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