NYU Black Renaissance Noire Volume 18 Issue 1 - Winter 2018 - Page 48

The centuries of distance between Africa and Haiti , from the time they were shipped as human cargo and then suffered brutal slavery on sugar plantations , did little to alter those rites .
In my imaginary romantic version of how my paternal grandparents met , I see GrandAngele washing clothes or bathing in the village ’ s river , while Grandpa Joseph paused to water his horse . Or maybe he took time from the harsh inland journey to soak his tired body in the river . How many times had he seen her , before he mastered his courage to speak ? Did she know he was looking at her ? Did he offer her a bouquet of wild flowers ? Only she knew . I know that their bodies smiled to each other , because their love produced five children . Papa was the oldest of a set of twins born in February 1907 , but his twin brother Herman died at age two . GrandAngele would lose two other children : her daughter Camilla , who died soon after birth , and her son , Carlo who died at age 22 . TanteYvonne , her youngest , lived a long life .
I wondered what GrandAngele had thought of Grandpa Joseph ’ s early death from depression , which transformed her into a young widow . How did she handle the emptiness of losing a husband ? It must have been heartbreaking . In her solitude , did she perhaps draw strength from Erzulie , Ogun , or Papa Loko , the loas , spirits from Africa , which sometimes possessed her head ? As dusk was falling on her 88 year-old body , she must have also been reflecting on the passage of time . She was surrounded by her extended family , and now by Viola and me , but when I glanced at her , she seemed most times very much alone with her thoughts .
While I slowly pushed her rocking chair , I thought of asking her if her voyage in this world had been interesting , but my eight-year old self just stood idly and watched her crinkled body rock back and forth . For a long time . It was as if she were present but also somewhere else . In the distance .
“ Pitit mwen . My child , get me a little coffee .” GrandAngele told me often , as she caressed my arm holding the chair . Coffee was comfort ; it was what she knew . I so loved spending time with GrandAngele , who filled the emptiness left by my mother ’ s absence . Life ’ s lonely highway seemed less so with my GrandAngele in her rocking chair .
One night soon after I moved in , I woke up abruptly to what sounded like music . Tap tap . Tap tap tap . It got louder . The drumbeats were almost deafening . Patap tap . Patap tap tap Patap tap . Patap tap tap . I had never heard it before and wondered what it was .
I glanced at Viola ’ s bed a few inches away . I saw her contours through a flicker of light coming from downstairs ; she was also searching for my eyes . We locked eyes for a few seconds . I crawled slowly out of my cover and slid deep under hers to find a most comfortable position , my head fitting perfectly just below her armpit .
“ Dilelo ,” I heard . I held onto the sound , as it replayed in my ear like the rhythm of a badly strung guitar that sounded bluesy , far away , but transcended the drum , as it gained momentum on the final o . “ Dilelo ” was repeated a capella like a choir . Then I heard the muffled sound of feet fluttering . From my armpit perspective , there was perfect harmony in the music and the dancing .
I couldn ’ t escape the feeling that the drums were climbing up the stairs slowly , very slowly to the small bedroom that I shared with Viola . I reached out for her hand , and she held it tight as she had since the beginning of my life . I was afraid , because we were all alone ; Papa had said goodnight much earlier , when he had left for work . Curiosity was a strong motivator , and I was tempted to rush down the stairs from where the music was coming . I knew that Viola would have stopped me : It ’ s the middle of the night , and we go to school in the morning . The singing by both women and men was pulsating in my ear , and I had the faint sensation that my body was slowly dancing itself to sleep with a wide smile and with angels floating above me . I sighed in Viola ’ s armpit .
Then the sun came out luminously bright and pitifully hot . That morning , as I passed by the verandah on my way to school , I overheard some cousins talking about a Vaudou ceremony held the night before . I was curious to know why , if Vaudou was the religion of Papa ’ s family , he didn ’ t let me follow the services . I didn ’ t understand either why these prayers were held in the middle of the night . I was envious and sad at the same time that Papa ’ s family only prayed after I went to sleep .
23 BLACK RENAISSANCE NOIRE
Sisters & Brothers How It Happened His granddaughters, Zoe & Noa, hug each other on his desk, one protecting the other from some imagined hurt. Have you ever missed a step, trusted dumb luck, crafted a promise you couldn’t keep? He rarely thinks of them this way but one glance to his right & there it is again, the threat & the salvation. He never had a brother or a sister. As his mother told it, they all died before birth — those that might have been. He never pursued them, never mourned their passing, never bothered, but has been plagued by something . . . an impulse. To hide? To bury the surviving body as they are buried? Once, someone suggested he live with them & they with him, that he open the door — that he pass through. It was so easy to say — so easy. ** In his dream the dead have gathered in his living room. There are five, as she’d said. Strangers to him, they seem to know each other & speak of him as if he had been the one to die or, at least, cannot be found. He moves closer to hear more clearly. They drift away, ignore his discomfort, then return, the girls Around midnight, the sour bells of St. Michael’s warn of a crisis of faith. Jake shuffles the deck & lays out your fortune. Where is it written you will always be offered a second chance? Out of the dark comes a flutter & a cough & here’s Bennie & his pet hawk Max. Suzie passes a lager down the line. Lights a Camel. Takes a deep drag. We’ve been traveling these last years, we of the hit & run, we of the go & go long. How it happened is a mystery — how she knew — how & why she escorted the corpse & then there are all those lies. Where does it say someone will pay? Where does it say, be appeased & hang your hat here? Her smile dazzles the warped & wanton. Score one for Robert who struggles to ejaculate. Score one for Suzie who offers recreation or was it recuperation . . . Score one for all who suffer silence in the face of accusation, all who whittle the brambles that clog the mind. (there are three) dress in army fatigues & stand at-ease with rifles canted to the right, the men (there are two) dress as doctors in green scrubs & pour blood-red wine from b ́Ѽ͕́)ͥɐ!ɥ́Ѽѕѡ)éͽ䰁́ٽɥ͕̰́́́͡ѼݕЀ݅́Ѽɭ)ɽѡѥѡ