Jherri is dreaming of dying flowers. White lilies browning at their wilting tips. Stamens dried and no longer fragrant. Petals curled backwards, opened unnaturally.

     Antennae 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.

     Artificial 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.

     His 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 not his.

     And the cow jumped over the moon.

     On 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 to kill.

     Up jumped the boogie to the bang-bang boogie.

     He 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.

     Before Colonization.

     Buzzing. 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.

                           *          *          *

     "My 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 crawling.

     "You a lie!" one of them blurted into the air humid with jealousy and the moisture of Virginia in August.       

     Jherri's 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.

     "He 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.

     "So. Where your blue eyes at? Fat nose African booty-scratcher."

     "I ain't no African. My granddad mixed with Indian and white. See how much you know."

     "Then 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 grade.

     "Cause 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. That's why."

     "But why your nose so big?" Lisa also wanted to know since her nose was a fine line so narrow she seemed incapable of smelling.

     "It's a birth defect stupid. Don't nobody else in my family got a nose like this."

     One of the boys in the group kicked up some dirt at Jherri. "Your whole face is a birth defect."

     Jherri's 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.

                           *          *          *

     Jherri 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.

     Flowers 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.

     Thirty-nine 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 boxes.

     Artificial 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.

     Mother's 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.

     Jherri 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.

     Slippery when wet.

     Faggots 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.

     God Bless America.

     Reality 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.

                           *          *          *

     "Goddammit, 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.

     "Get me my clippers from under the sink. You too old to be looking like a bitch."

     Jherri couldn't move, paralyzed by the thought of his image shorn.

     "Boy, you hear what I say?"

     Jherri 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 wriggling.

     Palming Jherri's head, his father said, "That's more like it. You look like your daddy again." 

     "Jesus Christ, Lord have mercy, what did he do to my baby?" Jherri's mother held his face between the softness of her hands.

     Jherri sobbed against his mother's bosom. "He cut it off, Ma, he cut it all off &"

     "That 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.

     "I'm so ugly now, Ma, what I'm gone do? Ain't nobody gone play with me."

     "Aww baby, you still my handsome angel. Don't you worry. By the Grace of God everything's gone be all right."

                           *          *          *

     Butterfly 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.

     His 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.

     And Lady Day sings of Strange Fruit.

     Even 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.

     Andtotherepublic      for          which        it               stands.

                           *          *          *

     All 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.

     Jherri grinned as their mouths opened like they were about to start caroling.

     Nigel, who lived two-houses down from Jherri, said,dag, your bike is fresh! 

     Nappy heads nodded.Wordem up, it's fly & 

     It's stupid fresh & 

     Jherri 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.

     Jherri's 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.

     Ill, what happened to your hair?  She frowned.

     My dad-- 

     Who 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.

     Nappy heads nodded again to a chorus of yeah's.

     I don't care about no stupid bike. Jherri, your hair is ugly like that. 

     Jherri eyed his red mag wheels.

     Nigel came to his defense.I know you ain't talking with all them peas in the back of your head. 

     Nappy 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.

     Come here Jherri,  Lisa leaned back on her seat.

     Bolstered 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.

     Lisa sucked her teeth and rolled her eyes.Forget you then.  She coasted away, yelling over her shoulder,It's quits! 

     Jherri watched Lisa's long, braided ponytail bounce on her back. He shrugged and asked the crew,Y'all wanna race? 

                           *          *          *

     Jherri 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.

     Overturned 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, clicking, flashing.

     Inquiring minds want to know.

                           *          *          *

     "What 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.

     Nigel 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.

     The 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. 

     Jherri 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.

     Problem 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. 

     Jherri 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.

                           *          *          *

     Breath 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 voice.