But she would have to hurry to pay her respects secretly and gather strength from the loved ones who were no more. Her grandchild Eudora had no sympathy for any who'd come before and had managed to find some joy in the throes of bondage, those who'd thrown away the rigid color codes and property laws to find warmth, love, passions too rich to suppress, so fertile that Eudora owed her own life to them. Perhaps it was this debt of her very being with which she was yet uncomfortable that led Eudora to reject all Betty held so close. Don't for the life of me know why. What for? She 'most white, ain't she? How could all of Africa get so deep in her granddaughter when Mayfield blood flowed just as readily in her veins? How's all this come to be? And if she not all niggah, why not rejoice in that? Eudora's cheeks had known the back of Betty's hand more than once for voicing her defiantly blasphemous thoughts. No matter. Both women were deeply rooted, like Carolinian cypress wondering and massive, to views of themselves that knew no connections other than the words Grandma and chile.
Slipping quietly from the house, Betty hid in her bosom her precious album of daguerreotypes and photographs from wandering carnival sideshow artists. She'd searched futilely for her apron pockets, but she wasn't in an apron. She wasn't going to be cooking in her very deliberate way in her own home anymore. She kept forgetting her future, but refused to forget her ancestors.
Betty swept by purple and white globe amaranth that clung to her skirts like weeping toddlers. She pushed further into the wooded areas she knew to be the resting places of her mother and sisters. Of course she didn't know for sure which of the mounds overgrown with wildflowers and weeds. Were wildflowers weeds? Betty'd asked herself that a thousand times. Was she a wildflower? Was her mother wild? Was she beauteous? Was she full of life like good soil, or empty like dirt? There's a difference tween soil and dirt. There's a difference from coming from nothing and coming from something simply not known. Betty's mother, Monday, was not known to her but she'd clearly come from something. It wasn't true that there was an emptiness. She felt her mother in the fiddle's melody, in the dried gourds ancient women shook until the spirits of somebody from somewhere drove secret sounds from mouths twisted in foreign shapes, squealing and growling a birth of a soul that had no choice but shout. Then those shouts corralled the bent women and young heifers into a circle that shuffled along, weaving something like Spanish moss around some unseen skeleton the size of God's toe. Or she saw her mother possessed under the arch of God's foot, beating the air with her hips, the soles of her feet afire with the rhythm of the forbidden. Betty knew about the forbidden, therefore she knew her mother. She'd just picked a grave site and called to her. Ma...
When the azaleas or camellias rose up from the earth for the white folks to pick and pretend love of nature, Betty'd covered her mother's grave with flower petals and danced the dance of longing that became sated only when her body fell, fingers digging for arms to hold her, digging for a womb to bury her tears. But the grasses cut her face, left her limbs grimy with wishing for the impossible. Yet Betty made that real enough to hold sacred, to hold as her beginnings. She sang her mother. Betty let her fine brown hair hang from her head like a mantle of audacity.
She sang her mother when leading other blacker ones through the marshes cross to a safe boat on the way from where she belonged. The darker ones weren't left suspect of their very being. Least that's what Betty imagined. She had to imagine a lot because once she was free and then she was not. Once she wore satin and the finest lace, then she washed someone else's. Betty tried to imagine a reasonable world. She found that harmony by the graves she chose to call her family. She was entitled at least to that. All the others had kin, some that died or were sold away, but they existed somewhere. They knew the smell of magnolias and dogwood blossoms. They knew the songs she sang with them to calm the spirits, to move God's foot in time to the gourds, especially the fancy dangerous ones that woke glory in the tiniest child, the oldest mammy, the fastest picker, chopper, all succumbed to the glory gourds in their gleaming colorful beads, their white feathers and blessed frog's legs. Betty let the music make her belong. She knew her mother. She knew her God danced.
Excerpted from Some Sing, Some Cry by Ntozake Shange and Ifa Bayeza. Copyright © 2010 by Ntozake Shange and Ifa Bayeza. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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