Excerpt from We Are a Haunting by Tyriek Rashawn White, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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We Are a Haunting

A Novel

by Tyriek Rashawn White

We Are a Haunting by Tyriek Rashawn White X
We Are a Haunting by Tyriek Rashawn White
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  • Published:
    Apr 2023, 272 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Valerie Morales
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About this Book

Print Excerpt

To what end does one conjure the ghost of slavery, if not to incite the hopes of transforming the present?


One day, I fell backward into a scar in the world, a fall sudden and lasting. A portal took me whole, sent me traveling across a pulse that could split me down the middle. I tumbled out the other side, a terrible moaning like a hive of meat bees.

I had been pedaling down the block on an unkempt length of road on Flatlands, barreling ahead, ripping along twisted storefronts and storage lots. the smell of hot metal filled the air, lodged itself at the back of my tongue and burned as I tried to catch my breath. I had reached the Belt Parkway and the creek widened, blooming into the bay and into the Atlantic, the dark basin, murky with trash and wildlife, boats twinkling in the distance. the water emptied into a reservoir where it was drained and then treated. there were heating and waste stations, chimneys that gagged out heavy smoke and stray embers into the clouds over the land. A bridge reached over the harbor, kept Far Rockaway at bay, the lights from ferries and small boats parting the darkness. In the distance, I saw the shape of Boulevard through the fog, apartments stacked atop one another, our city in the clouds, embassies of time, crashing dimensions and histories, the cursed, the lost, the all-seeing. No different from Ingersoll Houses, or Marcus Garvey, or Tilden; Chelsea, or Pink Houses, or Brevoort; Farragut, or Walt Whitman Houses, or Baisley Park. No different from Saint Nicholas, or Queensbridge, or Mott Haven.

You died without telling me what it was like to be in two places, without designation, without home, no matter how hard you try to make one for yourself.

When I reach out for you, tipping over, into a slippage of time. I feel my body grow open, my hand wrapped in another. this is Nana, blood rushing to her fingers, her hands the color of pink salt. We are in the doorjamb of a temporary house. I see a shoal of folk near the center of a settlement farther down, along the gray water. I follow the sound. A dirt path like a welt stretching toward the sea. I slip through the cattails and the buttonbushes, under the river birches and needles of the bald cypress. the smell stays with me, on my hands and in my hair. the smoke above the huts on the beach carried spiced meats and greens. through the bramble, the band of sweet pepperbush, I see the shore open up, the ocean %at. Cloudy. the person standing in front of me didn't look like anyone I knew but felt like you. A ways down the beach I heard a crowd; the smell of fresh meats and spices from an open market. High tide sounds like a stampede. My feet are sinking into the loam, the wet paste of sand and dirt. I am barefoot in the duckweed. You see me, the same expression in my dreams, a sad smile.

"Oh, baby, when did it hurt so bad?" you ask. Not why does it hurt, or where does it hurt, but when? I feel like all the times, the time before me, an ache that was precolonial, a Paleolithic expanse of sorrow. You are Cybele carved in Anatolian stone.

"You were just gone one morning," I tell you. "And I know it sounds like I blame you but I don't."

"Yes, you do."

"that's not fair."

"Are love and sacrifice not dark synonyms for one another?"

I turn away, take a few steps up the beach. When all felt lost, being seen through your grief, really seen, was all that mattered. What if, I always thought, if I never met you, never felt you gone because you weren't there in the first place. In my mind, it was like being without something from birth— sight or a limb—and how it compared to having the thing, losing it, then living the rest of a life without it. Inevitably, the thing dries and crumbles like sand and one is forced to dream away the incessant drum of missing, make themselves anew. When you died, Pop told me I'd only think of life in two phases: life with you and life without you. Said when he lost his own mother, folk could only see him as an unfinished body, what was sundered, removed. Never how he created a new whole, had to reimagine what those parts left could amount to. After he'd finished his stories, I would try to drift to sleep without thinking about the old him, the sawed-through flesh and muscle, the hacking of bone, the dark blood that painted the emergency room. I tried to imagine anything else besides the yellows and browns his body leaked, the pus, the clotting of fluid, a cursive written on his skin and across smocks and sinking through sheets. If I never knew you, perhaps I'd still be who I was before you died. I would never do the hard work of looking beyond myself to see others suffering along with me, that the world and the human condition were threaded around the work of community, our care for one another. I feel my gut stir when I look back at you—remorse. I want you to know the new ways I could love, which I had learned for better or for worse.

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Excerpted from We Are a Haunting by Tyriek Rashawn White. Copyright © 2023 by Tyriek Rashawn White. Excerpted by permission of Astra House. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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