Subtext

I was looking through this blog the other day because what else would I be doing when I have 400 pages of reading to get through?? Grad school, everyone. Anyway, I realized that there are some images that I have used and re-used in so many pieces of writing. I’m sure there’s some subconscious reason why this happens, but it definitely isn’t intentional. I cannot stand to repeat myself, and this is my attempt to retire these tired images, to get them out of my system.

***

You cried onto my hands and the salt from your tears dried in the spaces between my fingers. All I wanted to do was to fit myself in the spaces between your desperate gasps for breath and your sobs. I wished I was able to compress my love for you, to fold it onto itself so that it fits in the gaping hollow that sits in your chest where your love for yourself should be.

What void are you trying to fill? Please, tell me. You have become fixated with the idea of using yourself to compensate for an emptiness you are not equipped to replace. You are not adequate. Someone yawns, and instead of offering them a place to rest, you want your comfort to “fit itself” in the gaps you have imagined in that person’s spirit. You are not big enough.

I want to spend every morning running my uneven fingernails up and down the length of your back. Let the cracks in my nails catch on the smooth fabric of the responsibilities and goals you have laid out before yourself. Fingernails dipped in poison and lust trace the line of your cheekbones, testing the vulnerability of the soft skin just below your eyes. “Don’t do that,” you say. “ Why not? It’s dangerous,” I say.

I don’t blame you. It could be that the sight of slim brown hands ending in wine-polished fingertips has become so imprinted on your memory that you have now forgotten that you ever saw such a thing in the first place, to the point where you think you came up with the idea on your own. Those hands and nails have become the symbol for decadence and ruin. You will ruin him.

The weight of my care for you is pressing down on top of my head. You yourself might as well be sitting on top of my head, relishing the fact that you are flattening my will to be anything more than your support. I am carrying the guilt of making you weak so that I could hold you up on top of my head; you are weighing on me. My whole being is drooping; it is flat. Like the top of my head.

Surely, your neck must ache with all the weight you claim to carry on top of your head. Is your hair thinning in that spot? Is there now an indent in your skull? Who asked you to carry this burden? Who do you have to blame but yourself for taking it upon yourself to do so? You are not adequate. You will drop it.

 

Méfiance

This isn’t the first time she has had to tell you this, but maybe you didn’t take her seriously on all those other occasions because she was looking at you only from the corner of her eye. That time the light was streaming through the blinds so perfectly and she had an idea that just could not wait, she was only half with you while her other half was busy trying to describe everyday phenomena in a way that you could never imagine. The next day you would look out of the window and say: “It’s funny, the sunlight looks a little brighter today.” She was only half warning, and the other half was fooling you into thinking that she was trying to be intense just to be interesting, to find ways for your lives to mimic her art, to make the air vibrate on still afternoons when it seemed like nothing important would ever happen in your small corner of the universe.

I hope this time you will listen when I say:

 This woman is a situation in which you do not wish to find yourself. She will dig to the bottom of your words –choose wisely– and will conjure up a storm around the fact that you called her by her government name instead of after your favorite flavor of ice cream. She will make sure minor disagreements turn into tragedies and temporary difficulties become epic tales of adversity from which you have no chance of escaping. You will look back on phone calls drenched in tears and wonder what you could have said or done to avoid the conversation ending in ultimatums and apologies you did not mean.

This woman is greedy. She has sensed the wealth of love you have hidden behind your sarcasm and will pick away at it tirelessly, using the lethal edge of her persistence as an axe. You do not stand a chance. You will emerge from any encounter with her standing alone on the pavement outside an apartment building you do not recognize, blinking in the sun’s unnecessary brilliance, your palm outstretched and empty, lined with faint scratches and cuts with your own blood threatening to rise to the surface.

This woman does not need you. You have planted yourself defiantly by her side, resolved to allow her to use your shoulder as a headrest. You will regret this soon enough. The moment she begins to feel that you have made yourself indispensable, that you have conquered a patch of land in the barren plains of her spirit and tried to nurture greenery, she will turn against you. You will not understand. You have only been half listening while the other half of you was trying to support the very thing that would destroy you. You have trained your own killer.

I have danger straining to escape from behind my perfectly clenched teeth. Beware.

 

My Gift to You

Burning out; also associated with the fear of having absolutely nothing left of yourself to give. 

*****

All that I had, I massaged into your scalp. It flowed from my fingertips past your follicles and through your temples, coating your thoughts with the sheen of guaranteed futures. All that I had, I gave to you in an enamel pot with faded drawings of flowers on the side, and lines of rust running back and forth over the lid like desperation leaving tracks on the inside of my wrist. All of that has long since ceased to be. It lay rotting at the foot of a tree trunk, malicious flies buzzing and sucking until all that remained were bare seeds and a trail of ants too late for the feast.

All that I had is buried under mounds of doubt and smelling salts, like a relic from the days when hysteria was believed to exist only in the minds of bored housewives. Everything I had is exhausted, an empty jar left rolling on cracked tile, an almost imperceptible trace of grease lingering behind. One, two broken teeth from a comb- that hair- I spent all that I had trying to make it bend and curl the way it should.

You are carrying all that I had on your shoulders. It is sitting on your clavicles, their sharpness threatening to tear a hole in your chest. It is coating the roof of your mouth and making your teeth feel sticky. It is trapped in the back of your throat, wrestling with your tonsils for space. All that I had, I poured into the never-ending depth of your greed, and I am left with faded paths in the sand were mighty termite kingdoms once stood, running back and forth like imminent death tracing its way along the flimsy covering of skin just above my veins. I have given you all that I had, the very best from my reserves. Now you have moved on elsewhere, and I am left clawing at the walls of my imagination, hoping to recover my wealth.

When Wells Run Dry

And the drought was so severe that the springs had ceased their playful spray months before and the dry riverbeds cracked audibly, sending up gasping pleas to the sky. It was almost as if a mean little deity sat on a chipped wooden throne somewhere in a parched forest, or on top of a mound of dirt, distributing water into enamel basins drop by painful drop with a contemptuous cackle trapped in the back of his dry throat.

In the same way, I doled out affection in stingy portions, when you were almost spent and could barely produce whispers from peeling, bleeding lips. It is possible that my well had simply ran dry- but I must admit- it’s more likely that you were attempting to pull water where only sand and sediment had sat for centuries. Your thirst was uncontrollable; even your pores cried out for what I could not (and did not want to) give. Your appetite demanded the most succulent of fruits, but all I could offer were the shriveled remnants hanging at the end of sagging branches, with juice that had long fermented and vanished.

More. Always wanting more. Why so greedy? Why couldn’t you be content with the memory of greener times? Your voracious consumption was not sustainable. Consuming all. Consuming me. You yourself, you were the wind that whipped through rainforests and stripped trees of their greenness. You were the dust that settled on the eyelids and inside the nostrils of victims as they entered their final rest. You were the supreme being jealously tightening the tap before anyone could taste the metallic sweetness of that life-giving elixir. You were the tornado and the sandstorm, the landslide that demolished any potential fertility and nourishment. You dried up the well, and then complained that it was I who didn’t know where to dig.

Uncharted Anatomy

And I stood there- my arm outstretched- the flesh of my palm sickeningly pale, translucent even. Vulnerable. I don’t believe in wearing my heart on my sleeve. Frankly, it’s a nuisance, and  people for whom it’s not intended think they have the right to (mis)handle it. I handed you your own personal map- traced the back streets and highways of every artery and vein- granted free access to pathways and trajectories where only neurons fire. You swept up the littered streets and polished monuments and memories until their gleam was painful to anyone who looked. You stumbled across fault lines and paused before speed bumps of insecurity, finding your way around them sometimes crudely and without much patience, but most times gently. But then one day, I found the map crumpled in a ball and shoved roughly underneath a lumpy mattress. You were tired of an eternity and a half of rescue missions and repairs, and I was tired of not being able to navigate.

So I took it back.

Why Must You Be-

It really is a shame. We could have sat together in that foggy purgatory somewhere just outside history, dangling our legs over the edges of the pages and laughing when our dirty feet smudged the print. Blurry renderings of distant cousins and vague portraits with lumpy faces- poor representations of the greatness we never got the chance to enjoy together. But instead you reject my open palm, criss-crossed with lines as long as the many miles you walked away from me. You sneer at the unavoidable cadence of my step, the rhythm undercutting each movement- how unnecessary, how foreign. Why must you be like that, why must you be-

So I will try to win you over with my voice, lure you with the songs plucked on instruments whose names have long been forgotten and tunes that I was never taught, melodies that I can’t begin to remember, that you can only imagine in the most fleeting of thoughts- ghost memories fading and intensifying constantly, but never vibrant enough to pin to a bulletin board, trap in a photo frame and rub your hands lovingly across the glass barrier. It’s no surprise that my voice burns the blood in your veins, inside-out inferno- please STOP. Why must you be at all? Why must you be-

You. Reminder. Scapegoat. Neighbors in that other hazy dimension somewhere apart from history, where civilization only began on Greenwich Mean Time, or with sundials- how did they tell time in ancient Mali? Caricature. “Native intellectual”. What are you trying to prove? Your very existence threatens mine, your supposed authenticity holds a dagger to my resolute neck, veins trembling unwittingly in anticipation of the-

Slice. Away the layers of playground name-calling and experts and pundits explaining- the complexity of the interaction between- a people apart- one people, different what? Is a color still a color if no-one else was there to see God tattoo it on that canvas of cells and nerve-endings? Oh I thought you were just regular- who do you think  you are anyway- why can’t we all just get along- I promise it all started with a misunderstanding- gold was so abundant you see almost a nuisance, we thought they were stupid to want the dust we were washing off our feet in seas that had not yet developed such a wild appetite for blood and bones- when will we stop explaining- history does not care.

Doesn’t care to get to know you better, beyond tired minstrels and-stay away from those people- do you think we worked  so hard to bring you here to waste your time on street corners- but we are the same- shut up and go to bed- be careful with those people they will hate you because they are jealous-insecure- devious- why can’t you just be normal?

Why must you be

Proud. Visible. Unapologetic.

Why must you be at all.

I intentionally didn’t put too many tags on this to see if you could follow where my thoughts were going. On a related note:

http://africa.si.edu/2014/09/conversations-african-and-african-american-artworks-in-dialogue-opens-november-9-2014/

 

 

Currently Seeking Clarity

My mind feels congested, like my thoughts are swimming through toxic sludge, getting weaker and weaker as they struggle to reach the muddy shore, not only from their aching muscles but also from the poison that surrounds them with every futile push forward. Ideas are floating around, really good ones at that, but I can’t quite pick any of them out of the murky mind storm that’s brewing. It’s almost like having your head packed with cotton, with white noise playing in your ears and blinds pulled over your mind’s eye. I wish I had a way to conjure up more pleasant images, but hopefully you’ll see just how uncomfortable this state of mind as it is described exactly how I’m experiencing it at the moment…

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