Built Like A Cross (Excerpt from “Copperhead”)

She said I was conceived inside a church, that’s why my body built like a cross. I’m just straight up and down and I like it. I like it ’cause I can be free. Many of these women bound. They are bound to service a man’s desires in one way or another. Whether they want to or not. If a man asserts that a woman ought to present herself prim and priss and she acts to fill up that thought or rebels against it, she’s adhering to that man’s demand on womanhood. And if she spends her life presenting cactus when she is a delicate flower she is still servicing his desires. Giving him dominion over her present self as if Adam didn’t nibble that forbidden fruit as well.

Pastor, at the old dusty, block church down the street, preached a talltale about Eve’s body seducin’ the man to go against God. Proclaiming that’s the reason women gotta walk around in a winter coat, even when the sun feelin’ extra proud. That’s why she gotta avoid temptin’ the man, so he don’t go against God. But woman was made like that, and man was made to want her just like that. Well, most men.

Mama once told me men are selfish.  I theorize man’s so attracted to woman because she was made from his leftovers, and he wants those leftovers back. So he can’t listen to God because he’s too in love with that piece of himself the woman got. (That’s half of what I took from mama’s daily Bible lessons, whether she knows it or not depends on the day.)

That pastor must not listen to God for his word ’cause I don’t know what told him to preach that nonsense. Now, devout women can’t wiggle a toe without worryin’ whether some man is gonna be able to control himself during service. Sounds like man got a handicap to me. And God gave it to him, maybe on accident, when he tore that rib from his chest.  Like I said, man so selfish he got to feel himself again and he can’t do that without the woman. And he lusts for that missing piece of himself so bad that he’d bone a woman in the usher board room if his body mirrored his thoughts.

Adam nibbled that fruit because he wanted to. Women tell men to do things all the time that they don’t do; like be truthful and don’t outright lie about cheatin’ when our chests are bleeding from the wound the deed left. I’m a woman, I ain’t gotta catch you in the act. I love you so I feel the piece of yourself you gave away. Because I’m selfish, too. I got one part of you, and I want more. I want it all. I don’t just want to be made- I want to be created. I’ma create myself by building on that rib–give me a hand too, and enough of your heart to keep you living, but half because of me. God gave Eve that rib and that’s where man’s selfishness lies. Because the ribs protect the heart. They’re meant to protect your own vitality, not separately, but together. So to take a piece of a man’s chance for prosperity– he can’t stand it. He just gotta get it back.

And we, we women, protect his heart because we know he’s missin’ one bar from his steel safe. And we feel that we need more of him just to be strong enough to protect him. That’s only because we forgot that God spat on us, too. Doesn’t matter whether a rib was our womb, or not. God put His hands on us, too. We can protect ourselves. God gave us an extra rib because the man, on top of being selfish, is arrogant. But we know better. God made us more humble, that’s why we allow men to govern our lives. That might not have been intended though.

We ought to use that extra rib to protect our pulses from him, too. Man can’t see beyond himself, and woman can’t stop loving man more than herself, because she feels guilty about having his rib. That’s what God told me at least. If I walk in a church naked as a jay bird and a man decides to play with himself during devotion then that ain’t got nothing to do with me. That’s just how God made him. So one day I’ll tell that pastor don’t make Eve to be the problem, when God the one who took Adam’s rib.  

And many of us women are bound, like I say, because we want men to want something from us. Be it a way to feel connected to common misconceptions of man-ness, Darwin’s capitalism, or to religious perpetuations. The man don’t know how to do nothing ‘cept use a woman or control one altogether. Ain’t all that well no matter what the intent: be it modesty or lasciviousness. A woman ought to be something for a man– submissive, sexy, virtuous, a momma or a sister or a mistress; in every case the woman’s supposed to bend if she’s going to be considered loving.

But mama said I’m built like a cross because I was thought of in that church. That’s the moment I was quickened, before a self could even call a name. I don’t bend. It just ain’t in my makeup, being angles with no give. This ol’ head being polished from the last push mama mustered before she decided against being a mother also contributes to the fact that I can walk right up to a badgeman all bare up top and he won’t twitch to arrest me. He’d rather pretend his eyes have been boiled in bog water when all he can see before him is places the sun doesn’t tend to. But the badgeman don’t know that I can hear the screams such a torture would elicit, were he not pretending.

Many people scream in the back of their minds rather than out of their mouths so, by the time the words get out, they don’t resemble words at all; they look more like avoiding eye contact, disingenuous smiles, a stiffness in the jaw– and they don’t sound like words either. No, they sound more like gavels striking polished blocks of wood when you, yourself, have been found guilty by a jury that never recognized you as a peer.

The screams people orchestrated about me tend along the lines of me being a ‘shim’, so they all but boil their eyes in bog water to avoid the PC Nazis and courtrooms. To appear tolerant and progressive. But they can never rid themselves of the incessant gnat that draws their attention away from self-righteousness: truth.

The rest of the screams translate to “That’s just a pretty boy that survived some kind of malignance in his life” to “She just sick, that’s all. Them treatments take your hair and your dignity as an adult; as a child it must take your sense, too.” But, to a learned eye (and ear), the screams people try to muffle with etiquette look and sound just like what they are: lies.

I ain’t ever been one to focus on screaming, no matter the disguise. That’s a big part of that freedom I talked about: knowing things not because a man told you, but because you know yourself. They’re so conflicted about me because they don’t know what to do about themselves. I got them casting question marks at their surest laws. I make them ask the Lord to help them be more like Him. Just because I am who I am, they can find comfort in who they are not. That ain’t what the mistranslated screams will gossip, but that’s the sun shining right on you at midday, merely the sun’s reflection at midnight. Laying out bare in the noon daylight is the fatherly kind of sun, because it’s direct.

Excerpt from Copperhead Manuscript

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