Praying in the temples of #DopeBlackWomen
“It is only when we speak what is right that we stand a chance at night of being blown to bits in our homes. Can we call this a free country, when I am afraid to go to sleep in my own home in Mississippi?” — Fannie Lou Hamer
Sitting on my own family’s porch I once saw a tatterdemalion man known to all as Howdy Doody seemingly run out of gas in his raggedy truck. He hopped out, removed the rag from his gas tank, bellowed and blew his Gillespian cheeks into it, then igniting into a hell fire home. Black girl magic I conjured from my blackberry stained fingers.
I was my mama’s baby often seen following her shadow while making groceries or sitting cross-legged under the ironing board. I was quiet and observant — a gifted people watcher. I was seen and not heard whenever she and my aunts, cousins, and neighbors would gather on my grandmother’s porch. My grandmother, obtuse in her manner of speaking, sat off center during these gatherings. She had a mocha meanness to her skin from years in the tong nut fields. She spit her chewing tobacco in an old metal coffee can after major assertions or a latent observation about a neighbor across the way or after another shuffling up the street.
People would wistfully throw up their hand yelling “Hey There” at any and all on my grandmother’s front porch. My grandmother would always have something to say, met with the ring of that can.
“Dem niggas know they was fighting over there last night. Need to get they damn lights cut back on, hell.”
“He know he bring some good money home working over in dem woods. Need ‘em a good wife but he don’t want none of these gals round here. Hmph…”
“Dem damn white folks…” These four little words always garnered a few “Shhh…” and eye rolls — more out of disgust than for the sake of quietness.
Sitting through these rendezvous was a story filled jaunt — a pastime of dispatches from the corners throughout our hoods. Special guests from the other side of town or the woods would bring special offerings like a hog’s head, garbage bags of snap peas, corn or okra, and a ready ear. They’d lay it bare at the foot of the porch, a beloved temple for these Black women glowing in sweat and swatting at flies. Mother divine. My mama nem, these Black goddesses, would sit, legs a-gapped, some leaning forward on their elbows, creating a stream of storylines teetering on some truth of our Black being — a body politic possessed by trauma and hope. God bless the child.
I heard the story of a man trapped in a love affair because the woman buried his underwear back behind the house. Or the time my cousin Lula Bell nonchalantly told her mother the house was on fire, the flames lapping at her back yet a peaceful resolve over her face. The story was told with much whooping and hand clapping. Black men fucked up on that heroin, then crack, after Vietnam — that “damn agent Orange had ‘em all fucked up,” one said. Peace be still in every eye and mouth. The constant tale of women with no mother wit having children — night women who breast fed their dalliances over their children. The man who brutally beat and raped a woman who gave birth to a son now lost to drug addiction. The man who was ravaged with jealousy and shot his wife; her dying words piercing the ether, “Lord, don’t take me away from my babies.” Both of these men never saw a jail. God saw it. Their mmm and unh became a sorrow song of range and depth that rose up from their calloused heels and stretch marks.
Sitting on the porch became the proving ground on the sanctity of our community. I knew that my community, dubbed Southside by the city’s efforts to approximate our existence, survived many atrocities — disparities due to privileged neglect and apathy. Our collective trauma and perseverance was wrapped into murmurs and rumbles from our porches. It was the sounding of the talking drum, a rhythm passed neighbor to neighbor. They carried the sorrowful strength of a community of devastated men and babies crowned in the blow of a dandelion. Their prayers were between sips of coffee. They swirled their cups of coffee and teatotaled the brew for hours. My grandmother always insisted on drinking her’s with a saucer — 6 spoonfuls of sugar and plenty of cream. A sweet elixir she used to conjure prayers for the sweet and the bitter.
These dope Black women knew the load was just and their rants activated their faith. Never-the-mind the gossip. God would take care of the rest in His own time.
These stories washed over me and I became a vessel of earthen salinity. As a storyteller and filmmaker, this is my offering to the temple goddesses.
- Dedicated to my Teddy