poiesis noir: cette corpse   bahíyyih maroon
(poiesis noir: this body)

 

At a certain point it became necessary to leave Berlin. I had become entangled in a suspended play of that moment in Wretched of the Earth, when an awakening Franz Fanon blinks his eyes slowly in the realization of his skin, its blackness against an unwelcoming landscape and the pointing finger of a young child declaring to his mother that there was a Negro before them. In Berlin I grew to the point of frustrated attempts at retaliation for the interpolation of my blackness by small pointing children sputtering rude and curious German phrases my way. I glared at confused mothers, and growled at ogling cameramen stunned by the opportunity to photograph a golden afro of exotica walking down their familiar streets. Neither my anger at being reminded daily of an unmovable difference between myself and that brilliant yet cold city, nor the repeated interruptions into my anonymity and indictments of niggafied difference waged by endless stares, none of it disappeared. The sun rarely came out. I had no choice but to leave. It was easier from Europe to get home. Except not having a home, I could only return mythically as niggah Odysseus born to the repetition of the open voyage through the soul and its turning saltwaters. I could only go toward the haven of a strong sun and an unbound tide called Africa praying that this time my ears would not be closed to the alert of the muse's sirens.

There is no home. I was born in a movement time. Still I call this tide familiar. Even when it disowns me against the heavy shoreline.

Walking the mazes of side streets and adjacent angles, I go up and down all that is in proximity to Boulevard Bourghiba in Tunis. My first day I spend two hours doing this on the East side. The second day I spend two hours inside and outside each side of the mile long avenue. Maybe it was the third day that I turned a piercing inward and removed my septum ring from public view. In Berlin the nose ring had met a scene of standard fair nods. If the skin and the tresses had marked me as separate, the piercing had oddly enough submerged me in a common theme among urban artists scene and considered almost acceptable adornment in places of employ. In Europe as in most of America, the small shining half moon shadowing my lip was hardly noteworthy. I was marked, but not through my clothing, cosmetics or piercings. If I have always found my first moments returning to North Africa an encounter with the pause of relief, it is because here when left naked with only my skin to account for my external aesthetic, I am submerged in sameness. This is an impossible encounter to sustain however. I am only naked in the public hammam. This is only for a few hours. Really when I return, it takes me a week or two to locate and decide on a hammam. But still when I exit the little vessels that import me back, I live in the pause. The notice of myself not in myself and surrounded, the skin that continues on shades in directions of a set of brown and black base colours met with glazes, meldings, and stunning burns. Everywhere in the first hours I see what I see nowhere else in the world. I see a crowd in which it can be taken for granted that I am a member.

Except that I carry my identity with me. It is true here that/ this trace of self that I can never remove/ disassemble/ port away or wash off/ this colour of skin I own / belongs here / and yet there are those/ traces of this/ otherness even still/ even here. True, always I do this/ I drown in relief the first hours on return remembering myself as something wonderfully no longer a racial minority. But days and weeks will start to pass and I will be lulled awake into a recognition of these besides the way differences that mark me out /still fragments moving as a being/ that though secondary/ become as my skin/ these other traces of my identity that neither can be removed and which yet are cause for separating me out from the group here/ even/ as I am/ supposed to be/ home. When I fully recover from the pause of initial recognition/ my habit in the first days of coming back/ of extended and one directional stares/ my own gaze outside/ and the relief of seeing the cheekbones/ these hands/ neck lines/ evidences of my sameness/ moved suddenly apart/ gazes into eyes/ mine not mine/ which I realize now are looking at me entirely not/ as I have been looking at them. There is in their stares the raised eyebrow/ ambiguous turn of lip that indicates I am under question and examination. That I am exactly not the same.

Some days when I am walking the streets of port cities on the shorelines of home, I am interrogated by strangers. If I do not take away this silver arc from my face/ away from view/ remove it from its place that sets an intangible shadow above my lips/ then whenever it can be managed through coincidence &ndash like waiting on a corner for a light to change &ndash a stranger in proximity will demand an explanation from me. Do I have a God/ Who is my God/ Did this thing hurt me/ Why have I done this thing/ Why have I put this mark on myself? There are other sights of identification that disturb. If it is summer and I am wearing a sleeveless top/ if they are close and staring to begin with/ they will find those other marks on my arm. Their eyes in the sun will become aware of the raised skin that changes the texture of my left arm into a syncopation of six composition bars. For these lines/ scars/ compositional angles that have no name in the language I cannot speak deeply enough to render explanations to strangers in proximity and brief encounter/ for these inexplicable alterations of my otherwise familiar body/ I will be stared at and then&hellipscolded. No matter how old I am when I return. I will be treated to the admonishing tisks, finger shakes, and tongue clicks directed at a child who has done something foolish and dangerous. Sometimes, when the stranger and I are having tea accidentally or sharing a park bench unexpectedly, once when standing in the sand on the beach looking at the prices for day boat rentals, a stranger will take my hand. They will tell me they know who I am and it is okay to tell them the truth. I do not have to lie they will say/ that I am American. I do not need to be ashamed that I have changed they will say/ since I left home/ but they tell me/ I should neither hide that I am an African Arab. And then I will tell them that they have mistaken me. That I have no known lineage. That it is possible I am an African Arab. But that it cannot be known. There is no lineage to testify to anything/ there is not/ an inheritance that can be authenticated and for this reason it is impossible for me to be the woman they mistake me as/ this expatriate returned in disguise.

Instead I am this coincidence of expressions twirling in the tide. I am the nomad&rsquos hunger made in a sea route of trades/ erasures/ substitutions/ cut palms/ restrung beads over cotton threads/ sugar thorns/ pressed into wet clay.

There are those afternoons on the damp warm exhalation of the Mediterranean summer where the sweat of my skin and the movement of a salty penetrating heat will run into eachother until I am the body of the sea which walks across land without miracle. There are these times when it will not matter if I hide my arms, remove my piercing and keep my legs covered despite the heat. Suffocating and defiant there are these brief acts of display with memories of an African grandmother no one will recall the name of or the tribe or the date of her seizure. Still her thick knotted hair, which threatens to untame my own trained submissions to the form of these familiar shorelines/ this hair will emerge and speak over my silence. On the streets of Tunis my unleashed Afro redirects the pick up lines of young suitors. I am no longer a gazelle/ not their would be habiba. I am the remnants of an imported negro. Following me now down the avenues are the demands of a reconciliation I cannot make. Am I what/ Francais/ Allemagne/ Portugese/ Antilles/ Brazillia? I am no longer the expatriate returned. No more the member of the crowd/ with this/ odd halo frightening away my/ sameness. Am I what/ this body crowned by hair that breathes openly as a golden trumpet of foreign affection and transplanted origins? Am I serious? Afros a little boy in Brooklyn, New York once told me, went out of style in 1972. But my hair is still the perfect negro/or/niggah/fied identification sign of my soul. It does not therefore observe Western Standard time, only the need at times escape the clips, cremes, dressings, braids and twists that would keep it from claiming its place under the setting hours of daybreak and the succulent moistures of early evening/ pull the tangle even further/ toward an occupation of expansion and billowing grandeur. The North American Afro. I told the boy in Brooklyn that when Black americans remembered to stop frying open their scalps and turned over to afros, the words &lsquoBlack is beautiful baby beautiful were born and self love never goes out of style. Walking by a group of giggling fifteen year olds in the petite ville de La Marsa just north of Tunis, however I am struck/ by how difficult it is to hold onto the realization beauty/ when the memory of birth and origin and rooted yeah negritude goes hollow in silence and erasure/obsolete even here where the archaeology of my existence begins. This is my hair I tell my brother when he asks me why I subject myself to these ongoing traumas of non identification. This is what my hair does when it is allowed to be what it is. Without process, request or effort, this is what it does. This is the extension of my natural being.

I return to a small vessel of departure. To another home/ a narrow entry near a cluttered cave of books and papyrus. I look for reflections there where they are still and certain. Where time forgets no image and possibility holds me firmly in the hushed remembrance a body even as it is now without name or home.

I send cards back to the woman in Rabat who calls herself my mother and feeds me when I am under her protection. I send letters back to gestures and exquisite realizations that begin in one center and reveal themselves to me anymore. I watch the threads of my lineage unravel in this scalp of opened memoryand being without tongues to speak the truth that no longer makes any sense. Tomorrow when I leave again to the journey in the hopes that Poseidon will punish me no more and Yemanya will part the slight green silks of her endless robes to grant me passage I will tell something new when the familiar mouths call to me on the avenues behind the walls of port. I will tell them I am the androgyny of the sea come to reclaim the forgotten eruption of beauty in the soft black clay of beginnings and journeys that seek no end. I will remind them I am niggah Odysseus and I have returned home to say again only/ that beauty is the entry of being despite the lies we have heard to the contrary.

I will tell them that adornment is but a craft of nature/ is its defiance and inscription/ the virtues of the unbound/ and that the process of nature is heretical and unstylish only where the vice of arrogance and betrayed translations have taken hold. I will shake my mane and stalk the paths ahead shouting proudly a list of divine acts I have committed in the name of flesh and graceful hunger. And when they ask my name I will say only I am this radiance of memory as that which remains despite erasure/ besides transfiguration and against denial. I am that which remains to speak over silence in the journeys of flesh and souls hidden in a shame I will forever refuse.


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