The following six pieces of micro-fiction/essay served as spoken word interstitials for a cello recital recently performed by my sister. Each piece was read before a thematically-connected piece of music. Hope you enjoy...
You are someone’s daughter, someone’s mother, someone’s lover, someone’s sister. You are all these things.
(Feel free to flip the gender, if you prefer.)
What more besides?
You are friend and enemy. You are mentor and mentee. You are collaborator and competitor. You are believer and believed. Artist and audience.
You give and give and give. Then, having given so much, you wonder why you have not taken. So you do.
You love unconditionally until you remember that there are conditions. You hate uncontrollably for want of control.
You are what you are, yes. But you are, also, what they see. Most often, you are a chorus. At times, though - when the world quiets - you’re a soloist holding onto one clear note rising above all else. Moments like this seem to make the most sense to you. Do not be fooled, however. That moment is not always what you are.
You are this.
You are this.
They called him names today. You were there. You saw. He looked to you for help and you knew it. Don’t feel too bad, though. He looked to everyone there for help. No one else did anything, either.
He brings it on himself, right? Maybe you don’t think this, but he certainly does. He thinks about it at night. It keeps him up. Sometimes, he cries. But please, don’t tell him I told you. That will just make it worse.
His father wants him to stand up for himself. Fight. Be a man. Wants him to stop acting like such a little queer. He’s heard that word before. Those few times made it sound like something good. Not when his father says it, though.
“Act like a girl and they’ll treat you like one” is what his dad says. He doubts his father has ever been in a fight. His father is a small man and an accountant to boot.
He wonders what he’s doing wrong. He acts like the other boys, he thinks. He acts… normal. You can tell, though. He knows you can. He knows you all can tell. But he doesn’t know how. Or why.
They will call him names today. You will be there. You will see.
You’re very exotic-looking.
Heavy lids and high cheekbones. Wavy hair that turns so easy to frizz. A complexion that could never be described as peaches-and-cream, or snowy, or porcelain.
What are you?
Nose proud and prominent. Lips… well, best to leave that be. There’s always so much preoccupation with those.
Your features are so sensual.
Nimble fingers, dexterous and… other descriptors of fingers. Arms firm with slender muscle.
Where are your parents from?
Stomach itself, its own particular size and shape. Legs working in the way that legs are meant to work.
Are you mixed?
Average feet. Normal heart. Bored mind. Agitated soul.
She has a name. You won’t remember it. Most don’t. She prefers her nickname, anyway; but she’d rather you not know it. You don’t know her that well. And won’t.
To you, she is another victim of a system beyond her control. Or to you, she is a whiner with little excuse. It varies.
To me, she is black-skinned and black-named and – for both of those things – left to her own devices.
No father, that’s the heartbreak. Well, a father, yes, but gone. Thrown away into that iron waste-bin where we dispose of men like him. It’s a story you’ve heard before. Sucks, I guess.
Her brother never was so lucky, if you can call it that. He’d say – if he could – that he’d rather be carried than judged. So, perhaps, his was a happy ending. It was a choice, at least.
There was a boyfriend. Just one? No, a few. But they were interchangeable, she would later see. Each like her brother and her father, with even less love for her than either of those had. Fast lives often give fast love.
Now, there is a son. You’ve heard his name. It’s one you haven’t been allowed to forget. You know his face, too. You’ve seen it on the news, and on shirts, and posters. All memorials.
She once had a life to go along with her son and her name. She’d prefer that you forget it, too. She will get her wish.
He was proud to fight the King’s men. Once they were defeated, the colonies would form a new nation. It would be founded on liberty for all brothers-in-arms, all God’s children. Everyone knew that it was only the King’s law that had made men slaves.
He was proud to fight the Confederates. They were the cause of his suffering, his bondage. When they were beaten, the Union would ensure life and liberty for his people. After all, everyone knew it was only the South that had kept them down.
He was proud to fight the Indians. He held no grudge against them, but this was what his country had asked of him. He knew that once black folks proved they could serve as faithful citizens America would treat them as such.
He was proud to fight the Nazis. He had done his duty when called; helped liberate Europe. Of course, there was irony in that. Still, he was proud. He’d seen the camps. He knew what the Germans had done. Once Hitler was defeated, he and his men could return home to the Land of the Free and the Brave where things such as that could not happen.
Each one of these died swinging, choking as much on their pride as the rope. The word “Nigger” ringing out false victories in their ears.
She did not speak of what happened when the soldiers came. She never would. She considered all that something that was outside of her life, not of her making and not to be acknowledged. She thought of it as little as possible, though the effort often exhausted her.
On that desperate flight to anywhere that was AWAY, she realized she was pregnant. Arriving HERE, she knew no one and had no one except this unborn child. Maybe that was the why she kept the girl. Honestly, she never really wondered the reason.
She would cradle her daughter for hours at night. She would sing. Or hum. Or talk about her work. Or what she saw outside in this city so different from the village of her birth. She would speak mother’s speech in her mother tongue and she would tell her daughter again and again that it was only ever
“Me and you. Alone. Just us.”
Nous. Awa. Nahnu. Biz. Nāńkal. Anaga. Nosotras.
The lullaby she sings for her son is not the same as her mother sang to her. She never learned that song or that language (other than the swears) and her mother is no longer alive to ask. There are moments, though – when the world quiets and she feels like she exists outside of her life in a place not of her own making – when she thinks she can remember the tune. Or maybe just the feeling. As if she remembers that time when it was just the two of them, mother and daughter. Alone. Before her step-father came and her brother was born.
That feeling of “us” feels almost tangible in those moments. It’s an “us” that should not have existed, as vulnerable as it was inseparable. It is that “us” that she wishes to pass to her son. Because it is only just them, she and him. Alone. His father has made that clear and, because of that, her father and brother have distanced themselves. As if it’s somehow her fault. She doesn’t care, though, not in these moments when she stares into her baby’s eyes and there is only “us.”
She sings then. Not of joy, because she has known very little of that. She sings of hope, of possibility. She’s not sure she believes in those words, but it is what she sees in those eyes.
She sings to her mother, too; who she knows is watching. Then – in that moment – there are three of them.