In this beast. In this gray and glum beast of a city in the sky, on the mountains above the center of the earth. the day is half, and the night is always half, in perfect symmetry.
People workaday work. They push, pile, type, iron, clean, build, teach, cure. And when the moon disc rises on a Saturday, women and men in front of mirrors dress in clean pressed cotton and spit-shined shoes, the bigger earrings, the more expensive perfume. Under the Saturday moon, we all want to be our free-est selves, the most impeccable, the most reborn and the happiest dancers.
Doormen roll up the shutters and start charging covers. DJs check speakers and try out their beats. Their best beats, their back home pacific songs.
The cavernous two-story hall begins to fill, as do other halls in the district.
And everyone is Black here. Not everyone; “like everyone.” Far away from the Black parts of the country that have refreshing names that sound like oceans and breeze but I think might be hot. Where people go whale-watching and listen to marimba music that sounds nostalgic and pulsating, now that I listen to it here – not like the animated metallic Congo guitar of my first Caribbean home, not like the Soukous of the dusty streets and painted speakers of the north coast that I know. What else don’t I know?
Up here. In the nevera, where tomatoes don’t rot in your kitchen because it’s never hot. Where we wear jackets every day to live shoulder to shoulder with the seeping mountain fog. In the Athens of Latin America. In the spine vertebrae of the Andes. Everyone dances to recall who they are in heart and being.
Between rum and marimba I think of my Midwestern home.
I think of it too, sober in the mornings, when I come to, and remember that we exist.
People there are singing songs again. Songs for loss and songs that help you scream, and scream louder, when people cover ears with hands and refuse to see. Songs because Selma is on fire again. Songs because Selma’s always been on fire.
In class, we watched a video of every slave ship since the start, animated as a dot, a benign little dot carrying, carrying everything. We look up at the map of the Americas.
“Which part of the Americas do you think will get the most ships? Raise your hand.”
“The U.S.” says a boy. 18. Political science.
We look as the dots start moving. First one by one. Then some more. At its peak, we see dots running, open faucets of human devastation flowing into the Americas, but the biggest flows aren’t into the US, to that spot that I think might be Charleston with its white spire, but to the archipelago of his own country. To Brazil. To the blue waters of the Caribbean. To Port-au-Prince. To this Andean peak with two oceans and green pastures and rain forests.
I don’t say a thing, not anything.
Do you see?
Do you promise me you’ll look?
In the Galerias dance halls. At your parents. At what’s said and what isn’t.
And that you’ll be gentle with what you find?
I daydream, I do. And the girl at the next table, she’s on the bus with me, the 17 bus route on a humid Cincinnati evening, getting on outside the courthouse with me. I’m sure. We ride the fresh heights of Mount Airy and its crickets. This night of marimba feeds, wakes, rests my homesickness and my finite smallness.
That joyful Blackness exists on our continent today at all. At all, after all. That it didn’t just leave shore and die. That it’s lived to delight in itself, self-aware and purposeful, to love its children, to look sharp on a Saturday night, to dance to marimbas below a cool moon-lit sky, is a miracle of decisive magnitude. Would I have been broken, just on day one?
And as I take another sip of ice and rum the marimba track changes, and I will for Blackness, joyous, present, not to survive, but to thrive. At ease. At ease.
And I will for us, to unobstruct.