Our Sleepwalking Towards Death with Gabriel García Márquez

At eighteen, with my first year of community college completed, I flew alone from Los Angeles to Mexico City. After several days of scouring bookstores, I brought back a suitcase full of novels, poetry, and history books.

I had begun my college studies as a talented Spanish major whose first published poetry — both bilingual and all-Spanish — had been accepted in Americas Review (University of Houston). As a young African-American writer whose first language was English, I shunned away from English-language literary journals because I lacked confidence they would publish my writing. Even then, decades back, I was aware that the publishing industry was a majority-White profession, and I perceived it as a barrier through which I would not be able cross. Social change, my dedication to craft, and persistence have allowed me to move beyond that barrier and get my work published in numerous English-language journals.

Given my skills in the Spanish language, I didn’t hesitate recently to read the short story, “Amargura Para Tres Sonámbulos” (“Bitterness for Three Sleepwalkers”), by Gabriel García Márquez in Spanish. Reading English translations of Spanish-speaking writers creates a thin linguistic veil between myself and the writer that I try to avoid. In the story, Márquez’s first-person-plural narration allows his two sleepwalking narrators to tell a story about a third who is a woman. The two narrators reveal to us, “Estábamos haciendo lo que habíamos hecho todos los días de nuestras vidas” (“We were doing what we had been doing every day of our lives.”) Their emphasis on the humanity of the woman sleepwalker – who lives in the underground — underscores how sleepwalking is an analogy for the process of life. On one occasion during her walk, she falls to the ground and starts eating dirt; yet, she still isn’t dead. The two narrators inform us that the more she walks around the house at night, the more she begins to look like death.

By using the sleepwalking metaphor for the process of a life approaching death, García Márquez makes the finite quality of material life abundantly clear. His magical realism presents three characters who move through the narration like phantasms of our imagination, so thinly clad that they need no names nor any physical description.

Using García Márquez’s number of three, I offer three pressing topics in the world today that we, as humanity, engage with as if sleepwalking. I will refrain from naming them, allowing the reader to use speculation (of which magical realism is a part) to discern the topics of discussion. I have likewise personified my sleepwalkers as women.

She sits at the outdoor table as clouds form in the dry atmosphere. One raindrop falls to the dark brown table as the wind blows the clouds away, assuring no rainfall. She remembers how months, years have passed with barely a sprinkle. She half gazes towards the parched earth, one eye open and the other closed, confident in the technology of dams and irrigation. Faraway, in the Southern hemisphere, no rain means starvation and death. While further off in the tropical regions, torrential rains flood the land, washing away homes and livelihoods, and later leaving stagnant waters that breed disease. Lucky, she puts on her dark sunglasses and feels the warmth of the sun lulling her to sleep.

Six hundred years of extraction on the Atlantic side. Six hundred years! She enters the house, unties the Ankara fabric from her head, rushing to complete her studies while there is electricity. Recalling the words of the professor in class today, she ponders the extraction first of people and then minerals, natural resources, and land from the continent. She must find that chapter her professor was referring to. She sits in the chair, resisting sleepiness, and begins flipping through pages. There it is. She reads how the West and others have ensured that full industrialization of products cannot happen on the land, that the profits are drained away to far-off corners of the world and not given to them — the rightful owners of the wealth. She then sits back, the hanging light flickering off and on, and starts to doze.

She knows that nothing can resuscitate a life that is gone. There is no incubator for a dead body. She saw the bullet hit, pierce skin, spew blood across the linoleum floor, stop a vital organ. The life was lost. She is not sure whether it was a shopping mall, a church, or a schoolroom. Stretched out on the carpeted floor, she covers her head with the blanket to hide from the reality of twenty to forty percent of the world’s guns in her one country. Something about a law written on paper 240 years ago. End of question. End of discussion. End of life.

Black Women Won’t Save the World

“Black Women Won’t Save the World”

For: Erica Garner

 

Despite pronouncements to the contrary, Black Women won’t save the world.  Notwithstanding the circumference of the Cradle of Civilization in South Africa nestled in a locale from which all human beings originate; regardless of the excavations in Ethiopia of both Lucy and Ardi marking the evolution of homo erectus and what that signifies to the world in the evolutionary flowering of life, the act of waiting 27 years in a Mandela-like manner is far beyond the dexterity of even the most steadfast amongst us.  So, please do not expect it, since what a girl really wants is to be a first in Africa as President of the former American Colonization Society (aka, Liberia) to show the world how it’s really done following the commendable lead of Brooklyn-and the-Caribbean’s Chisholm who made her bid as leader of the entire Empire after the sea having been parted by that group of women who were so good at either whispering or shouting:

“Come along with me.”

(You know the ones.)

Those who say: “Come on now.”

“Don’t give up.”

Those that question: “Why can’t you do that, too?”

Harriet Tubman.

Sojourner Truth.

Rosa Parks.

But they can’t do it all.  They can’t continue to clean up the mess of Western Civilization epitomized in the world’s largest economy that works overtime like an oversized fan both amassing resources and throwing out products.  They can’t continue to wipe the mouths of temperamental children.  Black women will not save the world with a sweeping lift of the train of their gowns as they walk on stage and, with a Hattie McDaniel smile, accept their award.  Even though the world expects that they listen Oprah-style to its dilemmas and then offer pats on the back; even though society would have them sweeten reality like Aunt Jemima; even though segments of American politics cross their fingers waiting for Black Women to show up at the polls to circumvent the country’s tendency to worship totalitarian totems, it goes against the grain.  When all a girl wants is fresh food that can’t be bought at a liquor mart, healthcare that can’t be provided at a storefront, dignified employment that can’t be applied for amidst corporate outsourcing, ownership that can’t be acquired in economic inequality, safety that can’t be granted by the 2nd Amendment, and for her sons and daughters to live a freedom that can’t exist in a society of colored-only mass incarceration.  So, no, Black Women (who have been my sustenance) will not save a world that reduced Lucy to an objectified Sara Baartman, Hottentot Venus to be paraded around European freak shows to exhibit her large buttocks.  Regardless of their self-imposed exile to Paris and refashioning themselves to seduce á la Josephine Baker or using the both life-saving and self-effacing tools of Madame C. J. Walker to accommodate white middle-class patriarchy, they may still face a court case named the “The United States of America vs. Billie Holiday” in which their Blues cannot even be contained in a volume by Toni Morrison.  If indeed “la vida es un carnaval,” I want Black Women to formulate it, but we can’t save a world that is not of our making, a world in which mothers were historically assigned double duty and fathers were denied last names.  Fathers were depleted of even air to breathe.  Fathers had to plead, “I can’t breathe.”

Meek Mill Didn’t Get Killt (Nonfiction in 3 Voices)

”Meek Mill Didn’t Get Killt (Nonfiction in 3 Voices)”

Voice 1: In the land of curt consolations, one that is most apparent is that Meek Mill didn’t get killt although surely that could have happened in the City of New York which garnered a recent reputation for snuffing the life out of the big man selling loosies on Long Island or the youngin confined to Rikers Island based on allegations of stealing a backpack the soul of whom was stolen from him so much so that he committed suicide.  Meek Mill’s case could have been otherwise.  He escaped that fate, if escape it can be called, given the rapper has been dragging the ball and chain of probation since 2009 for an incident that occurred as a teen; yet, given that the U.S. legal system, which markets in black and brown bodies, has acknowledged no change in him, no redemption; thus, the law, its judicial representatives, and police boots on the ground watch his every move coveting a new conviction and they find it when the rapper pops motorcycle wheelies on the set of a video filming.  Illegal.  Against the law.  2-4 years jail time.  Meek didn’t get killt.  He didn’t run from the cops who then took it upon themselves to feel fear and shoot him in the back.  He didn’t attempt to be the “trillest” and say, “Officer, I want to let you know I have a weapon,” and then get shot.  Point.  Blank.  He didn’t get into an argument at the liquor store and walk down the street only to get shot in the back.  None of that.  Meek Mill didn’t get killt.

Voice 2: On that one track Meek say, “They wanna see you in the hood back when you ain’t got shit.”  That be real tho.  That’s how the United States be operating on “Young Black America.”

Voice 1: Why do Blacks total forty percent of those incarcerated yet make up just thirteen percent of the U.S. population?  And why are one-third of those on parole in the U.S. Black people?  Black people and Brown people are disproportionately locked up.  Last name from that now-gone Spanish empire that surrendered to the force of both Anglo expansion and the consequent U.S. empire?  You know the one.  Persona de Mexico?  El Salvador?  Chances of being incarcerated abundant as well.  Practice a suspect religion.  Accent a bit odd.  Low income.  Scant education.  Behind bars.

Voice 2: On that one track when Meek and Thug say, “Lost so many niggas, I went crazy, I couldn’t balance it,” that be real too.  Like, you lose your peeps, and you be fucked up from the pain, like dizzy and shit, everything is out of wack, the city gets bigger and it’s just you standin there and all the traffic is goin in all different directions, and the empty house cuz that person ain’t there no more, just things, things to be cleaned up and horded so you can keep them or toss others in those large plastic trash bags to be dumped into oblivion, but you never forget cuz those people be in your heart always and on your mind at the oddest moments and when you look in the mirror, you be seein that person, them people, and when you speak, you hear they voices, too.

Voice 1: The challenge is to resist a culture of violent obliviousness in a broader society that would have us forget because the forgetting is dehumanization not only of the forgotten but of ourselves.  After September 11, 2001 when U.S. news networks faced the hardship of paying tribute to the souls lost in the Twin Towers, I remember looking at the scrolling photos of the deceased on the tv screen and realizing how beautiful everyday Americans were.  The photos, names, occupations of the victims were portrayed uninterruptedly.  Sixteen years later, in our society that increasingly shutters the finality of death as well as institutions like jails and prisons that impose forms of death on the living, we are increasingly not offered those commemorations, words from family members, the photos.  Just this year with the tragic human losses in the Las Vegas Concert shooting, the Texas church shooting, the hundreds of dead in Puerto Rico due to Hurricane Maria, we see meager mention of the victims.  The corporate news media, which has few reasons to seek revolt, moves on to the next story.  But as the poet says:

“No man is an island entire of itself; every man

is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;

…any man’s death diminishes me,

because I am involved in mankind.

And therefore never send to know for whom

the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

-John Donne

 

Voice 2: That be trill, tho.  John Donne was ride or die way back in the day.  Those some good lines.  It may be someone else today, your homie tomorrow, but eventually, it’s us.  One of my favorites from Meek’s album is, “Relax your mind and kick your feet way up/Selling dog food tryna feed my pups.”  We’re not forgetting Meek nor the many, many locked up.

Voice 1: “We Ball”?

Voice 2: Ballin.