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 the delicate flower she is still servicing his desires. Giving him dominion over her present self as if Adam didn’t nibble the 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. Proclaimung that’s the reason why she’s 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 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. (That’s half of what I took from mama’s daily Bible lessons.) 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 mama’s daily Bible Studies taught me, whether she intended this particular lesson is unlikely.  

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 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 lie about cheatin’ when my chest 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 personal rhythm, not separately,  but together. So to take a piece of that man’s chance for prosperity– he can’t stand it. He just gotta get it back.

And we, we women, gotta get more so we can protect him, protect his heart because we know he missin’ one bar from his steel safe. And we feel like we need more of him 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 have 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. Don’t make Eve to be the problem, when God the one who took man’s rib.  

And many of these women are bound, like I say, because they want men to want something from them. Be it a way to feel related to common speculations of manness, of Darwin’s capitalism, or religious perpetuations, or some asexual conception born to oneself nurtured by the environment. 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. The fact that I can walk right in front of a badgeman all bare up top and he doesn’t twitch. Pretend his eyes been boiled in bog water, and all he can see is places the sun doesn’t tend to.

Some people scream in the back of their minds so by the time the words get out they’re full of migrains–just want quiet and darkness. The screams they orchestrated about me tends along the lines of me being a shim so they boil their eyes in that bog water to avoid the PC Nazis and courtrooms, not to mention that gnat whirring around their second thoughts drawing attention away from righteousness. The rest of the screams mention things like “That’s just a pretty boy that survived 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.”

I ain’t ever been one to focus on screaming, no matter how muffled by the dark. That’s s big part of that freedom I talked about: they don’t know what to do about me because they don’t know what to do about themselves. I got them throwing question marks at their surest laws. I make them ask the Lord to help them be more like Him. Just because I am like I am, they can’t be who they are. That ain’t what the 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 motherly kind of sun, because it’s direct.

Excerpt from Copperhead Manuscript

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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

Stained Glass (Excerpt from “Copperhead”)

After a frustrating, yet moving service, Minister Bully returns to her small office to open the note she found in the church hymnal. It was folded, yet slightly exposed as the hymnal rested on the shelf of the pew in front of her.

Bully’s breath catches in her throat at the sight of her daughter’s name.

 

To: Min. Bully

From: Copperhead

Those men you share the pulpit with, they don’t intend to give you that freedom you crave. They don’t mean to give any of us freedom. And you know it. I know you know it.

You are the same woman who, with utmost certainty, declared: “Men, they mean you no harm because they don’t mean to see you as equal. Their own kindness, because that’s what they’d call it, will never let you speak as clear as the dainty glass they think you are.”

You are the mural those kind men try to cover when they recognize their true stature.

Don’t allow their kindness (because that’s what you’d call it) to leave you as melted sand. Let their so-called kindness temper you, mama. On the day stained glass speaks, it will speak with your voice.

#bully, #copperhead, #letter, #water