How Preacher Got His Name (a short story)

“Preacher, when’re you gonna listen without telling the sun he shines too bright? When are you gonna listen, boy? You can talk from here to Palm Sunday until someone asks ya for the truth. Then you become mute like a reverse miracle. Shut up, sometimes, will ya? Can’t hear a tornado moan without seeing the end of days. Preacher, you better not part your lips while I’m talkin’ to ya, now. Sit back and listen. I’ma tell you why you was born Preacher Adams. I’ma tell you so you can finally hear the wind rustling the leaves around you. I’ma tell you so you stop and think for once. Stop and collect YOURSELF. Not ten percent of the world around you. I’ma tell you why your Grandma Adams named you Preacher.

“Listen now, when Grandma Adams was first born her mama named her Psalm McEvers. Remember why she named her Psalm? I told you once before…you don’t do ya? That’s cuz you were too busy talking about rainbows being figments of the human imagination just because we don’t see them all the time, or something outlandish like that. I remember, you said something about ‘human beings needing to see beauty to combat all the ugly we imagine inside ourselves. So we make up rainbows to keep living,’ you said.

“That’s why you didn’t hear me tell you about the origins of Grandma Adams’ name. That’s why I have you sitting here shutmouthed and still. And if I see that view-from-the-mountain look you get when you ain’t listening, I’ma throw one of these peeled potatoes at your forehead. If ya think I’m playing you just try me.

“Now, Grandma Adams’ mama just loved dressing up on Sundays for Palm Sunday. Ever since she was a little girl. She’d almost wet herself as she dreamed about the uniformity of all the different people coming together; singing songs and running through the pews as if they just heard tell of a homeless man walking ’round in a 3 piece suit. So she named your Grandma, ‘Psalm’, after her favorite book in the Good Book. Everybody thinks she mispelled “palm”. But no, she just wanted to remember how on those Sundays, in her finest clothes, the world made a little sense. The world looked the way it should to her. Remember that church always wore white on Palm Sunday. Even the preachers. And for some reason, bless her heart, she always thought she was dark skinned–”

“Well, I heard she thought she was black– Oops! I’m sorry, PaPa. I didn’t mean to say nothin’.

PaPa chuckles. “I know you just couldn’t help yourself. And you’re right. She thought she, and everyone around her, was black as Stacy Adams. Though, most of the people in our family and at her church were brown skinned on up to white. Hmm…always thought it was odd that there weren’t many dark skinned folks at that church. Anyways. See, you got me talkin’ instead of saying what you need to hear. Mind it this time or you gonna have wet potato peels on your head.”

Preacher laughs. “Yessir.”

“Grandma Adams’ mama always made me scratch my beard about one peculiar thing or another. But she loved seeing that black and white. Especially on this one preacher the pastor always let give the benediction, but poor brother never did have a sermon. He was the only dark skinned man there. She saw him and everybody else in all that white. She thought she was as black as that preacher who never preached. But she wasn’t. I don’t know if something was the matter with her vision…

“Then the McEvers moved near to Eden, North Carolina. I can never remember the name of the actual town…hmmm.

“Anyhow, Grandma Adams’ mama never saw all that white again on Palm Sunday. The new church just dressed in whatever fashion made them content. But she remembered all that white on her skin. She remembered all that white on that preacher on those special Sundays. She remembered the joy she felt when everything looked the way she could understand. So she named her daughter ‘Psalm’. You remember now, Preacher?”

“I sure do. She didn’t misspell her daughter’s name. She meant to name her Psalm, so she could remember the Sundays when the world was small enough to hold in her palms.”

“That’s right. So words do go in and not just out, huh? Now, you got to really listen, Preacher. See, when your daddy told Grandma Adams he got somebody pregnant she told him to “Treat that woman like he meant to get her with child.” Your daddy listened. You don’t seem to have taken after him that way. At least not yet. Though you can be taught, I see. That’s good.

“Your daddy treated your mama so good she let him name you. Unheard of ‘mongst most peole, I reckon…

“Well, on the day you was born, Grandma Adams’ randomly called your daddy and told him your mama was gonna have you a little earlier than expected. He laughed. Woo, your daddy laughed! At first. Then he remembered he was talkin’ to Psalm, Grandma Adams, and he drove all the way to your mama’s house and woke up her whole family. Heh hehheh heh! Booooy, they looked at him like he had swallowed an egg without breaking the shell! But then, your mama started having birthing pains. They scrambled to that hospital, then. Sho did. Your mama was so grateful. She had a name all picked out but she told your daddy that he could name you. Her parents almost needed a doctor themselves but they recovered well. Once they thought about it…

“Your daddy was so flustered. Lawd have mercy! He just blurted out something. And he said “Preacher!” Your mama never batted an eye. She said, “Then his name is Preacher. Preacher McEvers-Adams.”

“Your mama’s parents, your other grandparents, they were so mad. Before they stormed out, they asked him why that name of all names. And, listen now, he said, “Because Grandma Adams knew my son was gonna be born as black as the preacher my great grandmama saw on Palm Sundays. She knew he was gonna be a reason to see rainbows. Even if they are shades of imaginary black skin and white cloth. She told me all this the other day. Before she called me to get your daughter to the hospital. And then I see him, my son. And he’s just as black as the man my mama fell in love with as a child. Before she moved near Eden somewhere. That preacher looked the way she saw herself. Though she was the same complexion as me. And my Grandma Adams never knew her mama. She just knew her mama named her after the world being small enough to hold in her palm on the few days life made sense in her world of black and white. So I named him Preacher because if it weren’t for my grandma telling me to treat your daughter like I intended to get her pregnant, I would have treated her like I treated all the other women I had sex with. Then I wouldn’t love your daughter. I wouldn’t be able to name my son.”

“Preacher, them white folks ran out of that hospital room as if they’d screamed “nigger” at a Black Panther protest. And I still don’t quite understand what made them leave so ruffled. Your daddy, remember they used to call him Snake, just told the truth. Snake just told the truth. And that’s why you don’t see your other grandparents. They moved far away from Eden as they could. Moved way out of North Carolina running from the truth: Snake never intended to impregnate their daughter, your mama. And they saw their baby girl so taken with Snake that she let him name her child, their grandchild, ‘Preacher’. And your daddy never intended to get her pregnant. But he treated her like he did and she fell in love with him. Yeah, boy, your mama, Biddy-Ann…she loved your daddy. And if it won’t for Grandma Adams he would have lived up to his forbidden name. Grandma told him not to be a snake. She told him to be a man.”

“I get it PaPa. And that’s how Grandma Adams named me Preacher Adams. Cuz I’m the rainbow she imagined her mother saw when she fell in love as a child.”

“That’s right. And, like your daddy, Grandma Adams don’t want you to live up to your name. She wants you to shine through it. She wants you to imagine rainbows, Preacher. But she also wants you to speak the truth.”

“Yessir. Grandma wants me to be like my daddy. She wants me to act against my name. She don’t want me to be like a preacher, always talking and making sense, but never listening. Never truly standing shutmouthed before God because they proud. They gloat in being chosen. In answering “the call”. In being given a name, like “preacher”, and living up to the name. Instead of being silent. Changing the world for little girls who can see love in black skin. Even in a congregation of white. Great great Grandma McEvers never knew that preacher’s name. But seeing him gave her so much joy. Causing her to see black, PaPa, when she didn’t have to. Ma McEvers wasn’t crazy. She didn’t have bad sight. She saw black and white and both colors worked together to make her world make sense. You’re saying I shouldn’t be ashamed of my name, PaPa. I should be like my father. I should listen. Especially to the people who love me enough to tell me the story of how I got my name.”

“You sho is sharp, boy. Just like your Grandma Adams…”


-Rahk.

#excerpt, #memories, #prose, #short-story, #spoken-words, #storytime, #water

“Grief (When a Poem Can’t Fix It)” -raw audio

When you can’t write a poem.

When a poem can’t fix it.

When a flick of the lighter

and a pull of the cigar

and a lashing out at loved ones

can’t fix it

When sporadic sobs of faith

ripping from bellies

like plagues of moths

can’t fix it

When a prayer skips

“Don’t let it be true, Jesus”

And another prayer skips

“Don’t let it be true, Jesus”

And the prayers skip

And voices crack

like whips across Christ’s back

and questions linger

on the napes of our necks

and lifting our heads to the sky

does not loosen their hooks

And you don’t ask them

because you know the silence

resounds like his last breath

Because you know he should not have taken his last breath

And a rage storms

through the blood of kinship

And a rage storms

below the clouds of scriptures

And a question clasps hold of your eyelids

And a gaze falters at the casket

And a sweeping of the crowd jettisons a spray of questions

like bullets

like bullets

like bullets

that wail like they just lost their child

like bullets

like bullets

like bullets

that wail as if their prayers were answered incorrectly

like bullets

like bullets

burdened by too many unanswered questions

like bullets

like bullets

Who is responsible for these tears?Tears dammed by so many quesions

Tears desperate to escape the dam to prevent the flood

And a poem can’t fix it

And a prayer didn’t make it not so

And questions still haven’t been answered

And we have heard that weeping endures for a night,

But why is it that we have been forced into mourning?

#grief, #poetry, #raw, #spoken-words, #water

Pop’s Fables

Son regret just like a dog with two tails–
he can’t move his ass without waggin’.

So, tell that woman you wanna hold her in a dark room and witness the stars in her eyes.

Love that woman, boy. Love her man-like. Then love her like you a woman too. Tell her

“I’m not as strong as I wanna be and I’m weaker than I think. But I can keep a volcano calm when I choose to hold you tighter than my ego.” Tell her

A bejeweled crown adorns her trust and you have become her tallest throne. Show her. Show her.

Son, a dog with two tails is a sad sight to behold. And son… if you’ve never seen one, keep living ’til you get old.


-Rahk.

#fathers, #poetry, #relationships, #sons, #storytime

Baby’s Heart

I told Baby, “Don’t go back there ‘hind them woods where that creature live.” I told Baby not to go but she went over yonder one strangely cold summer day, ’round June, after I’d made her self a lunch of buttermilk biscuits and collard greens– Baby never liked meat too much. Said it tasted like sin to her. Said if God ate sin, it’d taste like meat with all the seasonings and cooked to perfection. Make you feel heavy afterward. Fill you up. It’d nourish you, but at what cost? Baby said, “Lady Mama, that ol’ meat a little too heavy for my soul. Don’t matter if it tastes good if I got to ask forgiveness later.”

Anyway, I’m just a-yippin’ and a-yappin’ like folk got time to hear a ol’ woman talkin’ bout fanciful things like a thoughtful child.

Imagination they called it. Tuh– imagination. If they knew the things I know I done seen they’d say I ‘magined it. But I told Baby what I saw. Warned her ‘cordin to just what I know I seen with my own eyes: that creature live ‘hind them woods. Out there by a little bog that ain’t got no life. Not even a fly piss in those waters. That’s how you know there ain’t no life. Flies, nasty things, they follow dead and decaying things. The nasty part of living is dying. Or so we think.

That creature creepin’ in the brush lives by a place that ain’t got no life. He thinks he knows what we don’t, us folk who follow life. Naw, the creature think life is just a part of death. He think from the moment we’re conceived we’re settin’ ourselves up to die. But what a creature that don’t live know ’bout life? You’d think not a damn thing. But Baby told me different.

Baby went in them woods. Sho’ did. Almost didn’t come back when her body did. I ‘spected something when she absentmindedly spooned some scrambled eggs in her plate one morning. She would’ve eaten ’em too if I hadn’t shouted. Ain’t nothing in the world could make my Baby forget her strict diet.

You could tell she’d seen something wretched. Something that’d make you sing Amazing Grace or the Lord’s Prayer. Or put the needle on a Patti Labelle record, especially if you seekin’ deliverance from that thing you saw that your mind won’t let you unsee. But your heart know it.

Your heart got more eyes than vessels and ventricles. It sees things out our souls which are hidden when looking out our bodies. And Baby’s heart never found its way inside her little chest while she formed in the womb. At least, that’s what I told her when she asked what made her so special. She never asked again when she came back from ‘hind them woods.

Her heart sees with everything its got, that’s why she took a moment to return to her body. Her little heart sees with ears and lips and hands and nostrils and thoughts. Lawd, that creature put a number on my Baby! If only she was a little more heart-blind, she might not have suffered so. But that’s just it, isn’t it? The heart sees with everything you got. Whether you want it to or not. And Baby saw, bless her heart, she saw that creature and almost didn’t come back.

When she finally did return to herself, she told me something that almost made me drop like a fly right where I stood.

“Lady Mama,” she always called me, “I shouldn’t have gone down there. I should’ve listened to you.”

“It’s alright Baby. I’m just glad you finally came back.” I held her tighter to my bosom then.

“Lady Mama?” she inquired softly.

“Yes, Baby?” I replied as I skwez her real tight.

“That creature…it don’t mean nobody no harm. And it’s a wretched creature to look at, if your heart stays hidden away. But when it doesn’t, when your heart finds its way outside you, that creature looks just like God.”


-Rahk

#prose, #short-story, #storytime

A Stranger’s Recollection (Excerpt from “Copperhead”)

We called her Copperhead, mainly because she didn’t have a speck of hair on her head. Everybody says she was born just that way. Although, those same folks say that Copperhead is her given name, so we take what they say with a grain of salt. Looking back, it was almost impossible not to speculate about that girl. Especially when she’d saunter silently by crowds of people as if they were tall blades of grass. Always in her own little world, distant. The quieter she was, the odder she was, and the more we speculated.

You’d hear tales, from familial hoodoo curses to divine retribution. Oh, we’d all have a go at theorizing. Especially because her old mean mama had hair to the small of her back. No natural force we’d ever heard of could shine a woman’s crown into a magic 8-ball from birth. I’m telling you, not one follicle chose to live on her scalp! Quite peculiar if you ask me.

Here I go getting sidetracked. No wonder the youth drift off every now and again when old folk talking to y’all; us old folk drift off first I bet. That’s how we get sidetracked in the first place. Now where was I—Ah. Copperhead, that’s right.

If her head was something to startle the potholes in a pool table, her body was the pool stick; straight up and down. But for some reason, you always knew she was a woman, even from behind. Androgyny loomed over her shoulder with hot breath, but womanhood took hold of her slim frame and adamantly refused to let go. Woo wee, she was skinny! And black. Just like soot. Growing up, some of the unlearned boys used to say to her, “Keep on laying out in that sun. God gonna spit and turn ya into mud.” They wished they’d never parted their lips once Copperhead struck back.

I remember my friend Smoke theorized that she got the name Copperhead due to the venom in her speech. Once you had her gaze on you, you’d swear you were tip-toeing in the woods on a quiet summer night. You’d swear you a slithering rattle sent you into fight or flight. The moment you had her attention, you knew you’d stepped off the path at the wrong time.

One concentrated sentence could bring a professional football team’s ego to the turf, and she’d never miss a step. You would think, with her being so quiet and alone all the time, that she was afraid to speak up. Those unlearned boys discovered that snakes could talk on that day. And they also discovered that no man is going to like what a snake has to say to him.

Truly, no one could say she was mean and convince a jury to confirm the allegation. No, Copperhead tended more towards honeycombs than swarming stings. But the swarms were there to protect the sweetness of their hard labor, and their queen. So, who can really blame them if you poke their hive with a stick? Imagine having worked all week, and come pay day, some fiend steals your wages—anybody would become a swarm worthy of Exodus.

Though, by now, even the strangest passersby are familiar with the local dangers. The commoners find enough kindness to warn strangers about the vipers lurking around town.

Last I heard, Copperhead rarely has to ready her infamous fangs nowadays. The people leave her to do whatever she pleases, still wary of her venom.


-Rahk.

This was originally the first chapter of the novel in the works. How does it read? Is your interest piqued? Your feedback is not only welcomed, but encouraged! Thank you. 

#copperhead, #excerpt, #prose, #short-story, #water

Yes, Even Men

I will not stuff my tears into my coat pocket
Or swipe them from my face
as if they burn
I will not clasp hold of the sob
banging furiously at the corners of my eyes

I will let these tears escape
like refugees from an oppressive regime
I will let these tears dampen my beard
as if a staff will part the sea
gathering unabashedly at my chin

I will not be ashamed

Death touches everyone
inappropriately


-Rahk.

#poetry, #water, #when-rahk-writes

Mother-Son Talk

Mama says, “Man be feral.
Apt to concquer–
Yet can’t concquer his beast.
Makes him irrational
Like a rabid wolf
Intent to maintain his awareness
As he seeks the meat ‘neath your chest.”
Mama says, “Man be feral,” and “a little too infatuated with woman’s breasts.”
I say, “No mama, man be hurt.”
Mama says, “And what wounded beast, is not demon in deed?
Ever seen a rabid jackal? That’s a demon indeed!”
I say, “But mama, daddy ain’t no beast.”
Says Mama, “Beast no match for a monster.”
“So, Mama, woman be monster?”
“Yes, Baby, but only when beasts are upon us.”
“What’s woman before then?”
“Baby, before when? Beasts were created before men.”


-Rahk.

#poetry, #prose, #when-rahk-writes