When Birthdays Are Mourning Days



My mom and her sister were born a year apart. So, it only seems right that they would have children whom were born a year apart! I was born in June of 1981. My cousin, Nathaniel, was born in August of 1980. When we were little, we would joke that through July, we would be the same age.

It has now been 13 summers since Nathaniel Brian Jones was murdered on the streets of St. Louis. The most troubling thing about his death was the thing I mentioned earlier:  in July we would be the same age.

I remember the funeral, the internment, and having to celebrate my 25th birthday the next day. It was from that point, that I decided I couldn’t celebrate my birthday anymore:  we were both going to be 25. It was at my birthday which marked every year he was not in the world. I remember not going around my aunt because I felt like a death omen. Every July, and every August 5th, I think of him.

I think of the little boy that played with me. That ate bugs. That told me he would never leave me. I think of the young man that grew to utterly dislike me when we got older. Whom I no longer felt protected by. I thought of the young man and the immense potential that Oak Grove Cemetery inherited. This is the mystery of grief and sorrow:  you wrestle with the memories of what is, versus what could be!

Nathaniel as we grew up became a man I did not recognize. Who was mean, lost and unrepentant. He became a man that I wouldn’t trust to watch my purse! In that frustration, I stepped away from him. As much as we were told and taught family was everything, I gave him over to the life he wanted. In that giving over, I decided to separate that identity which was wrapped up in our birthdays, and our ages.

As I focused on me, education and writing, I could only shake my head when told of his criminal exploits. Of getting shot. Or refusing to leave the city after being shot! When his mother threw his bed away–meaning he couldn’t come back to her house!

When he wouldn’t listen to anyone.

I am unsure, even right now, if I had already considered him dead. I know that there was a visceral dislike for him, and with his death? That dislike? It became a breech.

There was no remedy.

There was no closing the gap.

I had to deal with him leaving the world after he promised me he wouldn’t.

During the month of July, we would be the same age. 

It is almost like being haunted. He was eternally be 25, while I am headed towards 40. We would be headed towards 40! What I grapple with this year, is this idea of my life being half over; while his being over. I mind myself of this fact on darker mornings; contemplating my own mortality and eternal destination.

I think of what it means, or would mean to die at an age he would which he would have never seen. I think of who will be there to remember all those who the world has forgotten. I think about the what-ifs, the why-comes and the would-bes. Most of all, I wonder if we would have gotten back to that place where time no longer could or does matter.

The fact is, I am aging.

The fact is, Nathaniel never will.

Funny thing? The darker irony of this is perfect! Why? It’s fitting for a boy that never did want to grow up. I suppose even dark wishes can be granted.

From The Crates

Things I Ponder:

(c)JPHarris, 2014

One of the most upsetting things to encounter for those gifted to be scribes/writers is to be silent. It is dangerous for a writer to be silent. It is dangerous for our pens to be still, screens blank, skills dulled to the point of collapse. Our eyes seeing with no faith to believe for change, no words to create to draw attention. Words which have power to stir thoughts to instill or stimulate change. It is the artistry of imagination where possibility is created, exposed and changed. Writers are misfits. We see the unseen, name the unknown and touch what is hidden. Yet, these things must be seen and said. The atrophy of time must be rebelled against. We must race against the light given to us, race against it. We cannot curl up with the words, the word inside us. The unsaid, the unwritten must still be said…even in dreams.

[image created by Kai Ellis, owner of Artuvkai]

Snippet: The Mourning Cry (Part 1)


 Natchez, Mississippi-Fall 1878


I  remember the day I heard my Mama say she was leaving, that she would be back for me and my siblings. I never saw her along the Mississippi Delta again. I remember when she ran, how the men came out our cabin to find my Daddy. How they drug him from the arms of his Mama and down the stairs that his own Daddy made. They hung him over a lie the wife of my Mama’s master told.

We still lived on this land, only 2 families out of not being free. That mean man that owned my Mama, and her Mama was dead and his wife hated God for not letting her die with him. She had let these men kill my Daddy over a lie. This evil white woman, whom I just knew as Miss Victoria, said my Daddy had been ‘indescent’ with her and her daughter. “This all smell like Hell-baked lie!” My grandmother said. “Malathe, they killed yo Pap on a lie!” I remember she looked at my Daddy, her son, swing from that big ol’ elm tree in front of her house ‘neath the blanket of stars. “Over a lie!” she said, knocking over her candle into the dying grass.
She hated Victoria until she died, four winters later. “I don’t care if I don’t see God, ” she said, the fever making her mind slip, “I just won’t to see that harpy wherever the Lord lay me!” I was sixteen. That mob of white men killed my Daddy over a lie. And that lie killed my grandmother. After the war, my brothers went North to find our Mother. The last anyone hear she might have been a washerwoman in St. Louis or Chicago. I decided to stay home in Natchez. I wasn’t about to be run off.

I was gon fix Miss Victoria and her daughter, Isabelle. Just like she took from me. I was going to take from them.

[image from fhwa.dot.gov]

At The Bottom Of A Barrel

He was in the driveway.

This was supposed to be done now. Bags were in his car. Money untraced and in that same glove box. I watched him on the couch, asleep and oblivious. Hmph. Just like he was for our entire dating relationship and subsequent, sorry marriage. I stood in the foyer, opening the curtains twice to let him know I was still in the house and to kill the lights.

That’s what we called this, killing the lights.

I stood in the archway of the great room, looked at my husband of almost a decade sleeping on the couch. Oblivious. I stood there, in all black to cover face and shape. I counted his breaths, and adjusted the 9mm in my left hand. It felt unnatural, and heavy. Ceasar had said one of the ways to get away with this was to become ambidextrous. I remember his hand and how it felt over my left hand. How he guided it, silencing my tears with his lips to my cheek. “Brianna, you can do it. You know he’s never going to let you go–and may not care if you leave.” I adjusted my hand around the weapon, feeling more deadly than I thought I should. Shooting him would be easier than aiming at the cans and bottles in Ceasar’s brother’s backyard.

I thought about how mean he was. How he didn’t want children. I thought about how he thought money fixed everything. I thought about he couldn’t even fuck me right in the last eight months. I walked to the end of the couch, looked at his dirty black sneakers on my gray couch I picked out with my best friend.





I thought about when I met Cesar at the company party. How sweet he was when he found me by the elevator when I started at his law firm. I thought about his eyes, his mouth and how he always held me after making love to me. I loved him. For two years, we waited. We thought. We planned. Cesar had him followed, mapped his days. We had sex in the martial bed. I moved out of our bedroom, and he seemed to not to notice. What helped was be finding panties in his car. Pink. Lacey. And three sizes to small. I left them there.

Oblivious, cheating aloof husband.

I made it to his torso, the icy feeling over my chest and flowed to my armed left hand. I thought about how perfect he tried to make me. I thought about how he made fun of my family whenever we would leave a visit with them. I thought about how I felt when I found the underwear. I thought about the sexy text message from the naked woman named Candy the PI Ceasar hired. He cloaked his phone to make sure when I left, his life would be over.

I stood over him, thinking of out last fight. I thought about how mean he was. How he stormed out, probably to go to Candy. I remembered I called Ceasar in tears. I told him how I was ready. “I can’t be here anymore!”

“You ready?” he asked, no levity in his voice.

“Definitely.” I answered.

I flexed my hand around the gun. Untraced. My gloves would be thrown away when we were far enough away. I cut hair a month ago, and it fit under the skull cap I wore. I left hand itched. I just had to be brave one more time. Just be in his face one more time.I raised my hand, just like Cesar taught me. “When you raise your arm, level your hand. Close your eyes. It helps sometimes. Squeeze and walk away.”

The cat and mouse game was about to be over. It was all about to end. I steadied my breathing, and watched his walnut brown face slack with sleep. I remembered the silencer in my pocket, felt my eyes water as I looked down to assemble it.

Just be brave one more time, Brianna. Just one more time.

He stirred and I didn’t move. I put the gun in my left hand again. All I could see was the newness. All I could see what was world without him in it. I closed my eyes, felt the barrel against his forehead and pulled the trigger.

I opened my eyes and walked towards the front door.










[image from Window World]