In The Water, He knew Them (an ancestral memory)

The waters were calm when the face peered from the deep. The sun generous on brown skin. But this was no reflection. A gasp escaped.

He never knew sea nymphs had noses, round and wide. He never thought to dream one would show up with blue locs and a full mouth. Gap between proud teeth, with terracotta smile and scales tinted burnt sienna.

Anchoring his boat. He sat back, considering. For the sea nymphs he’d drawn from the words of renowned authors did not resemble his father. They did not have his mother’s mouth, or his great aunt’s cheek bones. They did not have heads shaped like pharaohs.

Figuring he’d imagined things, he peered back into the water. He saw himself again, but not himself. He saw his brother again, yet he did not. The sea nymph danced in the current just below the surface. The sea nymph shouted and sang in his native tongue.

The sea nymph’s observer sat stunned, but somehow attuned to the rhythm of underwater drums. His bare soles began to mimic the beat on the boat floor. He noticed, and stopped. He peeked over his modest boat again and grinned. The ocean heaved for the sea nymph’s kin had joined his dance. They’d flowed right into his song. The young man laughed as images of family reunions flowed into his vessel. As he watched an elder sea nymph, scales worn like sea turtle skin, her locs pale as sea froth, twist and whirl in the current created by her descendants. He was certain the first nymph was her grandson. She smiled at him through the deep blue and a gap stood proud between her teeth.

The young man’s boat, now heavy with memory, continued to sink. The young man treaded water as if trying to dance. He felt a hand graze his hand. He felt his toe balance on a current. He noticed a breath offered by the salty water. He took it and he danced as his boat descended, returning home. He danced. He forgot his feet. His clothes, heavy and sodden, floated to the depths. He darted between currents. And the sea nymphs circled his graceful descent. Their movement like praises of prayer. He began to glow, brown skin casting shadows on passing fish. He began to sing and the language was a loving kiss on his lips. One he had once loved, and now loves again. The language was his, as was the sea and the people who knew him.

#america, #black-stories, #fantasy, #fiction, #history, #prose, #water

The Tale of Kaajah, The Puma

    You never hear her jump. You never hear her land either. You never hear her. You never hear her coming, a shadow of twilight with no voice. Men traveling near her lair feel intruded upon, like a spiders web in your belly instead of butterflies. That’s because they could sense her though she did not roar, or scream gutturally, or hiss. No. The men could feel her presence, though her eyes glinted in their lamp lights, they did not see her shine. She’s a fair predator, always giving warning. You can see your final destination in her eyes, if you let yourself meet her gaze. Be bold enough to stare a puma in the eyes. But they rarely do. They rarely stare her in the eyes but they knew she was there. Men, ever fond of legends, offered her a name: Kaajah.

    “Why don’t they ever look me in my eyes, mother? Why don’t they look me in my eyes?” asks Kaajah of this old tree that died long before it lived. Always stuck in one place, taking what the wind and rain decided to give it. The tree died but when woman dies she is still fertility to the land. Kaajah named the tree, Mother. Mother, the great tree who bears no more leaves yet nurtures a wild beast. Tames a puma.  Mother tamed a puma. She loved her. Kaajah knew it. Only Mother would carve a hole in herself big enough for Siberian tiger, but a mansion for a cub. Kaajah felt the rain, Mother’s crown whittled away long ago. She stood open to the sky. Kaajah, miserable at first, began to hear the rain’s language. She could interpret it’s tongue, though it came from the sky, the rain was native to earth, like Kahjah. She felt the rain.

    Mother allowed her to learn the language, ensured she learned the language. Though she could not roar, she could communicate. She could leap. She could jump high, almost 20 ft as an afterthought. Double that when excited. The only thing is, the higher she jumped, the lighter she became until she’d almost merge with the sky. And though she could relate to the rain, she knew she was native to earth. What kind of life would a puma have in the sky? No. She had to stay with Mother and listen to the rain tell it’s life story and leap whenever she felt like talking.

    Then a man thing spoke to her. Kaajah could not understand. She peered behind Mother’s root. Tail serpentine yet earnest. The man thing seemed different than the others, softer. More like a doe than a buck. Kaajah turned and sprinted away from the “Hey there…”. The soft man thing, the woman, stepped back in shock as the black puma, already remarkable, bunched hind muscles and was almost instantly transported to a sickly, yet sturdy branch in a tree with no crown; only a large cavern teeming with tiny life. Mother decided Kaajah should face her fear and the branch holding her began to protest and as Kaajah tried to defy her mother’s lesson, she only assured it by shifting her weight. The woman ran away a few yards as Kaajah recovered almost as soon as she crashed by the same root she’d fled from. It began to rain. Kaajah accepted the comforting words offered by the downpour and leapt as high as she could to say thank you. She catapulted past the living tree tops, she could see down into a valley she’d never know before, and still she ascended. The rain met her ascension and welcomed her and this time Kaajah did not fear her mass lessening. She did not regret her nation, she was still of Earth, but the sky now claimed its relation. The young woman witnessing this knew she must have lost her mind. The puma, the cat, just jumped as high as a flea could were it much larger. She had to tell someone all she saw though she knew they’d think she was playing them for fools…or high.

    “And then…the most erroneous, yet magnificent thing happened, mama! The cat, the puma, she was black and she jumped in the sky. I know, I know I said this. But she jumped and suddenly the rain and the puma—Mama, something extraordinary happened!” breathed the young woman rapidly.

    “What happened?  Baby, get it out. You done scared me half to death already talking ‘bout such a dangerous creature being around us anyway,” said the young woman’s mother as she stirred her favorite stew.    

    “Well, ma…all hell,” the young woman sputtered.

    “Alright, now!” cautioned her mother.

    “I know, I know. I’m sorry for cussin’, mama. You’re not going to believe me, but I’m just going to read you what I saw when that black puma and the rain met way up there in the sky. It- it was like…like the puma became ink in the sky,” she paused remembering, then gathered herself at her mother’s impatient noises. Sighing, she prepared to read her account to her mother. “Okay, okay, ma. Here goes:

            I’ve never been able to speak
                but I understood language.
                Conversations with the rain taught me I am native to earth
                     but I can fly
                  I can jump         I can leap so high
                     I can’t speak but I
                    can sky.
                    I can ant if I dream.
                 Catepillar into wings.
                 I can sunrise at twilight
                     Ball-gas that I am
                           Black and lonely and silenced.
                 Soul bright like midnight
         was meant to be before humanity   decided to be God and create more light.
                  We had enough light,                                 we had enough light
            I was born black because we need more night
                 I was born black, giving life to midnight
                and I can jump so high
                     Hurl my black self ‘cross the sky
                and finally tell the rain
                         in a crack of black lightning
             how it feels to understand, but not speak.
             God is here.                 God is here.
                   That’s the name Mother did speak.
                    Thank you rain for your wisdom.
              Saith rain: The sky is composed of the language you seek.

And that’s what I saw mama. I swear that’s what I saw in the sky when that black puma jumped so high she met the rain.”

#black-art-matters, #black-stories, #fantasy, #fiction, #kaajah, #prose, #puma, #short-story, #story-time

Gossip Folk (Excerpt from Copperhead)

No one ever suggested disease or a curse as the reason for her abnormality, not outside roomed conversations anyway. Rather, we simply accepted her peculiarities as environmental. Her baldness, as well as her disregard for public decency, to us, became, or perhaps always was, the first leaf to change its color. Autumn always comes, the first leaf always turns, it’s just the way things are– but sometimes, sometimes you remark on it absentmindedly.

“Wessa, look at her–  just traipsin’ around here with her titties all out as if she was born with a bat between her legs. She ain’t no man, she needs to cover up.” Plural complained, leaning on the brand new wood fence surrounding her partial acre of land.

“Aw, she ain’t hurtin’ nobody. My boy, Rascal, got a bigger bust than her. She’s one of those paranoid schizos anyway. Notice how she always looks up at the sun and smiles? She probably thinks the aliens are gonna emerge from one of its rays and take her back to the mothership.” Wessa laughed erratically on the other side of the fence.

“Yeah, well, I don’t care if she is one of them crazies,” Plural stated flatly, “Somebody needs to tell her that civilized folk wear shirts.”

“Ha! Civilized folk! That’s a good one,” Wessa blurted, adjusting her stance and regretting the heels she’d thrown on to check the mail. “You can look in her strange eyes and tell that civilization passed her by. I wonder what Bullie thinks about her daughter flashin’ God and the whole neighborhood all the time.”

“Well, I heard Bullie is a minister at Hand Of God, now. That’s Elder Bullie to us common sinner-folk, I suppose.”

“Wait a minute. Wait one minute. You mean to tell me that Bishop allowed her to take the oath?” Wessa’s surprise added a few dry logs to Plural’s hearth for gossip.

“He sho’ did. Rascal went to Sunday School and stayed past Breakfast Meeting and seen her in the pulpit with her pants suit, her gold prayer cloth, and the Bible to match right behind Bishop.” Plural’s oak brown eyes all but glowed as she shared her hearsay.

“Well, I’ll be a weed whacker in the jungle. Sho’ nuff?” exclaimed Plural’s neighbor, Laz Deacon– Deacon Laz to everyone in Eddenton, though he hadn’t set foot in a church since his christening. Wessa rolled her eyes as he leaned across the fence toward Plural.

“Sho’ nuff. Rascal might be mean as a red furred bull but he ain’t never carried a lie past Sunday.” Plural confirmed, gesturing for Laz to get off of her fence. He just smiled at her motions as if she were a silly toddler.

“So that woman up there preachin’ while her daughter runnin’ round topless as a good stripper? I knew somethin’ won’t right about that church. Bishop Reverend hasn’t been the hand of God since his son was caught playin house with that minister of music they used to have.” Laz remarked. He then leaned off Plural’s fence, winked at her, and continued his journey to the end of the path where the mailboxes lived.

“Minister of music, huh? More like minister of house music. Ain’t that what they play at them sissy bars?” Replied Wessa, a little too desperately. She hated being the third wheel in the gossip. It paid off, though.

“Girrrl,” Plural drawled, “you would tell God He shoulda made Eve from Adam’s eye socket so Eve woulda had enough sense to see the devil talkin’ to her.”

“Plural, I sho’ would. You know I can’t hold my tongue with the right hand of God,” boasted Wessa.

“Look at her, Wessa. Look at her. She comin’ outta that store with nothing but a can of soda. I swear she don’t eat. That’s why she’s built like a stick bug.” Plural motioned with her head to the young woman in question.

“Woooo, Plural, you can’t hold your tongue either, can you? And you talkin’ about me. Be careful what flies out your mouth when you stand before God on Judgment Day. He might put the drop on you, too.” Wessa finished, now eying Copperhead’s slow, but steady, stride in their direction.

“Girl, hush. We’ll drop together, then, and tell Satan a thing or two about sweet talkin’ Paradise.”

That caught Wessa’s attention. “Sweet talkin’ Paradise,” she repeated, “what in the world is that?”

“I guess you ain’t never heard that before, huh? My granddaddy used to say that all throughout my childhood. I’d say, ‘Grampy, ol’ Gregory Hanes told me I was black as the spit of a mamba snake.’ And he’d say, ‘Oh yeah? Well that Gregory just tryin’ to sweet talk Paradise’ then he’d go sit on the porch and smoke.” Plural’s words were all for Wessa, but her eyes belonged to the woman approaching, sipping a soda, staring off into the morning sun.

“Mmm. Mr. Dixon was a thoughtful fella. I’m sure it means something to somebody who’s been to Paradise–“

“Wessa! Wessa! Look! Copperhead is comin’,” Plural urgently whispered, no longer leaning on her fence. “I’m going to go ahead and prepare dinner before it gets too late. Biscuit acts like a 12 hour day warrants him eatin’ twelve pounds of food. At least he does work, otherwise I wouldn’t feed his ass.” Wessa opened the gate just as Copperhead came within hearing distance and said, “Ain’t nothing in that mailbox anyway but final notices. I’m going to come in and help you until that snake slithers back into the grass. ” Copperhead continued staring at the sun as the two ladies stared at her through the blinds of Plural’s kitchen.

#black-stories, #copperhead, #excerpt, #fiction, #gossip-folk, #prose, #stories, #story-telling

Excerpt from “Copperhead”

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.

(Excerpt from “Copperhead” by R. Person)

 

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

#black-stories, #copperhead, #fiction, #literature, #prose, #short-story, #stories