Peanuts inna Baltimore

They are allergic to peanuts.

They  work at a small peanut oil processing plant.

They touch, smell and taste peanuts all day.

Pick it.

Press it.

Bottle it.

And Big Man dey watching from his high office.

 

Most don`t speak Big Man`s language.

All don`t get paid enough.

All are forced to work. There are no other jobs.

They need the little bit of cash to pay for their anti-histamine.

 

They are allergic to peanuts.

They work for a small peanut oil processing plant.

The few who speak with Big Man plea.

They show their  bleeding hives

They show their swollen eyes.

Those who can speak

Those who are not choking on the floor

scream

we are allergic to peanuts.

we are allergic to peanuts.

 

Big Man says to be quiet.

Don`t blame peanut oil, after all its done for you.

 

Big Man wipes the white spittle from the corner of his pasty lips.

 

Are you sure it is peanut oil that is the problem?

What if it was grapeseed oil?

What if…canola

what if…olive

what if…sesame

Don`t blame the peanut. Peanut is good for us.  Peanut is good for business.

He say:

If you have a problem, you should wear a mask.

If you

have a problem

you

should..

 

But don’t blame the peanut.  Peanut is good for us.  Peanut is good for business.

But we workers know that this here is a  big fucking peanut oil processing machine.

Not next type of oil,

Not what-if oil

Ah Peanut  Oil we ah talk bout.

We work here. We live here.

Mask on or Mask off

We can`t breathe.

 

Together, We spill the bottled oil on our bodies and ignite the fire.

Together, we barge the barricaded office of Big Man and forcefully bring his room-temperature body next to our burning flesh.

 

Together, We jump into the extraction machine.

Hear the bones crack.

Like the dry husk of the peanut.

275-19: The Congress

Interviewer: What do you recall the most about the Congress?

Interviewee: The space.

Interviewer: The room?

Interviewee: Yes, child. The room. The room to think and answer. The room where for once, we could walk around freely. I haven’t had room like that since my Queens College years back home.

Interviewer: Was it packed?

Interviewee: Child, how much memory you got pon dat? Pack to the brim. Pack like Lionel-Groulx on Friday at 5:15pm and everybody siting down pretending that the newspaper they readin and the game they playing on phone make ’em blind to old ladies standing in front of them. Place was pack. Pack with “That’s right’s” and “You telling me’s”. Even in the ladies washroom when I gone to pee cuz your uncle’s big head pressing against my insides.. pack-up! Foundation saying “its about damn time”, Eye liner cussing “too much man talking” Lipstick vowing “Burn it all down”.

Interviewer: But you said you can finally walk freely..in a space so packed?

Interviewee: Never feel so free yet! I remember space and time like just just now . Felt like flying when Walter talked about the groundings. And when Stokely stopped..and repeat the same thing again…lord we moving now! Get up or get out! I swear, I was good and ready to buy a leather jacket..but the belly was swollen tough! And what you gonna do with all my talkin recorded on that..whatchu u call it?

Interviewer: It’s a seedLinq BM. And I’m going to eat it so that I’ll never forget what you’re saying.

Interviewee: Cheez on..we living in different times in trut.

 

 

 

***Dedicated to the organizers of the Congress of Black Writers – Montreal, 1968

275-18: Reception

I’ve known her since. Before the funerals and the receptions, back when her tight coils were hidden under rows of futuristic weave. It looked good on her; cosmic purple silk covering her eye as she scanned cans of tuna behind the pharmacy’s cash register. Evening shifts mostly. My cousin was convinced that she didn’t wear a bra so my pubescent self would squint over her counter, trying to make out the form of a nipple veiled by her lint-riddled uniform. She caught me once and I played it off. “Ed-vi-er-ge” I would slowly whisper, pretending to struggle with the french pronunciation, avoiding her stabbing stare as I focused on her name tag at chest level.

Ten years into the now and I see her at almost every funeral. Jason’s stabbing two years back, when Omar’s sister got hit by the ambulance, when what’s-his-face’s uncle died from ting-a-ting. And now at my cousin’s funeral. Edvierge has changed. No more weave. Hair cut low; line-up, Dax waves and all. She is big all over now; chest stretches into belly seamlessly. The rest of my family sobs for our loss and here I am in front of my cousin’s coffin looking back at the transformation of one of my closest strangers.

At the reception, she sits next to me, her paper plate heavy with macaroni pie and curry goat. “You good?”
“Ya”.
“Remember me?”
“Ya. Cumberland’s”
Licks gravy fingers and extends hand.
“I’m Ed..don’t know you like that..but you and Garry were, I mean, are….”
I jump up and hug Ed hard through my tears.
“Thanks fam.”

275-17: The Scientist

Customah is convinced of his hypothesis and (mainstream scientific procedure notwithstanding), he believes that he has enough lived experience and evidence to prove his theory. And so he meticulously frequents every experimental site that he encounters on his routine excursion to work. Scents and smiles vary in intensity but his experimental protocol is fixed; he asks for one cup of coffee, nothing more. He pays for his purchase in loose coins and makes sure to always sit in plain view of the barista that took his order. And he waits. Sipping stimuli that mirrors himself as he brings the unadulterated beverage to his lips. He sips and stares and waits. He keeps the cup to his lips to veil any spontaneous mouth contortion;a buffer of sorts. Still, an occasional giggle breaks free and drowns in the Black Sea before it makes a sound.

He believes it takes about six minutes before the reaction begins. It is a spontaneous exothermic reaction set off by natural black body radiation. The closed environment changes, and he observes nervous finger tips clacking against the cash register. As the barista pivots, stealing hesitant glimpses of the thin-framed black man with brown overalls but a few shades darker than his cascading locks, the tipping point is fast approaching.
Customah closes his eyes and inhales the aroma of Ethiopian blend. The din of the coffee house is slowly muffled by the voice of Bob Marley and a heavy one-drop rhythm. The barista, Iphone in hand, grins. Customah in turns rises from the table, fills his half-empty cup with cream till it overflows and leaves the cafe. Experiment done.

275-16: The Clouds Below

And what if I were to die here, in the belly of Lost Lake, my bloated black body made heavy by failed lungs and irony.  All because of this fool.  This fool that I sadly and desperately depend on.  He knows it too, just like he intimately knows nautical knots and executive handshakes.  He knows how to roll a reefer better than I do and casually swallows drawn out tokes, controlling the release of both fumes and joints from his stalky fingers.  I accept and inhale..and cough.

‘ Northern Thunder, eh?  Good shit right?

  I nod, swallowing an earthy mix of swamp and pride.  We grab our paddles again and venture even farther into the lake, waves from our canoe announcing our presence to the dark world below.  A world of blues and greens and purples and blacks and life and sex and resistance and submission.  I remove my paddle and watch eddies succumb to a liquid eventuality and I feel real fucking blessed.  I see the clouds below full of droplets promising a safe return home.  I see rivers and migration patterns, refined by rocks and blockades, some natural, some man-made. I watch ripples from the Baptist`s  wet hands raising chance from defeat mixed with the everyday cleanin’ and bakin` after Sunday service.  Church.

    And then I see white death flash before me.  My whole self turns around to see the man that is steering this spaceship put the full weight of his privilege onto the gunnels of the canoe, taut pink skin turning white around his knuckles.  He stands up and yells `Fucking Beautiful right!` Black birds and black moments flee my mind.  

275-15: Farmers Twice Removed

‘Farmers twice removed,’ she would say while wiping her hands on her flowered apron. ‘That’s who we are.’ Her large hands lift the kitchen window frame. Vapours from the boiling pots rushed to confront the acrid scent of diesel and tar. She peaks outside into to the neighbouring apartment, a broom’s length away and yet so far. The Korean neighbour catches her staring into his living room and vigorously shuts his drapes. She laughs and repeats, ‘Twice removed, overstand?’

She is dead now. It’s been three years but I make sure to tell my son the same words that my aunt would tell me whenever she would prepare coucou and flying fish. I struggle to obtain the ideal cou-cou consistency. It is challenging to find balance between the viscosity of okras and the friability of cornmeal. But when I turn away from the stove and see my son, with his determined fingers meticulously peeling carrots at the kitchen table, resolution warms my body.

‘Yes Farma!’ I exclaim, as I watch his reflection in the window above the sink. His head would jolt and his locks dance in unison as though my words were the chorus to a song they all knew. ‘Twice removed, Papa’ he would chime back.

I hope to keep this ritual vibrant in the coming years. I see the kids in the downstairs lobby, beautiful black boys of blue and know that my son will eventually need to anchor his own roots in linoleum soil. I fear the ‘twice removed’ response will be followed by a criticizing smirk. Or vanish.

 

‘A farmer is a farmer.’ I emphasize.

‘…Is a farmer.’ he whispers.

275-14: The Response

Dear Ms. Shanice Collymore,

 

On behalf of The Holden Family Foundation, we would like to thank you for applying to the Communities on the Rise Funding Program.   Your proposal for funding was reviewed by our board of directors and stood out as one of the more unique requests for community support amongst a slew of very impressive projects.

We do however regret to inform you that your ‘Community Garden Initiative’ was not selected as a funding recipient. Although well detailed in terms of objectives and budget, it did not align with our targeted demographics criteria.

For future reference, I stress the importance of abiding by the set parameters of our application protocol as to increase your chances.  We do lay out specific population groups for selection.  The ‘at-risk’ category may have been a more acceptable fit for your proposal. The ‘inner-city’ or ‘urban’ options should have been given more consideration.  If applicants were to follow your lead and include their own demographic option on the application, our decision-making process becomes extremely difficult.    We were not prepared for your amended demographics option of ‘Niggas In need of that white boy money’ as this did not fit with the culture that our Foundation wishes to instill in the Community.

We encourage you to better identify your targeted demographic given the recommendations of our pre-determined selections.  This is how our foundation, will be in a better position to help you help yourself and provide the funding to necessary projects such  as the one  eloquently detailed in your recent proposal flourish.

 

We wish you the best of luck in all your endeavours,

Jessie McKinnie,

Treasurer of Holden Family Foundation

275-13: Spinach

This being her second visit to the grocery store, with its blinding fluorescent light and constant AC, she came prepared. The wool sweater, a gift from her best friend back in Nairobi, smells of incense and coal, the scent of safe secrets, closeness and familiarity. Its fabric caresses her chin as  she exhales a memory not far away in time, but distant in space. She looks around to see if others too, had their breaths and dreams crystalized for a brief moment and ruthlessly stolen again and again as they aimlessly rummaged for deals on frozen dinners.

She used to anticipate talking and touching vegetables; a cabbage in the palm of her hand, its aroma sharing stories of sun and soil. “Best One!” The boy-seller cajoled, regardless of her selection. She kissed teeth, he smiled. The first time she brought a cantaloupe to her nose in Toronto, the entire display cascaded onto the floor, causing everyone to stare, which made her feel small.

Today, she was on a mission and briskly walked to the produce section. She picked up a plastic container of spinach, leaflets cut from the roots and incarcerated in a cold transparent cell. She abandoned the idea of being able to feel, to brush her hands across living surfaces. She had to trust what the new gods declared; that all these packages are uniform and that uniformity is good. Trust that since it says “Triple-filtered wash”, that the machines prepped it like how gran-gran did back home. Word is Bond.

In the express cash, she pulled out a five dollar bill. “$4.99, plus tax ma’am.” Said the cashier.

She didn’t have enough.

275-12: The Missionaries

E-Jesus? E-Jesus lives over there on Old Oven Hill and sees everything we do so you better not steal any parts and sell them to the Lebanese, okay? Don’t be like Doubting Thomas. If you want your blessing you better not do anything stupid. That’s the rule. Now, don’t worry about the old TV screens or the broken computer screens..you’re too weak and you don’t know how to use a screw-driver. You are still a kid, so you got to do kid stuff. That’s the rule. You should be looking for tiny-tiny things like batteries and the old i-phones with shattered mirrors, use your tiny-tiny fingers! Jesus likes car batteries. So batteries is your mission. I christen you Black-Battery-Betty, our newest missionary. Praise to e-Jesus. Praise to e-Jesus, Siemens and Sony. You must repeat.

That’s the rule.

Understand that all around you, technology is the future. The future is here and it is dead. If the carcass of the future, the corpse of technology is here, then where are we, B-Three? Yes, New- Ghana, but where are we really? Heaven. This is Abogbloshie, the future of the future, and it is Heaven. If it was no so, could e-Jesus survive the gray fires of Old Oven Hill? No, e-Jesus would burn blacker than black! But here everything and everyone is dead, no current through their metal veins and we, the chosen missionaries will resufficate and bring new life.

Tonight, e-Jesus will visit you in your sleep. He will open the door of your refrigerator-bed and pray in tongues and shower your face with silver dust. ‘Toshiba-panasonic-sony-apple-samsung’, he will chant. You must repeat. That’s the rule.

photo credit: pieter hugo

photo credit: pieter hugo

First visit to market

 

How do aliens buy local?

What currency do they use

Food stamps, time shells

Blackblood fuel

 

How do aliens eat local?

What appliances do they need

Sun Rays, X rays

Radon seeds

 

How do aliens think global?

What conscience should we use

Third Eye, World Lie

Mapa’s Blues

 

by: Chris Vaughn

A poem inspired by the Alien Nation project