The world loves to tell Black women and girls what they can and cannot do! It loves to define Black women and girls for what they believe they should be. I am not a should-be Black girl. I am not a should-be Black woman! I own all that I have gone through, all I have done, and I want all that I dream of being!
I own me on a level I couldn’t dream of before! I suppose inching towards 40 which has settled me in a way that I didn’t think I would reach yet. Yet, in the intersection of aging, motherhood and adulthood, I find myself confronting the need to hold my own space. There is a need to protect that space, and every footstep that goes into owning that. The lie that I break daily is that I “do too much” or “it doesn’t take all that.” But, it does! It does take all that–it takes every bit of THAT which makes me Black and woman and walking through the world!
There is a different level of moxie, chutzpah and bravado to be a Black girl in a world that either wants to be you, erase you or kill you! It take every bit of your THAT to walk through the world and not be overtaken by it! What is THAT you ask? THAT can be a myriad of things, but here are the three things that I have deduced THAT is: Voice. Style. Presence.
Voice. There is a power, a magic, that Black women have. There is a natural authority and sway we have. When we open our mouths at certain points, God will come out! And in that space, from that place of authority, people who don’t want to see or hear Black women–silence us. We get removed from rooms. We get ‘rescheduled.’ We get delegated. We get told that we ‘too loud.’ We are ‘too aggressive’. And then those accusations are met with rebuttal? Oh, then we are called ‘bitches’. As if that will make the roar soften because you call me a name! No. I’m too told to be stopped by that.
Style. The poet Nikki Giovanni talks about how divine this thing called style that Black folk have. The poet herself even said, “If the Black woman wasn’t born, she would have to be invented.” There is a power in this! There is something to Black women, whom bear Black girls who, too, will become Black women have that is indicative of self-expression. In a world which is bent toward erasure of anything it considers and aberration, Black women still are noticed–we can’t help but to be noticed! From hair, our nails, make up and shoes–to how will pull ourselves together for dinners, weddings or a night out–Black women have shaped, reinvented, and owned style from the first time we discovered color. This was before chattel slavery, dear ones.
Presence. I have been a tall girl my entire life. In quoting my aunt about the state of my body, she says it this way: “All you had all your life was legs and ass!” That’s a direct quote. Now, I stand 5 feet, 10 inches tall, and about 200 lbs. With the right outfit and shoes I am over 6 feet tall–you notice when I walk in a room. My mother tells me that a lady always has presence about her. It wasn’t until I was in my 30’s until I realized what that meant. Presence is owning your life, experiences and all that your body is–stretch marks, muffin top, eyeglasses–whatever. The world doesn’t know what to do with a woman they are supposed to be ignore (let’s not forget we aren’t to be lusted after!), and it wants to erase! What do you do with a woman that you can’t help but see?
So yes, dear ones, it takes all of THAT. This life takes you owning your space. Amplifying your voice. It takes knowing who you are, and having your life not be defined by what other people can look or conceptualize you as! You make the boxes and draw outside of them!
Never let the world which can only take you in sips demand you give them a chaser! No! You have every right to be in this world–so be in it. Be. In. It.
But the things I remember are so scattered now, but for you, my dear Dark children, I will tell you what I am able to remember. I have been of this blood, for four centuries.
Four hundred years.
Yet, I remember my last dawn. But I am getting ahead of myself.
I am Calsespi, daughter of Queen Nkimbe and King Junkimbah. I have not seen my parents since I was stolen from the coast of what you may now call Mali. As was the tradition of my people and village that the youngest daughter, is married the oldest son of the next village. “To keep peace, we must sacrifice the precious, Calsepsi.” I was the peace. I was the precious.
The night before my wedding, our village was attacked by enemies of my betroved. My youngest brother, Kheme, grabbed me and pulled me to safety. I saw my village burn, my father taken and mother murdered because she wouldn’t tell where I was. I watched her eyes, my eyes now, looking into her face as she closed her eyes—willing the enemies of her children to not see where she looked. We hid in the brush for two days before we were captured by the Portguese.
I had never been more hungry.
I had never been more angry.
Kheme held onto me like our father did when I was small. His arms like branches, strong and sure as I cried from fear and hunger.
I remember the ship was quiet, the smell was horrendous. I remember all the languages and listened four ours in the bottom of this ship with these men that held what I know now as guns to us as they packed us in.
Packed like boxes.
I imaged if I could die, this is would Hell would be like: hot, dark, and not knowing what is going on…ever. I remember sleeping a lot. I remember thinking, forgetting what land and sky look like. Kheme and I arrive in South Carolina—of course, I didn’t know that was what it was. I was shackled to Kheme, and separated from him and he screamed to me in our language and I reach for him, the irons placed on me clanging as laughter. “Aww, they must be married! Parson Shelby keep them together!”
Keep them together.
From that togetherness, we have never been apart. We were sold to Parson Shelby and his wife, an evil woman that had her eyes on Kheme from the time she got him. I remember she constantly touched him, stroked him, and would do all in her power to keep me us apart!
I also remember that Parson Shelby was a drunk. He ran a brothel, and I cleaned it. He was no shepherd, and reminded all those pale, ruddy faced people giving him money how it was their right to own people. How they were entitled to do so because ‘these dark, devil people need the brightness of our God. We rule over them to help them!”
That’s when it happened.
1648. It was winter. I remember how cold it was, and how pretty the morning was. Kheme had run away from after Parson Shelby beat him for the last time. That was the habit, you see. Parson Shelby’s wife would give something to Kheme to get him into her bed. After she would have her way with him, Parson Shelby would come in and beat him inside of their bedroom. With Kheme, wounded, again on the floor, Parson Shelby would make love to his wife—if that was what that was.
Kheme had run before that Christmas. He ran in the snow. I remember the blood, his bare feet, and my breath in the window. I had never been so scared. Now that I remember, there was nothing I had been more afraid of. There were stories of slaves that were killed by their masters. Some that jumped back into the ocean, determined to swim home.
Kheme came back by night, in the New Year of 1649. I had been the property of these owners for five years. The child of the Parson in my womb…not by my choice or desire. I remember how shiny that Kheme looked, how icy his skin was. He found me in the back room off the hearth, and he hugged me. Kheme was beaten for not speaking English, Bambara was our mother tongue.
While holding me, he told me that he had met someone and that he was more man than he had ever been. He told me in a loud rush in this small space on which I slept on the floor that he was different. Stronger. Faster. “I can see as well in the dark as the sun cold ever let me!” he said, still holding me. The scent of the outside in my nose, the cold pushing into me like needles. I no longer fear the lash, Calsepsi.” I squeezed him harder, happy to hear my name in the language of our parents. These people, these owners, called me ‘Bess’. He pulled me from the world of our creation, made up our my warm and his chill, and stood. He looked like a giant as I sat on the floor, the life in me, flipping. With his face to me, his back more like mountains. I wanted to go to him, hold him, share what he held in his heart like I had when we had crossed the ocean together. “I no longer fear the lash.”
I bit my lip, wrapping my arms around him. I willed my ears to hear everything that was going to happen next. “I no longer fear the lash, the heat or the cold.” If felt colder then. “I have seen the amshun in the village, saw him when I ran. I wanted the strength to come back and get to you, Calsepsi!” I stood then, all things in me buzzing. “Say it.” I said, I too not wanting the world to come in this moment by speaking the language of the people that stole us. “The amshun said that he would make me…”
I didn’t need him to say the word. I knew what the amshun was. I knew what they did. There was a girl I worked in the tavern with that was related to one. There was a rumor that an amshun had the pour of life and death, and it was in their blood to do so. “If you drink the potion of the amshun, death will not touch you.”
The slaves at that time didn’t know what a vampire was, you see. That wasn’t a reality. There was no word! But when my brother, my protector turned to face me, wrapped in the blankets which gave no warmth, my brother’s eyes opened and were red, this burning orange. “I no longer fear the lash.” As he wiped his mouth, he could see red on his teeth. Blood.
There was a word the other slaves had for those that went to see amshuns– Darkwalkers. Amshuns were a special type of apothecary. They made medicines, poisons, yes. But this potion was not supposed to be real! It was supposed to be a myth. My brother was now a Darkwalker! Hearing my thoughts, he walked to me, pulling me back into his over six-foot frame. “I came to get you Calsepsi.” There was something about him uttering the word, get. I watched as he took me to the salon, were Pastor Shelby and his wife lay on the blood, bleeding. He stood behind me, making me witness his Puric victory. “You never need to fear him taking you again, Calsepsi. Come with me, we can go home. I can make you strong enough to go home.”
It was that fast. The rage welling in me, sentient and more real than anything. I made one fist, then two. “Make me not fear the lash, my brother. Make me as strong as you.” As I exhaled, I felt a bite in my neck. Fire went through me, consuming and insistent. I remember opening my eyes willing them to stay open as I had times before when Parson Shelby would try and take my body. My eyes would make him leave, save for this last time in the fall. I felt the flipping in my belly slow and cease. “Calsepsi, drink.” I didn’t move. I turned to face him, head and limbs burning. Kheme put his wrist to my mouth and I remember closing my eyes. His blood was cool, sweet and rippled down my throat.
I remember falling to the floor, screaming as what I carried inside of me crawling, oozing out of me. As it died, I held onto myself to keep from ripping in half. “Calsepsi, don’t fight it. You are so strong, and this will make you stronger!” He knelt at her head. “My dear sister, you will never have to fear any man—free or slave—ever again.”
“Don’t die with your dream in you.” -My mama, Bessie
I first met Toni Morrison in my Sophomore Spanish I class. There was this girl who sat behind me, Lolita (No lie, that was her name!), and she was reading this book with a purple cover. I asked her what she was reading. With all the Black girl swag she could muster, she said, “The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison.”
I am ashamed to say that I had no idea who she was. I knew who Maya Angelou was, but had no idea who Toni Morrison was. I remember asking her to see the book. She obliged and let me read the back. I purposed in my mind that I was going to read this book. I was going to find out who Pecola Breedlove was.
From then, it was on.
My ears were keen to pick up on anything that Toni was doing, anything that she read, recommended or spoke on. So, when Pieces I Am debuted in May 2019, I purposed to watch it. Through other demands, I wasn’t able to see it in theaters. When she died 5 month later? I felt like my grandmother had died…all over again. It was on August 3-4, that I was able to have time and space to watch it. And I am glad that I did.
When I saw her face, heard her voice, I cried–and the film was only 5 minutes in. In hearing her, hearing her story and journey (even thought I was familiar with her voice and story), I cried. It was an affirmation, a coming home as Black, woman and writer. It reminded me that I was always a writer–a storyteller, and the footsteps I follow in are not new…but worn.
As I finished by undergrad at UM-St. Louis, I took ENGL 3870: American Literature After 1865 (Shouts to my mentor, Dr. Kimberly Welch!). This class–I am ever grateful for. Not just because I got to meet Dr. Welch (the first Black English professor I had at UM-St. Louis), but the first book we read for class was, Beloved. It took everything in me not to shout like the little Black Baptist girl in me wanted to! I was studying my shero. I was studying a woman that I had admired since I was 15. Whose books and words and imagination told me, showed me, the possibility of language.
Just like Nikki Giovanni does…still (Have you read EGO TRIP by Nikki?! You need to. Go do that now!).
And to study Beloved right after she died, with Dr. Welch telling me to go to grad school, with listening to her voice on film–it was a hug. It was that nudge that all writers have (I believe) when they are on the precipice of something great–to keep going.
The tears came.
The sobs racked me.
The grief shook me.
I gave over to the power this gift has, and purposed to never hide it again. Afterall, if you surrender to the air, you can ride it. That’s what Toni said.
As writer, sometimes the best fodder for your imagination are the things you have gone through. Nothing could be more accurate than what my own life is at present.
With me facing a second divorce in 7 years, I had to reckon with this concept and construct of my ‘married name’. The only thing I could do to combat is this confusion was to write it out.
Indeed, this is a personal work and I am in the cycle of grief about the demise of this relationship—and owning my part in its demise! What I have had to reconcile with this idea of having the name of a man whom I no longer have/desire any attachment to.
This chap book is available on Amazon, and I hope that it helps illuminate just how complex being 1 then 2, and back to 1 again can be.
This piece was chosen for a collection done by Big Black Chapters in honor of Juneteenth 2020. I am indeed a descendant of enslaved people, and as a writer? That holds a unique responsibility. With all that said, enjoy. #BlackWritersMatter #BlackStoriesMatter #Juneteenth -JBHarris
By Jennifer Bush-Harris
June 19, 1865, Massion Plantation, Galveston, Texas-
“Lord, you said if we would just wait on you, you would make the path straight!” Anna watched her brother Luke as he prayed with the heat he had only seen my own Pap pray. She looked out the shack window, watching Luke talking and rustle of the trees answer him. Anna touched her belly, swollen and jumping as Rasp put his arms around her. Anna breathed him in, closing her eyes. “Jesus, help! Jesus come help!” Anna breathed deep as Rasp kissed her forehead. His voice and Luke’s prayer soothing as her heartbeat in his ears. “I saw them soldiers, looking like a some of the night time in the day time with all that blue.” Anna closed her eyes, the tears stinging her eyes. “But they ran, Rasp! They run from here!” Rasp held her, tight, shushing her in the way he always had. “Daddy said he seent them too.” The tears from their hiding place, tracing down the bridge of her nose. “But they ran!”
Rasp walked around to the front of her, hands on her lap. Anna felt eyes on her, those same eyes that found her underneath the stars three summers ago. Rasp but his face in her lap, Anna petted his head. She scanned the trees for her brother, sighed when her eyes saw nothing but trees and night. “Anna, I have loved you feel like all my life.” Anna felt the air leave his body, shoulders loose, neck taut. This was how he had come home back from the field. This type of worn out her mother said, ‘Take somebody breath day by day till aint nothin left but tuh die!”
Anna had thought about that same thing, that last summer. As she scanned the trees for her brother, she closed her eyes. As Rasp held on to her, hands around her hips, she let her mind swim back to that summer. Back to the water. Back to the night she ran. Back to the night where death, that ‘good sleep’ Father Shep said was better. As Rasp breathed deep on her lap, her eyes closed. “Them is dark things in yo head, Anna. Don’t chu go chasin em.” Her father told her that when she would take off in the evening. “Imma just need to be by herself!” Don’t chu go chasin em. The heaviness in her chest came back, the tightness of it making her head ache. The apron over her dress hard and damp from a day of candle-making.
Don’t chu go chasin em.
Anna remembered how dark that night was, how cold it was. The comfort of the memory was better than not seeing her brother. Luke, the doctor. Her mother said when he was a small baby that he had an air to him, always fought to protect him. “He my Moses. Our Moses!” It was because of Luke, and Anna her mother, May Clara, was gone. The thoughts came back, the sand in her hair, the clothes torn from her, and her feet bleeding. It was the knocking on the door of the little shack Luke called the Prayer Closet, that snatched her back through time. He busted in through the door like hurricane wind. “The scouts is in the woods, Anna! The scouts is in the woods!” Anna pushed Rasp away, cold from the weight and heat of Rasp gone from her body. “What?” Luke paced the Prayer Closet, looking at the small window. “The Yankees ain’t gone, Anna!” She felt her chest ease a little, she rolled her shoulders, and went to her brother.
Luke held his sister, close and warm. Tears came then, as Luke spoke. “I saw one of them folk from that place Indian Jack stay.” He kept hugging her, speaking faster, lips near her left ear. “Them scouts is like God, they just be everywhere Anna! They coming in the morning. We gotta be here tonight.” Anna pulled away, looking into the face of her brother. Tall. Dark brown. Cabinet maker, furniture maker their father and his father before that. “We gon be free tomorrow, Anna!” He blew out of the door just as quick as he had come. Anna watched him run back through the night towards the trees. “In the morning. We gon be free in the morning!” Anna looked at the sleeping Rasp beneath the small window. She wanted to wake him, tell him everything Luke had just poured all in her heart.
Rasp had told her and Luke while they were in the cook house that he had seen the Yankees that morning. He had left the field, was missing the last two days trying to catch up with the troops. Rasp had hidden in the same forest and Prayer Closet Luke called his own to avoid the dogs and the patrollers Master Massion hired to find him. In the morning. We gon be free in the morning. Anna turned to the window, looking at the forest seeing Luke again running like he was young again. Breathing deep, Anna walked to the first big tree of the forest, leaving the door to the Prayer Closet open. Leaning against the tree, Anna wished for Luke, needing for the rest of his arms. But the thoughts came back, chasing the wisdom of her father away. She could smell the fire of fireplace in the room, candles that burned and how she had woken up, groggy and sore. The parts of her sex open and pulsing like a wound.
Anna’s mother, their mother, May Clara tried to tell her that Master Massion’s son wanted her. “Anna Clara, there be a talebearer in this here house!” May Clara had told her this when she saw her leave the field to come to her, putting oil in the lamps in the salon room. “Be careful Anna Clara. Mind yaself, Anna Clara.”
Be careful, Anna Clara, Mama said. Don’t chu chase em, Daddy said.
That cold creeped up her back, just like his hands did as he took off the housedress, she wore. The cold fingertips and lips that caressed her, came back. How her Master Massion’s son, Edward, took her. From that first night, and a season after. The night he, Edward, this same boy who taught her how to spell her name, took her in her own quarters. He slapped her, pushing into her as she cried. “You ain’t ever leaving me, Anna!” She smelled the liquor on his breath, through his clothes. “No, Suh! Please! Stop!” Anna couldn’t reach him through the liquor he drank. Groping in the darkness, of found the metal of a small lantern. She had grabbed the lantern with all her might, bringing glass crashing everywhere as her mother and father woke. Edward, bleeding and not moving, laid at her feet. Anna leaned again the wall of her cabin, holding her clothes together. As she held her clothes together, her parents woke up—looking at the bleeding, drunk white man on their floor. May Clara looked at the man on the floor before looking at her daughter. “Run, Anna Clara.” The calm of her mother’s voice, now a hiss, scared her. Stepping over Edward, she ran.
Anna’s feet burned remembering how she had run. How fast she had run, how far she had run. Through that same forest, until she reached the beach. The sand a comfort as her feet throbbed and bled. As she wrapped her arms around herself, there was warmth that came over her. As she closed her eyes, she stayed in that space. Anna remembered everything in the waves that came to her that night, seeping through her head scarf and hair. The tears came again, as she pulled herself back from the sand, her blood and the water. Anna opened her eyes, pushing away from the tree. “We gon be free in the morning.”
There were arms around her then, Rasp’s voice in her ear. Her body shook as she cried, leaning against the tree, free from the memory. Don’t chu chase them. The memories of everything that happened came in waves again. She remembered Luke telling her their mother pushing Edward out the quarters. “Anna, Papa beat Mistuh Edward somethin bad! Face red as Jesus blood!” The memories skipped to the day her father, Joshua, took the lash to protect her after everything happened. Before he went with the overseers, he told her what she was scared to say again aloud: “Them is dark things in yo head, Anna. Don’t chu go chasin em.”
Edward hadn’t remembered being hit with the lantern, but he remembered Joshua hitting him. Anna wept in Rasp’s arms like the same day her father was beat in the barn. For her. For her sake. We gon be free in the morning. She hung on to the words as the tears came in heavy sobs, tears steady as raindrops. “Papa!” she shrieked. Anna remembered Gram Hallie holding onto her from the tree near the barn. She remembered how he struggled, fought against her hug. Anna’s body shook, remembering the whip lashing against the flesh of her father’s back. “Shush, baby! Shush!” The juniper Gram Hallie worn filled her again, wrapped around her again even in Rasp’s arms. The sound of the whip fresh as Rasp held her. “Anna Clara! Anna Clara!”
Clara. May Clara’s mother’s name. Her mother was the last child she had before she was sold for spite. Master Massion’s sister, Miss Julia, lied and said Clara stole something from her. We gon be free in the morning. Her feet throbbed, reminding her of what Luke told her. “Luke wit Paul on alla his travels, dass what Father Shep say.” Her mother said. “Luke the same way. Knowin and seein. He gon be great!” Her mother vowed any daughter she could keep would have the name Clara if she could help it. “I know these white folk aint finna ever call you all that I say you is,” her mother had told her. “But yo name Anna Clara. Anna like the Bible. Clara like my Mama.”
We gon be free in the morning.
Rasp held Anna, tight. His breath in time with her tears. She cried as the trees rustled. “There they is!” Rasp held her, turned the Anna from the sound. The smell of the hickory wood in Rasp’s clothes steadied her. “Anna Clara!” There was a weight that crashed into Rasp’s back, with a small tow sack on his back. It was Luke. “The scouts is gon be here at dawn! We gotta stay out here tonight. Be ready to go when they knock on the Closet door.” Rasp followed Luke as he set a lantern in the small window. Rasp picked Anna up from her feet, still throbbing from memory. “Tomorrow, Anna. Tomorrow already comin!”
As he crossed the small threshold of the Prayer Closet, this small house built by their grandfather, Old Wen, before Master Massion was ever born! This place was built with scrap wood, and lumber from other trees. Old Wen, who died not knowing freedom, set a place for his grandchildren. Rasp held Anna, as she closed her eyes. “Tomorrow?” Rasp kissed her forehead. “We gon be free in the morning.”
Oh, my dearest ones! I have heard today the remake of ‘Candyman’ will be, is being pushed back till September, I thought I would do something a little lighthearted. You’ll thank me later, I promise. -JBHarris
Let me preface by saying this: I am a fan of Jordan Haveworth Peele. I have been since I saw his President Obama sketched on Key & Peele on Comedy Central. I knew that he wrote for the show, but when I actually saw what he did for Get Out? I was a complete fan. Not just a fan, but a complete fan.
Note: The difference between being a fan of someone and a complete fan of someone is this. A fan is someone who likes a person, a thing or a concept and just that thing. A complete fan is someone that likes that thing/person; its cousin; their friends; the pie recipes; hash tags and follow everything associated on social media! I am a complete fan of Jordan Peele. Complete!
In this time of being self-quarantined/sheltering in place, this a perfect time to catch up on all the glorious genius of Jordan Peele and his funhouse of imagination known as Monkey Paw Productions. But, beware! Don’t be caught out there. A Jordan Peele/Peele-affiliated movie an experience. With any great, beautiful or dangerous adventure–you need a team to go with you! So, as I am here to help, let me tell you how to successfully survive a Jordan Peele movie.
1.) Go as a team. Preparing for a Jordan Peele movie/ Peele-affiliated movie requires the Buddy System. Don’t debate me on this. The Culture demands you have the Buddy System. You do not need to see a Jordan Peele/Peele-affiliated movie alone! This is for your own good! You need a group of people (at least 3!) to go with you. These are you EST (Emotional Support Team). A Peele movie/Peele-affiliated movie is ‘liable to have anything in it! You need a team, mane. You need a team.
2.) Emote in the correct parts. When I saw ‘Get Out‘, I was on the couch with my husband. From the onset of the scary music, I was invested. I wanted Chris to be okay, I thought Rose was trying too hard, and I KNEW something was wrong with Georgianna–horribly wrong! But with all that said, because Jordan can be so emotionally investing, it is a good thing to know when you need to be scared, and when you need to look at your EST–making sure you aren’t the only one that sees such a crazy thing happening alone! The laughs are help, trust they do, but you still need the EST.
3.) The Jump Scare. Bruh! I have never been the fan of ‘the jump scare’ because I had older cousins that made sport of doing that to me. And—I still hate them for that! With that said, Peele movies/Peele-affiliated movies have these–but they are so out the frame of where you really expect them (like Pluto in Get Out? Remember him! Bruh!)! Or where you think one will be–there isn’t!
Jordan Peele enjoys messing with your head.
Peele-affliated movies mess with your head.
See Step 1: Get your EST.
4.) The Easter Eggs. One of the reasons I am a complete fan of Jordan Peele, and everything he is involved with is because he makes his audience think (Pin: This is why writers need to be readers first!) and because he makes them think, you have to pay attention to what is said/not said/whispered. You have to watch everything! I am still picking apart Get Out and Us! There are still themes that I saw in these movies–even months later!–that I can see in pop culture and other literature. One of them being this mention of the Sunken Place was described is hinted at in InvisibleMan by Ralph Ellison. Don’t believe me? Read it!
5.) The Decompression Comedown. Oh, the dreaded comedown. When my husband and I finished watching Us, I was blown away! He doubled over in his seat, probably to catch is mind as it was blown from the seat in his skull! And what did we do when we got to the car? Talked! We talked about the ending (no spoilers!), we talked about the themes, we talked about Pluto (bruh! There is a dissertation in JUST their interactions), we talked about the scripture referenced (Jeremiah 11:11). We broke it down, talking for a couple hours! These types of movies inspire conversation, thinking, analysis and the compulsion to see the movie again.
The EST helps you unpack your head–because the Peele/Peele-affiliated movie-going experience will definitely be thought-provoking. Or should be! But I’m a nerd with fashion sense. I’m biased. And a complete fan.
I urge you to become one as well.
So, with Candyman being pushed back for release come September 2020, remember what I told you. And stay out the mirror! The year 2020 is not playing with any of us…no one needs to at that dude to anything.
Author note: I like Marcus. Y’all may see him around. -JBHarris
I was asked to take some bags out of the attic for my grandmother. Not for my grandfather. That mean old man did my grandmother so bad, that I would rather push him down the stairs than take the trash out. Leland George Gray was what Hell modeled demons after. Couldn’t nobody tell me different. My mother, my daughter, would tell me “Marcus, we all got out cross to bear. This was my Mama’s. The devil will have him soon enough. Don’t you get took too!” My mother, the consummate cross-bearer. We came over to the house, because Nan had died two months before and that old demon was going to a home.
My father had come home to see him standing out of the wheelchair calling my mother by his dead wife’s name, and trying hit her with his cane—what he called ‘his stick.’ My father would have none of it. They married as high school seniors, and hadn’t looked back. “Lisa, that old man need to go where folk are paid to care for his ass!” I heard them say from my room that night, safe to talk after Leland had taken his nighttime meds. “I know, I know.” She sounded resigned and relieved, weird combination to hear in the voice a teacher. “I’m sending him this weekend. There’s some old stuff I gotta get out of the old house so he can go.”
None of my mother’s sisters would or could take Leland. That’s what they all called him. Never Daddy. Never Pop. Just Leland. And they said it like they had vinegar in the back of their mouths! I don’t blame none of them. I was about to head to Jackson State in August, so this was the last thing I was going to do for my Mama, for my Grandma. The absolute last thing.
We pulled up to the house on 4220 Prairie Avenue on St. Louis’s North Side. That four-hour drive from Kansas City, Kansas might as well have been a walk as slow as we got there. Mom hates highways, and didn’t me to drive. “You know they kill Black folk on the highway as easily as they do in they front yards. You know that right?” After that quick car nap, we where there. This big, faded yellow house—with these things Mama said we had to come get. My Aunt Kim was left the house, because she was the only one who could stand the ‘ghost’ Mama said lived there. “Marcus, I’m about to talk to Kim, and you just go up to the attic and get the boxes Kim labeled ‘old bags.’” I nodded, grateful as fuck to jump out the red Blazer.
True to her word, my mom stopped in the kitchen to talk to Aunt Kim, with all her blonde box braids, Jackson State jacket and matching pants. He gave me a Black Power fist, as she and my mother all church lady appropriate in her red cardigan and long dark hair like Kandi Buruss wears it. I did the same fist and went up the attic steps. “Old bags.” I repeated, putting my hands in my pockets, then smoothing my haircut again. I remembered I had to call Michelle on the way back. I left my phone in the car, just knowing this wouldn’t take longer than an hour. I didn’t want to fight with Mama about me ‘being on that damn phone.’
I saw the boxes as soon as I got the top of the stairs. In big red markers, typical Aunt Kim. I grabbed the top box, making sure it was closed. When I moved it the three steps to the top of the stairs before I saw the other box with squirrelled, not taped. I opened it, because there was a strap poking out of it like a hand. I pulled it out, and found this big black bag. I recognized it soon as I saw it. This was my grandmother’s Bible bag. But there was never a Bible in it. There was always some book in it, or shooter bottle of Fireball whiskey. I leaned against the window, even though the whole attic seemed colder. There were some old pictures in it, bills in yellowed envelopes, and a red book. I couldn’t make myself hold that purse, so I put it on top of the box I opened. When I opened the cover, I bit my lip to fight the little boy in me that saw what I know I had!
There were a chunk of pages missing, but this is what I read.
“…Leland don’t know Kimberly Rose and Lisa Mae aren’t his. If he find this, I’m be a dead woman. I hope this spell worked. I need Lisa and Kim to stay close. They gon need one another. This root need to work.”
A month out from Jackson State, and the man that I hated, none of his blood was in my body. I almost tripped over the box and down the stairs to my Mama. I needed her to make sure I wasn’t crazy.
In this daily grand unveiling Between mirror and man, I present as goddess, mortal, and woman.
More invulnerable than I would like The woman is choked out, Voice stolen in the awakening of Constant responsibility, And the duty of the service to others.
In this moment, both bare and naked, I embrace the most excellent now. I see me as I wished I could When girldom and life we before me. I seize and reclaim all that is me and you In the legacy of all whom are female And woman to follow, To be resilent and thankful.
From my crown, I see hair of Radiance— Free and authentic as lion’s wool. Indicative of the she-warriors before me, And to be descended from me.
Eyes as clear as summer blues And regal and brown as earth, Housing passion, hot and molten As moved by the whims of God Himself To Gaia in love and justice.
Skin as luminous as clear moons, To the luxe shades of ebony alabaster. Because you see, I too am And am made by sacred fire.
I stretch hands, open and warm Towards sunshine, surrendering to All the day will wield and hold. I remember the strengths of Them that bore and shaped me. Proud of my blood—beyond family. Sharing wisdom beyond years And years lost.
Those forces both male and female Whom have poured into my Mortal divine, Have given ear to unapologetic secrets That make girl-women invincible In times proven to try our souls.
I house, we house courage limitless When none are left, But we who see and defend Them, too, whom bare the Weight which is accustomed To the bold-believing to effect change.
I am she. She are we.
In this light, in this place Before one but my Creator, Whether in locker rooms, offices, Beaches or quiet nights, I can at last admire His complete Handiwork.
The deft of the skill of A sovereign power, that I be made oracle, over this life Given, without hesitation, Chose to live.
I am a vessel divinely written And breathed that exudes Joy and hope unspeakable. The creative power of the Almighty is infused in every Sway of hip, slight of hand, Full use of tongues and dialect I seek and speak.
The worthy harmony of my voice, Our voices, together remind the world Of the tenacious beauty harnessed In the presence of the impossible. These things hidden in my, our, souls.
I am more than breasts, And curve of hip, plump with oh’s and ah’s. I am more than the hunted and unconquerable pussy.
I will not be stifled by boxes Meant for those without truth. I am human, I am present And I will not fade away. My voice, my sound, as echo Is joined with heavenly choruses From my belly that sing in Ancient tongues, fit and fluent.
Ancestoral wisdom I greet In my reflection, reminding me Of all that is priceless to those That listen to the whispers of The aged: IMANI (faith) KUJICHAGULIA (self-determination)
I embrace the non-smootheness, Thickness of my thighs, How they gape, tough or rub, As they end and become calves, That attach to feet, Fearless as thunder.
I am aware of curses sent by Conjurers of this world, Conspiring to weave a shroud Around the path of whom I will be, in favor of the steady seducing of Whom it is easier to become.
I embrace that sentient Autonomy that has made me Unstoppable as water. I own all that has been owed to me, To be able to transcend this Shell that the soul inhabits And let go of all weight and waiting.
Such vulnerable, soft dignity To live life embracing scars from Wars future and past—capable, compassionate. Yet, I smile, still beautiful, with Healing presence offered to those Found weary along street corners, Bar stools, and the Jericho road Fallen among thieves.
It takes a survivor, to know a survivor.
After I have imbibed perseverance, After earnestly suffering awhile, I can breathe deep and easy, as naturalists do. When the new, fresh journey is set before them. The world outside is home, Carpe diem it’s theme.
Now, peace for the life after, For now, always now, I can awake, and look at whom I always was, to whom I will become And know I matter. Know I am special. Know I am engraced and equipped to journey. I know to this world, I belong.
(This piece is written for the First Cycle of The Awakenings Project in 2017 by its artist.)
In my fury of reading ‘dark’ literature, romance and horror, I found her. There was a girl in my Spanish I class that had a copy of The Bluest Eye. I read the back of it, and was enthralled. However, how our high school was set up, I never got the chance to take the class this classmate did.
In my house, there were more books than television sets. At any of my maternal aunts’ houses I visited for that matter, there were books. Harlequin. Avon books. Encyclopedias. Langston Hughes. Toni Morrison. The first book I saw of hers was at my Aunt Stella’s house: Sula.
I finally read The Bluest Eye in my early twenties. I read her next to last book, Home, before I got a chance to read God Bless The Child. I had a habit of lending out my books, and sadly, due to this generosity, I lost a swath of my books. Most of them, by Toni Morrison. Thank God for Amazon, and Amazon Prime’s ability to replenish a library!
I found a home in Toni Morrison, I believe, due to her age and her physical resemblance to my maternal grandmother. I knew that Mother Morrison was getting older, and I knew she would pass away, but this loss? Her loss? It feels as if the world has gotten all the more dimmer. There is more of a chill to my day. There feels like there is all the more, that much more, lack in the world.
The one thing that I have to remember is writing, being a writer, carries its own immortality! Right now, I can go to a library, a book store, or the retail monster known as Amazon and find her! I can find her imagination present in fictitious people or in essays of power and substance. She may be lost, but she is not lost to time! In this, for this reason, am I comforted.
The question is now, how shall we proceed? We have long held up the artists of our parents’ and even grandparents’ generation. We have lauded over them, and protected their memories, with no thought of who will come after them! I understand (and it goes without saying) no one can be Toni Morrison. But what I can say is there are a generation of writers she inspired. Another generation of writers both/all Black, female, woman whom are grateful to her. Whom are steadied by the volume of her work, and whom now, I hope, shall be brave enough to put pen to paper. This is what I want…I want the work of writing to continue! From the accomplished novelists and essayist, to the young girl starting her first journal.
I want the work of writing to continue. This is how best to honor this giant of a woman is to have her spark, remind, invoke, provoke the writers whom will add to the canon of this glorious genre of Black literature.
As her body as surrendered, doing all it was purposed, let us be reminded of her quote in Song Of Solomon:
I am in this space of radical love and self-acceptance. In my devouring of the fire of Feminista Jones; the medicine at the shoulder, knee, yea, hands of Toni Morrison; I came across the sister oracle, Morgan Jerkins.
This book had been on my radar for over a year. It had been in my literature orbit, and hidden among other Amazon needs. However, now, this time, I bought it.
What I got in the about 8-hours of the author herself, was a dual realization of my power as a Black woman. And the invisible chains that held, pulled and sought to destroy me.
I found myself nodding when she talked about the paradox of being a smart, quiet, Black girl. I teared up remembering my middle school self: smart as hell, awkward, with parents that prized grades over social status. The struggle with sexuality as a Black woman versus the idea (even appearance) of being fast. I was mad as fuck with her as she relayed her frustration with college acceptance; the loss of her father and hiding in the depths of academic success. I clasped my hands, as if she could feel them, when she talked about her faith. I even teared up at her *manifesto in Chapter 9.
The power of this book is it’s willingness to confront the joys and struggles of being a Black woman. She rips off the Band-Aids with laser precision and pulls no punches.
While reading it, I found Morgan on Twitter. I tweeted her about how the book effected me. How I wished I had something like this 25 years ago when I was a girl and trying navigate woman spaces I was thrust into. I had to examine myself and alla my stuff as the choreopoem goes.
In, with, that examination, came a strange empowerment. The further acceptance of my Blackness. Of forgiving women in my family whom did only what they knew to do in order to keep me safe and tame. I no longer felt that my experiences were alien.
This book was a reminder of self, my entire self. Of allowing my daughters a freedom I never tasted. I was reminded my soft heart and quiet nature were never a detriment, but a tool. I was reminded just as Phylicia Rashad said:
“Your whole self is such a treasure.”
I had forgotten that. Like any good writer, Morgan made me remember. For that, I am thankful.
Thank you, Morgan Jerkins.
*The manifesto in Chapter 9 is one of the boldest, most vulnerable things I have read pertaining to loving yourself as a Black woman. I am glad I have this book on Audible so I can go back and reference it on blue days. The days where my magic, my swag or my sway feel less than. Where I feel less than. Where I am low, in need a level of refilling God-deep. One of the joys of being a writer is you get to see and feel deeply. With that depth, the refilling, too, must be just as deep.