Imagine this: It is night. Or day. Birds are chirping. The grass is green, and there is the unmistakable scent of something sweet in the air, perhaps coral honeysuckle – the fragrance goes through your nostrils and into your brain like something visible; it is that heady, or, maybe it is large blossoms of magnolia perfuming the innocent winds swirling the space around your every step. The scent smells like orange.
You’re a person of color. That much is certain. Let’s say black. You’re a black person. Male, female, it doesn’t matter. You’re young. You’re old. Something in between, perhaps. Middle-age? What is that anyway, middle-age? You’re old enough already to know the days slip by like incandescent light, full of heat and energy that is not always generated into what you want. You’re not invisible, that much you can say, though some might act like you can’t be seen. Then there are others who might say – no they wouldn’t say that, they wouldn’t go there – that is all they see.
Let’s go back a day, perhaps more. A lot more. But not too long, really, when you think about memory. And time.
Another day. A hot day. This day the sky is cloudless, the sun now moves toward the horizon, just above the tree line, no not tree line, there are no mountains here, but at the tops of the trees. The trees are far off; not close to the fields as that would make hiding easier if you could run, but your body aches, and the muscles in your lower back and shins and ankles and knees all hurt, and you can’t run, though you think about it all of the time.
Never miss a local story.
You think if you could get to the trees, you could hide, or, if you could get there before getting shot, you would keep running, 20, 30 miles a day if you needed.
But there’s your family. They are working in the fields of tobacco or cotton, and the thought of leaving them feels like a knife in the stomach, a boot to the head, a loss of indispensable magnitude, so you stay put, bend your back, pull the cotton, endure the cuts, the sweat, the fear, the agony of confinement, the limitations of everything. Plus there is this. You will not name this. Not yet. It isn’t time. But you see it. Across the way. All twisted up and tightened like some kind of crimped piece of sculpture, dangling limply, blowing occasionally in the breeze.
Let’s begin again.
In order to understand the present you have to understand the past. Fast forward a hundred years, after thousands have died during Reconstruction, Jim Crow, and post Jim Crow. The instrument hasn’t changed, but now it is sent to someone through the postal mail. It is left on statues. It’s draped outside of car windows. Even after civil rights reform, twisted nylon, hemp, jute, cotton, linen shows up in places where you least expect it. It seems it will never end. The intimidation. The threats. The ignorance. Will we still be talking about this in 50 years? In a hundred?
So let’s try to imagine. There’s that word again. Back to the start. This man or woman. Black woman is walking. It is night. We have decided that. It isn’t day. The books in her backpack swivel a bit and the light from some far-off point hits her in the eye.
She is thinking about her grandmother who is sick. And the telephone call that she just had with her mother. She is thinking, too, of a boy, a young man, in her history class. She wishes he would call her. This woman is walking along the sidewalk, among the decorous buildings; it is late, very late. She is hungry, ravenous, because she hasn’t eaten in over eight hours. She is sleepy. She has been studying well into the night for days on end. Her head is down. Now it is up, here beneath the blue-gray sky, here, among the swallows and bats, the looping and rollercoaster movements of flying insects, the occasional hooting of owls, here in the semi-lit night, not radiated by any moon that conveniently lies eclipsed behind the church, as though shrouded in fog, and she sees it, but her mind doesn’t register it at first.
She can’t process what she is seeing because it is too stark, too unfathomable, and too painful.
She starts to run. She is alone. She is afraid. Even so, she stops cold, and stares. The noose is hanging on a tree limb, dangling limply but forcefully as if it hung from her neck. She looks around to see if anyone else sees it, but there is no one else around. Now she does run, again. She wants to scream, but nothing comes out. It is primal. Her scream falls silently upon the night.
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