is dreaming of dying flowers. White lilies browning at their wilting
tips. Stamens dried and no longer fragrant. Petals curled backwards,
poke through the thin, brown, transparent shell of egg. Thirty-nine
babies hatch. Crawl into darkness of life lived within crevices,
under pressed sawdust, behind sheetrock and rusted steel wool.
Thirty-nine tiny roaches slide down his back like beads of sweat.
Feverish with dream, he sleeps like a fetus in the warmth of womb.
light flashing like strobes in a discotheque. Illuminating blinks
of elbow, then thigh, then forehead, then skin over rib rising
and falling slowly. The paparazzi are documenting the stream of
saliva gluing his face to bare mattress stained with childhood
piss and manhood semen. The click-click of cameras, the hiss of
advancing eight hundred speed film, the quiet noise of art captured
like a net full of fish--- these sounds are his lullaby.
mother's crystalline voice becomes a rainbow when sunlight hits
it from the East. He is lost on an indigo wavelength heading towards
violet. He eats his Lucky Charms cereal from a bowl of pink milk.
It is not the milk of his mother. It did not come from her tender
brown nipples. Bittersweet breasts leaking like the molded pipes
under the sink. He feels like a bastard drinking milk from a mother
the cow jumped over the moon.
the edge of awake and the cotton candy borders of dream. Stuck
in the sticky in-between, Jherri counts sheep. Black sheep who
have jumped bail. Jumped white picket fences in Alabama backyards
while eluding police. Jumped bad in front of a toilet-mouthed
asshole talking shit in a 9'x 12'. Jumped up and finger-painted
his woman's taut, brown canvas a fury of hues-- crimson, purple,
blue-black. Jumped out a third story window where no fire threatened
jumped the boogie to the bang-bang boogie.
is moonwalking. Lunar floor covered with spray paint cans and
fat markers. Memory glazed with graffiti and collage of Basquiat
and Keith Haring. Reagan and Bush transmitting through a television
screen full of static and white noise. He is pop-locking to Sugar
Hill, freestyling with Grand Master Flash, up-rocking to Kraftwerk.
Windmills and backspins executed with the Soul Sonic Force.
Subconscious wallpapered with yellowed antique sheet music of
the first rap uttered by a Senegalese griot circa 1107 B.C.
Fire alarm. His brain smokes from a bonfire of Black Nationalist
books, a pound of weed and a red, black and green dashiki made
by a four-year-old in Malaysia. The sprinkler system doesn't work.
His scalp itches with heat like getting an S-Curl. Fry away them
naps and comb that hair back slick like them white boys on Wall
Street who his granddaddy shines shoes for. His granddaddy with
blue rings around his black irises.
granddad got blue eyes," he told the pack of rainbow brown
kids who had gathered to play a game of kickball in the cul-de-sac
down the street from his house. It was not the projects of D.C
and these over-privileged kids were not so easily awestruck. Wearing
a coveted Michael Jackson "Beat It" jacket, red vinyl
with zippers and metal mesh all over the place, Jherri thought
he had them where he wanted them. Hair over-processed and
stringy. Dripping activator juice down his back like baby roaches
a lie!" one of them blurted into the air humid with jealousy
and the moisture of Virginia in August.
mother was the chemist who developed the first soft-wave relaxer.
He was her nappy-headed guinea pig. The kitchen became her laboratory
where she concocted a cream that converted his naturally tight
curl pattern into a looser, more manageable, desirable curl that
resembled the letter "S". After further testing and
FDA approval, Black folks would bumrush the nearest Chinese-owned
beauty supply store and clear the shelves of S-Curl kits. His
mother would later perfect her recipe, naming it after her pride
and joy, hence, the Jherri Curl.
do too," Jherri's fist clinched, the sharp corners of fingernails
pressing into his palm. Temper inherited from his daddy, his nostrils
flared and betrayed him.
Where your blue eyes at? Fat nose African booty-scratcher."
ain't no African. My granddad mixed with Indian and white. See
how much you know."
why you so black?" Lisa, the lightest of the bunch,
inquired. Her skin was creamy like coconut's milk. She would be
his girlfriend from sixth grade to winter break of the seventh
I just got back from my auntie house in Florida where it be a
hundred degrees everyday and people be dying cause it's so hot.
why your nose so big?" Lisa also wanted to know since her
nose was a fine line so narrow she seemed incapable of smelling.
a birth defect stupid. Don't nobody else in my family got a nose
of the boys in the group kicked up some dirt at Jherri. "Your
whole face is a birth defect."
fist reacted swiftly with a diagonal force of kinetic energy that
caused knuckle to impact jaw with a silencing crunch. He bent
down and dusted the dirt from his black penny loafers so shiny
they looked lacquered. Adjusted the nickels in their slots so
that Hamilton's nose pointed East. Turned and walked West towards
the sun dropping behind his house.
is dreaming of beautiful men. Bodies sculpted from the clay of
his imagination. Dicks the size of Texas. Fucking until his asshole
bleeds. Snatches of porno flickering silently on the big screen.
Stale popcorn and unopened condom packages on the gummy burgundy
carpet. Mouth full of contaminated semen. Not his mother's milk.
are still dying in his dreams. Red roses on the verge of black.
Petals folding in on one another. Thorns turning into rubber.
Brown gook in the bottom of vase. Beauty sucked dry.
roaches caught in the middle of the kitchen floor under fluorescent
circular bulb. Fat brown shells scatter, abandoning a Christmas
of cornbread crumbs. Six die under the weight of a penny loafer
with a splat. Roach guts on beige linoleum. Memorial service held
in the silverware drawer. Mama roaches vow to nest in his cereal
light of a thousand thousand-watt bulbs. Jherri Curl juice ignites.
Electric bugaloo. Michael Jackson's crowning glory in flames.
Third degree burns to left side of head and neck. Diamond studded
glove waves from hospital bed. Head swathed in muslin like Tutankhamen.
Jherri Curl juice oozes down neck like salve.
throat is a chrysalis. Newborn monarchs wing themselves from her
mouth and silence the lambs. Her throat is a coffin for slave
souls echoing spirituals in her diaphragm. Sweet honey in the
rock. Humming a hymn at Jherri's funeral. Nappy head glistening
with blue grease. Black tux, white socks and penny loafers shined
like mirrors reflecting his mother's face crying butterflies.
Curls banned in 32 states. Not because of their highly flammable
chemical nature, but because good white folks are breaking hips
and twisting ankles stepping in Jherri Curl juice.
banned in 47 states. Not because of their highly flammable chemical
nature, but because good white folks are having their trousers
pulled down by ass-fucking bandits. Bloody rear-ends in
doctor's offices all over the country. State of emergency.
Meanwhile President Billy gets his knob slobbed in the oval office.
often gets sucked into Jherri's dreams like safety pins into the
mouth of a screaming Hoover upright. He sleeps with the t.v. on
channel zero. This dream is an episode of Good Times. He
is pre-S-Curl. Afroed with a black power fist pic stuck in the
back. He is Michael Evans, Kid Dynamite's younger brother with
homosexual tendencies singing in a honeyed tenor. Faded
blue denim bellbottoms hugging his pretty, tight, thirteen-year-old
booty. Thick, juicy DSL's, dick-sucking lips, pink and shining
with Vaseline. Such a pretty boy.
look at you! Your mama done turned you into a pretty boy,"
Jherri's father yanked at a curl. Jherri poked his lips
out at the floor.
me my clippers from under the sink. You too old to be looking
like a bitch."
couldn't move, paralyzed by the thought of his image shorn.
you hear what I say?"
saw his father's eyes get buck wide and white like a minstrel.
He shuffled to the bathroom and retrieved the clippers. As his
father plugged them in, he wished an electric current would run
through his father's body. That did not happen. Instead his father
attacked his head with a huge pair of scissors, whacking away
until the wiry kinks began to reveal themselves. Jherri winced
as the curls fell to the kitchen floor like severed worms still
Jherri's head, his father said, "That's more like it. You
look like your daddy again."
Christ, Lord have mercy, what did he do to my baby?"
Jherri's mother held his face between the softness of her hands.
sobbed against his mother's bosom. "He cut it off, Ma, he
cut it all off &"
bastard did this to spite me. Mad cause this Jherri Curl shit
blew up after he left and now he want to come crawling back,"
she rocked Jherri gently and rubbed his dry, cottony hair. No
more curl juice to darken her silk blouse like lactating tits.
so ugly now, Ma, what I'm gone do? Ain't nobody gone play with
baby, you still my handsome angel. Don't you worry. By the Grace
of God everything's gone be all right."
trapped in the sticky silk of a spider's web. Jherri is wrapped
in a cocoon of dream. He will not emerge with wings. Or a three-day
lifespan. Ugly as a moth he is. No light to seduce him. Just abysmal
darkness where his mother's voice is a bat flying backwards in
search of a frequency.
subconscious is pregnant with impossibility. Every millisecond
enigmas are born, warped and wailing with nonexistence. Memory
knows not of these births. They are as insignificant as newborn
girls in China. Ripe placenta, dark and juicy as pomegranate,
is buried in red clay. Fertile soil grows trees that murder niggers
and shed their leaves in mourning.
Lady Day sings of Strange Fruit.
the roots strangle. Africa's noose too tight. Lips fattened with
blood. Nose wide as the Sphinx smashed by the Greeks. Fault lines
shift. Mother has swallowed too many of her own. Jherri is pledging
allegiance to the flag of the unitedstatesofamerica. Poplar roots
creep up his legs while great-granddaddy swings dickless in a
breeze sweet with the smell of peaches and burnt hair.
of the kids were circling the cul-de-sac on their shiny new Huffy's.
Everyone except Jherri who, on this warm Christmas day, cruised
down the hill towards the dead end and skidded to a stop on a
sparkling Schwinn Spitfire-- imported from Japan and not available
on the U.S. market until April of 1987. It was December of'86
and Jherri's dad, a Navy man with overseas connections, had it
shipped just in time for the holiday.
grinned as their mouths opened like they were about to start caroling.
who lived two-houses down from Jherri, said,dag, your bike is
heads nodded.Wordem up, it's fly &
stupid fresh &
stood basking in the warmth of their compliments, when a sudden
cold front arrived on a powder pink Huffy with a cushioned seat
and pink and white streamers dangling from the handlebar grips.
Everyone turned to look at Lisa, Jherri's creamy girlfriend. But
the attention was momentary. Her bike was nothing new it had
been mass-produced in the U.S. for the last two years. All their
little sisters had one.
damp palms tightened on his handlebars. He flexed his wrists as
if he were revving his bike towards a speedy getaway. All eyes
were on the Spitfire again. All except Lisa's.
what happened to your hair? She frowned.
cares? Look at his bike! Nigel exclaimed while Jherri stood
secretly admiring his complexion, the color of macadamia nuts,
and his naturally curly sandy brown hair.
heads nodded again to a chorus of yeah's.
don't care about no stupid bike. Jherri, your hair is ugly like
eyed his red mag wheels.
came to his defense.I know you ain't talking with all them peas
in the back of your head.
heads, including Jherri's, bobbed with laughter. Jherri imagined
Lisa's face cracking and falling to the ground just like in the
cartoons, but he dared not look at her.
here Jherri, Lisa leaned back on her seat.
by the crew of boys, Jherri garnered up enough nerve to say,you
want me. You come here. He balanced his weight on the
pedals and stole a look at Nigel's pink-brown fingernails.
sucked her teeth and rolled her eyes.Forget you then. She coasted
away, yelling over her shoulder,It's quits!
watched Lisa's long, braided ponytail bounce on her back. He shrugged
and asked the crew,Y'all wanna race?
is moving in slow motion, skin heavy with blackness. Pigeon feathers
stick to his tarry flesh. He cannot fly away or protest his ugliness
with blobs of gray-black swirls that splatter against windshields.
He can only peck at the ashes of glowing cigarettes butts flicked
to the ground.
penny loafer. Sole worn thin as a crescent moon. Sliver of leather
smeared with the corpses of roaches. Jherri hops toward the other
side of the street, bouquet of orchids pressed against his chest,
bare foot dangling. Paparazzi perched on telephone poles snatching
at his soul like the Devil with a signed contract. Zooming, focusing,
minds want to know.
the hell...?" His mother's mouth opened wide enough to fit
a dick in. Face slapped with confusion. Jherri's mouth full. Peach
fuzz crusted with Nigel's sweet semen. Jherri snatched his head
away. The suction of his lips popped.
climbed out the window, buckling his pants between backyards.
Jherri washed his face and crept into the kitchen where his mother
sat smoking at the dining table. Silent. Eerily and incredibly
silent as if her throat had never known the vibration of sound.
next day, Jherri returned from school to find his father's Lincoln
in the driveway. A colorful heap of glossy paper-- ripped and
balled Michael Jackson posters stuck together by tape on the backside--
sat near the Herbie Curbie. Two suitcases, lopsided with weight,
propped against each other in front of the red door with the gold
lion's head knocker. His father's face twisted with disgust. Eyes
cold, unable to look up from the ground.
sat on the black leather couch looking at the rubber-rims of his
new Pro-keds sneakers. Earlier his father had tossed his loafers
into the bottom of the grill along with a few charcoal briquettes
and a generous squeeze of lighter fluid. He had called Jherri
out into the backyard to witness the lynching.
is, his father began,your mama spoiled you. Kept you up under
her all the goddamn time. When you'd come in the house crying
cause you busted your ass, I'd saysuck it up and be a man' but
she'd wanna hug you up like some sissy. Probably would've wiped
your shitty ass if I had let her. We separate and she gets her
way with you. That damn curl shit must've fried your brain boy
cause ain't no son of mine a faggot.
ran his hand over his naps and winced. He thought about Nigel
and his stomach flipped. He wasn't gay. He just admired Nigel.
Wanted to be in his skin. Had thought that maybe if he had some
of Nigel in him, by ingesting his essence, his darkness would
fade. His hair would fall out and grow back as looping curls of
softness. And he would be beautiful.
becomes molecules of oxygen escaping the prison of flesh. Smothered
by the density of mud. Jherri surfaces like lotus. Pure white
petals become Jherri's wings. He soars into the light of his mother's