The trees bare fruit and you hear satyrs on the lute,
And Yemaya and Oya and Hera,
Because black freedom ain’t just one thing.
It’s cosmic tonic curing wounds,
And making them,
And taking them,
Bedazzled in lisa frank,
Or leaving nothing to imagination,
But the bones.
Black girl magic to be caring and carefree,
A cosmic swimmer of femininity,
A cosmic start that’ll forever be,
Brown, black, and beautiful as an open smiling sea,
So what must those people think of me?
After all aren’t most people afraid of eternity?
Being an alternative black girl in any way shape or form results in critics. It’s not us being over sensitive. It isn’t that we’re all lying, as some suggest. It’s the fact that people are afraid of black women. Across the world we’ve been through that which would break most, and we survive. Wounded and hurting, we survive. Men think they’re entitled to us, other men want to degrade us, and use excuses to justify their internalized racism. Women openly mock us while copying our hair, our nails, and the features that once landed black women in zoos and keeps so many from not being on magazines or billboards. We’ve been taught to hate each other and be suspect. The world has been taught to put us in a box, to keep us oppressed and control what the very concept of blackness is or should be.
And we laugh in their faces, and as more and more soft, original, punk, afro-centric, nerdy, geeky, brilliant, and beautifully soul’d black women support each other we’ll just laugh harder. We’re not black enough? I make my own blackness, and how dare they try to define it for me or anyone else. I’ll put color in my hair, I’ll read my comics, dress up as She-Hulk, write my stories, read about technology, date a white, date an asian boy, date whomever I please, and all the while I’m still black.
All the while I and all the other black girls who embrace themselves and their loves are still cosmic.
*Artist will be tagged on request…namely because google won’t back search
Blurb: Play the Piano introduces Charles Bukowski’s poetry from the 1970s. He leads a life full of gambling and booze but also finds love. These poems are full of lechery and romance as he struggles to mature.
I received the notice for jury duty with mild annoyance. I hoped I wouldn’t get picked as I put the date of the summons on my calendar. I thought about how jury duty would throw me off my work schedule; how I didn’t want to participate in this particular part of civic life in small town Alabama; how I didn’t want to help someone, probably another Black person, go to jail.
But I didn’t spend too much time worrying. It was summertime and the date, during a week in the middle of September, seemed an unpleasant blip on the road far ahead. I pushed it out of my mind and tried to enjoy the remaining pieces of a waning summer in my sleepy southern town.
Eventually the summer break gave way to the fall semester, though the weather…
I highly reccomend that everyone try to incorporate reading three micro fictions a week. They’re quick ways to get your imagination engine running. For writers they’re amazing ways to learn and practice how to condense a story. For readers, especially of genre fiction, this gives you a quick potent fix of your favorite stories. We don’t always have time to sit down and read a whole chapter, needless to say a whole trilogy. Seeking out micro fiction can be a great way to get a wonderful story into your day’s schedule. They’re short enough for lunch breaks or coffee breaks. They’re great for when you just can’t concentrate on anything for long periods of time. Being mom or dad or gran, or babysitter means you do a lot of running around, but you just might be able to read a whole piece of micro fiction before someone needs their next cup of juice because they changed their mind about wanting the glass of milk you poured five minutes ago. By searching blogs for short fiction, or buying collections on kindle or nook you may find exciting new authors and stories that stick with you forever.
Trust me the right micro fiction by the right author is totally worth it!
Continuing with the Southern Gothic theme of the last post, here is the current opening of the novelette I mentioned, The Hell I Burn Through.
Chapter One: Part One
Incense mingled with the smell of soil, salt, roses, and graveyard dust, filling Sula’s nostrils, as She sat in the darkness of the parlor. She exhaled, holding her hands out over the water bowl in front of her with her eyes closed. She inhaled again, and got a strong whiff of the graveyard, mossy, yet almost like rotten thyme and cooked spinach. Maybe it was strange she’d come to like it, but growing up around goofer dust,taken from old cemeteries, had that effect on those who’d grown up in that world. Miss Faye hated that word, goofer. Apparently it sounded far too low country for her tastes. No matter what you called it, Sula found its comfort. Somehow it still didn’t feel like she could breathe the air, despite this being her element, her birthright. The tension in the house was already thick, and it felt all the thicker when Miss Faye gave her work. But that was simply what life in the house entailed, and always had.
In her mind, Sula saw the room as though her eyes were wide open. Sula knew which way the flame of each of the twenty seven white and black candles around the room flickered, and she knew what direction Miss Faye, in her ocean blue headscarf and yellow flowers chose to pace. She could see herself too, sitting at the little table at the center of the room with the bowl in front of her, the woven dime bag satchel of whatever bodily matter brought to use to the right of the bowl, and the burning incense in front of the bowl. The bowl held filtered rain water and her reflection, which was almost perfectly still due to the bowls construction. Supposedly, according to Miss Faye, it’d been a gift for Sula though Sula was only allowed to use it when Miss Faye asked. Some people called helping themselves a gift, Sula knew, and Miss Faye had always been one of those. Well, at least, as long as Sula had been alive. Sula peered directly at herself, and realized she still had some sleep dust in the corner of her eye and that if the shoulder of her blouse fell you could see where Miss Faye had taken a switch to her shoulder yesterday. The bruise was a deep purple against her brown skin.
If Sula couldn’t do what Miss Faye wanted today? Well, then she’d be in for a world of hurtin. She had to focus. She had to breathe. There was nowhere else. No one else. There was life and there was death. There were no borders except the ones she’d been taught, and she’d been taught to break them down to find the universal connections between past and present; here and there. Somewhere a distant ancestor’s breath matched her own. Somewhere a flower blossomed. Somewhere became everywhere, and Sula breathed. From the recesses of her mind her grandfather whispered “Let yourself fall,” and she, ever the obedient girl, slipped down into everything. Before her eyes, in the dark, glitter began to flicker and there came her target, Mr. Johnson. He was a kind man to children, and often gave Sula fresh fudge from his cart for free every Christmas, and whenever he’d been by to see Miss Faye. His bald held gleamed, his once muscular body stretched from a yawn so big his fifty year old round belly jiggled. Once upon a time Miss Faye had been crazy about him, but she’d been crazier about the social club Mrs. Johnson headed.
Sula was gonna miss that chocolate and gooey fudge.
**Chapter One Part One of Draft 2** The Hell I Burn Through is a southern gothic of intriguing whimsy and fascination with the world of southern high society, african american conjure, mojo, sensuous affairs, innocent loves, and good down home cooking.
Announcing the Launch of Murder at the Bijou — Three Ingredients I Introducing the second “three things” serial, in novel form — Murder at the Bijou — Three Ingredients I. Yes, that’s the cover. (I love making covers!) I kept it similar to the one for the first serial, The Three Things Serial Story, but […]
One of the first short stories I remember falling in love with was A Rose for Emily by William Faulkner. There were countless things that fascinated me from the narrator seemingly being the town itself to the descriptions of old southern decay. As a woman who grew up in the south, right as economic downturns and outsourcing devastated the textile industry the aesthetic of southern gothic had an intrinsic appeal to me.
There are some genres you can’t help, but fall in love with from the time you are young. For some people this happens with fantasy or romance, and often it can happen again as you grow older. Certain genres have always had an appeal for, but southern gothic and southern based literature always finds it way back into my life with vengeance, leaving my kindle full and my bookshelf ready to explode. In short, the southern gothic genre is Addictive, but I’m not the only one who feels this way. Despite the genre often being left out of everyday conversation it manifests in some of the most remembered cultural icons of our era, even as it goes unrecognized.
Southern Gothic is a classic and often under appreciated genre with infinite possibilities in text and on screen. When it shows up it shows out, whether through Beyonce’s Formation video, or stirring controversy through The Beguiled. As a little girl, I caught a few glimpses of the movie Beloved based on the novel by Toni Morrison (amazon link below) and ,though I utterly forgot I’d seen that movie until one day I saw it on the screen, imagery of it remained in my mind. A house full of ribbons. A daughter trying to save her mother from the burdens of guilt and the history of southern slaves and freedom. A woman, nude and screaming in giggling unnatural tongue before a prayer circle. The images stuck with me as fascinating concepts for years to come even as they faded to the back of my memory.
The south, post-civil war, is a place where hairstyles are always twenty years behind; where rocking chairs to over look your property are sources of pride passed down through generations; where tradition and culture is complex and divided; Where people prefer to say southern history is embodied by confederates while other southerners l(ike myself) look on and know they’re much more embodied by the slaves; where people watch meth ravaged communities scream “the south will rise again” while others try to move forward; where kids can run around the neighborhood alone and often find their friend’s door unlocked and fresh brownies waiting for whomever arrive.
The south is welcome and warning; it is where long standing tradition meets long standing decay. Where the past is present, and the present is always past.
This is why I love to write it, and why I’m currently finishing a six chapter short story called The Hell I Burn Through in the genre. Mind and Frost, turned out to be a bigger project, and I’m letting an associate go through it as we speak, but in the mean time I need something to work on when not finishing upFive Days with the Stranger, so I began to ponder something to write about in-between chapters of Five days rewrites. Suddenly, a vista of pine and river came to my vision, old houses with cared for porches, children playing beneath old water towers in the summer heat, and the streets of my own childhood cast in the intense pallor of Southern Gothic filled my vision. I opened a word document and wrote a six page outline for a novelette. Within the day I had 6,000 words written, characters who I completely fell in love with. It feels like coming home.
And yet my relationship to the southern is complicated. Perhaps this is why I love the genre in the first place.
If you were born below the Mason-Dixon it can be hard not to romanticize the south. Gone with the Wind is a racist nightmare to many modern day black folk, but even still it has a glorious and sweeping appeal. There’s something wonderfully addictive about the south’s attitude of genteel welcome. By that same measure there is something wonderfully addictive about the south’s decay. The hypocrisy of that southern style kindness v.s normalized prejudices is part of why To Kill a Mocking Bird has lasted in the public mind. As a black southern woman, I experienced southern fried racism from a young age. No one ever called me the n-word, but there were times I was followed in stores, witnessed my incredibly intelligent parents being patronized, had visited restaurants with my friends families only for us to be stared at and glared at the whole time we were there because I was there. There were things I did not understand, but came to understand as I grew older and realized “Oh that wasn’t just weird people. That damn near a whole restaurant full of old white folk and their families who don’t like that I ate there, and didn’t understand why I was with that nice white family“. The darkness of the south wasn’t something I could ignore, and it wasn’t something my parents hid from me either. Some of the nicest, well-mannered, and polite people you will ever meet are old fashioned southern racists. Unlike the north –where racism is often excused as “at least we’re not them”(them being the south)– the south continues to have a lot of normalized bigotry and ignorance that contributes to that darkness. Knowing this, despite my love of Fried Green Tomatoes or Steel Magnolias, the inclusion of decay in southern society rings true to me. The romanticism still exists, but it exists alongside southern shadows I, as a black southerner, can’t escape from. Truthfully I don’t want to.
No matter the media the aesthetic of southern gothic is fascinatingly beautiful and distinctly American, whether a story is set in a bayou, the eastern shore, or urban buzz of Atlanta. The swamps of the bayou and foothills of Georgia all have a unique and poignant natural beauty. Fields of collard greens go for as far as the eye can see, creating unique visuals amidst fields of grass green. The physical beauty of approaching a grand old house fascinates us when confronted by the old slave cabins not quite hidden by the trees. We walk down former main streets lined with businesses with faded paint from the 1960s and 1970s, whose owners still maintain the place with pride, knowing if their grandchildren will ever come back to mind the store. Those grandparents leave and drive old pick up trucks and sedans to lovely little houses on quite, safe, streets. They sit on the porch, have a coffee and way at their neighbors as they come home from school. It is both idyllic and decaying.
A decayed and perpetual beauty. In a way the south is an atmospheric vampire; perpetually the south and yet slowly, beneath a beautiful though tarnished surface, filled with unknowns and entropy.
When I was eight years old, I first saw the movie Eve’s Bayou, and that movie has stuck with me even when the name left my mind, only to return years later. The imagery of well-to-do southern blacks in their communities, struggling with position without power; with creating the illusion of southern manners against the reality of small town gossip and misunderstandings leaves a permanent impression. That film laid a similar ground work that Toni Morrison did in her novels such as Beloved or The Bluest Eye; exploring the complex and taboo world of the secrets below the Mason Dixon. Those stories, though darker than others, create a space for black diversity in fiction. Wealthy blacks, poor blacks, root workers, pastors, and people just trying to get by create a complex reflection of black history and life through the ages. Eve’s Bayou situates the audience as a little girl about to lose her innocence, with her we learn those secrets and her own strength. In that film, we learn the reality that not everything is as it seems is one of the greatest southern narratives ever told as far as I’m concerned. It’s a change from every novel, person, and genre that assumes “urban” without “fantasy” or “paranormal” attached is inherently the black experience.
Southern gothic is and always will be a genre that feels natural to me. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by recent media, like Resident Evil and True Blood, truly capturing that aesthetic and culture in exciting ways. Video games and HBO? Wow. It’s spreading. But we can always do with more…and bring more attention to the power of this tantalizing genre. Then again I may just be looking for another fix.
How do you feel about the Southern Gothic? Do you read these books often or not at all? Do you prefer movies with the aesthetic? And isn’t Formation a perfect video?