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sunday wrap pt. 1 (8-27-17)

for Sahbabii’s Pull Up Wit Ah Stick

It is dark and I hear my neighbors cheering. They are airing the Mayweather fight in their backyard. I see two bobbing bodies. Men. They are holding glass bottles. If those bodies holding bottles move down the driveway and to the street, they are illegal.

In the background, blocks away, I hear the wallop of police sirens. Are they hungry for Black glass breaking? Do they want to pull shards of glass from their gums? Do they lick the shards hoping to taste blood’s sweetness?

The cheers now sound like cries. An upset; in which direction? Mayweather won. Even if he didn’t, the purse justified the circus. Although he should, he doesn’t have shit to worry about.

The police are quiet, hoping to dissolve into the night. I know this because sometimes I see their lights flash and hear their yowl clear. I do not move. Then they turn everything off. A cruel warning. It doesn’t matter because some people have an unaccountable sense for the police. A preternatural aerial view. Like birds. That’s why some gangs chirp.

The match is over and the neighbors are laughing. A gathering where the fight is scheduled and money the only chip to bargain is what some would call an easy party.

Above, a police helicopter passes. The searchlights are on but the helicopter doesn’t sound very close to the ground. Not low enough to disrupt any ordinary, long silence. Not low enough to make the air beneath the helicopter hard to breathe and the ground stir, and move.

The gathering has thinned. It’s cold, or too cold for now, and tonight begs to marry a blanket. My hands are stiff and my toes are numb. It is August.

The helicopter is gone. It flew in the direction of Queens. What’s funny is there have been times I’ve endangered people by pledging my allegiance to the police. Having these officers around. Having these officers around makes me feel deeply guilty.

The block wears light well. The block is decked out with streetlights emitting a warm orange glow. It’s beautiful for New York. Old. A neighborhood both remote and under surveillance.

There’s a ghost house down the block. It’s a ghost house because no one lives there but someone did. We don’t know where the people went (another subsidized house of the city most likely) but the boarded up windows and brown cracked grass remind us they are, in truth, gone. Gone. What a funny word. Final but perpetual. And the agony tied to accepting an ending. The heart aches, wondering if there is any way to work around final, just to buy time. To figure out the best goodbye, and never being able to come up with one. Always settling on ”later”. Gone. I told you it’s a ghost house. The windows are boarded up because there was fire. The side of the house is burned, the protective outer layer singed and dangling. The stories about the house might be bigger than what it really was but here is the one I know. The occupants were loud and Jamaican. Their front yard was the receptacle for all the candy wrappers and cigarette butts that blew in from the street.

I don’t know what the backyard looked like.

They were careless. Once K- leaped from her seat, on my verandah, and sprinted into the street to grab the round waist of a barefooted toddler who had run out into it. Once a fight broke out between two men, one squat and bowlegged, and they threw garbage cans at each other. The bowlegged man, father of the barefoot baby, was always caught in the web of some farce. And his mother, a rotund woman with lips always pried open with insult, sat on the cement stairs with her legs spread wide and ankle length skirt hiked up; ready and vexed. Those are the only three I remember. Everyone else? The people that regularly came and went? Faceless. 

The story really is the house caught fire because of an unattended cigarette. The story really is the floors were covered in worn and soiled mattresses– even in the kitchen. The story really is drugs were found hidden in a wall. All of those faceless people came and went to mine the wall’s ore. That’s the story I know.

It is dark and it is quiet. Every so often a car rolls past. The party is over. The police haunt and hide. It is early Sunday morning.

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30. Mr. Softee’s Song

On Thursday, the weather spiked into the mid 60’s and Mr. Softee returned to the streets of the northern Bronx. Everyone could hear the poor speakers of the ice cream truck emitting that all to familiar childhood nursery rhyme. One person who anxiously awaited behind the screen door of their house said, “That song reminds me of a jack-in-the-box.”

All of the heavy wooden doors were pulled open on 227th street. Every resident, of each house, stood either behind a cracked open screen door or on their respective verandahs with loose change and singles in hand, slippers sheltering toes. 227th’s residents, who’d barely seen each other over the course of the winter, especially because there was no snow, reacquainted themselves. The adults asked common, perfectly impersonal questions for the sake of passing the time. The children, who made friendships based upon age and summer, screamed at one another from house to house.

“I got a new bike for Christmas!”

“For real? Lucky! I got a skateboard and some rollerblades!”

“Will you let me try them out? When it gets hot enough?”

“Of course! We’re gonna race all summer!”

And those children could not wait.

It was 9pm when Mr. Softee finally turned onto 227th street. Most people only waited half an hour and all of the children who had crept to peek outside, through the legs of their parents, were not shooed to bed but allowed to of receive their first ice cream cone for the year.

The truck looked the same — as the children had remembered from the summer before; as the adults had remembered from flashes of their youth — white, boxy, a rectangular opening that could be closed by sliding glass back and forth.

The residents of 227th, rushed to the middle of the block, spilling into the street, waving dollar bills in their hands.

“One at a time, one at a time,” said the ice cream truck driver.

Parents conferred with their children, spouses double checked with each other. Everyone knew what they wanted: cones and milkshakes, sundaes and ice pops.

Mr. Softee didn’t leave the block for an hour. Not because the lone ice cream dispatcher couldn’t fulfill orders expeditiously but because he had been able to serve everyone so quickly and had some time left over (his route was complete) before having to return to the ice cream truck depot. The same neighbor who made the connection between the ice cream truck and the jack in the box, invited anyone who wanted to hang out for awhile to come sit on the stairs leading up to her house. About thirty people came, chocolate smeared around their mouths, maraschino cherries falling into laps.

Those who congregated on the steps, shared stories about how they felt when they were growing up. The wars they’d seen. The love they’d experienced. The scraped knees and sunburnt skin. They spoke of the escape from boundlessness only to fall into more boundlessness. The children who’d been allowed to stay up, remained silent and ingested these stories just as they swallowed their ice cream. The adults laughed and sometimes, when the conversation had taken an unexpected heavy turn, the adults administered respect by way of silence.

Eventually, the driver of the Mr. Softee truck said, “It’s getting late. I’ve got to go.”

“Yeah, you’re right!”

“Man, it’s way past my bedtime.”

“Kids why didn’t you tell me it was so late? You’ve got school in the morning? You need your rest.”

Mr.Softee turned off the music from the truck — which had been playing all along — although the song was unnoticeable when everyone was talking. The driver waved goodbye, all of the residents of 227th street went back into their houses, and went to sleep.

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24. Mucilage [Part 2]

It took a week and a half to arrive. Macy abstained from moving over the course of that week and half, not wanting to miss the delivery-person. The vial of molecular glue fit in the palm of her hand. The packing smelled like grapefruit and the label spelled out “CAUTION.” Macy put on her favorite outfit — well tailored, narrow-legged blue jeans; a floral blouse with snaps at the nape of the neck; crimson Mary Janes — and walked the two and one half miles to Washington Square Park.

Macy stood in the center of the park, next to the newly constructed fountain, unscrewed her molecular glue vial and poured it on the right side of her body. The fabric of her clothing fused to her body and there was a tingle. Well, that is an understatement. There was a tingle that vibrated into a pain comparable to the motions of the sea: swelling and breaking, unstoppable. Macy carried her pain in the ridges of her forehead, with the quiet of one well accustomed to discomfort — wincing but consistently pensive, for pain requires a concentration not necessary for other sensations — there is the strong desire to understand the intricacies of why one is in pain, how misery can be aptly translated into language. It is not until Macy shuffles through the deck of her vocabulary and touches upon the word hurt that she acknowledges the transformation occurring with her body. Pain cycles through pain, a tactile sense building upon itself. A shaking. A thought. A trembling.

She does her best to not scream, as she has now found her word and knows what to say and how to say it. But to speak would counter her desire for completion . So she tips to the side — arms jauntily fixed, her legs quaking, tears forming a puddle on the tiny ledge created by her perked cheeks — and tries her best to look around.

Washington Square Park is filled with lunchtime visitors. They are the same people you would see in Central Park, or sitting on the benches in Union Square, or humming around the salad bar at Whole Foods. They were people looking for other people to notice them.  Macy beheld a few — ‘She has a smart jaw’ , ‘He has the hands of a builder’, ‘They are married to the idea of each other. I can see it. They won’t touch hands in fear their ideas may be undone by the lacing of real fingers’  — but couldn’t choose who she found the most captivating. All of the people poured stories upon the grounds of the park and Macy feared treading too long.

 

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15. Orange Trees

i.

Michael returns, shrinking. Before he lifts his foot into the doorway, I come toward him and offer a hand. His fingers are long and cold, warm brown transforming to dust.

“Oh thank you. Thank you. Who are you?”

“It’s me, Grandpa. Your Joselia,” I say.

Michael cranes his head up, no longer concentrating upon the placement of his feet, and looks me in the face. His eyes are lacquered but flat. They pry me but with little strength. There is no moment of illumination and he returns to the incongruent dance of his feet. Michael is so light, helping him into the house is like wafting air.

I say, “Grandpa, how was your flight?”

“Where am I?”

“You’re home.”

“It’s cold here,” he says.

“Not your home in Jamaica, you’re home here.”

He acquiesces and I help him into a chair, removing his coat.

We talk about things anyone can access, like food, and I make him something to eat although he merely picks at it, fidgeting with the utensils. He asks me questions about who I am. Not questions, the question. I find saying my name does nothing because to him, I’ve stopped existing. I want to explain I am a possession of other people. I am not simply myself but his granddaughter. I am, we are the creation of other human beings, of a profoundly creative universe; and we are always coming in and out of being at the hand of someone’s conception of us. I want to tell Michael who I was before he arrived is a markedly more substantial person than the person he is confronting now. With his memories of me misplaced, I am hinged on an unsteady angle of what I knew to be, what is now and what is actually real. So I look at my grandfather squarely and repeat my name. That I am his. And within possession I have found the solace of love.

ii.

Michael tilled the earth for me. Pineapples. Coconuts. Star Apples. When I was born, he turned over soil to commemorate my entrance into this world. Behind the house in Old Porus, on the long narrow stretch of land, the trees and bushes are clustered together in an uneven triangle. He never explicitly said why he began to plant things, as he had not planted anything for his own children. Grandmother says he took to the ground and dirtied himself and this is how I recall him. Perched at the top of the orange tree, that sits in front of the house, tossing down the grooved orange globes to Mother. And I recall him in the fields of Water Mouth, lifting the brim of his Kangol hat to wipe the beads of liquid forming a line above his brow. The walks he and I would take into town — down the road of rusty dirt — to visit the affable shopkeepers at Barnett’s, the local grocery store fixed at the sometimes busy intersection of Old Porus Road. We would continue walking, past the post office, to the train tracks that barely felt the weight of freighters. Michael spoke with a tongue built by the bible. So each step we took was not only an aimless journey that would act as neural pathways back to the fortune of happiness, but as a pilgrimage towards God.

iii.

Mother and I were the two to sleep in Michael’s bed after her died. Grandmother had taken to wearing crimson underpants and a tape measure around her waist to prevent his not yet rested spirit from troubling her. Grandmother, prone to prolonged bouts of displeasure, was left mostly vacant after he died. The shrill in her voice leveled into unfolding melancholy. She readily accepted hugs from her family members, from friends, from strangers. Grandmother, for once, revealed herself to be vulnerable and hurt by the fate of old age and thus more easy to love.

I suggested Mother and I sleep in his room because I wanted to prove that I was unafraid of death. The dressers were neatly composed, as he would have left them. The lace curtains billowed with the island breeze and Grandmother made sure to tuck the sheets within the open spaces, between the mattress and frame, so that the secrets of the room should not escape.

His room smelled of his cologne.

Mother and I rifled through his belongings and Mother shared stories that are only shared in the event of someone’s death. I still wonder why that is and I have concluded: to expose a story of someone still alive is to undercut their ability to happen in real time. When you tell a story of past events about someone who is still living, you unintentionally shift their timeline into the past-present. You move them through time. And it is the responsibility of the object of the story to find their footing where they wish to exist.

Mother told me all of the stories she could remember, with no concern for preserving stories for the next day or the day after. I believe she was confident in the presence of so many tales — both long and short — that there was no possibility to shuffle through them all in any countable number of sittings.

When we finally slept, the evening instilled dread.

We awakened with questions and stories for each other.

She said, “I was dreaming and a shadowy figure entered the room. It was your Grandfather. And I couldn’t breathe. He was smothering me and I tried to yell and I tried to wake up. And then I did wake up, but the same thing was happening. I tried to rouse you, but you weren’t responding.”

I said, “It was in the middle of the night. I was scanning the room for something to look at long enough to learn everything about it. But there was nothing intricate enough to do that with. And then I heard the voice of your brothers, Mommy. They were in the living room laughing and I heard Grandpa laugh.”

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4. Domesticity (part two) [365 project]

Their apartment smells of lavender. Mrs. took it upon herself to place lavender sprigs in every corner of the house — six sprigs bunched in the bottom of the children’s toy chest, a sprig in each bathroom, a bouquet on the kitchen’s preparation island, lavender spread across the dining room table. Martina, despite having entered their apartment every day — for what? three years now, always found herself suspended by quietness of blossoming. It reminded her of being a child and getting lost in the fields of Water Mouth with her sister and brother. Of purple-blue skies, and of the stream that ran through the field; the shiver, pricking her ears up, as crisp water met her tongue.

Mr. and Mrs. would awake within the hour, the children within the next hour and one half, so Martina hid her belongings in a small closet, reserved for her and proceeded to the kitchen — to put on the coffee, decide on the morning’s meal, catalog the children’s activities before and after school, remember all of the chores and errands assigned from the day before.

Mrs. emerges first, still wrapped in downy sleep. Although generous with passing smiles, Mrs. speaks out of the necessity of speaking, fully understanding the economy of language and silence. Martina, for fear of exposing an unspoken truth, or an embarrassing platitude, assents to quiet. She serves Mrs. coffee.

“This is just what I need,” says Mrs.,”Did you see the list I left for you?”

Martina gestures to it.

“The children have a half day, and their extracurricular activities are canceled. You’ll have to pick them up for lunch and occupy them for the rest of the day.”

Martina says yes.

Mr. lacks the shrewdness of his wife, a glutton for waste. Though slim in frame and lacking in height, he barrels through the apartment. He speaks to himself, to others, with others. He speaks to fill all the silences that punctuate his life. He speaks to bring about a stir. For that, the children openly prefer him: ask him to take them for walks with Martina, scurry to his side of the bed when nightmares awakened them. Fortunately this causes no tension between Mr. and Mrs., as their marriage is cemented upon understanding and acceptance rather than compliance, with the latent expectation of change.

“Good morning,” he nods to his wife. “And good morning to you, Martina.”

“Good morning, sir.”

“How is it? Beautiful out? Did you have any trouble on the subway? No kids to hassle you.”

“No, none. Thank goodness.”

“Glad to hear it. Some days are better than others, let’s hope this day isn’t hiding anything sinister. We’ve got work to do.”

“We are always at work,” says Martina.

Mr sits next to Mrs. and speaks with her quietly; Martina leaves the kitchen to wake the children.

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3. Domesticity (part one) [365 project]

Martina’s dress as a homemaker is unflattering. Her red-brown skin is muted by the khaki cloth. The non-formfitting shape of the dress bunches at the bust and clings to her body only when she ties the starch white half apron around her ample waist. She no longer ponders if her body could be winsome in the day; she no longer looks to the floral island dresses of her youth to provide a welcoming nest for her body to reside. She is all khaki and white, khaki and white.

Martina arrives before Mr. and Mrs. awake. She is at work before the sun angles into the sky, when the morning birds squawk of the temptations of life; she arrives before New York City has the bravery to shine its lights again — the city still rests in quiet contemplation.

Mr. and Mrs. live in a building guarded by a doorman too formally dressed — polished hat lacking commendations, polished shoes as mirrors — to occupy any profession other than a Kafkaesque gatekeeper. The doorman and Martina leave their confidences aligned, do not dip into meaningless formalities, decode and undress each other with the kindness only shared by friends of equal worldly positioning.

“Missus, how yuh ah stay?” the doorman asks.

“Lord Jesus let me live for another day. Me can’t say anyting bahd. How yuh uno?” Martina says with an undemanding smile. The darkness of the morning hesitates to fade her face. Her black kinky, knotted hair, smoothed into a high set bun, opens up her face — cheekbones firm and naturally blushed, lashes fanning over glinting brown eyes. The doorman looks upon her, breathes in how effortlessly she carries being a person, communicates his acceptance of her loveliness with a sympathetic “Mmmhm.”

“Everyone is fine. Another day; the same old.”

“Work the night shift again?”

“All this week.”

“The missus must be mahd.”

“She nah fret when she look pon de check.”

“Me catch yah soon, yah hear? Time to head up.”

Martina walks across the tan marble of the lobby, observes the new plants, how the whole lobby gleams with sterility. She makes a sharp left at the concierge’s desk, eking out a smile to Carl as he nods in and out of sleep, and walks towards an unlabeled door leading to an unfinished freight elevator.

The metal doors of the freight elevator kiss into completion and she rests her body against the fabric lining the back wall of the elvator. Her white shoes are equipped with orthopedic inserts but she still feels the weight of standing. Slip on, slip off.

The metal doors disengage. She enters yet another vestibule where she removes her coat, pats down her apron and prepares the key in her fingers.