he morning Ernesto died and a glittering cloud of debris and ash swallowed the neighborhood, Beth Gopin was on her way to see him. Beth had called Ernesto and asked him to meet her at Taj Tribeca. Although Beth and Ernesto enjoyed the atmosphere and well-stocked buffet, Taj Tribeca held greater significance—they could link major moments in their life together to its golden linens and paper dining mats.
Beth will one day tell me how she first met Ernesto at Taj Tribeca. She was on a blind date with someone else, a Junior Vice President at a fiduciary management company. When the conversation had begun to include words like portfolio management, estates, big account, and mutual funds, she excused herself from the table and said she needed to use the bathroom. As she snuck towards an exit to abandon her suitor, Ernesto approached her. Beth remembers accepting his card. He asked her to call him if things didn’t work out with the guy she had come with. He thanked her and then quickly sped out of the restaurant.
Beth will tell me she waited weeks before she called him. She’ll say she called because of curiosity, not attraction.
Read the rest of the post here: “Memorials” by Donald Quist
The Waynes and Johnsons: Albemarle County, Virginia, Circa 1862 and Beyond
In 1840, Claude Wayne exerted his God-given right to his property when he relieved himself inside a slave wench named Norma. The resulting child was his, hazel eyes glinting green in the sun, a mongrel if Wayne had ever seen one. Couldn’t stand to look at him. Sold the mutt to Johnson first chance he got. He sired an heir with his wife the very next night. Twenty-odd years later, those boys stood to shoot one another dead. One black, one white—each a rifle-musket aimed at the other, not knowing they share a daddy. Moist, mudded red clay ran burgundy around their feet, mixing one dead soldier’s blood with the next like that through the veins of brothers. Each man stared into the hazel eyes of the other as if looking inside their own.
It is that hazel shade that will confirm the relation of two women over a century later in 2016, a Wayne and a Johnson, stuffed like creamed French toast inside an IHOP booth. The distant cousins will avoid eye contact, not knowing what to say, if words could even be sufficient. Surprised at the way God’s sense of humor manifests, that theywere matched via DNA from an ancestry website—of all things—they agree to meet, for what reason, neither will know. Will this encounter change their lives? There will be no weddings, no funerals, no cookouts, no showers. No more family than any Wayne or Johnson in this part of the world. But, they will shake hands and sit, exchange stories of growing up in the country, even realize they went to the same high school, their churches only a mile apart. They will watch one another, disguise their curiosity, their mutual examination of shared features, under lowered eyelids and genteel sips of sweetened ice tea with lemon.
Read the rest of the story here: “The Waynes and Johnsons…” by Tyrese L. Coleman
Millions of Tiny Things
When Hammond was very young, he had a hard time sleeping. It felt as though there were millions of tiny things crawling around beneath his skin, and the small, small spaces that separated each of these tiny things was known to him, and so it wasn’t just that there were millions of them, but that he never felt whole, and that he felt always on the brink of dissolving. He knew that the only thing keeping him together was his ability to focus on each of those tiny spaces inside—if he fell asleep, whatever small bit of force that kept the parts of him from flying apart would vanish and he’d be torn into millions of small, small pieces. Sometimes, at night, he felt his focus slipping, could feel the tension in his body as he tried and tried to will himself whole, to keep it together. But the millions of tiny things inside of him kept moving, sliding around. It was hard to keep track of them all, and on this edge of sleep, every time, he thought that he would die. He thought that he could already feel his body going to pieces, breaking up like static, so when his eyes closed, he said goodbye to his parents, goodbye to his dog Mojo, goodbye to the trees, goodbye to his bed, goodbye to the turtles in the pond out back, goodbye to the sky, goodbye.
Sometimes, Hammond makes the mistake of telling the people he loves about this time in his life. They look at him with either pity or amusement, though there was the time that the guy rolled out of bed, put clothes on, and left Hammond’s apartment while muttering something about fucking schizo nutjob. It’s always a calculated risk to tell someone something ugly about yourself, but perhaps this isn’t the best way to describe it because Hammond does not feel shame about his boyhood. He was anxious and heady and sullen as a child. Many people are these things. That he experienced long bouts of psychosis is nothing to be ashamed of, though he has learned to conceal it from people, folding this necessary article of his being away in the way one might wear long shirts over flabby arms or keloids. It’s only on the edge of sleep, when he’s curled up with someone toward whom he is experiencing the first, fluttering uneasiness of love that he makes the mistake of telling them about the times as a child he thought he’d dissolve in the middle of the night. There is always a moment of hesitation, when they aren’t sure if he’s joking or telling the truth, that he realizes is a minor kindness extended toward him, a moment in which he can take it all back and explain it away as a bad joke. It’s a fleeting, narrow possibility into which he could wedge himself and live out the rest of his time. “Oh,” he could say, “just kidding.” But he never takes the moment, never takes it all back. It is what it is, he figures. He is what he is, he figures.
Read the rest of the story here: Millions of Tiny Things
The light was gone, sucked back into the black wires that hung off the roof and stretched across the expressway, leaving the kitchen a study in blurs. Ogugua popped open the plastic crate of eggs and felt around for the matches, his pupils widening to inhale the grey air. It was so much quieter here in Owerri than it had been in Lagos. In the sky outside his glass doors, when he looked, he could see the moon hanging low and round, steeped in urine.
The match hissed and exploded into fire once Ogugua touched it to the leaking gas of the stove and he capped it with his frying pan, the one with the loose screw in the handle that he was always tightening with a butter knife. He couldn’t help comparing everything now to everything that used to be. Even the eggs here were different from the ones in America, where he used to call home, where the woman who used to be his wife still lived. Those yolks had been pale, smelling of a thick rottenness that made him peel them out and eat only the gelatinous white. But here, when he cracked them open, the eggs spilled out pools of fat yellow blood that sizzled with volume. Ogugua lifted the frying pan and touched a candle to the stove’s fire, setting it on the counter in a pool of its own wax.
He had arrived in Lagos with his daughter in early July, when the rains were still determined and flooding. During the flight, he fed her small spoonfuls of his airplane dessert, a piped thick cream with reduced fruit spilling over and staining the top. She batted her hands at the spoon and chuckled in his lap and sweetness smacked through her lips. Ogugua kissed the top of her head.
Read the rest of the post here: WELCOME
The Kimbilio Blog inaugurates a new feature: Excerpts from new books by our Fellows and Faculty.
In October of 1994, while my mom attended a funeral, I spent time with my grandmother at the Wash Tub Laundry on Fifth Street in Hartsville. I had wanted to be outside riding bikes with my cousins instead of watching daytime soap operas on ceiling mounted televisions. My grandmother removed a load from one of the large dryers and dropped the warm clothes into a rolling laundry cart. She pushed the cart over to a clear table and ordered me to help her fold. While we worked she tried to explain the plotlines on the Young and the Restless.
“You see him, with the mustache?” she said raising her chin in the direction of the nearest screen. “That’s Victor Newman. He’s a handsome white man. Him and Chuck Norris on Walker, Texas Ranger.”
I ran a finger over my smooth upper lip.
During commercial breaks, advertisements for the nightly news played clips of Susan Smith crying for the return of her children, “I just can’t express it enough, we just got to get them home. That’s just where they belong, with their momma and their daddy.”
I didn’t understand why I couldn’t play outdoors or how my freedom related to two missing children I had never met. I pleaded with my grandmother to let me leave the laundry mat. Again, she said no.
“It’s not safe for black boys to be riding around until they catch the man that took that white woman’s children or she confesses to having taken those kids out herself.”
“But I’m nine, Old Lady.”
“You think they care? Shit. They were putting children younger than you on slave ships. Ask your daddy, he’s from Ghana.”
“That was a long time ago.”
She stopped folding to remove a crumpled paper towel from the pocket of her ratty stretch pants. She pulled the Winston butt from her lips, tucked the cigarette and its fading embers into the wrinkled napkin and crushed it in her fist. A final wisp of smoke rose from between her fingers.
She leaned close to whisper to me, “It was only two decades ago, right down the road in Lamar, a hundred white folks showed up at a schoolhouse and turned over a bus full of black children. They didn’t care if they were kids. Black is black. Not a one of those people saw any real time in jail. They’re still out here, walking around. They never went anywhere, they still own everything, and who knows what they’ve raised their children to believe. They’ll treat you like a dog. Shit, a dog’s life may mean more to them.”
The Old Lady reached for the lighter and Winstons she kept in the breast pocket of her jean jacket. She lit a new cigarette, breathed deep and continued folding.
“White people get funny when they think their women are under attack. You ever hear of Rosewood?”
“No, Old Lady.”
“Cause they don’t want you to know. A town in Florida made up of freed slaves. One white girl claims a black man hurt her and the town is burned to the ground, people are hanged all strange fruit. They’re serious about their women.”
We continued folding in silence. We finished as the saxophone squeals of The Bold and The Beautiful theme song filled the laundry mat. I didn’t bother asking to go outside again