Emergence in Four Parts

By Kim Fowler

I.

I am brittle

as shale

Constant pounding  

shards me into

cuts

of history

that singe

choke

slice

drown.

Tear-blind

I plummet

through

400 years of

appropriation

brutality

defiance

drubbing

until

my fall is broken by

the unyielding resistance

of beloved family stories.

I clutch each fragment

like a baby discovering its

finger strength.

I suckle

and am lulled by

memories that soothe,

then

cry out

in startled agony

in swallowing a scrap

a bit

that

scorches

and burns.

II.

The earth hears my need for easing,

cool water bubbles up to meet my hands.

Within its shallow running are reflected back to me

ancestors, unknown and known.

Yvonne the mother of my body and heart

Josephine my mother’s mother, a brilliant beauty, and her sister Margaret,

   both dying too young

Mama Hadley, my great grandmother, born at the end of slavery

Claude the plantation owners’ son and my great grandfather

Mabel the enterprising who birthed my father 

    and my aunt Dorothy, who loved me like a daughter

George my father, who protected me with fearful love

Great grandfather Anthony, the wealthy and creative narcissist

Herman my Grand-Pere, the “Sarge” who warred with everyone but me

They surround me, hold me, knit me up, restore me.

They sing to me songs of Virginia and Illinois, of Missouri and Cameroon, 

of Nigeria and  Wales.

They crack Black jokes that Claude doesn’t get.

They sing pub tunes from the Lake District in England.

They dance jigs and the Ekombi and swing.

They tell me they are my strength

and that the land will always save us,

the land will always save me.

They lay me down in love by the spring

in which float and swirl mementos

I’m never to forget

and never to let them harm me.

In time my ancestors dissolve into themselves

so that I may awake.

III.

I am raw

my skin

separated from my body.

I have laid myself down on the sacrificial stone

and handed the knife

to the gentle white women

who

unconsciously

flay me.

They wrap my skin in a

gift bag.

Smiling

they hand it back to me

then leave.

The fire of the pain

cannot be wailed or moaned away

it can only

burn

  and

burn

  and

burn

until it

tires,

until it

hisses into

air.

My ancestors cradle me

and I sigh into their arms.

I open the bag

and a sudden brilliance plays upon my face.

Gently

softly

my relations

reach in, then

piece by beautiful piece

place my skin,

brown with tones of red

like the scored bark of a Sequoia,

like southwestern dirt,

upon my smoldering body.

They blow cool breath

to quiet the embers

and still my heart.

I slip slowly into sleep

dreaming of sweet home Chicago

the place of my birth.

IV.

I am a gardener.

Collards and cucumber

tomato and tomatillo

rosemary and kale

tiny and tender

grow

under my gaze.

Their lives are in my hands

and mine is restored through their

glorious

burst from

seed.

.

Kim Fowler lives in Santa Fe and is the author of All Will Be Well: A Memoir of Love and Dementia.  This book tells how her family members rediscovered one other after her mother’s stroke.

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