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

#copperhead, #excerpt, #faith, #gender-norms, #prose, #short-story

You Do It Different From Me (Excerpt from “Mannah”)

Banjo tasted skin. Not his own skin. Soft, though. Warm. Urgent.

“What in Gabriel’s Moon…” thought Banjo, hazily. He inhaled. The wind forced into his chest roused him gently. Drearily, Mannah filled his vision. He jolted upright. Dust clinging, obsessively, to the back of his old T-shirt. “What happened?”

“You blacked out. You stopped breathing…” Mannah stared like he could meet the sun’s gaze.

“Blacked out…?” Banjo, now aware of his surroundings, searched for his guitar.

“It’s in the spirit world.” Mannah stated knowingly.

“Mannah, what the hell are you babblin’ about now? Where’s the guitar?” impatience strengthening his limbs.

“I just toldja.”

“You’re makin’ about as much sense as a Christian revival. Speak plain just this once.” No longer grounded, Banjo stared down at Mannah. Still half-clothed. No shoes. No dust, except on his fingers from drawing in the dirt as Banjo revived.

“The guitar. It ain’t here no more.” Mannah kept a steady gaze on Banjo. As if he were conversing with a water moccasin during mating season. “How’d you do it, Banjh? I saw it but I didn’t see how you did it. You do it different from me.”

“You sure I blacked out? I think maybe you hit your head and I’m trapped in your hallucinations. I don’t have the cleanliest idea what you’re talkin’ about. I just need that guitar. I gotta return it. Ain’t nothin’ supernatural ’bout getting cussed out.”


#christianity, #excerpt, #gender-norms, #prose, #scenes, #short-story

Introducing “Mannah”, inspired by “Copperhead”.

Mannah never seems to notice the uneasy stares as he saunters barefoot across the street from the In & Out Mart off 56. The gas pumpers and the mail-checking neighbors never got used to seeing the young man walking with nothin’ but a pair of jeans cut off mid-thigh. He showed too much knee for a man of color. It didn’t help that he ran a lot in his earlier youth. Chasing dragonflies around the Miller pond gave him legs like an insect. His grandpa called him Grasshopper because of it. Told him, “If we judged by ‘pearances, we’d sing tale of you jumpin’ over Gabriel’s Moon.”

“Gabriel’s Moon” is a fable generations spread like butter on cornbread. The angel Gabriel had a bet with his brother, Jeffrey. Jeffrey swore that he could do a backflip over the moon if Gabriel’d just give him a hand-boost. Gabriel laughed at his lie but agreed to boost him anyway. The time came when the moon was low and hung like a witch’s smile. Lo! And Behold! Jeffrey careened up into the night sky and cleared the moon with a clumsy backflip! Gabriel boosted him but Jeffrey never quite got his footing. His left foot caught up on the last corner of the moon and that off-kilter backflip landed him square on his back. Crushed his wings all to canyon dust. He won the bet but his wings didn’t take him to heaven after that. He could only get as high as the moon when its just above the tree tops and the family always calls it Gabriel’s Moon.

Mannah, or Grasshopper when grandpa calls him, was built to clear that moon without a boost from Gabriel. All from trying to catch dragonflies on the edge of Miller’s pond. The people looked on as Mannah’s shoulder blades reflected the sun like a new penny. His skin always looked like a pre-winter leaf with the sun smiling behind it. June always called him “Pond Water” because he was just brown enough to require a bit of sunlight to see the sparse hair keen on his legs and arms and chest. Not to mention the patch, like down on a baby duck, just below the back of his neck. Save for that hair and his proud eyebrows, Mannah was bald.

He kept on heading down the path toward the old brick church. Dirt and rocks almost parting for his barefeet, like some country Moses. Humming a poem he read when he was a teenybopper, the whispers and puzzled faces becoming the baseline for his song. He felt it to his bones, but never acknowledged a thing. He never did lend an eye to those things people didn’t want him to see. Mannah didn’t wonder about the whispers covered by hands. Didn’t cast a thought to why Banjo tripped over a string whenever he came around the bend. Must not be important. If it was, someone would say something to him directly. Since no one ever did, it wasn’t a matter of life and death. When it’s a matter of life and death even dragonflies speak.

“Banjo, I swear. I put it on everything. The dragonfly spoke.” insisted Mannah.

“Grasshopper,” Banjo knew his friends grandpa, “that damn dragonfly didn’t say shit to you. Stop lying for once!”

“Did to. I was chasing him, a pretty one too. His wings were like black cobwebs carrying him around that pond. Flitting away as soon as I could get close enough to see how his backside was bluer than ol’ Ms. Carnegie’s eyes.” Mannah sat beside Banjo like a frog, hands on the tops of his feet. Banjo theorized that if Mannah used all the strength in his legs he’d probably leap over Pond-Lake County.

“That sounds like a dragonfly alright. But it don’t sound like a talking dragonfly. Did you see his mouth?” Banjo started tinkering with his guitar, a hand-me-down from his favorite uncle.

“Well if you shut up a minute I’ll tell you again. I was chasing him, like I said, and he went to the back part of Miller’s pond…where the bog is,” Mannah hopped on tiptoe in front of his companion, “but I was a kid then. I didn’t know any better.”

“You sound like you don’t know any better now; talkin ’bout a talking bug.” Banjo eyed Mannah as he leapt around. He wondered why the man never seemed to have dirt on the bottoms of his feet or sweat runnin’ down his back. He was swimmin’ stark naked in his own skin due to the southern sun. He couldn’t fathom setting a socked foot in that ground, nevermind his bare foot.

Mannah leaned against the brick wall and continued, “To get that dragonfly I started to run right into the bog and that’s when it happened. That dragonfly turned around and said, ‘Gwon now! Get!’ and I froze midstep. He sounded like Big Pa when he said it.” Mannah finally made eye contact with Banjo.

“Nigga, if you don’t get the fuck outta here. It probably was Mr. Washington yelling from the house.” Banjo’s borrowed guitar lay on the ground. Its keeper couldn’t focus on one cord when in Mannah’s presence. Quiet as its kept, Banjo just couldn’t think and play at the same time. Why Mannah made him think so hard remains a mystery.

“No, Big Pa was at this church. I know what I saw…and heard.” Mannah somehow slid down the old brick wall, without smearing his skin along its weathered surface, to sit wide-legged on the sparse grass and ample dirt. Banjo inexplicably noticed his companion’s cut-off jeans shifting, baring more skin.

“Man, I ain’t foolin with you today,” Banjo muttered in annoyance while wiping the dirt from his guitar. “I’m going to go practice some more. See if Ms. June wants a private show.”

“Ms. June is old enough to be both our grandmother’s.” Mannah didn’t move from his spot on the wall.

“I know. That’s what sweetens the tea, Grasshopper. That’s what sweetens the tea,” he winked and said, “See ya.” Banjo hurried away– glancing back once while shaking his head as Mannah rolled on his stomach. You’d think he was laying on a sleep number bed, Banjo remarked to himself. As he turned his head back towards his destination, Banjo observed that there was not a particle of dust dulling the soles of Mannah’s feet or his exposed back. Mannah’s skin was somehow untouched by the complimentary coating of dust that assaulted everything else, even clothes.

Puzzled, Banjo shook his head again. He spent more time than he’d admit to himself dwelling on that peculiar sight. He spent no time at all questioning why he noticed in the first place. Finally, Banjo stared at the path to Ms. June’s; his head was still shaking when the sun blew out.

—–*—–

Rahk.

#copperhead, #excerpt, #prose, #relationships, #scenes, #short-story, #spoken-words, #storytime, #water

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

The Driest Tears

Dez did always tell me that a Black man’s tears are sand. “Sand in an hour glass, to be exact,” he would say staring at things I wished I could see. And here I am, hands dripping sand, cheeks dry with the dust of my hourglass tears. Again. And again, I’m seeing his skyward gaze, his distant smile. And again, I’m wondering why these tears are falling.

I focus on the task at hand, brushing my teeth. My reflection betrays my attempt at normalcy. The taste of salt mixes with the minty freshness. I spit into the sink, then cup my hands below the faucet. The cool water pools into my palm, I wash away the vaguely rabid foam of the Crest. I repeat, splashing droplets onto the mirror as I wet my tear-dampened face. The water touches a memory.

“You think a lot,” he said almost complaintively. We were in my studio apartment, conveniently located between my job on campus and my favorite coffee spot. I took a breath to glance at him lying comfortably on my bed before responding. “So I’ve been told.” Paying him minimal attention, I continue replying to work emails.

“What do you think about crying?”

I remember how taken aback I was. The question carried the weight of serious thought, yet was hurled at me like a wad of paper.

“I think it’s natural,” I offered, my voice fraying around the edges with uncertainty. He scoffed at my non-committal reply.

Natural, you would say that. Luxe, man, you have to stop being so predictable,” Dez teased, sitting up. I realized, probably belatedly, that Dez had changed positions. Our gazes were at eye level when he finished his jibe. “Being predictable takes away some of the fun in winning you over.”

The mirror slowly reveals a weak smile. The memory offers some relief before the threat of tears creeps right behind it. Remember, a Black man’s tears are sand in an hourglass. They always stop in time to save face, I’d finish. Isn’t that right, Dez?

The bathroom darkened with an abrupt flick! of the lightswitch. In the shadows, my petty reflection held just enough light to showcase one last tear trailing my cheek. With a sigh, I went back to my room to finish dressing.

-Rahk., Between Men: The Driest Tears

#memories, #prose, #relationships

Excerpt from “Copperhead”, A Novel in the Works

Dear Min. Bully Montgomery,

We come from generations of women, infatuated with misnaming our wounds. Our wounds are not signs of valor, as well you know. Our wounds are survival’s happenstance.

Certainly, you agree that ‘daughter’ has been a recurring wound for the women in our family. Daughter was indeed an unexpected wound for you, Bully. That’s why you named me Copperhead. What would you say to me at odd moments, such as prayers before sleep? Oh, yes. “From the moment you were conceived, I knew because I cried out to God. I asked him why had I been forsaken,” you would say as I nestled in my thin covers. “It was sharp and immediate, your conception. As if a pit viper had struck in the dark. I bled and bled, I hurt and hurt, but didn’t know why.”

And you are afraid, I know, because you still bleed. You are no woman with an issue of blood. You know that, don’t you? You are merely a woman. Undeniably a woman. You still bleed, though your breasts are lower than the sadness in your eyes. When bearing a child should be a distant memory, you still flow like a teenage girl. You have a habit of seeing curses where blessings bloom.

You know, it’s ironic mama. I understand what you meant long ago. Remember, when I was 4 and you said, “Copperhead, even when you smile, the things you say knick the bone.” And mama, do you remember what you asked me back then? You said, eyes averted, “Since you know so much little girl, what is your father’s name?”

The burning sting of your slap still echoes on my cheek. Good thing I am still “as dark as sin,” right?

I never understood, until now, why my cheek burned so. You asked, mama, and I only answered honestly. But, I get it now. It wasn’t my face you slapped, it was my father’s. He always did tell you the truth.

Copperhead

#water