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?”
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.
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.
‘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.
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,
Treasurer of Holden Family Foundation
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.
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
How do aliens buy local?
What currency do they use
Food stamps, time shells
How do aliens eat local?
What appliances do they need
Sun Rays, X rays
How do aliens think global?
What conscience should we use
Third Eye, World Lie
by: Chris Vaughn
A poem inspired by the Alien Nation project
I gone and write down all deh ingredients down on piece a paper so, fold it twice from corner to corner and stuff it in my arse right tight so when the Lord does call me home, me and my Ginger Beer recipe gonna walk up to the pearly gates together as one. Cheez on, what a day that will be, yuh! In my three piece suit prim and proper ready to kick deh bucket and leave this wretched place, and leave all yuhs ungrateful children that plotting to teef my recipe from me. Chuh! Fool me once, if yuh please!
On my tombstone, that big piece of fine rock, make sure to write ‘Official Creator, Founder and Royal Curator of the Original Ginger Beer’ in the Queen’s Calligraphy yuh hear? That’s the very least you and your lazy brothers can do for yuh father. The very least.
In fact, I fit to write the recipe nice-nice so in blood-red ink on the last page of my Royal Barbadian Passport, so if ever I does forget where I going after the coroner pucker me up in my ivory casket, I can reach in my inner pocket and show all the heavens and the earth that I, Harold S. W. Walcott am the one and only official Barbadian Ginger Beer Royal Head Master, if yuh please. And I will die with my secret lodged in my old black arse and three cloves clenched in my cold fist. Tink I gunna let these unruly pickney take my good recipe,wreck it and then share it with their friends and family to enjoy? Over my rasshole dead body! Wuh loss!
When the motor cuts off and the silence of the seas speaks urgent nothings to the cold darkness, I wish to kill my brother. I would muster up what little strength still lurks in my gaunt frame and with one desperate heave I’d topple his snoring ass overboard. The sudden force would rock the overcrowded pirogue, waking the others from their uncomfortable slumber. Startled, they would shine the one flashlight that still works and someone would realize that a body has disappeared. I bet they would look at me, with cutting stares that sting of indifference and mistrust and understanding. They would close their eyelids again, resting their head next to their rusty knife, or stone or whatever impromptu weapon they have befriended on the trip.
He sleeps, and I don’t know how. His buttocks cushioned by the few CFA bills stuffed in his pockets, the continual waves of hunger pains banging at the side of the bottom don’t seem to bother him as much as they do me. To think, he is not even a fisherman like the rest of us, and we trust him to bring us under the cover of night from Saint Louis to Casablanca. I think that is where we are going. I hear the names of far off cities in prayers and mumbled dreams. Here we are, my fisherman intuition drained and depleted like the life from the sea below, knowing full well that the weight of our needs cannot compete against the merciless western waves. .
The motor coughs and rumbles again, its humming second only to that of the floating Russian fish factory towering next to us.
A stream of brackish water trickles down the pavement’s slope and conflates before it kisses the brim of my shoe; and I am thinking of black history month. My vision simultaneously focuses on two streams, divided, yet from the same source, heading in the same direction. I focus my attention on the stream on the right and listen to the sweeping undercurrents of assimilation. It meanders, compelled by the gravel stones of capitalist interests , municipal planning and negative peace. It exhumes the stench of a sweat-stained gym shirt, worn proudly by a gaunt rookie. Relentlessly he reaches for a bar set just out of his reach and insidiously smothered with grease by his his very own teammates. They have no intention of making you captain, bruh. In fact, they don’t want you on the team. The first stream crashes against the clipped wing of decaying pigeon. The other stream quickly rolls by with direction and conviction, galvanized by the pull of frustration and non-conformity. It pushes paternalistic pebbles out of its path, losing a bit of itself at every encounter. It loses steam despite its militant efforts to push through. It exasperates, inches before reaching a nearby puddle.
I inhale and place the butt of a tightly rolled joint at the crest of my ear. Bending down on one knee, I trace my two index fingers along the wet paths of the two black rivers. Each finger then draws intersecting diagonal lines across my forehead. I breathe deeply and swallow the taste of earthy contemplation soaked in my spit. I light up, inhale and extinguish in the plant outside of my office building. Onward.