in Political Science.‖ ―She is beautiful,‖ I said, a bit too wistfully. From the look on his face, Lucho was annoyed by the inofficiousness of my remark. He threw some efectivo on the table, motioning for me to contribute my part to the bill. ―Come on,‖ he said, peering out the window. ―She‘s heading into her shop now. I see two other men entering as well, just behind her.‖
BONNER ∫ 14
We left the restaurant and scurried across the street. At the next intersection we came to a stop by a galleria entrance in order to surveil the printing shop and size up any potentially threatening activity within. ―Ok,‖ Lucho said, gazing around him. ―Our cover story is that we work for a book publisher by the name of Proverbio, and that we are here to ask about their services. Once inside we‘ll look for signs of contraband.‖ The shop stood on the second floor of a whitewashed cinder block building decorated with the usual graffiti condemning the military. A large sign with a painting of a compass hung above the door, with bright red letters proclaiming the name of the business: Compass Printing. We entered the first floor, which was empty, save for a few sawhorses, piles of wooden planks and cans of unopened paint. The windows had been painted, allowing a dirty pale glow to enter the room. We mounted the stairs near the front door and found ourselves in a dark, narrow hallway that smelled of dust. A door with our suspect‘s company name painted in black letters stood before us. A throaty, nicotine-cured male voice called out over the intercom: ―Good morning. Please state your business.‖ ―Good morning,‖ Lucho replied. ―My associate and I would like to discuss your printing services. Our publishing company will be producing a small circulation magazine and would like to know what your rates are.‖ A long silence ensued. Finally we heard the voice clear its throat, and say: ―What did you say was the name of your company?‖ ―We work for a small publishing house called Proverbio. Can you let us in to discuss obtaining a quote?‖ A few moments passed, then the voice of a woman announced: ―Please excuse us. We‘ve been under a tight deadline on several projects and may not be able take on any more orders until our backlog is cleared. But please step inside and we will discuss your needs.‖ BONNER ∫ 15
The buzzer went off. The door release clicked. We entered the room and found ourselves in a large workshop with several printing machines clanking in the back. There was a counter at the front with posters tacked onto a wall illustrating numerous book and magazine covers. To the side was an old fashioned desk, the kind with the roll up cover and numerous little cubby holes stuffed with unpaid bills, as well as a few other flat work tables arranged by the window, each occupied by a draftsman or designer who cut and arranged printed sheets or worked on book bindings. Rows of boxes stood stacked against the walls, marked with titles and shipment locations. I counted six people altogether, four in the front, and two in the back working the presses. Alejandra greeted us at the counter. She did not smile as we approached and made conscious efforts not to look at us directly for too long, instead throwing us short little glances, first to Lucho and then to me, before looking off towards the binders or down at her hands. She was as pretty up close as I had imagined her from afar, but I kept my thoughts to the purpose at hand. Lucho bypassed our little ruse and went straight to the point. ―Are you the owner of this place?‖ ―Yes, I am.‖ ―What is your name, miss?‖ ―Alejandra Vicente.‖ ―We have reports that you are printing anti-government propaganda from this location. Is that true?‖ ―No, it is not,‖ she exclaimed, her dark eyes flashing in anger. ―We do not allow that here.‖ Lucho motioned for me to follow him. ―We will have to search all of that,‖ he said, pointing to the rows of boxes. Upon reaching the wall he grabbed one of the boxes and swiped it to the floor. BONNER ∫ 16
The woman turned to her companions in the back of the room and the two men came rushing towards us, pulling pistols from behind their shirts. I remember seeing Lucho reach to his waist to pull out his semi-automatic; how he struggled to move his jacket out of the way to reach the gun handle. Before I could pull my own weapon, a shot rang out. Lucho fell to the floor, bleeding profusely from the neck. I ran to him without thinking—such was my poor training at that point. I stood over him, watching helplessly as his eyes rolled back into his head, as he exhaled his last breath, rolled his head to the side, and quietly died. A hard blow knocked me out.
* * *
I awoke in a small storage room lined with shelves stacked with newly printed paperback books. I was laid out on a cot, my left hand cuffed to the radiator piping on the wall. Above me a cracked window covered with chicken wire let in a dingy light. ―How long have you two been following me?‖ Alejandra asked. She was sitting on the edge of my cot, smoking a cigarette. ―Not long. A few days.‖ She looked towards the door, as if she were about to call one of her associates to join her in the room, but instead looked down at the floor, nervously flicking the ash of her cigarette. ―I‘m sorry about your partner,‖ she said. ―I‘ll be sure to put that on his epitaph. Here lies Lucho Sanchez, killed by a Montonero terrorist who claimed she was sorry.‖ BONNER ∫ 17
She looked at me with anger in her eyes, but said nothing. ―Where am I?‖ I demanded to know. ―Somewhere safe. We shut down everything and moved before the rest of your death squad could show up.‖ ―Do you have any idea what they will do to you for this?‖
―Yes. I was a prisoner for over six months at your torture center at Campo de
She looked keenly into my eyes, as if to judge the impact this admission would have on me. ―Maybe you should put this on your friend‘s epitaph: Here lies Lucho Sanchez, killed in the act of censuring the press.‖ She handed me her pack of cigarettes and a box of matches, and left me alone to wonder if I would ever leave that place alive.
* * *
The days passed slowly. I was given plenty to eat, and was provided many conveniences to make my stay seem less like imprisonment: a feather pillow, two woolen blankets, a radio—which I used religiously to listen to the ongoing World Cup matches, hosted in that year by Argentina—and, of course, the library of leftist books and revolutionary pamphlets. One day Alejandra came into my room and threw me a bar of chocolate. ―You strike me as someone with a sweet tooth,‖ she said. The next day she returned bearing other gifts: a razor, shaving cream, a clean T-shirt, and a bag of empanadas. ―How is my follower today?‖ she asked, using the English word that could either mean ‗pursuer‘ (perseguidor) or ‗supporter‘ (partidario). BONNER ∫ 18
I shot her a puzzled look. ―You followed me. That was your job. Was it not?‖ ―Yes. I suppose that‘s why they wanted to train me, to be very good at following people.‖ I bristled at this absurdity. ―Thank you for these things.‖ ―I see you‘ve been reading some of our literature.‖ She pointed to an overturned copy of one of Marx‘s publications entitled, ―The Poverty of Philosophy.‖ ―Yes,‖ I admitted. ―Marx and Engels I find interesting. But some of this other shit is so badly written that it compromises its own credibility.‖ I expected a caustic reply to this criticism, especially since some of the work I was referring to had actually been written by her; but I was instead surprised when she pursed her lips together and gave a slight nod, as if she agreed with what I had said and was pondering the implications of this. ―Finish your Marx,‖ she said. ―Tomorrow I want you to read something for me, something a bit more up to date. We‘re drafting a work that we think will help make a difference. But I need someone to proofread it before we go to print, someone with a modicum of literary intelligence, which none of my partners seem to have.‖ ―And why in God‘s name would I help you?‖ ―Because if you do, I‘ll let you go. And who knows, Marcos, maybe God will forgive you for making life hell for so many people. But if you refuse to help I may not be able to stop them from taking your life. Many of them have family and friends that have vanished.‖ The next day she brought me a typed first draft manuscript of the now wellknown political treatise entitled El Grito Humano (The Human Cry), by Alejandra Vicente. That this work on the oppressed in Latin America — a blistering document on the treatment of the politically active by both democratic and military governments — was to become as famous a statement on injustice as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.‘s ―Letter from a Birmingham Jail‖ is irrefutable. The fact that we spent days going over BONNER ∫ 19
its contents together, reading over passages into the early morning hours, filling ashtrays with Marlboro cigarettes and drinking gourd after gourd of bitter mate tea: editing, correcting, deleting, refining, clarifying, is, I would venture to say, unthinkable. That she incorporated nearly all of my suggested edits and recommendations to solidify her arguments by improving the structure of her rhetoric, is a fact that history, other than what is documented in this chronicle, does not record. And so it came to pass that I served as the de facto editor of the outlawed El Grito Humano, contributing, in my own small way, to making Alejandra‘s passionate words a rallying cry for a silent revolution in the minds of those who read it.
* * *
Alejandra drove me in her car to my apartment, not far from the Teatro Colón. It was a glorious day, for me especially, but also for Argentina. Not only had I just been released from my captivity, it was on this very day — in fact during the same hour of my release — that Argentina beat the Netherlands 3-1 to win the 1978 FIFA World Cup. The streets quickly filled with honking cars and trucks, people spilling out of their apartments, out of the shops, restaurants and bars, running pell-mell along the avenues, screaming wildly at the top of their lungs, waving the Argentine flag and pouring beer over each other, embracing total strangers with brotherly affection, as if we did not live in the midst of a Dirty War that ravaged the very foundation of our society — dancing in the streets with joyous abandon, as though the world had just been saved from annihilation by the hand of a vengeful God. ―We need to celebrate and feel good about ourselves,‖ Alejandra observed. ―I just hope that one day we‘ll find everyone shouting in the streets again, celebrating an end to all the chaos and violence. When that day comes you won‘t have to follow people like me anymore. Take care, Marcos. I won‘t forget you.‖ She kissed me on the cheek, and pulled away from the crowds in her rasping Citroen. We never saw each other again.
BONNER ∫ 20
* * *
I will not go into all the sordid details of my debriefing. I told my superiors the facts as I knew them, and pleaded ignorance of my captor‘s conspiracies and the location of their hideouts. But then, one day, several months later, everything changed for the worse. I was taken to an interrogation room and pressed hard for more details on my relationship with Alejandra. How long did I know her before my so-called kidnapping, they asked. Oh, they said, we are well aware of your collaboration with these Montonero terrorists. The tiny concrete room soon filled with military uniforms. It was clear that they possessed intelligence suggesting my capture was not entirely as I had described it. One of the uniforms tossed a book on the table, and said: ―Your comrade Alejandra was shot dead yesterday, Marcos. We found this on her.‖ It was, of course, a first edition copy of El Grito Humano. I looked up at them, feigning innocence and confusion. ―Open it,‖ the uniform commanded. ―Look at the dedication. We know that you helped produce this piece of trash.‖ There, on the second page, at the top, in English, was written the words:
To my follower, Marcos, whose intelligence has furthered the cause of justice. ―My follower!‖ I yelled, recalling the double meaning of this word. ―Yes. I did follow her. Lucho and I—we tailed her like you asked us to. But I was not in allegiance with her! I gave her no intelligence!‖ The uniforms encircled me. They cursed at me and struck me with their fists, then hauled me off to a secret detention center called La ESMA (Escuela Superior de Mecánica de la Armada), a stygian place of lost souls whose cries of pain and pleas for mercy would go unanswered for the next five years. Shortly thereafter, the electric shocks began, and I began my descent into the hell that thousands of others had visited before me.
BONNER ∫ 21
PARTY, CHELSEA GALLERY, 2009
Oil paint on linen, 52 x 68 inches,132 x 173 cm
BOWLAND ∫ 22
BLACK GIRLS AND BEAUTY: CONTEXTUALIZING THE WORK OF MARGARET BOWLAND
Leola Dublin Macmillan
Contemporary Representations of Black Women and Girls In October of 2010, a video clip of a Sesame Street segment went ―viral.‖ The internet was abuzz with responses to the clip. Entitled ―I Love My Hair,‖1 the twominute video featured a young, brown, female Muppet with a tidy Afro of curly hair. In the segment, the ―little girl‖ sings a song about how much she loves her hair. She tells her viewers about all the wonderful things she can do and hairstyles she can wear with her natural hair. As someone who grew up watching Sesame Street, I was overjoyed to see this video. I wish the Children‘s Television Workshop had offered viewers this bold gem 30 years ago, when I was a little girl who needed someone outside of my family to convince me that my natural hair was something I could love. However, that they even aired this segment is noteworthy, and speaks to the strides that are being made to change the way we portray women and girls of color. In American culture, there has never been a consistently positive message about naturally textured, tightly curled hair. Women and girls of color in this country cannot escape the pervasive messages that conflate straight, European-textured hair with beauty. Don Imus‘ verbal attack on the Rutgers University women‘s basketball team confirmed what many women and girls of color already knew: in this society, the texture and style of your hair can overshadow and make meaningless any accomplishment. For women and girls of color, hair matters. We know this because visual representations of us make this clear. Visual representations of Black hair that are mocking, or that do not accurately portray the texture of our hair are not unheard of. It is highly unusual to see natural Black hair represented as something positive and celebratory. This is why the Sesame Street video spread like wildfire via the internet. It is also one of the first features of Bowland‘s paintings that caught my eye. Historically, representations of Black women and girls in the United States have been anything but flattering. Black feminists in particular have devoted much time to analyzing these representations and discussing the way in which they disempower women and girls of color, reinforce negative stereotypes about their 1
Season 41, Episode 4218: The Furry Four
DUBLIN MACMILLAN ∫ 23
subjects, and ensure that racist assumptions about what and who Black women and girls are never fully leave our collective social consciousness. Structural inequalities continue to largely influence who possesses the power to create and disseminate these images. Though women and people of color have risen to some notoriety within the art world, painting is still largely the realm of white men. White male artists have never – as a whole – made their love of and respect for Black women the focal point of their work in any medium. The exoticism of Black women‘s bodies is well-documented, as is the proclivity for making Black women objects of scorn and ridicule. The lampooning of Saartje Bartmann is the most obvious example of the treatment of Black women in art, but it is certainly not the only one. Visually, Black women are often stripped of humanity. They are adorned and portrayed in ways that suggest animalistic, hypersexual, and savage natures. To encounter realistically-rendered Black women in traditional Western art forms is rare. Encountering them as subjects intended to convey beauty is remarkable. This is part of what makes the work of Margaret Bowland so captivating. Even if the viewer of Bowland‘s work does not fully understand her entire message, the beauty her young subjects radiate cannot be contested. Unpacking Bowland‘s ―J-Series‖ This is especially the case in what I refer to as the ―J-Series,‖ a collection of paintings featuring a frequent model in Bowland‘s work. In a recent talk at the Numark Gallery, Bowland shared that her model ―J‖ began working with her at age six. This alone is staggering. How many Black girls are frequent visitors to the studio of a talented portraitist intent on capturing every nuance of their beauty? How many can see themselves reflected in a work that hangs from the Smithsonian‘s hallowed walls? How many other Black girls – young and old – are touched to see Blackness rendered beautiful by such an unlikely champion? The contentious racial history of the United States has given Black people a legitimate reason to distrust the interests of those who do not look like us, but claim the right to portray us. The current hyper-racial climate of this country does nothing to dispel this innate distrust. We have witnessed the first Black president – something many of us never believed we would live to see. We have also, however, seen the backlash of a racial hatred so virulent that not even his young daughters are spared
DUBLIN MACMILLAN ∫ 24
from racist caricatures. To encounter Bowland‘s work, particularly without the necessary subtext required to understand and appreciate it, leaves us in a difficult position. Bowland is similarly left in an uncomfortable space, one that many people of color know all too well. She comes to us, open-handed and well-meaning. And yet, we cannot overlook who she is (or more importantly, who she is not) in our assessment of her motives. People of color understand Bowland‘s predicament; this is what it means to be the Other in this country. You do not have to be a rapist, a murderer, a thief, a liar, or whore. It is enough that you look like what our society insists undesirables look like. Not white. There is no connection between race/ethnicity and criminal or amoral inclinations. That is truth, and in a hegemonic society that relies on a racebased hierarchy for its very existence, there is no place for truth. This, then, is akin to how Bowland has acknowledged feeling about the reception of her work, particularly the ―J-Series‖. She understands the relationship she has with ―J‖, the life experiences she draws upon in her work, and the message she so desperately wants to convey. But she cannot make her viewer understand these things; they take a commitment of time and interest, something many of her viewers will never be willing to extend. In many ways, Bowland‘s work brings to mind the work of Kara Walker. Power is the central theme in much of Walker‘s work, but that theme is viewed through the multiple lenses of race, gender, sexuality, and history. Like Bowland‘s paintings, Walker‘s work has received its share of criticism. Typically set in the antebellum South, the images that populate Walker‘s work are intended to provoke a visceral response from the viewer. In her pieces, Walker demands that her viewer acknowledge shameful episodes from the American past. She is brazen in her depiction of things that make us uncomfortable. Yet Walker‘s critics do not question her right to represent Blackness, to remind us of slavery, because Walker is Black. Bowland is not. Consequently, we are made uncomfortable by the image of a young Black girl, adorned with ―Another Thorny Crown,‖ made entirely of cotton bolls. What can be the intent of this woman who simultaneously, and unnecessarily, reminds us of the Passion of Christ and of the relationship that Black people in this country have had with cotton? How are we to unpack the many layers of this work without falling back upon what our lived experience has told us to assume? Leading critical lives in pursuit of social justice requires a level of honesty that is often painful. If we hold others up to scrutiny, we must be willing to place ourselves DUBLIN MACMILLAN ∫ 25
under the same unflinching gaze. My awareness of Bowland‘s work is the result of a friend who sent a link to the artist‘s website. I can recall the sequence of my reactions vividly. I remember not ―getting‖ the white paint, and thinking about how I often ―don‘t get‖ art without knowing the artist‘s intention. However, I also remember being struck by how beautiful ―J‖ was; how the artist‘s awareness of her beauty leapt from the canvas. I smiled, recognizing the model‘s hairstyle as one I wore as a little girl. What struck me as I scrolled through these portraits was self-recognition. I was reminded of a time when I was surrounded by people who told me and showed me that I was beautiful, a time before I encountered the narrow beauty ideals of the greater American society that told me in no uncertain terms that I was not beautiful. When my friend told me the artist was a white woman, I was devastated. I remember saying ―Oh No!‖ aloud. The whiteness of the artist – or rather, her non-Blackness – changed everything. It complicated what I had accepted uncritically. As the product of a white woman, these works took on new meaning, new levels and layers of complexity. They pained me. Suddenly, context mattered. I found myself flooded with questions: Who was this woman? Who was her model, and what was their relationship? How could she be white and capture what I recognized as the essence of Black girlhood so completely. What did it mean? What was her purpose? I needed those answers before I could make an assessment – a new one – on the merits of the work. Though there were aspects to the work that I didn‘t fully understand, my assumptions about the artist‘s Blackness allowed me to accept her work without critique. When I learned the artist was white, I found myself incapable of extending the same privilege to her. I could not accept Bowland‘s work without an interrogation of her motives. I felt myself assuming that defensive posture I recognize in so many Black women. Mentally, my hands were on my hips, my neck cocked, and my overarching question about the artist was ―Who does she think she is?‖ There was a part of me that needed to know who gave her the right to represent Black girls. Much of what I know of Bowland, her motivations, inspirations, and the statements she strives to make with her work come from Bowland herself. The artist‘s statement on her website and a talk she gave at the Numark Gallery left me with the understanding that in spite of our many differences, there is much that Bowland and I have in common. We are both feminists who come from generations of people who ―worked the dirt‖ in the Piedmont region of North Carolina. We are both women who have made the decision to call attention to the many ways in which society
DUBLIN MACMILLAN ∫ 26
imposes contradictory demands on its girls and women. Bowland is concerned with the lunacy of these contradictory demands, their pervasive nature, and most importantly, the way in which women are complicit in perpetuating them. I am concerned with how they have historically been used to disempower Black women and girls, and why they have proven so difficult to resist and annihilate. In her talk, Bowland shares a story from her childhood, by way of explaining the recurring theme of weddings in her work. Growing up with a total of twentyseven cousins, the young Bowland repeatedly found herself a member of the wedding party. Every June, she tells her audience, somebody was getting married. Every summer, Bowland found herself swathed in finery, escorted down the aisle by a handsome stranger. At some point though, she found herself struck by a terrifying thought: ―What if nobody ever loves me?‖2 Bowland grew up in an environment where family and friends repeatedly told her that she would have no problems ―getting a man‖ if she would only stop talking. She recognized the indoctrination process at work. We live in a society that misleads young girls by telling them they can find acceptance (and love) as an individual. Speaking about the subtext of weddings, Bowland notes, ―There is a point in every girl‘s life that is your initiation into society. We are going to dress you as a virgin, erase all that [you are], and we are going to put you forth as an icon. And insofar as you support your identity as an icon, we will love you.‖3 The terror Bowland experienced as a young bridesmaid and the terror that is often part of the lived experience of Black girls in this country are both tied to this notion of erasure for the sake of acceptance. This erasure is what the ―whitening‖ in Bowland‘s work is about. It is her attempt to make glaringly obvious, something that has become so commonplace, it is almost invisible. In the ―J-Series,‖ Bowland addresses the attempt to erase – a person, a people – as a condition of a love that will still be withheld. For Bowland, the white paint on her girls is ―an expression of anger at initiation rites.‖ It is an artist railing against the way we ―rob‖ our girls of their ―particular nature and dress them in white‖ as a prerequisite for extending them love and acceptance. Bowland contends that the ―white paint is what happens when we erase [an identity] in a really grand way.‖4 The white paint is one artist ―calling
Bowland, Margaret. Numark Gallery, Washington DC, May 12, 2010. Lecture. Web. Bowland. 4 Bowland. 2 3
DUBLIN MACMILLAN ∫ 27
attention to it in such large scale that the truth of the spectacle cannot be overlooked.‖5 Despite her explanation, one still wonders why Bowland would choose young Black girls as her models. That she wants to call attention to the initiation rites young girls are subjected to is clear. And yet … Bowland is a woman who was born in the Jim Crow South, more than a decade before the legal end of segregation. She cannot be unaware of the implications of whitewashing the face of a young Black girl. She cannot be unaware of how easy it is to misconstrue her intent, how easily her message can be lost. Bowland may have the best of intentions, but if she does not fully appreciate the many layers of what we see when we look at her work, she does more harm than good. Without the necessary subtext, Bowland can easily be dismissed as just another thoughtless White person with the best of intentions. We see this most often when white people find ―articulate‖ Black people noteworthy, or assure us that the existence of their Black friends negates the possibility that they may be racist. There is no sense of white-guilt, no sense of atonement from Bowland. There is simply an acknowledgement of many wrongs as yet un-righted and an attempt to address several of them in the way that she knows best. I suspect that from a Black woman painter, these works would be considered homage. The knowledge that these works are the products of a white woman, feminist or not, changes our understanding of them. Does Bowland‘s whiteness make them subversive? Are they justifiably troubling? Do they (and by extension, does she) cross the line? Is this what Stuart Hall speaks of when he discusses ―The Spectacle of the Other‖?6 Are Bowland‘s paintings subversive because of their blatant defiance of cultural proscriptions for representing beauty in Western art forms? These are the questions that Bowland‘s work brings to my attempts to evaluate them. Coalition Politics The way in which Black women and girls are represented in American visual culture is in dire need of change. Far too often, what Patricia Hill Collins terms ―controlling images‖7 articulate our identity. These ubiquitous images confine Black Bowland. Hall, Stuart. Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices . London: Sage in association with the Open University, 1997. Print. 225. 7 Collins, Patricia Hill. Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment. Boston: Unwin Hyman, 1990. Print. 5 6
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women to narrow, subjugated spaces within American society. They include the Mammy, the Jezebel, the Welfare Queen, and the Strong Black Woman. These controlling images, Collins posits, ―[have] been essential to the political economy of domination fostering Black women‘s oppression‖.8 She insists that challenging them is central to Black feminist thought. While I agree with Collins‘ assertion, I do not believe that challenging controlling images is exclusively the work of Black feminists. Bowland‘s challenge to hegemonic beauty norms and her love of black girls‘ beauty is most certainly coalition work. Doing this work requires that we endure some discomfort in order to continue the very necessary work of undoing centuries of injustice. This discomfort encourages me to revisit Bernice Johnson Reagon‘s ―Coalition Politics.‖9 When she presented the principles of coalition, Reagon warned her audience, ―You don‘t go into coalition because you just like it. The only reason you would consider trying to team up with somebody who could possibly kill you, is because that‘s the only way you can figure you can stay alive.‖10 Reagon maintains that there is a difference between home and coalition. Coalition work must take place ―in the streets;‖11 home is where we go to recover and prepare for another day of that work. Contesting existing definitions of beauty is most certainly coalition work. And doing this work requires that we endure some discomfort in order to continue the necessary work of undoing centuries of injustice. There are aspects to Bowland and her work – for how can we fully separate them – that make me uncomfortable. I believe in my heart that she understands the ways that controlling images function in this society – she is a visual artist, how can she not? I know, because I have heard her say so, that she feels that our beauty ideal is too narrow, and excludes too many. I also know that her definition of beauty is unique. In her talk at the Numark gallery, she describes another artist‘s definition of beauty, one that seems widely accepted. Legendary visual artist Gerhard Richter
Collins 67. Johnson Reagon, Bernice. ―Coalition Politics.‖ Home Girls: A Black Feminist Anthology. 1st ed. Barbara Smith, New York: Kitchen Table--Women of Color Press, 1983. Print. 343. 10 Johnson Reagon 343-4. 11 Johnson Reagon 346. 8 9
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defines beauty as that which is uninjured. Bowland argues that ―beauty is only possible when the injury has been done and overcome.‖12 She contends that ―Beauty is what is injured and survives.‖13 Her choice to whitewash her models speaks to the folly of our society‘s ―attempt to erase humanity from a people who will not allow it to occur.‖14 She is not unaware of the potential for her work to be misunderstood. She simply refuses to allow that potential to deter her from what she believes must be done. Bowland wants ―J‖ to transcend cultural limitations. She shares, ―my feeling about her is I want her to walk into Western art and take it. Inherit it. And her to take over painting … a defiant act of ‗I own this space.‖15 Her young models are chosen because of their Blackness and because of what that means within the sociocultural context of the United States. This meaning is not lost on Bowland, who informs her audience, ―here are people of real worth that we covered over by so many meanings that have nothing to do with them, and still survive. Still manage to have their dignity and regality.‖16 Her work is about recognizing that dignity and regality; her work is about calling it by name: Beauty. Believe Richter, the artist whose definition of beauty is the counterpoint of Bowland‘s own, spoke about what it means to be a painter. He insists, ―One has to believe in what one is doing, one has to commit oneself inwardly, in order to do painting. Once obsessed, one ultimately carries it to the point of believing that one might change human beings through painting. But if one lacks this passionate commitment, there is nothing left to do. Then it is best to leave it alone. For basically painting is idiocy.‖17 Margaret Bowland is a painter. I am certain she hopes that through her painting, she may indeed change human beings‘ beliefs about what – and who – we consider beautiful. It is my sincere hope that she succeeds. Belief in our power to make a difference has often sustained Black people in this country. But that belief is not ours alone. The ―I Love My Hair‖ sketch that Bowland, Margaret. Numark Gallery, Washington DC. May 12, 2010. Lecture. Web. Bowland. 14 Bowland. 15 Bowland. 16 Bowland. 17 Richter, Gerhard. ―Notes 1973.‖ gerhard-richter.com.Web. 17 Nov. 2010 12 13
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resonated with Black women of all ages was created by an artist who believed he could make a difference. Joey Mazzarino, the head writer for Sesame Street, is not Black. He is white, as is his wife. Their young daughter, however, was adopted from Ethiopia when she was an infant. As she grew older, Mazzarino noticed that she began belittling her own hair, wishing instead for long, blond hair. He notes, ―[s]he was going through this phase where she really wanted like the long, blonde hair. ... She would look at Barbies and really want the hair.‖18 Mazzarino wanted his daughter to feel good about her hair, and wrote the song for the sketch. He explains, "I just want kids to know their hair is beautiful," adding, "I just hope little kids, little girls see this and really feel positive and great about themselves."19 Mazzarino‘s experience as the father of a young Black girl gives him insight into how damaging our narrow definitions of beauty can be. His creation of a Sesame Street sketch that encourages young Black girls to love themselves as they are complicates our assumptions about how white men in this country perceive Black women and girls. Mazzarino, like Bowland, is an unlikely ally. And yet, he has demonstrated his willingness to engage in the coalition work of contesting hegemonic beauty norms. We cannot afford to dismiss Bowland‘s work simply because she is not a Black woman, and consequently not entitled to speak on the beauty of little Black girls. To do so is petty and counterproductive. It is petty because it suggests that those who would hold Bowland‘s race against her willingly choose to overlook what is obvious to anyone who views her work. Bowland is a talented portraitist whose ability to recognize the beauty of a young Black girl leaps from the canvas. It is counterproductive because focusing on Bowland‘s whiteness elides the commonality she shares with so many Black women. Bowland recognizes the far-reaching impact of contemporary Western notions of beauty on the identity development of Black girls. She recognizes it, and in her own way, uses the medium she knows best to reject that notion. In the case of Bowland's work, I argue that though her whiteness may make us uncomfortable with how she represents Black girls (or *that* she does), it should not obscure the fact that she is using a traditionally white, Western, male art form in a non-traditional way - and that she is portraying Black girls as beautiful and worthy of being subjects of ―high art.‖ Our discomfort with her whiteness is understandable, Davis, Linsey and Jessica Hopper. ―‗I Love My Hair‘ Video Inspired by Father‘s Love of Daughter: ‗Sesame Street‘ Writer Pens Song to Help Black Girls Love Their Hair.‖abcnews.com. ABC World News, 18 Oct. 2010. Web. 13 Nov. 2010. 19 Davis and Hopper. 18
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but we cannot let it overshadow the political aspects of her work. Her work and her personal politics cannot be separated. What she believes will always be present. Coalition work is not about comfort or group homogeneity. What should be at the center of coalition work is shared belief. I cannot begin to imagine the many ways in which I differ from Margaret Bowland. I am certain she does not identify as a radical Black feminist. However, the words she may choose to describe her political ideology are unimportant in the coalition work that joins us. What is most important is that we are both fighting, in our own way, for what we believe.
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this is your granddaughter, she looks like her daddy quintessential Jamaican sofa, panty less sundress shots arms at weird angles, dolor on a corner store shelf, two for fifteen pillars are restless beings, ever shifting in the halls and walkways a trained ear can catch a cricket down to the leaf or thistle unease is stagnant, it lives in third floor bathrooms and opens the door at night there is bravery in a pair of koolats, a turtleneck, a nondescript shoe every fireman was a father, they could all dance and perform a perfect dip the air was different then, and who would know but the one inside the window arms at weird angles, all around the world gone awry, or too much ruff housing and all of this was done with her face covered, bandit style when you erect a tent on a prayer room floor, it has the same effect as an umbrella people wait for 3am trains, and who would know but the one inside the window a smiling girl walking towards you can be your sister, or an old babysitter a smiling boy walking towards you is just a smiling boy, or heâ&#x20AC;&#x2DC;s just a smiling boy if you cant trust your own hand, then what? It says so right there on the page make him repeat it in a foreign language and he can call you anything, lover or fool the cutest thing she ever did was call herself a beast
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Iman Byfield the things we know. they roll around our mouths like marbles. dodecahedrons lodged in our throats. threatening to be swallowed whole. we keep them beneath our tongues. we press them against the roof of our mouths. we hold them in our jaws. if we must we stick them to the back of our hands. like we do our chewing gum at dinner time. so we can dance around the table between bites. at night we slide them behind our headboards. in between the lattice worked frame where they harden and turn gray. and before we know it our daughters are asleep in those beds. those little girls. they find these things. they scrape them off like spackle. roll them in their palms until they are soft. they work them over like clay. until they spread like glue in their hands. no one can tell them that soon they will have their own. small enough to fit in the hands of their own daughters. that they will fall out with the baby teeth. little pearl shaped things. the size of tonsil stones.
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ANOTHER THORNY CROWN SERIES: GRAY J, 2010
Oil paint on linen, 74 x 54 inches, 188 x 137 cm
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FEATURED ARTIST MARGARET BOWLAND PAINTER
Photo: Lisa Barlow
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ARTIST STATEMENT Art was until very recently a search for visual harmony – Picasso‘s ―lie that makes us realize the truth.‖ That lie was compositional, spatial harmony. But what was that truth? We no longer have any faith in Truth capitalized. Plato says in The Sophist that ―by the art of painting we make another house, a sort of man-made dream product for those who are awake.‖ I believe in those houses, that in this illusory space our stories unfold. This space holds as much power now as it ever has. The human psyche still dreams, those dreams are still our stories, and within these stories our consciousness is revealed. I need art to be the story, in visual terms, of what happens to people. We inhabit a purely relative world, in terms of belief structures, yet each of us knows and in a sense, believes in, the need to be beautiful. My work is about beauty—what it means to be beautiful and what significance the idea has in the twenty-first century in the world of art. We all know that being beautiful is as important as being rich, that being beautiful is itself a form of wealth. One must be tall, thin and white. One‘s features must be diminutive and regular. We recognize deviations from this norm, but recognize that these deviations, even if appealing, are far from ideal. The need to be beautiful fuels one of the largest and most ruthless industries in our world. Beauty makes sense to me, has weight for me, only when it falls from grace. It starts to matter when it carries damage. Sorrow allows it to cast a shadow. It becomes three-dimensional. It enters our world. Looking at Manet‘s Olympia, I wondered about the two women depicted—the young, naked prostitute and the black maid servant—about the relationship between them and to the man observing them. His implied presence began to unite them to me, not as lovers, but as the prey sharing a foxhole. In my imagination, the women of my paintings entered that room. What my century brings to the ideas of race and beauty and sexual allure began to overlay Manet‘s. I began painting Anna, the dwarf in my pictures, two years ago. I was fascinated by the tragedy of her body. In Velasquez' paintings, dwarves possess the greatest sense of consciousness of any of his characters. Even in Las Meninas, after we take in the brightly lit perfection of the blond doll at the center, our eye is drawn to Velasquez‘s
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own face, connects with him, and then moves laterally to the dwarf. The two— Velasquez and the dwarf—bracket with their awareness the hollow beauty of the golden child. That connection between the artist and the dwarf rings true to me. I believe in that space—outside the golden circle inhabited by the princess. I see, in Anna, a perfect visual equivalence for what it feels like to live in this outside, other world. Being observed, as the young Olympia is in Manet‘s painting, creates in every one of us the squirming need to appear desirable, beautiful. But even if we are lovely, in our need to be desired each of us subsumes who we are in order to present the blank screen of beauty necessary for admiration or affection—and in so doing, dies. Anna, however, like Velasquez and his dwarves, lives a life outside the harmonious, golden circle of ―art.‖ That space outside feels absolutely honest to me. After watching Anna leave my studio, I have knelt on the floor, stooped even lower, crawled, to see the room as she sees it. I have placed her in ―Olympia‖ in a struggle with the young black girl . Today, this black girl is no maid, but another candidate for desire. Yet this young woman carries all the history of what it has meant to be a black woman—used by men, by artists, by us. We are supposed to look away politely from the maimed. But I want to stare, inhabit their flesh. Such flesh feels like an honest revelation, what it feels to be stalked by the need to be beautiful. Hence, my paintings are never allegorical; nothing stands for anything else. They are the closest I can get to what my mind‘s eye sees when it depicts the struggle of living to me. As the painter, the observer of these young women, I am a predator, but it is the desire humans have had since the beginning of time—to hunt and consume their prey and dissolve within their spirits…scarily close to what we mean when we say we love.
Margaret Bowland Brooklyn, NY February, 2008
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AN INTERVIEW WITH AWARD-WINNING PAINTER, MARGARET BOWLAND, AND TIDAL BASIN REVIEW EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, RANDALL HORTON
Approaching 63rd and Broadway, I could not help but revisit the paintings of little black girls in white powder with cotton bolls in their hair. The initial images are one of beauty, drawing the observer into a more critical dissection of what is being visually transmitted to the brain through what Gwendolyn Brooks would call the terrible beauty. Margret Bowland seemed to be getting at a deeper analysis and critique of American tropes in her art work. I knew she was from North Carolina with a degree in English. I found myself wanting to know more about this artist who takes risks because that is what artist do, take risk. Entering the coffee shop it was easy to pick out Bowland even though we had never met. I simply looked for the most interesting person reading a book. The following interview took place in Manhattan on November 11, 2010.
Randall Horton: You've told me the study of literature was very important to you in college. Who are some of your literary influences and how have these figures influenced your art? Margaret Bowland: James Baldwin is a major one. No one speaks better about the importance of race in America. I actually met Baldwin once, many years ago in the south of France. I went to a concert given by Joan Baez and I saw him sitting in the audience. After the concert I was walking in front of a sidewalk café and there he was. He had an elegant beige overcoat draped over his shoulders and was surrounded by three or four beautiful young men. I knew I might not be welcome in that group, but at the same time I felt a kinship with him because his books meant so much to me. His writing was realistic but always with an eye toward a certain spirituality. I‘ve always worked toward that in my paintings. So I went up to him and told him how important his short story ―Sonny's Blues‖ had been to me. One of the best short stories… RH: Ever Written... MB: Yes it is. The last image in the story is of Sonny, his very troubled brother, picking up a drink in a club where he is playing jazz. Baldwin writes
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that Sonny held the glass "as though it were the very cup of trembling." That's the cup God has filled with his grace, the cup that is available to everyone. Baldwin's characters suffer so much, but he always holds on to the hope of salvation, or at least the worth of looking for it. So, I told Baldwin how wonderful he was. RH: What was his reaction? MB: Here I was, this big white woman standing over him, and I could see that his companions were getting irritated with me. One of them said something to Baldwin in French. I‘m sure it wasn‘t complimentary. But Baldwin reached out and took my hand and turned to his friend. "No," he said, "she and I share the burden of being American." His words made me understand something about myself and about America, too. I had not realized that part of why I was so happy living in France was just to be out of America. When he spoke about it like that, I started to realize how much being an American is a burden, even if you are white, and it‘s a wonderful thing to just stand outside of it. We don‘t face that in this country. We don‘t talk about it. RH: Yes, we will never get past it. Dubois said it‘s the problem of the twentieth century, but it‘s the problem of the twenty-first century, too. I‘ve talked to people about this and I don‘t see any way around it. That‘s a mistake we can‘t take back. In my opinion, we have to learn how to accept our differences to create a different kind of universality. We talk about universality and this whole utopian thing. Especially coming from an American point of view, we‘re just different. We‘ve got differences here. I think once we understand that, we can get to a place— MB: The positive thing about being an American was supposed to be that we could express our differences. Yet there‘s been such a big need in this country (and that‘s the Baldwin essay: ―On Being White…And Other Lies‖) to diminish those differences in order to become something new, to become an American, that we started lying about our actual identities. You can‘t base a civilization on those kinds of tropes, those kinds of lies, and have much of a hope of an honest outcome. We don‘t ever face it. Year after year after year. When I was a kid, I went through desegregation in North Carolina. I remember seeing the word ―Colored‖ on water fountains.
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RH: I‘m forty-nine. I lived in Birmingham and I saw ―Colored Only‖ too. My mother was a teacher in the integrated Birmingham school system and I went wherever she taught. That was the worst experience of my life. I understand. MB: I was in Germany last summer and, in speaking about the guilt felt by her country, a woman remarked that she had known a South African and that was the only time she had ever had a conversation with someone who had shared some of the same guilt. White Southerners in America can‘t share the guilt because we suppress it. But it‘s in every beat of our heart of every day. There‘s no way out. RH: You say that beauty connects when the injury has been done and overcome. What is your definition of overcoming? MB: Individuation occurring again. In other words, what I see in people is that they equate conventional beauty with the erasing of the individual. Make-up: you go to Bloomingdale‘s and these little girls, maybe they‘re good looking behind there, you can‘t tell. There‘s so much make-up on them. Insofar as people saying, gosh, she‘s beautiful, they mean that she exists as a projection screen upon which they can put their idea of what is beautiful. They‘re not interested in who she is. What I do with my girls is ultimately a process of glorification. I cover their faces in white, as if to erase their individuality, but what I hope happens is that you look into their faces and they still look back at you from themselves. That they‘ve had this done to them, but they‘ve beat it. RH: This leads into my next question. How do you view erasure? I‘m going back to ―Olympia‖ by Édouard Manet. You have the white nude figure and the Black servant in the background. She is basically rendered invisible in that the focus is not on her. In your Olympia Series, it seems to be about the reimagining of the erasure and bringing the black body into the discussion. MB: She‘s the heroine of it. All of my life, I was told that Manet‘s ―Olympia‖ was a painting about female empowerment, because there‘s the white girl looking out at us without being ashamed. What killed me is that Olympia meant ―whore.‖ That wasn‘t the original title of the painting, it got attached to it as a nickname and it stuck. ―Olympia‖ was your girl on the side. So, I was a young woman looking at that painting and thinking, good God, this is their image of female empowerment? The person I‘d like to be in that painting is the one with her clothes on holding the flowers,
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not the hooker in the foreground. I started to think about those two women together. In a normal scenario, a servant and the woman who‘s hired her have a rather predictable relationship. But in a whorehouse, a young woman hired to pretend this young whore is a lady, I would imagine they would have a more intimate relationship. I then started re-imagining the Olympia Series as two women in a foxhole. You stand looking at Manet‘s ―Olympia‖ from the perspective of the man, the John, looking at the hooker with her servant in the background. He implicates you in that position if you simply gaze at this painting. I wanted to say, okay, between these young women, you‘re seeing something intimate. You‘re seeing their relationship, not a lesbian relationship, but that of two soldiers in a foxhole. RH: Is the symbolism of the dwarf in the ―Olympia Series‖ meant to disrupt the narrative? MB: It‘s going to make you look at it. First of all, in the history of painting dwarves, they‘ve always been the most conscious figure. Look at Velasquez, who paints more dwarves than anyone else. In his major work, ―Las Meninas,‖ three people are looking out at you: the little girl (the princess), Velasquez himself, and the dwarf. It‘s the dwarf carrying the burden of consciousness. If you suffer in the world, if you don‘t fit in the world, you are aware of the world in a way that most people are not. I saw the dwarf as the person that I could love in this situation. Similarly, the young black woman is someone who doesn‘t move with ease through society. I saw the two of them comforting each other in this scenario. The young black woman is always the empowered individual. The young white woman is always trying to protect herself and the black woman is usually comforting her in my paintings. RH: Do you think you are rearranging the narrative of race in order to dispel the notion of race? Would you say the canvas is a microcosm of the world? MB: I would say that you can‘t dispel the notion of race. I did one ―Olympia‖ painting in which the white woman is not a dwarf but has alopecia. She has no hair on her body at all. She has an immune deficiency disorder, but she‘s also very beautiful. The thing I like best about the painting is the way their legs are tangled at the bottom of the painting. Their legs are all the same color because the young black woman is in full light and the white woman is in shadow. I am a teacher, and my students say to me, ―I want to learn how to paint flesh.‖ And I tell them that for a
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painter there is no such thing as flesh. All there is is light going over a surface. If you look at a dark-skinned person in full light, they‘re a lighter person than a white person is in shadow. Learn to think without assumptions. Learn to realize that light is illuminating, for heaven‘s sakes, and allow yourself to be illuminated. Allow yourself to think. Think over your assumptions and realize that people you have not previously thought worthy of your consideration may well be worth your adoration, your glorification. RH: What inspired you to paint the ―Another Thorny Crown‖ series? MB: I started painting white paint on the face of a model in the process of depicting a wedding. I hadn‘t intentionally done that at all. I had started doing this wedding series and it angered me that they want to erase you on the day of your wedding. They want to turn you into this white virgin no matter who you are. All cultures do it. No matter how white you are, it was never whiter enough. They put white paint on Queen Elizabeth. Who is whiter than that old broad? Every culture does it. I became fascinated by the process. It‘s an erasure. It‘s to erase identity. So I was in the process of painting one of my models in white face. Then I happened to walk into a florist‘s store and saw a branch of cotton bolls. I had to touch them. It blew me away; I‘d never touched the plant before. I had no idea what a cruel plant it is. I pulled at the white material inside, and I realized what a nightmare it must have been to do this by hand to harvest the crop. The boll is a barbed protective hull, thorns out of which you have to pull the fiber. Each act of pulling the fiber out of the boll had to hurt every time you did it, a thousand times a day. In the South now, a machine does all of it, just levels the field. But it was done by hand for a couple of hundred years. The inheritance of it. My family were dirt farmers in North Carolina. We never had plantations, but the whole country was built on the backs of people who suffered as an act of their daily lives, putting their hands in thorns. Being Southern Baptist, being raised in that tradition, it was a pretty quick leap from there to Christ‘s crown of thorns. RH: The subjects of the ―Another Thorny Crown‖ series appear to have white paint or powder on their faces. They have cotton branches in their hair. In the context of America, these are two powerfully symbolic reminders of minstrelsy and slavery. When you were painting this series, what did you imagine would be the reaction of viewers, in particular black Americans and white Americans?
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MB: It scared me to death. RH: When I look at these paintings, it seems like you‘re working things out. For me, the literary, analytical context is at work when I look your images. MB: You have to understand that the images evolved organically, they weren‘t arrived at analytically. The first one grew out of my model, JJ, vamping around the studio in a wedding dress. I had a child‘s mannequin in my studio with a crown on it that I‘d gotten from a renaissance fair. JJ couldn‘t resist putting it on, and I was struck by how she looked, although I never painted her in it. Then I saw the branches of cotton and I imagined them in place of the crown. One of the things that strikes me is that she doesn‘t know the history of cotton. I started working with her when she was six. She‘s now eight. She still doesn‘t really know the history. That‘s stunning to me. I‘ve always wondered: when is the first moment when a black child realizes she‘s black, what her history is? RH: I can almost literally tell you. [laughs] I didn‘t really think about it because I lived in a very segregated community. My mother was a schoolteacher and she was part of a group of African-American schoolteachers who were determined to integrate the school systems. That‘s when I first heard someone call me a ―nigger.‖ MB: When was that? RH: This was in the third grade. MB: When you were in a white school? RH: Yeah and then I used to have to walk home from school every day and a bunch of kids would call me ―nigger.‖ That‘s when I realized the world wasn‘t what I thought it was. MB: When you told your mother that, what did your mother say? It‘s got to be horrible. RH: The first time it happened, a girl called me a ―nigger‖ and I hit her. Somehow, inherently, I knew this wasn‘t right and it felt so dirty. I felt that I had been violated. It
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became a big thing where my dad came up to school, but the principal of the school sort of had my mother‘s back. The little girl‘s parents were upset. I didn‘t want to go back and we didn‘t talk about it. When I was two years old, the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church was eight blocks from my house. I don‘t remember that. My parents kept me shielded from a lot of stuff. MB: Of course. Anybody would. RH: Anyway, were you, or are you at all, preoccupied with the possibility that presenting young black girls in whiteface may offend African Americans? MB: The reactions have been almost all positive. One man has said to me that they made him very nervous, but that the title made it okay for him. Willie Middlebrook, a black artist, told me he felt OK with it because he could tell how much I loved the kids. RH: When I‘ve showed it to people, their initial reaction is, ―It‘s so beautiful.‖ MB: Oh, thank you. RH: I tell writers all the time when I‘m teaching a creative writing workshop that the initial stanza and the initial lines are so important. You have only a minute to capture your reader. I would assume it is the same thing with a visual art. You have only that instant and it‘s up to you as an artist to understand that and draw the viewer in. That‘s the reaction that I noticed people have. MB: Was it about the fact that I‘m white? Would it have been very different if the artist had been Black? RH: I don‘t think so, because I didn‘t mention your race. That was the last thing I did. I deliberately kept race out of it. Race matters, but what‘s more important is what you‘re looking at and what‘s going on in your mind. MB: What I‘m also trying to say (and this is a dangerous thing to say; it‘s what Germans talk about), is that what Americans don‘t face has hurt all of us. There‘s a great line from Saul Bellow that says repression is not particular; you repress one thing, you repress the thing adjacent. If you have to base a society on a lie that big,
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as big as racism, your own mind is going to lose pieces of its own integrity. It hurts all of us. Surely black people were hurt a great deal more than white people, but I don‘t think white people face how much of their integrity was lost by this and continues to be lost. All children, when they first see the water fountains with the ―Colored‖ sign, are made very nervous by that. You know it‘s wrong. RH: My niece cried when I brought her to the Birmingham Civil Rights Museum. The poet Martha Collins has a book length poem called Blue Front, which is about her father witnessing a lynching in 1902. She‘s a white woman. I just brought her up to the University of New Haven last week to do a reading through our Arts@Night Series. She said, ―This is my story too. We‘re all affected.‖ MB: In some ways, the white race has faced it less. Faulkner tried very hard. I think Light in August was the best book in which he faced that. To try to get white people to see how much they had destroyed themselves in order to destroy other people. RH: You have to acknowledge the presence of that and how it affects one. That‘s what Toni Morrison talks about in her book of criticism Playing in the Dark. She talks about the effect of an Africana presence in literature. Even through the erasure, it affects the characters and the way people write even though they don‘t acknowledge it. So what is the relationship between the girls and the observer in the ―Thorny Crown‖ series? MB: I want them to see that this is an innocent child. This is someone who does not know the history of Christ and His crown, necessarily. She‘s inheriting all of these symbols and she doesn‘t know what they are. I want you to see what it is like to perpetrate this horrible history on an innocent child. I asked you when was the moment you knew this [history]; this is the moment before she knows what your history has done to her. She‘s free of it in the moment you‘re looking at it, and I want you to feel what you‘ve done. She looks at you with that intense beauty and you have to understand what‘s happening—and you know she doesn‘t. RH: I like that. The color white seems to play a significant role in the series. The meaning of white varies across cultures. For example, in many Western cultures, white connotes purity and in some Eastern cultures, it connotes death. What role does white play in your work?
BOWLAND/ HORTON ∫ 46
MB: Spirituality. The best use of white is in Africa. It‘s associated with justice and connotes spirituality: in other words, to make ghosts of people. Because in Africa, there‘s no such thing as a black man; they‘re men. If you whiten someone, you‘re putting them in the spiritual world. That is a positive connotation. But, I like pulling it in as well because the spiritual implication is erasing identity. I‘ve read in African cultures that they‘ll put white on their faces when they‘re going to pronounce judgment. In a village, the elders will sit in a tribunal fashion to hear cases. Some guy stole another guy‘s goat, ox, wife, land. They will put white on their faces to keep themselves from being your neighbor. Like the British [judges] will put those white wigs on. You see them as someone else. In a tribunal capacity, they have a different power. Again, you are erasing their individuality and allowing them to assume a position of authority over you. So whiteness does that as well. RH: In the artist‘s statement on your website, you discuss the relationship between the subjects of your paintings and the observer. You describe yourself as a predator. Is there a contradiction or conflict for you as an observer who is complicit in the objectification of your subjects and your desire as an artist to draw attention to this objectification? MB: Yes. That‘s quite accurate. I love the people I work with, deeply. We get quite close as I pick them up for modeling sessions, meet their relatives at home, we go to the park, we go for a soda. Yet, when they‘re in my studio I‘m running after something, and I can hear my voice change. I can‘t control that because then I‘m the artist trying to take something in my mind and use the model and paint to make it real. That is an amoral position. All artists are amoral in that they‘re running after something that is in their head and heart and that they need and want. They need a fix. They‘re not in that moment considering the ramifications of what they‘re doing or the people they‘re using to get their art made. I‘m appalled sometimes at the fact that I make this thing almost in a spell and then I look at it later and I think, my God, what did I do? I don‘t think there‘s any way out of it. RH: What emotion do you have when you view the final product? MB: Wow, that‘s an interesting question. I‘m always overwhelmed by how beautiful [JJ] is. Here‘s this little girl who has a head the size of a grape. She is tiny for her age. Yet, she‘s like Audrey Hepburn. They said if you saw Audrey Hepburn in a
BOWLAND/ HORTON ∫ 47
room you would not look twice at her. But in film she was regal. Some people are born with that. If you said to somebody that in a past life (I don‘t believe this) JJ was Cleopatra, they would say, ―Obviously.‖ She just commands presence. RH: In the Black community, we would say she‘s been here before. MB: Yes. Exactly. But I‘m working with her, so when I‘m running after her in the room, you kind of don‘t know what‘s happened until you stand back and look. So I‘m always struck by, wow, that is somebody. RH: Your work is photo-realistic. What led you to work in this style? MB: I started as an abstract painter because when I was in college, that‘s all you could do. But all I ever wanted to do was make pictures about stories. So I just started going to museums and teaching myself how to paint. RH: You were the winner of the People‘s Choice Award at the National Portrait Gallery. I imagine this was a highlight of your career in art. Congratulations. Can you describe that experience? MB: It was very gratifying. I get emails from people all over the country telling me how much that exhibition mattered to them. I had one guy write to me, he was a real estate agent who had been killing time between appointments. He didn‘t go to art museums very much. He saw the exhibit and loved it. I have had many messages from young black women who thank me for making a glorious painting of a black person like they see of white people in museums. They saw themselves differently. They never mention the whiteface. RH: Really? That‘s the first thing I was drawn to. I‘m thinking about doubleconsciousness, a two-ness as Dubois would say. I guess the interaction between every viewer is different, and your context is different. I come from a literary background. A lot of my literary friends thought about that relationship. Images killed us [Black people] in this country, and we built this whole [complex] about image. MB: Lord, yes. We assume when we look at somebody that we know something about them and it‘s staggering. It‘s a staggering way to think. You‘re starting with a mistake every single time.
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RH: How do we get past that mistake? MB: Well, by admitting that it is one—By developing a sense of humor about it. Humor is very much missing from the art world. It doesn‘t exist in the art world. What I mean by humor is an ability to forgive yourself for your stupidity. You have to. Otherwise you never begin to see. I always try to tell my students what you try to do is turn into somebody who‘s blind and suddenly receive their sight. It‘s impossible. But don‘t make assumptions. I read a fascinating thing about blind people who literally have been given their sight. They don‘t know that this is a table. They don‘t know anything. They have to be given words for their associations. They‘ve lived in the world all this time, they know this feels like a table, but they don‘t know the word. RH: I think it was Sartre who said that if you have to say free, then you‘re not free. MB: No one is free. Freedom doesn‘t exist. I hear people talk about free choice and I don‘t even know what that means. Who the hell has ever experienced free choice? I guess in my heart I do not believe that exists. Margaret Bowland was born in 1952 in Burlington, North Carolina. She was educated in the Burlington public schools and at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her painting "Portrait of Kenyetta and Brianna" was a finalist in the Outwin Boucheever Portrait Competition and was exhibited along with other competition portraits for a year at the Smithsonian Institute's National Portrait Competition, where the painting was given the People's Choice award after a popular vote by viewers of the exhibition. Ms. Bowland teaches at the New York Academy of Art, a graduate school renown for its training in figurative art. Ms. Bowland is represented by the Babcock Gallery in New York, where she will have a one person show from March 1 to April 15 of 2010. Her work will also be on display in 2011 at the South Carolina Museum of Art in Greenville, South Carolina. More at:
Randall Horton is a poet and Editor-in-Chief of Tidal Basin Review.
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MURAKAMI WEDDING #2, 2009
Oil paint on linen, 78 x 66 inches, 198 x 167.6 cm
BOWLAND ∫ 50
HOW I LOVE HIM
DéLana R.A. Dameron I know there is a way to love that frees. I know there is a way to love that gives life. I know this even though I have not witnessed such love. bell hooks, ―Wounds of Passion‖
I am afraid to love. I am afraid my love is hard like my great-aunt Nora‘s love. She wanted to love her first child. She was so eager to give of herself to the newborn boy, to breast feed, that in the act of doing what she always dreamt of doing – holding a suckling infant to her breast – she held him there until he suffocated. ** I started loving like my father. I give people things I feel they might desire, things with which I feel I could buy their love. Once a man told me at the point I asked, he was not romantically interested in me but kept me around. I was naïve and desperate and stayed and cooked, bought him things so that he could see I could love him; maybe so he could see he could grow to love me. I crocheted scarves for winter, sent him little notes in the mail, sometimes saying things I could not say in person or over the phone, thinks like: you make me happy, or, I am learning about myself through you. Things you say to the person you love, I think. Things to say to someone who loves you back. ** Darrell has opened a door. I am on the threshold; he is inside the house. He has cooked peas and rice, teriyaki tofu with red and yellow peppers, a red-cabbage and citrus salad. I am in the atrium of his Brooklyn brownstone with an overnight bag I traveled with on the A-train from Harlem. I have not walked into his apartment yet; have not walked through his open door. He knows I do not know how to be open, but stands in the threshold.
DAMERON ∫ 51
I do not know how long a man will wait for me to know how to love. Outside his apartment from the threshold, I can see stem-less wineglasses on the coffee table. He is waiting for me to walk through the open door. I have brought wine; it is in a black, long bag that says ―THE WINERY‖ written in all caps down the middle. It is our favorite place to buy wine. We love the Pinotage, the Vigoneer. I have a South African white blend to go with dinner. I hand him this through the door. He says, ―Come in.‖ ** The first time, we‘re sitting on the bank of the Ashley Cooper River in Charleston, South Carolina. It is midnight. This man had called to see how I was doing, and I came to meet him. We‘re in my car. I like to drive. I do not like to be driven. I‘m talking to him about the water, and he puts his hand over my mouth and kisses me, says, I‘m talking too much, and can we just listen to the world happening outside the car? I do not say that was the first time I‘d ever kissed a man, that no one has ever seen me naked. I believe this equates with desire. So, no one has desired me in this way, in a way that invites me to participate. I follow what he is doing, and we stay like this for a moment. Lauryn Hill sings about changing worlds. Soon, I will leave this place for New York City and never turn back, so the story goes. We drive back in silence. He says I didn‘t feel like a virgin. I think it‘s over. I think he will never call me back. I do not want to tell him that I was raped. I do not say: someone did with me what they wanted without my consent. I do not tell him that I find the word, ―No,‖ useless, because who listens to a word I say, anyways? He calls me again, and this last time we meet up, I have no words. Just flesh. I make the calls. ** Darrell is at my door this time with his red backpack that smells like New York City subways and Brooklyn nights. Outside in Harlem, St. Nicholas Avenue is covered in snow. It is the first snow of season, the first snow in my own apartment, the first anything I have shared with someone I will eventually call my boyfriend. Except I don‘t call him my boyfriend. Even though I had been with other men, and shared spaces with them, we never got to this point. To this point in front of the door. Not like this. So, by now, by the time I can say it, I feel the desire to say, ―boyfriend‖ has passed, and shouldn‘t grown women use different terms? I call him my partner, my lover – someone I am choosing to get a chance to love. Everything outside is white, DAMERON ∫ 52
almost new. The sun reflects off the snow piled on the sidewalk from the snowplow, and somehow it feels brighter in my studio. Darrell has come here to see what it might be like to get to know me better, more. We change scenes weekly, each opening up our separate spaces. I ask him to take off his shoes. He walks in. I wonder what it must be like to walk so willingly into the house, wool socks against a creaking hardwood floor. I have my old college sweatshirt on and jeans and my dreadlocks are pulled up into a knot on the top of my head. He takes off his coat and sweater and scarf. I keep the sweatshirt on. ** Sometimes, when I give, I want the receiver to think highly of me. Of the act. I think the act of gifting is a selfish act disguised as selfless. ** And then, I finally enter his apartment. Darrell asks me to remove my shoes, and I do it. I do not want to seem closed, but open. I take the wine out of the bag, and we share. He is preparing the plates; I sit on his couch, watching him move about his kitchen – lifting his eyes to the top right cabinet to pull down the purple plates, and inspecting the silverware before he puts it on a napkin in front of me. I ask if I can help, but really, I just want to watch Darrell move about the kitchen as he does: he gathers the tongs from the drawer and pinches some red cabbage and arranges it on my plate. The house smells like black eye peas and coconut milk. There is some music in the background, but it is soft and I cannot make it out. I‘ve never known anyone to go out of their way to make me comfortable like this, to give, and so I sit back in the couch, my lumbar finally kissing the crease where the back of the couch reaches the seat cushion. ** After the first time in the car, when a man first touched me and I wanted to be touched in that way, and I marveled at the way my body could rise with someone else‘s tongue in my mouth—and I let it be there—and how soft I got because someone was riding their hands along my bare thighs, and I could touch the nape of their neck to pull them closer, and our bodies could touch. After I knew I could want that feeling, I sought it out whenever I could. I was reckless with flesh. I felt this was a DAMERON ∫ 53
kind of gifting: I offered up my body, got a body in return. I am ashamed to say it, but will say it now: somewhere along the way to figuring out how to love, I lost count. ** When I feel Darrell pull away from me, that‘s when I know I am holding him too close. This is how I‘ve come to love my mother. We cannot live in the same house anymore. We love each other from a distance, over the phone. When I come to visit, there is always an eruption, and I think: she is suffocating me. I do not want to suffocate this man I call my partner, my lover. I do not want to kill. So I withhold. Sometimes this distance leaves too much space between, and I come off as cold, as not being open. This is how I try to keep alive, I think, this is how I have to love you now. Darrell doesn‘t get it. We do not talk about it, except to say, I haven‘t seen you in a while, except to say things that bite – sharp words said with a sharp tongue. He knows how I let words get to me, because words are sometimes the only indication that things are still alive and living. Hello? Are you there? I ask. I‘m here, he says. And I know he hasn‘t left me. Leaving me would be saying he didn‘t want to try to love me, and every day he doesn‘t leave I believe is a small miracle that I haven‘t run him off. And maybe my mother is wrong. I can learn how. I can learn how to love a man. Darrell comes to my house and I give him tea, offer him breakfast. He says it‘s time to leave, and I think of reasons to get him to stay. This is how I chase away. Giving too much. Giving too much that I hope they‘ll be convinced it is enough and what they desire, and they should want it. I want to give Darrell whatever I have that will guarantee he‘ll stay, but I know there is never a guarantee. ** My father left my mother the first time when he came home with a gym bag and cologne on his neck, and he never wore cologne. That is how she knew something was different, when things started to change. Even though he never stopped providing. I remember the fights they used to have. My mother retaliated. She left my father by going off with a family friend, and orchestrated meetings with my grandmother who always stood by her side. My parents left each other this way. Each night they would yell about how could they not love each other, and how could they go off and be with someone else? Each night, I learned that marriage and fidelity are not certainties, that even a ring will not keep you. My father bought my mother a ring, and still, she did not stay. Well, she stayed, but that was it. She kept DAMERON ∫ 54
her presence, but emotionally, she was not there. Emotionally, my father was not there, but he still paid the bills, and we still ate dinner every night, and I can‘t once ever remember wanting something, so I still believed he loved me, and he loved us, and I still loved him, even though in a sense he left me, but I was given everything I wanted, right? What else could I want? ** Before Darrell, after my reckless nights trying to know what love might feel like through the flesh, I only let one man into my apartment in Harlem. I can‘t explain why I was still holding onto someone who told me they would never be able to find it in themselves to love me, but I guess I have to admit I was desperate and stuck around, and wondered why he wouldn‘t let me love him because it was all I ever wanted to do, to love, and he was here and I was here, and isn‘t that the first step to loving: being present? When I told the man I felt like I was being used, that I was a band-aid to his loneliness, and he was just keeping me around until he found someone, he did not disagree. This is how I knew we would never come to love each other, and this is when the gifts stopped. I cried the whole way home. I called him and asked how could he do this? And he asked, Do what? And I said, lead me to believe we were going somewhere? And he was silent and I hung up the phone and vowed to never speak to him again. Then his absence hurt more than his half-presence, and I understood why my parents never divorced, and I was back in front of his television watching a movie again. ** I still don‘t believe Darrell is fully here, though he says he is. Maybe that is not something I will ever believe. When we kiss, I wrap my arms around his back to pull him closer, to feel the weight of his body against my body. I know that when I let go, he can get up and leave, and one day, he might not come back.
DAMERON ∫ 55
Nicole Wilson A tree grows around anything: car tire, salon sign, fence post â&#x20AC;&#x201C; that must be how bones grow around metal bars. Nothing aches all of the time. There was 1995
and a summer, ruining everything. It never asked permission to ruin, for example, the canned beets broke open over the stump.
The breeze mouthed us, stayed awake for three days. Night spread a gauze over watermelon seeds scattering the yard: the premonition of slough and spades.
WILSON â&#x2C6;Ť 56
XI. EMANCIPATION TEST #1,008
Please describe your pain on the scale below: _____The shimmer peeled from a feather _____ From the hollow-bodied guitar An abyss _____ Rusted shut _____ Then, _____ Metal trees Roll from place to place On castor wheels _____ A cloud No door
HOPPER â&#x2C6;Ť 57
VI. PLIGHT OF THE OVERSEER
If you cut your finger, bandage the knife. ---Joseph Beuys
Set mind, mint Mint mind, set Punish meant Punish mint, to mean Meant Mind, to set. Mint Set on Mind, set
HOPPER â&#x2C6;Ť 58
THE LOST QUATRAIN OF THE BALLAD OF A RED FIELD
Keith S. Wilson
after a murder, in a quiet suburb Some man‘s lovely mother, a picket fence, her jewelry in the light. She sits in a clean room, drinking a white wine. She kisses a jersey not sorry, sublime, still deaf to straight or gay to the long red lines her son made dragging a man, screaming, through a field.
WILSON ∫ 59
DOSE OF REALITY
Before it turned in to a pile of steaming, um, rubble, the winter of 1993 had been fabulous – everything a young gay man could hope for. Credit love. And sex. Mind-blowing sex with a guy who was almost my perfect match. Almost. We were serodisconcordant. He was HIV-positive, I was HIV-negative. But that detail seemed surmountable; just keep ―it‖ under wraps when sir‘s doing the mounting. Easybreezy. But then, during one particularly athletic sexcapade, a little more than my mind was blown. The shredded condom, flapping on its pole like the enemy army‘s flag planted on my horizon, proclaimed loud and clear that I‘d been invaded. Talk about a party stopper! I tried laughing it off, hoped for the best, but I knew that my body – the traitor – had never met a virus it didn‘t welcome with wide-open antibodies. From whooping cough to chicken pox to measles to Hepatitis A, it had spent a lifetime practicing non-discrimination. And true to form, within the year my ELISA HIV-antibody test results changed from negative to positive. It‘s a preliminary test, I reminded myself, prone to inaccuracies and falsepositives. The follow-up Western Blot test, the most accurate in those days (and the most expensive which explains why my insurance carrier restricted it to cases of confirmation only), might come back with different results. But from my deepest heart of hearts, that rational voice I so rarely paid any mind niggled: You should prepare for the possibility that it‘s positive. I took this to mean I should immediately begin to obsess about dying. So I did. Mightily. But mostly, for the two endless weeks it took for the test results to come back, I ruminated about the two possible outcomes: condemnation or . . . fingers crossed
and Jesus, I promise, I swear on my Granny‘s good name, I will never again do anything even remotely exciting, no matter how unbelievably hunky a man is, if you‘ll just let me slide this one little time . . . salvation. Come judgment day, I would either thank my very fortunate stars, feeling positive about maintaining a negative status, or, fall devastated to the lowest low, positively negative about having converting to positive. LASSITER ∫ 60
Wait . . . what? I couldn‘t make sense of the language, let alone the implications. It was all so confusing that it was actually a relief when the results finally came in – at least I knew where I stood. Unfortunately, I stood squarely on the side of tainted. This is it, I thought: this is my defining moment, and it isn‘t a definition I like. An HIV infection in the early 90‘s was essentially a terminal diagnosis. The single available treatment was AZT, a nucleoside analog reverse transcriptase inhibitor, or nuke. Isn‘t that cute? But this little nuke had two problems. First, it was not very functional. It worked only in some cases, and often only for a short while. Secondly, it destroyed the man as much as the virus. Not a pleasant option. My trusted physician, Dr. Peter, advised me that more effective treatments were just around the corner and, since my ―numbers‖ were thus far ―non-threatening‖, we might consider waiting to begin treatment. Numbers; too many numbers to count. There were viral loads and CD4 counts and milligrams and parts per liter and parts per million and acceptable ratios and percentages and . . . oh, man – why hadn‘t I paid attention in even the most rudimentary of math classes? My high school teachers had warned that I would need algebra in real life; I had no idea this was what they meant. My viral load and CD4 count might not yet be threatening, but this numbers thing certainly was. Dr. Peter channeled the patience of Saint Peter as he explained to me the ins and outs, the norms and not-so-norms, of my diagnosis. He produced several kindergarten-worthy diagrams in pretty pastel colors that illustrated the probable progression of the disease. We could wait until the rising pink line crossed the dipping turquoise line to start treatment, he counseled, but no longer. Together, Dr. Peter and I decided to postpone chemical intervention until the proper numbers did a nose dive – or was it a sudden spike? – and/or until more effective and tolerable medications were available.
LASSITER ∫ 61
But I couldn‘t just sit on my thumbs and do nothing, so I did what any rational person in my situation would do. I wrote a florid self-obituary, doled my prized possessions out to stunned friends, stopped paying my credit card bills (but didn‘t stop charging things), and gave up making plans beyond the upcoming weekend. And I waited for the grim reaper‘s certain appearance. I fine-tuned those new deathobsession skills, scrambling to Dr. Peter‘s office with every sniffle and pimple. Was this it? There is no horror movie that can produce the fear I felt in Dr. Peter‘s waiting room. A cadre of walking skeletons and living zombies were propped on the unattractive mauve office furniture, their death masks contorted in various stages of withered pain. It seemed as though I peered through a twisted, fast-forward Alex-inWonderland looking glass, and what I saw on the other side was my immediate and unnatural demise. This was my unavoidable future, a scenario rendered crystal clear by the AIDS-related death of the lover who infected me – succumbed to a type of cancer that normally afflicted people twice his age. Until I seroconverted, Dr. Peter had been little more than my peter doctor, tsktsking like a much cuter and way-more-gay Marcus Welby while dispensing medications for the occasional bout of common gonorrhea or crabs. A quick shot or a stinging shampoo and I was cured. Like a ham. Oh, how I longed for the good old days, but they were no more. Dr. Peter suggested I start on Crixivan, the eighth FDA-approved antiretroviral and the first approved protease inhibitor, when my viral load climbed to over 50,000 RNA copies per milliliter of blood plasma. Are you getting a sense of the complexity of the numbers game yet? Don‘t worry, I never got it, either. All I knew was my number was up. In order to get my insurance provider to pay for the Crixivan, still considered experimental at that point, I had to agree to meet regularly with their Case Manager, a perky young woman who spoke in cheerful platitudes about every dark cloud‘s silver lining and all bad paths leading to a new fork in the road. All the while she kept more than a respectable distance between us and repeatedly washed her hands. I wanted to put a fork in her forehead. LASSITER ∫ 62
Crixivan was the first medication ever prescribed to me without a stop date, and it was not a gentle deflowering. Crixivan requires three doses spread evenly over the day‘s 24 hours. Not ten minutes before or after the scheduled dose, but on the mark. And that target has to be one hour before or two hours after a meal. Again, no room for variance. Eating devolved from a lovely leisure activity to a rigorously timed obstacle course. If there were an Olympic event for eating on schedule, I would be a gold medalist. I am the Michael Phelps of scheduled eating. My social life took careful reconnaissance. Have you ever tried to gracefully beg out of a five course gourmet dinner lovingly prepared by a Food Network devotee? Without divulging your HIV status? Not only was I learning how to maintain an unyielding medication regimen, something that has proved useful in later years, I was developing some pretty sharp manipulation skills. Come to think of it, those have come in handy, too. The thing about Crixivan is that it often stops working. Most people get another year or two out of it before their numbers again start herding them toward the grave. So I took my pills on schedule but continued waiting for death. But the unforeseen happened. I lived. And kept living. New drugs were developed; eventually the HIV medication regimen became more efficient and less dramatic. I was even forced to start paying those credit card bills again (but I never did manage to re-collect all my keepsakes). These days I take three medications for my HIV infection – a drug cocktail, perhaps the most boring cocktail I‘ve ever had – in the form of two tablets once a day. And when I visit Dr. Peter, the men waiting with me are unremarkable: a fairly normal bunch of aging baby boomer queens. If there is a death bed candidate in the group it is likely due to prostate cancer or a brain aneurysm or multiple myeloma. Nowadays, when HIV infection is detected early and treated appropriately, nearly every clinical problem associated with it has become something less than critical. As Dr. Peter recently said, ―We don‘t look at this as an acute and terminal illness any longer; we view it like diabetes, a chronic but treatable condition. It‘s manageable.‖ For anyone who thinks that this statement justifies relaxing safe sex protocols, let me remind you that about 14,600 people die annually from AIDS-related illnesses LASSITER ∫ 63
in the United States, and the numbers – damn those persistent numbers – are much higher in less developed countries. But here in the western world at least, while still presenting significant social, economic, and cultural problems, AIDS is no longer an automatic death sentence. I was surprised recently when I did my own math (on a calculator, of course – some things, like math skills, never get better): I‘ve been managing it for 16 years now. Managing, yes, but not forgetting. HIV infection is still a significant influence, one that shades all of my days. But I have come to realize is that I am not defined by this infection. I am defined by how well I live with it. I‘m no longer a young man. A few years ago my physical examination revealed a cholesterol count of two-eighty-five with an HDL ratio of six. Forget dying of AIDS; a heart attack loomed with bleak certainty. The cure? No more red meat. Reject eggs. Don‘t even think about cheddar. Replace them with cardiovascular exercise, oats, and two white oval pills every morning. My risk was reduced, as were (again!) culinary joy and precious time spent sprawled on the sofa. Then my blood pressure lifted off, orbited at one-seventy-two over one hundred. I blamed the exercise. This problem required two oblong blue tablets twice a day. Salt became a four-letter word. My pressure lowered, but my head spun faster, higher than a cyclone. ―Just a side effect,‖ Dr. Peter explained. ―Seems less side than central,‖ I replied. But I gag down the prescribed pink and white caplet each day as a countermeasure. Still, time continues to hobble along. As my age increases, so do my weight and the number of medications I consume. Meanwhile, my platelets, range of motion, lung capacity, memory, libido, and hairline all dwindle. Dr. Peter adds Feretab, Flexeril, Albuterol, Rivastigmine, Testosterone gel, Viagra, and Propecia. Once a day, twice a day, every six hours, evening only, take with food, call your doctor if an erection lasts longer than four hours, avoid grapefruit, may cause sleep disturbance. Add Ambien. This chemical panoply is quite a routine, yet, somehow, in no way compares to the strangling rigors of Crixivan. I remain oddly thankful for my early training. LASSITER ∫ 64
The poignant fact here is that none of my conditions are HIV-related; they are all natural circumstances, manifestations of the human bodyâ&#x20AC;&#x2DC;s gradual demise. A situation which, I remind myself daily, was not always a probability for me. There was a time not so long ago when I knew with absolute certainty that I would not reach this age. But no more. Dr. Peter will keep me going to eighty or ninety. Even beyond. I am the born again, the risen. Dr. Peter and I thwarted my early termination and now I will live out a just and golden decline. It is my divine privilege to do a long, slow dance with what summarily killed my peers, my lover, my friends. My aging bones shuffle to a melody as synthetic as the medications that sustain me, yet still it is a melody that brings joy to my heart and thankfulness to my every moment. I have survived to die as nature intended.
LASSITER â&#x2C6;Ť 65
Tracy Chiles McGhee And it was long after Friday night had rolled into Saturday when he stumbled into bed gin-soaked and musty with pit funk and laid heavy on top of his main squeeze and sang in hot breath her favorite love song until his sins became hers and all was forgiven. And it was long after Saturday night had rolled into Sunday when he strutted into the pulpit black coffee-soaked and reekinâ&#x20AC;&#x2DC; of cheap cologne and cigarette smoke and preached long and hard to his eager flock about the power of redemption and three fainted and still another came to the altar, shook off memories of Friday night, and was saved.
CHILES MCGHEE â&#x2C6;Ť 66
THE NEW YEAR
Walking down Broadway I hid the city map much like Mike did the bottle of sky, soaking up the ether of multitudes. Four of us played as beggars with eyes looking up into the shadows of buildings, inserting ourselves in stores for warmth, never spending a dime. I have to say I expected more dirt, more grime, maybe a small layer of filth to pervade and stretch its film over my eyes. That‘s probably why when we settled on the corner of 42nd, with a slender view of our goal, I didn‘t mind Mike‘s need to piss. Our huddle pleased me. Between the hum, the sway, the uneasiness, I don‘t know how he kept all that sky inside him for as long as he did. Once the ball dropped we didn‘t wait for the New Year to wash over us, sprinting down 7th Ave to Penn Station. Underground the emptiness surprised me. KERN ∫ 67
One man tried to fill the space, a man whose leather jacket and kicks unburdened his dance-skin. My friends pointed and laughed unable to see that this one man -- this leather-year man -- was helping us all by possessing the new year with a fervor we all forgot, swinging his arms and hips in a circle, letting go of the world, winding it up for another year until the cops came to take him away.
KERN â&#x2C6;Ť 68
UNTIL HE IS NO LONGER
My father moves on from one thing to the next. Catch his eye, he dives heart first and doesn‘t think to look back at the thing he left behind. His joy, the practice, the repetition to master what his hands can hold until he is no longer master. What his hands can hold: joy, the practice, the repetition to look back at the thing. He left behind his heart first and doesn‘t think to catch his eye. He dives from one thing to the next. My father moves on.
KERN ∫ 69
He sings himself afoot, out of bed and past the door, leaving a faint trail of footprints in the dew-grass towards the riverbank where the wind-blown reeds and blue heron wait for dawn to come. He takes his socks off last before he slips into the comfort of the waterrobe he thought he lost in the belly of his mother, coming to rest on a sliver of island, happy to camp with Huck and Jim a night until his dreams come to wake him and take him down the river.
KERN â&#x2C6;Ť 70
LIFE AND DEATH AND A PENIS
Another of the angry pains rose up through her hips and into her abdomen as she squatted in the bed gripping the bar in front of her. She heard â&#x20AC;&#x201C; felt a bursting release of pressure, like the sensation of biting a cherry tomato. Then she looked down between her trembling thighs and saw the liquid trickling at first then pouring like a small waterfall onto the white sheets. This was "the water" that her friends had described in such revolting and lengthy detail, the water that strange women in the line at the post office mentioned casually as their birth stories poured from them like so many confessions and tales of war, the water that all of the books with baby in the title referenced as the impetus for the birth experience, the water that all of the women on the cable T.V. birth stories talked about with mythic anticipation. And it was not mythic. "I need to check you, Mercedes," Doctor Anna said after looking down at the water. Anna was her midwife. She chose her because it felt right and because she had good hands and her voice was warm and smooth like cognac. "Did you hear me, Mercedes, I need to check you." "Please, not now," she panted, gripping the bar. "I'll wait until it passes." Doctor Anna was merciful. The pains came one after the other now that her water had broken. All of her studying had taught her that labor would accelerate now, but nothing could have prepared Mercedes for this agony. As she breathed and panted through the next mountainous wave of hurt, she thought about running, just making a break for the door. But she could not run. The baby was wedged into her pelvis now, forcing her legs open, and making walking difficult and running impossible. She could not even squat and hold on to the birthing bar anymore. "It's ok, mija. You don't have to hold the bar anymore," said Graciela, her friend, who was more like a sister than a friend. "We can try whatever position is comfortable right now." MCCOY-WILSON â&#x2C6;Ť 71
"Nothing is comfortable!" "Ay, Mercedes," Graciela rubbed the sweat from her friend's brow with her fingertips. Mercedes remembered all of her classes and books and tantric meditation. It was all so silly to her now – pointless – craziness that was betraying her. "But this is not how it was supposed to be, Graci," Mercedes said through tears. "My body is not doing what it is supposed to do. My legs…they're shaking now. I just can't do it!" She plopped back onto the bed sobbing, exhausted. Doctor Anna and Graciela looked at each other. "I know. You just rest. It won't be long now." Doctor Anna patted Mercedes' knee and began to massage her legs until her breathing slowed. No sooner than she had closed her eyes did the raging wave begin to build and rise from the lowest part of her abdomen, up through her pelvis, and back down into her knees. "I have to walk now," Mercedes rolled to her side and used the bed and the pillows to push up to a sitting position. This had been her method for months. The others helped her stand, and she hobbled and breathed and leaned on them through the wave. She had wanted this baby so badly, but now, the want was waning. The pain was forcing her to ask herself questions she dared not ask a year ago, questions that she had pushed in the far reaches of her mind, filed somewhere between "immortality" and "Armageddon" – Questions like, Why the hell was she doing this without drugs? Who did she think she was, deciding to have a baby alone? Why did she really want a baby, anyway? After all, a baby was just one big ball of human need. What did she even know about babies? Was raising dogs like raising kids? What was she doing! That's it, she thought, she had made a terrible mistake. She was going to stop this whole thing right now.
MCCOY-WILSON ∫ 72
Just then, another wave of pain brought her to her knees. But, calling them "pains" or even "labor" was insufficient. These were assaults – bone splitting, flesh cracking, exquisite reminders of the infinitesimal line between life and death. She could no longer just breathe through the contractions. The breathing turned into long groans that rose up from her pain.
Please God, she thought. If this is death, let me die soon, or just let me pass out. In the movies, when people were in pain, they just lost consciousness. Oh, how wonderful that would be, she thought. Slipping…drifting…fields of lavender and poppy…They had been her childhood playground. She would play until she collapsed in them and fell asleep... Her Abuela would find her curled up like a much smaller child than she was. Her Abuela and her elegant hands, how long and poetic they used to look as she would stuff her thumbs into the toes of small anklet socks with lace trim, preparing them for her and her sister's pudgy little feet on Sunday mornings. Or how they danced like a violinist's bow when she performed the music of the over lock stitch that mended holes in work shirts or school uniforms. Or how romantic her Abuela's hands could make a cigarillo seem. How she had longed for hands like those. They nurtured and soothed and made music all at once. Mercedes could not remember how Doctor Anna and Graciela got her to the bed, but somehow she was there. She was painfully aware of Doctor Anna's counting and twisting fingers around her cervix. Her good hands had betrayed Mercedes. "You're at 10, Mercedes. This is it." The cognac in her voice was gone too. Doctor Anna grabbed one of Mercedes' legs and Graciela grabbed the other. There was a moment when the baby's head was crowning that Mercedes thought sure that she had crossed the line and left the land of the living, that she was sacrificing her life for another, a baby she had decided, just a few moments earlier, was a mistake. Yet, if she was dying, she thought, she had to tell the others to save the baby. "Mercedes, look at me," Doctor Anna said. "I'm going to die!" Mercedes writhed. MCCOY-WILSON ∫ 73
"You are not going to die." "Yes I am! You must save the baby!" Doctor Anna was inches from her face now, locking eyes with her. "Mercedes, I want you to take a deep diaphragm breath, and when you let it out, push from deep down in your pelvic floor." "What? I can't. I don't remember. ¿Quáles pelvic floor?" "Mercedes – ¡Mira! You do remember, and you can do this. Millions of women all over the world have been doing this since the beginning of time, and you're going to do it too." Months ago, this would have brought a tear to her eye, but it now made her angry. She did not want to hear this sentimental bullshit. She was dying a painful death. But somehow she pulled the calisthenics of this maneuver together and managed one push. While she gasped for air before the next contraction, Mercedes began to think of all of the "well-meaning" women she had met during her pregnancy. Whenever she had asked them the question: Just how bad is it? Every one of them had lied. Oh it's the most beautiful thing in the world. You really don't remember the pain. She could picture their faces now. The lady at the deli in the farmer's market had noticed her growing belly on one of her many visits to pick up copious quantities of tomatoes and feta cheese. The lady had volunteered unsolicited advice on childbirth as everyone seemed to do when she walked into a room. Unprovoked and with a smile, she had assured Mercedes that the whole thing would be a breeze. Another friend had looked her squarely in the eyes and told the same lies. Even Doctor Anna had been a part of this deception. Had they all conspired to delude her? She hated the liars – each one. "You lied to me!" Mercedes screamed. "What? What are you talking about?" Little beads of sweat had pooled above Doctor Anna's brow. "This is not beautiful! You said it would be, and I hate you for that cruel lie."
MCCOY-WILSON ∫ 74
"You will forget the pain and only remember the beauty, Mercedes. But we have to get the baby here first." "No," Mercedes pleaded, "I changed my mind! ÂĄNo puedo hacerlo! I can't do it!" "Yes, you can! You are going to push this baby into the world." "No!" "Yes! You know why?" "Why?" "Because it's the only way to stop the pain. Now PUSH!" And with that, Mercedes resigned herself to push with all of her might and newfound rage. And, when it was over, if she had survived, she had planned to slap all of the liars in the face. Three pushes later and there were four people in the room instead of three. Mercedes fell back on the bed exhausted and relieved and no longer angry. Tears rolled down her cheeks, and she sobbed and cursed and laughed and sobbed some more. She did want this baby. She wanted this baby more than anything, and memories of her earlier misgivings had all but faded. Doctor Anna and Graciela went to work clearing the baby's airways. Mercedes leaned forward just as they were cutting the chord, and that's when she saw it. "She has a penis," said Mercedes. The three women looked down at the tiny penis for what seemed like an eternity.
"Loca, you have a son," said Graciela, still staring at the baby's penis. "My baby has a penis. What am I supposed to do with a penis!" said Mercedes. MCCOY-WILSON â&#x2C6;Ť 75
Doctor Anna finished sponging off the chubby baby. Then she swaddled him and placed him on the naked breast of his mother. Mercedes looked down into her son's face, seeing him for the first time. She did not create him alone, but she had nurtured and cultivated him alone. All of his little parts, his little fingers and toes, his heart and his penis had all grown inside of her. And as he stared back at her as if he had been reacquainted with an old friend, she marveled with great clarity that just a few moments earlier she had been more than willing to die so that he might live. And in some way, maybe the old her had died so that he might live. She smiled and rocked the new life in her arms.
MCCOY-WILSON â&#x2C6;Ť 76
MAGNOLIA IN JANUARY
Even the trees are frail as spiders, leaves dropping through summoned light – the vaguest rumor of magnolia, June. What was once green, once waxy is now withered and torn – litter on the hushed, yellow lawn. In that brittle paper are dried rivers, tributaries. Once wide as the Mississippi, they carry nothing now but ash. We all fall to bones, like water to the sea. But we, too, were once green, were once June. When we walked through the yard, on our way to the front door, your feet knew on their own to slow down, keep pace with my smaller steps. But your legs have worked hard at the game of forgetting, muscles and tendons pushing you forward to your wide, natural stride. Now all I see is your back – your wool sweater the surface of an alien planet, orbiting away. But we will meet again, all bodies do. Nothing can break free of the sun‘s brave tugging. I‘ll wax. You‘ll wane. We‘ll wear new faces. I‘ll forget your body, husband, before I forget your name. I‘ll drop pieces of myself so you‘ll know I once lived here.
FOGLE ∫ 77
PORTRAIT OF A DAY, FIRST DAY (AFTER GEORGIA O‘KEEFE)
All this happens every day – green peels away from blackness, a red fire punctures tree branches, and the world sets itself to spinning. Or in abstraction – a koi fish wriggles its shining spine through the brackish water of another unkempt morning. an autumn leaf, an eastern recollection, flares in the hollow trance of soupy, phosphorescent dreaming. a wisp of flame, licking at a murky life devoid of sacred simplicity, offering flowers that open like church doors. Or metaphor of a metaphor – where the tongue becomes an angel that steers through any landscape, finding the quickest path to delicious.
FOGLE ∫ 78
ANOTHER THORNY CROWN #2, 2010
Pastel and charcoal on paper, 60 x 48 inches, 152 x 122 cm
BOWLAND â&#x2C6;Ť 79
AFTER THE GARDEN, WE BATHE
Nancy Carol Moody
I'm thinking of today's viburnum, its stems gone woody from neglect the rust-sheathed shears inadequate, peeling back a scar-tongue of bark where the blade could not cut through, my gloved hands executing one final twist. I'm thinking of the rambler roses, their inglorious spreading informed by what small moisture there remained to follow, the edge-row gone unwatered. How I sundered those desiccated, half-green things, orange-brown in their burning. I soak in my bath, watch my lover as she slow-soaps off the day in the parallel world of her shower stall, my body roped with the ache of forced cutting. I turn the faucet to scald, pour in more salts: such insufficient remedy, devoid of sting.
MOODY â&#x2C6;Ť 80
WHAT THE CONSTRUCTION SITE KNOWS
Nancy Carol Moody
Beneath a rubble of insulation blocks: a woman‘s red pump, size sixand-a-half, four-inch heels. A man‘s billfold, eelskin. Quite a night. The stucco guys come. The framers go. Tamale skins and soda lids outendure rain, sun, snow. A scrap of tuna sandwich is a hit with the crows. Nailguns love thumbs. The gutter men sync like Olympic swimmers. A hardhat is useless on a dive from 60 feet. Sawburnt wood smells good. R-30 batt, OSB, 6-inch stubs of PVC. Curlicues of wire. Bushings, grommets, slugs. Half a building's worth of discards on the lot next door.
Corrie is hott. Mok Justice. Midnight painters spray from the scaffolds. Animal Creme. Dead talk all that bull. Sheetrock can only cover so much. Under the moon‘s interrogation lamp, hydraulic lifts pose—erector-set giraffes in silhouette. It‘s all atmosphere: there are no bodies buried here. Thousands of feet of poured concrete, then seven gleaming stories told in steel, copper, glass. Anything can rise from a lackluster foundation.
MOODY ∫ 81
THE LAST ROBIN OF AUTUMN
Caught up in the panic of autumn, bees hurry among the pink and green— late explosions of wild roses—while raspberries rot past sweetness. Each year there seems less time to harvest what we need, to lie in a farmer‘s field and watch clouds feather before the snow flies. We have missed the last robin of autumn— it has flown—undocumented. At the shade margin where forest meets field—the habitat songbirds prefer— native grapes ripen, their flesh the texture of jelly. But their seeds surprise the tongue, bitter as words of loss. You must spit them out, re-seed the land for spring‘s vigil, and count on the robin‘s return.
SETER ∫ 82
DEATH AT THE FRUIT STAND ON MARKET STREET
Enzo Silon Surin
A confectionary yellow haze had offered up the afternoon wholesale when a sage green sedan, with tinted windows, rims around the corner, driver with fresh lead in his lap, who two days prior had rattled AG‘s rear bumper, after which an argument ensued, after which AG, a straight-A student, was sent to stay with his grandmother for the summer, who on that day sends him out for a bag of fruit, which now dances an esoteric dance across the pavement as two bullets ventilate AG‘s chest, rendering the block a three-ton gridlock— —the when of which began with a crackling commotion over a clunker of a whip—an eighty-six Mazda to be exact, with a smoke-and-tear muffler, double parked near a fruit stand. The story not fully told is that the heart is a purpling bass drum filled with liquid, and grief, a daily rough draft of sails, as plums in a cotton net bag wither in a nearby drain.
SURIN ∫ 83
BREATH IS LIKE A PERCHANCE OF
Enzo Silon Surin
what comes naturally to the senses— making naturally
what comes to neighbor-
hood heap of jabbers and mourners, concentration of bones, of lovers leaving
of those left between summer
hydrant stream cold, heat‘s incapacitated
what comes naturally
to the make shift sensors
love what we call
factions of fractions of love,
the decadent equation multiplied by
two shots three shots one block
SURIN ∫ 84
THE WAYS IN WHICH WATER SPEAKS
know purpose, walk valiantly with the head twisting, opposing the slant— our long necks vie for purpose and sight, knows no touch.
the mind grows fonder of what it cannot have.
water speaks my name so clearly, who am I to say there is no purpose in calling my name—surah, picture of indelible beauty.
SMALLS ∫ 85
— More than the living — Organic heat creeps. Giving off energy red clay under rich black earth, foreign and domestic still separate but peaceful side-by-side. Not plotting destruction and chaos, or preemptive strikes. Just being like the old couple on the front porch with a southern breeze and iced tea, talking about the dog at their feet and what they will cook for supper. Bones too tired to chase down fantasies of something more. Tonight red under hot black soil; in the morning the old woman wakes to find her old man cold like the clay —
PAGE ∫ 86
CLEANING GRANDFATHER‘S OFFICE
Sunday afternoons we dusted end tables in the waiting room, plumping pillows on the brown couch that Grandmother said was too low for anyone to sit in. I liked polishing the silver tops of glass containers of cotton balls and cotton swabs, to see the crisp white paper sheet laid so perfectly out for the next patient. We straightened the brochures sternly preaching against too much salt. It was his office that scared me, there in the back corner, his desk piled high with papers, the grey file cabinets tall and imposing. The day never seemed to shine in through his dark curtains, keeping everything in mysterious half hush, especially the jar of formaldehyde that held some grey and mottled specimen floating and suspended. Smoker‘s lungs my mother remarked once, matter of factly dragging the vacuum back down the hall. The brick office was just across from St. Paul‘s church with its beautiful blue dome and once when I was shaking leaves off a mat I happened to see a horse drawn carriage leading off a bride and groom, tulle of her veil humming on fire with evening light, their faces glowing – and I almost forgot about the jar.
BLAIR ∫ 87
ANOTHER THORNY CROWN, 2010
Charcoal and pastel on paper, 60 x 48 inches, 152 x 122 cm
BOWLAND â&#x2C6;Ť 88
Dorene O‘Brien I may not know much about life, but I trust instinct. I‘m seventy-two years old and got three failed marriages under my belt, but I ain‘t never been caught in the rain. My second husband Norman said I had a knack for knowing other people‘s business before they did. You know, a gift. When I ran into Joy Rudnick at the IGA I saw two seeds in her belly clear as a picture. She gave birth to twins nine months later. And the minute I told Pete Drumm to go to hell I regretted it because I knew I had the power. He fell into a vat of molten lead down at the foundry and came out an ingot. I think my power speaks for itself. My power helped me predict Norman‘s death, Addie‘s stroke, the Tico Lake flood. I picked winners at the track, and Norman won big ‗til I got the vision of him and Glenda Berkshaw doing unspeakable things in the back seat of his rusted Coronet. ―What happened to your goddamned powers?‖ he asked after losing almost six hundred dollars. ―Eat your soup,‖ I said. I made chicken soup every time he went to the track, and he got sick every time he ate it. I knew he was with her, so I hexed that soup, and I have no regrets about that. But this is different. This time I feel I‘m about to do something foolish, and this foolishness involves Bernice Russell, a woman in my knitting circle. There are seven of us in the circle and we meet twice a week in the school basement. It all started three months ago when Bernice and Addie made fun of me. We were making gifts for Addie‘s pregnant daughter when Wanda asked me the sex of the unborn child. I closed my eyes to get the vision, but something told me to open them. They were all laughing at me. I‘m not sure of many things, but I know that everyone believed in the power ‗til Bernice moved here with her husband Herb last year when he got a job at the foundry. Bernice is fifty-one but she wears tight-fitting suits and bright sweaters with gold lamé shoes. She‘s very thin, but that still don‘t make it right. Her flaming red hair is enough of a distraction without the clicking of ten hot pink claws against O‘BRIEN ∫ 89
knitting needles. The first time she came she was pleasant, even shy, nodding her head like a dimestore dog and laughing a little too easily. I knew she was trouble. She came to the second meeting drunk and said that she only joined the group because she was bored. Said her husband was a bastard who never took her anywhere. That may be true, but when Bernice introduced me to him as ―Alice of Dubious Predictions‖ and he took my hand, I could tell he believed. Of course, I‘m sure they‘re still talking about Pete Drumm down at the foundry. Because of Bernice, the women don‘t ask for predictions no more. I was hurt, sure, but I felt my life blood drain when Bernice called my gift a hobby. I reached into my purse, heart thumping and hands shaking, and touched my bottle of nitroglycerin pills. This, my heart attack prevention method, had often cured me, but Bernice had surely tested it. All Addie‘s said was ―Put down that stupid purse and finish them booties.‖ I told them I would lose the power if I didn‘t use it, and I can feel it slipping even now. So you see I had no choice: I had to pull grandmother‘s spell book from the trunk. I knew what I had to do even before I broke open the lock, fumbled for the book, traced a line across its dusty cover.
I read into the night for a few days, making lists and scribbling notes. I pawed through my sewing kit for the pins, cut the paper into thin strips, mixed the hot pepper juice with vinegar in an old pickle jar. All I needed was the hair and the tongue, but I was patient. I waited ‗til the day before Thanksgiving to visit the butcher—I knew he‘d question me. ―I‘ll take a small beef tongue,‖ I said, ―the thinner the better.‖ Max looked surprised. ―Whaddya want tongue for?‖ See what I mean? ―For the cats. It‘s Thanksgiving, Max.‖ ―You‘re a nice person, Alice.‖ ―It‘s just my way.‖ ―Why thin? The cats finicky?‖ Max laughed. O‘BRIEN ∫ 90
―My knives are dull.‖ Max didn‘t charge me full price. He gives me discounts and thinks I don‘t know it. I have often thought about silencing his blabbermouth, but I am moved by his generosity. I walked home with the tongue in one hand and the heart pills in the other, and I had to stop and rest a few times. I wondered if this was worth dying for, but what else could I do? I thought about how to get the hair from Bernice that night at the meeting. ―Hi, honey,‖ I said, staring at the small glob of red lipstick on her front tooth. ―Hey, Alice. How ya feeling today?‖ I ignored her phony concern. ―I was thinking about your Christmas gift—‖ ―My Christmas gift? Why would you get me a Christmas gift?‖ ―I‘m going to pick your name,‖ I said. She sighed like the drama queen that she was. ―Why, we have plenty of time to talk about that.‖ ―Not really,‖ I smiled weakly. ―I want to make you a sweater the color of your lovely hair, but I can‘t seem to match the yarn. If you could give me just a lock, I could take it with me to the Wal-Mart. I could make it perfect.‖ ―That‘s so nice,‖ she said, ―but I‘d be happy with any color. Don‘t trouble yourself.‖ I didn‘t expect this standoff. I also didn‘t expect Addie to come to the rescue, scissors in hand. ―Give her the damn hair,‖ she said. ―My daughter‘s about to have a baby and I‘ll never get them booties if she don‘t get that hair.‖ She and Bernice exchanged looks. O‘BRIEN ∫ 91
―Oh, for chrissake,‖ said Bernice as Addie snipped a curl from the back of her head and shoved it at me. My anger and shame were smothered by joy; I could feel the power returning as I rubbed the hair between my thumb and fingers, as I stuck it in a plastic film case next to my pills, as I stared at my purse with the treasure tucked inside. When I got home that night, I was ecstatic. I pulled my tea candles from the cupboard and put them in a semicircle on the plastic tablecloth, then took the hair out and put it on the table between the matchbook and the tongue. I grabbed the strips of paper from the silverware drawer and wrote ―Bernice Russell‖ on all nine of them, and set the jar of bad vinegar next to the butcher knife. My heart raced as I lit the candles and watched the shadows dance across the kitchen walls, saw my own shadow bent over the tongue with the knife raised. After slicing it down the center, I shoved in the nine strips of paper and sealed the cut with sixteen pins, enough to kill someone twice her size. The thin tongue was easy to fold into the jar of vinegar. I stroked my heart pills as I separated the hairs by candlelight, placing one to burn in each of the twelve flames. The power swallowed the room straight away, surging against the walls and pulsing through me with such force that it knocked me to the floor. All I remember after the power struck is waking up in the hospital with Dr. Brice staring at me. ―The pills were in your hand, Alice,‖ he said. ―Why didn‘t you take them?‖ ―Is Bernice dead?‖ ―No.‖ But I knew different; I had placed her hair in those flames, counted out the pins myself. ―I don‘t need a shrink,‖ I said. ―I need to go home.‖ ―I‘m sorry, Alice, but you might be here for a while. Maybe you should tell me what happened.‖ O‘BRIEN ∫ 92
―You don‘t believe in me.‖ ―I want to help you.‖ ―You want to put me away,‖ I said. Dr. Brice was the shrink who tried to convince me that I didn‘t kill Norman, that I should spend some time at the Pine Rest nuthouse. ―Please,‖ he stroked my arm. ―Let‘s talk about the candles, the jar—‖ My mind raced as I tried to recall where I‘d left grandmother‘s book and its deadly secrets. Would I have to kill Dr. Brice too? ―All right,‖ I sighed, ―all right. Come closer so I don't have to strain.‖ Dr. Brice bent over me, cocked his head expectantly, and I touched his face before twisting my fingers into his hair and yanking with all my strength. ―My God,‖ he yelled, clutching my wrists. ―Orderly!‖ A nurse came and injected me with a burning fluid, one that pulled me into a deep and dreamless sleep, but not before I‘d slipped the hair into my pillowcase.
O‘BRIEN ∫ 93
FOR LITTLE JIMMY DEAD EYES, ON HIS NEXT BIRTHDAY
Kristine Ong Muslim
This is where all hunger came from, Jimmy. You see a slice of sunset from the window, and that will never be enough. You understand the ritual of dead objects content in their husks. The hands of strangers will pick them up until they outlive their usefulness: disposable, heavy, empty, portable, all the iterations of function that define how a thing should be. How many empty rooms does it take to understand how it is to be abandoned? I know about your shame for small town life, where all the cuts heal as they fester, where time is the yellowing of corn fields, where kitchen hands smell of homemade jam and filth of unwashed greens. But you have moved on, and we haven't. Here, the night streets will stay the same: humbled by the lamplight, a drunk man will always swagger home. Here, skipping Sunday mass is still a crime. Here, we still dig wells with our bare hands. Here, mothers still conjure their lost children out of unmade beds and dog-eared comic books. We imagine you wading on urban rivers before they disappear. And that dirt in your hands, the one which you cannot rub away, is hope.
MUSLIM â&#x2C6;Ť 94
SAY CAROLINA (FOR MY PALMETTO STATE)
Glenis Redmond Nothin finer than a tea drunk gurl raised on peaches sugah honey chile & y‘all Nothin finer than her palmetto & crescent moonshine pinched and dangling on each ear Nothin finer than her sass her sweet potato thick waist spreading from Low Country to Upstate bible belt cinched and clinched sportin 47 patches that work a rice cotton & tobacco shimmy from sun up to sundown Carolina‘s hot & cotton‘s supposed to let you breathe but under her honeysuckle & jasmine print skirt all you feel is the burn of 9000 ebony fires & Denmark Vesey leading the charge whispering in quilt-stitch code for a stolen people to rise up sharpen their dreams and fly Carolina‘s a gumbo sweet grass grace mixed with old money Look down her cobblestone roads laced with Spanish moss You feel the worlds between the worlds Rainbow row colors blending with auction block songs Part the veils but don‘t get too close to her port waters even if you know how to swim cause REDMOND ∫ 95
Carolina‘s deep She‘s a complicated Lady look beyond the magnolias and mint juleps she all plantation upfront & Middle Passage baggage behind She‘s had a hard time carrying the weight but Carolina don‘t care cause she the bomb all muskets & cannons when she lifts her skirt Shoot Carolina will blow your mind with the twisted & strange fruit she both bears & wears Say it again Carolina don‘t care She done acquired the taste, you can tell how she walk & talk she likes how it hangs
REDMOND ∫ 96
ON THE WAY TO GRANDMA‘S FUNERAL
The woods are dangerous -Little Red Riding Hood You set a South Carolina record, for footprints. 109 years is a long time for anyone to walk down a road, my memory of you is as soft as the calico house dresses that you wore. The day you left, a quiet in us got up and went too. We felt the terror rip through just like those large x‘d flags waved their heated tongues on the way to Waterloo to bury you. They said nothing. They said everything. How you meted your days in Upstate heat. Coaxed flowers like your head unbowed and unbossed. Your red Canna Lilies flaming like your spirit, the tallest of tall, our limousine, a submarine sailed along holding your only living child: mama and her five. We did not talk of the four flags that we floated by, but we counted them all. I don‘t even know how the talk started, of our top three desserts. Willie says:
1) sweet potato pie 2) sweet potato pie, 3) that would be more sweet potato pie. REDMOND ∫ 97
we rode on this laughter that you would have loved, joined in with hush yo mouth chile. Youâ&#x20AC;&#x2DC;d be proud of how we turned our heads, away from hate: fixed our minds on sweet thangs that stirred you 39, 872 mornings to lift from your bed, to rise.
REDMOND â&#x2C6;Ť 98
BACCHUS AT THE PLOW – FIRST RHETORICS
―…We admit there‘s a question, then, whether souls are caught in a drunken skiff or carried by senseless wind— and you are the city of Jerusalem and I am an abandoned salt mine, which is to say: if you learn to look and exalt in looking you‘ll see
tattooed in salt across yr back, so long as the hands at work were women‘s hands—and if you learn to look, yr skin will warp like plaster the longer you wait for Constance to rise from the river, since waiting itself is a kind of water since language is built in the ruins of yr mother‘s rose beds, since language has gone to seed, an ineradicable, ancestral strain of mustard weed, and since after all these years Constance will wake with her house full of strange cats and her mouth full of mustard seed, wishing all of us were really just wind or, better, a howling that lets her forget when she pleased, which is almost always, honestly: so speech, that crumpled mt., so speech, is not free of a certain responsibility to groom the silences we say we need, until we‘re tossed by their stumbling, half-capsized, caught, leaking, and you, you are the city of Jerusalem, and yr streets are all about something, but not roses, or salt, which, I suppose, is precisely the point.‖
ALTMAN ∫ 99
A RHETORIC FOR READERSHIP
Sometimes, with my arms full of hyssop (your word, I know – tell me if I come too close), sometimes, half-asleep, dizzy with the scent, I remember that we are different: when I have changed shirts and washed my hands, I‘ll swear our city is full of turtledoves, Lebanese birds, black and grey—they smell like cedar, they nest in the eaves of your mother‘s house. But you: you smell like spearmint and Tennessee, heir to a grand tradition, three centuries old—since thinking is like worried wool or better, a fistful of ancestral tomato seeds that will not sprout, year after year—and when they do, some sudden spring, twenty years later, they come up as horses, stamping, full of swords— when we built our words, we built them bent so they would let us lie to each other; and when we build our cities we build them bent, so they run toward the rivers, green and slow rank with other people‘s timber. So it‘s good to keep busy and better still to fill our mouths with each others‘ words— words that cover or hide, burrs in an old wool rug. And when you touch my hand and tell me not to laugh, when you lash at that strange, scratching animal tearing in my chest, I feel us both tensed against those ancient silences that pass between us, bent under hyssop loads, ragged from the work.
ALTMAN ∫ 100
THE TERRIBLE VILLAGE
For a dollar they covered the creek of chemicals with dirt that would be tamped down, polished to a surface where houses could slide over its glass, not noticing the cracks underneath. The babies grew third eyes, but the villagers thought it would only improve their vision. Fish in the pond read Wittgenstein out loud, but the citizens could only believe in what's not the case -- the swing sets freed of grime, schools where barrels didn't bubble up in gym class, skulls and bones replacing smiles of students prepared to shimmy up ropes. When reporters started digging up documents, they photographed the sites of disaster, pinned them to the earth until they gave up their secrets. Government agencies "acted" by pretending the pool of acid was naturally occurring, the world's bile spitting out at regular times, percolating in normal minutes. The villagers wanted to stay despite faces that started to erase themselves, bodies wilting in the factory waste they swore wasn't there, though the truth was eating them. It was enough to have a small plot of land, ILLICH â&#x2C6;Ť 101
whether it was in front of a white stone, or on a polluted lake, where telling yourself you owned this place was enough to keep you drinking what both poisoned and sustained.
ILLICH â&#x2C6;Ť 102
NO GOOD DEED
Daniel W. Davis
It was the damn dog's fault. Rick just wasn't a good enough hunter. All hunters need to train their dogs. This was common sense. Perhaps Scott should've known it; Fletch was an inside dog, a goddamn retriever that slept on the bed every night. The mistake was Scott's, that of course was obvious. But Rick should've trained the dog. How was Scott supposed to know the dog didn't know what it was doing? Animals have instincts, just like people, except animals can't control these instincts. Scott, looking at the dog, saw what the animal was meant to be: a lean, quick, sharp hunting companion. You shoot the rabbit, the dog goes and finds it. Simple. And Rick hunted enough, he should've known that, too. But Scott's brother had never been as dedicated to the sport; he only hunted in-season, he only hunted when it wasn't too cold or too damp. Scott, who lived outside of town and kept two dogs—a retriever and a setter—hunted whenever he felt like it. Such was the luxury of having the forest as your backyard. Scott's dogs were currently underground, however. Poisoned food, the vet said. The vet also said the food had probably been contaminated at the factory, said Scott should talk to the company to see about compensation or even a recall of the product. Scott thought the vet was being too optimistic. The vet was young, and foreign to boot: he came from one of those Middle Eastern countries that liked to invade its neighbors every couple of years. What did he know about growing up in Illinois? Scott knew about it; he knew how Charleston County operated, the things teenagers did on a Saturday night, especially to the grumpy old man in town who always turned up his nose at them. He'd done the same stuff as a kid. Well, not exactly the same; he'd never poisoned anyone's dog, but he'd egged houses, he'd left lit bags of shit on porches. These times were harder; not harder to live through— times were easier than ever; where once they had been lean, now they were fat and full of gristle—but harder to express yourself. Things had gotten so out of control that, to stand out, a kid would have to do something drastic, something that would've been unheard of in Scott's time. And what easier target than the man who preached such rationale to anyone who would listen?
DAVIS ∫ 103
Scott felt little ill will towards the kids themselves (the Arab vet, on the other hand, seemed appalled at the mere suggestion). Scott felt, instead, a sense of remorse for the youth he saw during his afternoons in the town. Most of them had no idea. Most of them didn't understand that their lives were without significance, that any real meaning in the world had been extinguished as soon as America decided it had interests in Southeast Asia. The poor, mindless bastards. Rick was one of them. Rick wasn't much younger than Scott, just fifteen years, and by now that difference was minimal; but it meant that, when Scott had been getting a bullet in his shoulder in a jungle he wasn't technically fighting in, Rick had been back home with a sign and a bullhorn, decrying the very reasons Scott was there. Justifiable, of course; Scott hadn't liked being there, hadn't agreed with it, even attributed the downfall of western society to it. But he'd gone. Rick was a man of words, Scott of action. And it all showed in the dog. Fletch. Who names a hunting dog Fletch? Although, to be honest, it wasn't much of a hunting dog; just a dog, one who'd lived a life of confinement and gluttony. Fletch was fat. Fletch was perpetually smiling, something that dogs in Scott's childhood hadn't done. The dogs had been content, perhaps even happy; but they had only smiled when you called them a "good boy" or they had successfully slaughtered something. Dogs weren't supposed to smile constantly. A car passed by, and instead of chasing it, Fletch smiled at it, like they were friends. The damn thing was scared of cats. What the hell had Rick been thinking? Yet Scott had seen Fletch in action before; or, rather, he'd been with Rick when Rick brought the dog hunting. Only a couple of times, but the association was there: Fletch was a hunting dog. You only take hunting dogs hunting with you. That was logic. That was so far beyond common sense that you didn't even have to think about it. But Rick hadn't trained Fletch well enough. As their father had been wont to say, "That was that." Come to think of it, Scott was slightly miffed at the kids who'd poisoned his own dogs. It was their fault he was in this position now. If they hadn't killed his own, DAVIS â&#x2C6;Ť 104
he wouldn't have had to borrow Rick's, and Fletch could've died of a coronary, probably smiling. Scott himself hadn't done anything wrong, unless it was to trust his brother's judgment. Scott was an excellent shot; he'd hit the first rabbit perfectly, the spread of buckshot taking it off its lucky feet and throwing it back into the underbrush. Fletch had stayed by his side until he'd said, "Get it, boy!" At that, the dog took off; some training had taken, at least. The dog may not have been smart, but it knew when the man standing next to it was angry. It was the second rabbit that was the problem. Scott didn't shoot in Fletch's direction; in fact, he shot so far from where Fletch was supposed to be, he couldn't help but surmise that the dog hadn't been retrieving the first rabbit after all, but had merely darted into the underbrush on the pretense of doing something. The sound came far to the right of where the first rabbit went down; the buckshot couldn't spread that far. The noise was just a small rustling, a disturbed creature. It sounded smaller than a dog. There was a yelp, buried beneath the roar of the shotgun, and Scott had a moment to think that maybe Fletch was just scared. The dog wasn't used to being shot at—why would it be?—and had probably pissed itself. That was a solid enough reason. But there came a whimpering that tore Scott's reasoning to shreds. The noise was soft, barely audible, but it was there: a sound of disbelieving anguish. And it wasn't moving. Lowering the shotgun to waist level, Scott stepped into the underbrush. Fletch was just a few feet in, on his side. The wounds were high in his right flank; the leg was twitching, blooding pooling slowly in the ground beneath the dog. Fletch eyed Scott, nothing in those eyes but pain and worry. The dog barked, or squeaked; Scott winced. He knelt down to examine the wound more closely, then stood back up. It wasn't mortal. The dog would live; buckshot, at that distance, in an animal so large, wasn't fatal. Remove the buckshot, and in a few months there probably wouldn't even be a limp. That wasn't the point, though. The point was, Scott had shot his brother's dog. DAVIS ∫ 105
All his life, Scott had set the example for Rick. Always, unquestioningly. On a few occasions, he got the sense that Rick didn't appreciate it; but the younger brother always went along, always took Scott's word. Scott knew of what he spoke; if he didn't know about something, he didn't talk about it. He only did what he'd had practice at; he never tried, he just did. It'd gotten him through school, the Army, marriage, his job at the factory. Now it was getting him through retirement. It wasn't that he was never wrong; it was that he never let himself be wrong, and on the few occasions he erred—say, fighting in Southeast Asia—he was wrong through no fault of his own. He was the kind of man—or at least Scott considered himself to be—many described as "steadfast," "reliable," "dependable." He wasn't the type of man to involve himself in a hunting accident. Not with his experience. Not with his tendency to be right. He stared at the dog. It was born to hunt; generations of dogs before it led down to this, a retriever that lacked any instincts for the wilderness. Part of it Rick's fault; most of it was Rick's fault, perhaps. But the dog was culpable too. dog had let itself get shot. What kind of stupid creature walks in front of a gun? kind you shoot. You don't shoot dogs.
had was The The
Fletch's tail thumped once, then again. The dog was misreading him; it mistook his look of hate for concern. There wasn't even any pity in his mind; Scott did not pity. Nothing deserved it; creatures wound up in their circumstances either through their own folly, or their own inability to deal with the world. There was no room for pity; things were what they were. He wasn't concerned with the dog; Fletch was worthless to him. What concerned him was his reputation. It was the look that Rick would give him; not immediately, but later, upon consideration. A look that said, I knew it. A look that said, Some big shot you are. It was a look Scott loathed; the last time someone had looked at him that way, he'd put the man in a hospital, and spent the night in jail. His wife had almost left him for it, and he'd been just a couple stitches away from anger management therapy. Too close. He couldn't have that again. Not with Rick; not with someone with connections to the rest of the family and a knack for gab and gossip.
DAVIS ∫ 106
Fletch struggled to get up, then fell back to the ground. The dog's tail had stopped wagging; the animal was now watching him carefully, perhaps realizing that Scott wasn't in a mood to help or provide comfort. About time the thing wizened up. Scott dug a toe of his boot into the earth; it was loose, not the easiest to dig, but it wouldn't take all day, either. He glanced over his shoulder; they were just inside the forest, he'd only have to carry the dog a few yards. He didn't have a moment of doubt—that wasn't his nature. He didn't stop to think how Rick would feel. As far as Scott was concerned, Rick felt and believed what Scott wanted him to; always had, always would. Scott took after their father that way. Rick was more like their mother—soft, humorous, convinced that a good joke would get him a long ways. He wasn't cut out for the world at large, couldn't make it without his older brother by his side, propping him up. Fletch tried to move again. The dog was persistent, Scott had to admit that much. Took a load of buckshot to get the job done, but at least it was something. In the old movies, they talk about how it's not how you live, it's how you die. To Scott, that had always sounded too melodramatic; he couldn't see how a few moments could overshadow decades. But still, there was something to be said about dying right. Being shot by someone who had no respect for you probably didn't count as right, but Fletch didn't have much control over that. The dog wasn't even smart by canine standards. Scott did it quickly, just to get it over with; shooting a dog went against all his intuition. He told himself it wouldn't live a good life anyways, wouldn't be good for anything except petting and getting fat, which truthfully wouldn't be much of a change. He lifted the shotgun, took a step back, and pulled the trigger. The dog didn't make a sound; maybe a huff of air, but that was drowned out by the gunfire. Scott lowered the shotgun. Blood and brain matter had splattered; some had gotten onto his jeans. He needed more, he realized; but that was easy enough to acquire. But first, to avoid getting any blood on his gun, he walked out of the forest and set it on his porch. Then he went back and picked up the dog. Fletch was heavy, an overweight dog when alive, now a burden dead. Scott was getting old; he could barely hold the dog long enough to leave the forest. By the time he dropped the body in his backyard, at the edge of the trees, he could hardly feel his arms. He cursed Rick, and then went to the shed to get a shovel. DAVIS ∫ 107
He dug the hole deep enough that animals weren't likely to undo his work; then he kicked the body in. He piled the dirt back on top, grabbed a sturdy-looking stick, and rammed it into the ground at the head of the grave. A hit-and-run; that was easy enough to fake. There wasn't any blood on the road, but then, you didn't always see any. He could even slip a little bit of truth in there, say that he'd had to finish the dog off with a shot to the head, wasn't any way around it. He wanted to spare Rick's children the sight of their dog's mangled body. Buried it here, where the kids could visit any time they wanted (not that they would, he hoped). His brother would be in his debt. Scott saved the day again. To make it even more plausible, he'd emphasize how horrible a hunting dog Fletch had been. Went into the woods to retrieve a rabbitâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;Scott made a mental note to go and find it; waste not, want notâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;and instead circled around the house and darted out in front of a car. Make and model? Scott was in the woods; how would he know? It was the damn dog's fault. Sprinkle enough truth into the lie, and no one would ever question it. Scott went into the house to make the call. As he dialed his Rick's number, he stared out the kitchen window at the freshly-turned earth. He had to get himself another dog or two; maybe test out a pair, give the weaker one to his brother. Yet another charitable act, some would call it; a brother's duty, Scott would say.
DAVIS â&#x2C6;Ť 108
FLOWER GIRL #2, 2009
Oil paint on linen, 48 x 48 inches, 122 x 122 cm, Private Collection, New York
BOWLAND â&#x2C6;Ť 109
She fails in Protection Valley Manor while they wait patiently north of town for the last sister to complete their stone bouquet. Daisy Bell, Pansy, Violet, names in granite rows, gray memories of sundresses in tall cottonwoods, minnows in Calvary Creek, a mahogany piano that sang with Uncle Ken‘s guitar over the prairie at dusk. Lily‘s eyes, a yellow field of scattered seeds from our farm; she knows there will come a time when no one remembers the Hopkins girls, or Hester Fulton, who sleeps miles away, but, for now, in wheat, in water, in words, this lonely woman sees their yesterday, a spray of fading flowers in southwest Kansas.
HAYES ∫ 110
JUNE 26, 2009: THE MORNING AFTER
L. Lamar Wilson
~ for MJ
willows welcome fog‘s embrace: its shadow a lone silver glove a shroud
WILSON ∫ 111
DUST TO DUST: BLACKSBURG, VIRGINIA (AFTER FEB. 13, 2010) L. Lamar Wilson it is the night before lovers get free rein to love, and, ms. lucille, my neighbor is galloping in his boyfriend‘s lap underneath my feet. it is almost over. i hear him gasp reaching for his next breath in his lover‘s mouth. i pull the zebra-print blanket tighter around my shoulders. this whisk of a town, these concrete walls lacquered in red and white and blue, have never warmed me. now it is done and i am swaddled in silence.
why and why and why should i call a white man brother? you whisper through the computer screen, fill this room with your fire where carpet begs for a long, hot bath and sweaters and jeans yearn to fold into one another. if history prevails, i, too, will die alone and untidy, pulled apart by the men whose call for a ride i heeded, who i handed my tongue, my last breath, my faith. even then you will poet me:
i am done with this dust. i am done. WILSON ∫ 112
DJ-  (THE HOT TRACK)
Curtis L. Crisler
―I wrote a letter to the president the other day,‖ fine black ink, scratchin‘, to talk up why 1st ―black‖ president‘s labeled racist ‗gainst whites, when womb of his origin‘s white. Just saying you hate yo‘ mama. I will quell the midget lump in my throat, hearing rhapsody of blue, while crinkling my paper with words simultaneously jagged & smooth—planted mustard seeds when crossing Ts, so house on 1600 Pennsylvania splinters not from poetry of energetics. Praying lyricism to fall onto hollowed framework of white building built by brown hands, as our 1st ―black‖ president‘s labeled racist ‗gainst whites, when womb of his origin‘s white. Your Tony Dungy coaching style not in-yo-face enough for those throwing epithetic haymakers. The laid off, the scratchin‘-fo-traction, hot-headed like steaming tea sippers, many white like your mother & grandmother. The Midwest I come from, we slur speech & shut eyes with fist for negative implications ‗bout mamas. In Midwest I come from, mama‘s first on Come Correct List, else you feelin‘ a boot wide with interjections. In Midwest, mamas born wrought iron & rock gut from salvation‘s rock. Mr. President, this the same Midwest
yo‘ mama‘s from. To say, Our 1st black president‘s labeled racist ‗gainst whites, when womb of his origin‘s white? Your family got veggies all up in U.S. salad. But we all scratchin‘ until economy moves, as misdirection of post this & racial that points to ambers of yesteryear, as we still dealing with that we can‘t deal with a man who‘s African and White in one body— American; we can‘t deal with content & character, & we can‘t deal with
CRISLER ∫ 113
all men created equal. We left in a sputtering of cracked words broken on road: ―As great as we are is as bad as we are.‖ Barack, never let me hear someone indicatin‘, signifyin‘, inflectin‘ ‗bout your mama. I‘d say the same to Jefferson, Reagan, & Bush. There‘s no love lost for those who‘d realign lie as truth, when truth is our first brown president‘s the seed of an African & Caucasian who blessed him strong legs to sprint beyond fires of history.
CRISLER ∫ 114
Curtis L. Crisler - for SC A ―holy man‖ in Florida cares to burn Qurans today, tugs at ripe media flash—cheap fear in some. Like some burned Anne Frank, Angelou, Rowlings, some want to even burn all bibles not King James. A friend, Emmanuel, will poet manna of latino matins, a bouncing reverb off harmonic walls in TRIAAC‘s loft, nine years later on this rainy anniversary, when skyline of NY‘s clean-shaven from planes‘ blades. So you, grandpa, Mississippi boy, must sign up on waitinglist-for-grieving. Everyone‘s right & wrong all at once. & since we only talked at funerals: your son‘s: the man who left my mama his name, a baby me; your grandson‘s: my legit half-brother, & your second son‘s: ―the good kid,‖
Who would I laugh clumsily w/ of curse on family males
if you‘re in opal casket? I was to share night w/ Emmanuel, when a poem rustled me down. On FB, Calibri font slapped upside my opticals, ―You going to your grandfather‘s funeral?‖ A hit collapsing me to a sack, some landslide of earth on my chest, my breath taken by friend on FB—someone who volunteers the 411—someone not knowing there‘s no poem to treat what I correctly feel. There‘s no verbs big enough to paint my metaphors of graffitied fusion. There‘s only what it is, CRISLER ∫ 115
you & I knotted in DNA‘s trust. I‘m heir, running after our skein of yarn. My life rolls to its end, as you dream less in pin-striped double-breasted. So untouchable, the dead, the Twin Towers, the rescue workers, the volunteers. I think…
burning books w/ this rain? Takes me where books connected us. Dr. Seuss‘s magical words via mama‘s mailbox. Now my words got talons—grown alphabet from book spines & dead.
CRISLER ∫ 116
Kyle Dargan Round here, heads don't act their age There might be another dead boy 'pon page ~Smif and Wessun
Them Clay Terrace boys. Them Benning Park boys. Them Simple City boys. Them River Terrace boys. After hours them boys. Them popand-dash boys. Siren-fed boys. Fatherless voids fathering boys? Noise them. Urban reservation hunt and gather boys. "Keep the blood on the reservation." Hunt them boys. Solve for X: how many whys and zombies equal them boys.
Give me dap them boys. My boy.
No taller than tree trunks chopped. Them boys sundown colorful, watch them boys. Southeast hocus pocus— see now / don‘t see them boys. Then you read them
DARGAN ∫ 117
boys: metro blotter them boys. Them ink them boys—R.I.P. graffiti on the brick them boys. Them Highland boys. Them forty-deuce boys. Them Congress Heights boys. Them Drama City boys.
DARGAN ∫ 118
THE CITY HAS CHANGED
She pauses--a herd of memories crossing the foothills on her brow. No
the people changed. Everyone lives in Prince George's now.
The memories slow to a stop then backtrack--filling their divots, regurgitating what the years grazed on.
We had everything this side of D.C.-had three movie theaters, all the New York Avenue dance spots uptown.
The herd devolves from quadruped ideas back to human forms. And we walked
everywhere, even across the river down to the federal buildings. They shrink-the bodies in the herd--back to children.
We walked miles we didn't realize, moving in packs of friends. East side had it all. I was nineteen before I needed anything outside the District. The child herd tries to recall how to walk--But now --and fails. You live in Fort Dupont? Used to be all-white.
DARGAN â&#x2C6;Ť 119
The herd is gone now. I stop her, saying I've listened to the stories about how brown skin could travel only so far above Southern Avenue, about the bricks and gun recoils.
No. We went where we wanted, and they still came to us. No one could tell D.C. where it could and couldn't go.
DARGAN â&#x2C6;Ť 120
∫ Gulls & Cherry Blossoms ∫ Toby Altman is this and that: the usual. Born, Chicago: 1988. Lives, Well. Mostly in Philadelphia. These poems are drawn from his manuscript, ‖Twelve Rhetorics. ‖
Reginald Dwayne Betts is a husband and the father of a young son. He is the author of the memoir A Question of Freedom and the poetry collection Shahid Reads His Own Palm.
Jennifer Blair is from Yakima, WA. She has published in Copper Nickel, Kestrel, the James Dickey Review, and Innisfree Journal among others. Her chapbook, All Things are Ordered, is out from Finishing Line Press. She teaches at the University of Georgia.
B.R. Bonner lives in Austin, Texas. Literary publications include: Words and Images, South Dakota Review, Matter
Journal, Buenos Aires Literary Review, Existere - Journal of Arts and Literature, Chaminade Literary Review, Mind in Motion, The MacGuffin, Takahe, You Are Here, The Wanderlust Review, and Voice from the Planet Anthology (Harvard Square Press). CONTRIBUTORS ∫ 121
∫ Gulls & Cherry Blossoms ∫ Margaret Bowland was born in 1952 in Burlington, North Carolina. She was educated in the Burlington public schools and at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her painting "Portrait of Kenyetta and Brianna" was a finalist in the Outwin Boucheever Portrait Competition and was exhibited along with other competition portraits for a year at the Smithsonian Institute's National Portrait Competition, where the painting was given the People's Choice award after a popular vote by viewers of the exhibition. Ms. Bowland teaches at the New York Academy of Art, a graduate school renown for its training in figurative art. Ms. Bowland is represented by the Babcock Gallery in New York, where she will have a one person show from March 1 to April 15 of 2010. Her work will also be on display in 2011 at the South Carolina Museum of Art in Greenville, South Carolina.
Iman Byfield is an MFA-Poetry candidate at Chicago State University. She works as an editorial assistant at Third World Press, and is a poetry editor for 95Notes literary magazine. Her work has appeared in the Garland Court Review and Eight Magazine, a student publication.
Tracy Chiles McGhee of Washington, DC, has been published in Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal, BOMB
Magazine-Think: Poems For Aretha Franklin‘s Inauguration Day Hat, Coloring Book: An Eclectic Anthology of Fiction and Poetry by Multi-cultural Writers, Slow Trains Literary Journal, and Planetary Stories: Black Earth Institute. Tracy is also the
Founder & Executive Director of (www.womanifesting.org). She attended Georgetown University and Catholic University Law School.
CONTRIBUTORS ∫ 122
∫ Gulls & Cherry Blossoms ∫ Curtis L. Crisler has three books: Pulling Scabs (Willow Books; Aquarius Press, nominated for a Pushcart), Tough Boy Sonatas and forthcoming, Dreamist, a YA mixed-genre novel. He edited the nonfiction book, Leaving Me Behind: Writing a new me. He is the recipient of fellowships from Cave Canem, Soul Mountain, and a guest resident at Hamline University, as well as the recipient of the Sterling Plumpp First Voices Poetry Award, an Indiana Arts Commission Grant, the Eric Hoffer Award, and was nominated for the Eliot Rosewater Award. He has been published in a variety of magazines, journals, and anthologies. Photo: William "Bryant" Rozier (www.bryantrozier.com)
DéLana R.A. Dameron is the author of How God Ends Us selected by Elizabeth Alexander as the 2008 South Carolina Poetry Book Award winner. She currently resides in New York City. Photo: Curtis John.
Kyle Dargan is the founder and editor of POST NO ILLS magazine and an assistant professor of literature and creative writing at American University. His most recent collection is Logorrhea Dementia: A SelfDiagnosis (UGA, 2010). His first collection, The Listening, was awarded the 2003 Cave Canem Poetry Prize, and his second, Bouquet of Hungers, won a 2008 Hurston/Wright Legacy Award.
CONTRIBUTORS ∫ 123
∫ Gulls & Cherry Blossoms ∫ Daniel W. Davis is a graduate student born and raised in Central Illinois. Follow his work and musings at www.dumpsterchickenmusic.blogspot.com.
Leola Dublin Macmillan is a Doctoral Candidate in American Studies at Washington State University, where she also teaches English. A North Carolina native, Dublin Macmillan was raised in the Washington DC metropolitan area. She received a B.A. in English from the University of the District of Columbia. Her scholarly work examines the connections between contemporary representations of Black women, and more specifically, Black women‘s bodies and the larger structures of power within the context of the United States. Her work articulates these connections and then explores their potential impact on identity development in Black adolescent girls.
Elizabeth Fogle writes poems very much rooted in place and myth and though she is no longer living in the Carolinas or near the Atlantic, she continues to write about the places and people that haunted her as a child. She currently teaches in the English program at Penn State Erie, the Behrend College and lives in Erie, Pennsylvania.
CONTRIBUTORS ∫ 124
∫ Gulls & Cherry Blossoms ∫ Emily Hayes received her MA in English Literature from Southern Illinois University, Carbondale. She teaches American literature at Carbondale Community High School and is one of the editors for The Village Pariah. Her works have previously appeared or are forthcoming in various journals, including Cottonwood, Review Americana, I-70
Review, Paterson Literary Review, Ruminate, Naugatuck River Review, and Broad River Review.
Ailish Hopper‘s chapbook, Bird in the Head, was selected by Jean Valentine for the 2005 Center for Book Arts prize. Other poems of hers have appeared in Ploughshares, Poetry, and Tuesday; An Art Project, as well as other places. She‘s received grants and fellowships from the Baltimore Commission for the Arts and Humanities, Vermont Studio Center, and Yaddo.
Donald Illich has published poetry in The Iowa Review, LIT, Fourteen Hills, and many other journals. He won Honorable Mention in the Washington Prize book contest and was a ‖Discovery‖/Boston Review 2008 Poetry Contest semifinalist. Additionally, he was a semifinalist in the Elixir Press Poetry Book Award Contest.
Michael Kern is a young and emerging poet who recently graduated from James Madison University where he won the Furious Flower Poetry Contest. He now lives in Mars Hill, NC, and is working to achieve his dreams of writing for a living.
CONTRIBUTORS ∫ 125
∫ Gulls & Cherry Blossoms ∫ Born and raised in Wyoming, and currently living in Washington, DC, Jackson Lassiter finds inspiration in both Mother Nature and human nature. His poetry, fiction, and essays have appeared in numerous anthologies and journals, most recently including Sin Fronteras, Yalobusha Review, DuPage Valley Review, Poppyseed Koalache, and Gay City Volume 3. Contact him at LuckyJRL@hotmail.com.
Sarah McCartt-Jackson is completing her Master of Fine Arts at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale and her Master of Arts in folklore at Western Kentucky University. Her work has received honors from the Academy of American Poets, Copper Nickel, NANO Fiction, Friends of Acadia Journal, and Saxifrage Press. Photo: Bryan Jackson.
Sonya McCoy-Wilson is a literary fiction writer. She was educated at the University of California Riverside and Georgia State University, where she received an M.A. in Literary Studies and a B.A. in English. Her short stories have appeared in Diverse Voices Quarterly and TimBookTu. She teaches Writing and English in Atlanta, GA where she lives with her husband and three sons.
CONTRIBUTORS ∫ 126
∫ Gulls & Cherry Blossoms ∫ Nancy
Massachusetts Review, Poetry Northwest, PANK, Natural Bridge, Bellevue Literary Review and New York Quarterly. Her collection, Photograph With Girls, was published in 2009 by Traprock Books. She lives in Eugene, Oregon.
Kristine Ong Muslim is the author of the full-length poetry collection, A Roomful of Machines (Searle Publishing, 2010). Her poems and stories have appeared in over four hundred publications including Boston Review, Contrary Magazine, Narrative Magazine, The Pedestal Magazine, and Southword. She has been nominated five times for the Pushcart Prize and four times for the Science Fiction Poetry Association's Rhysling Award. Her publication credits are listed at: http://kristinemuslim.weebly.com/.
Dorene O‘Brien has won the Bridport Prize, the Mark Twain Award for Short Fiction, the New Millennium Writings Fiction Award and the Chicago Tribune Nelson Algren Award. She was awarded a creative writing fellowship from the NEA. Her stories have appeared in
the Connecticut Review, the Chicago Tribune, Detroit Noir and others. Her story collection, Voices of the Lost and Found, won the 2008 National Best Book Award in short fiction.
CONTRIBUTORS ∫ 127
∫ Gulls & Cherry Blossoms ∫ Ivy Page‘s poetry has been described by Ross Gay as, "passionate, sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes hilarious poems, (which) always have a deep and generous intelligence." She has been published in journals nationally; her first book will come out in March 2012 through Salmon Poetry of Ireland. She is the editor and founder of Organs of Vision and Speech Magazine.
Glenis Redmond is a native of Greenville, South Carolina. She presently lives in North Carolina amongst the Cherokee Mountains. She graduated from Erskine College and is completing an MFA in Poetry at Warren Wilson College. She is a Cave Canem Fellow and an NC Literary Fellowship Recipient from the North Carolina Arts Council and serves as a trustee on the NC Humanities Council. Her latest book of poetry is titled Under the Sun. Website: www.glenisredmond.com; Agent: www.loydartists.com. Photo: Daniel Perales, 2002.
David Seter studied creative writing at Princeton University, where he earned his degree in civil engineering. Born in Chicago, he has lived on both coasts, and currently resides in Sonoma County, California. His first collection of poems, the chapbook entitled Night Duty, was published in 2010 by Main Street Rag Publishing Company.
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∫ Gulls & Cherry Blossoms ∫ Shakeema Smalls is from Georgetown, SC, and is currently a student at Howard University in Washington, DC. She is short fiction editor of Howard‘s literary journal, The Amistad.
Enzo Silon Surin is a Haitian-born poet, writer, playwright, advocate and the author of Higher Ground (Finishing Line Press, 2006), which was nominated for the Massachusetts Book Award. His work has appeared in Reverie: Midwest African
American Literature, Freshwater, The Caribbean Writer, Pine Island Journal of New England Poetry, among other literary
journals. He currently lives in Massachusetts where he cofounded and serves as an editor of the Bunker Hill Bridge: a Literary Journal of Bunker Hill Community College and heads the literacy initiative INKp.a.l.s, a project aimed at using poetry as a tool to increase literacy and affect social change. Becky Thompson is a writer, teacher and activist. Her books include When the Center is on Fire (co-authored with Diane Harriford, 2008), Fingernails Across the Chalkboard: Poetry and Prose on HIV/AIDS From the Black Disapora (co-edited with Randall Horton and Michael Hunter, 2007); and A Promise and A Way of Life (2001), among others. She teaches Sociology at Simmons College in Boston. Recent poems appear in the Harvard Review, We Begin Here: For Palestine and Lebanon, Warpland: A Journal of Black Literature and Ideas, Amandla, Illuminations, The Teacher‘s Voice, and Margie. Her poetry manuscript ―Zero is the Hole I Fall into at Night‖ is currently looking for a good home. CONTRIBUTORS ∫ 129
∫ Gulls & Cherry Blossoms ∫ Keith S. Wilson is an Affrilachian poet currently living in Northern Kentucky. He is a graduate from Northern Kentucky University, with a BA in English. Some of Keith's publication credits include Appalachian Heritage, Muzzle, The Dead Mule
School of Southern Literature, Breadcrumb Scabs, The Driftwood Review and the anthology Spaces Between Us.
L. Lamar Wilson, a Cave Canem Fellow & English PhD student at UNC-Chapel Hill, has poetry in or forthcoming in
Callaloo, Crab Orchard Review, Rattle, Mythium, Obsidian and The 100 Best African-American Poems. Photo: Rachel Eliza Griffiths.
Nicole Wilson lives in Chicago where she co-curates a community reading series and works as the Assistant Programs Director of Poetry and Literature at Columbia College. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in RealPoetik, pacificReview, Fifth Wednesday, Coconut, Rabbit Light Movies, and Emprise Review, among others.
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Tidal Basin Press, LLC Tidal Basin Review Founded 2010, Washington, DC