An installment in our weekly series, The By and By.
Soon I understood that when South Africans asked what I thought about South Africa, they expected me to make big-picture generalizations about my country and theirs, but I was focused on literal scenery—birds and trees and flowers—that did not much matter to them.
A Points South story from the Summer 2018 issueOne summer during an electrical storm, Mama Rubie turned off the power in her house and we huddled on the stairs until the weather calmed. One day this will be yours, she said, as we sat on the staircase. I imagine your father will give this house to you when I’m gone. I nodded although I didn’t understand.
A Southern Journey from the Summer 2018 issue.
I’d often thought of going to Cuba, but in the summer of 2017 I was nearing the end of the first draft of the novel, and it became clear I needed to visit the island for research, to see Nicaro for myself. And, though I told no one, I began to dream of the events that might lead to my family’s reconciliation, a fantasy in which I was the hero.
It was around this time that my father and his friends started a gang. They were all blanquitos from Condado: Yasser Benítez, Claudio LaRocca, Tommy Del Valle, and Juanma Thon. On the night their gang became official, they downed a bottle of Bacardi, then smashed it into pieces and used a shard to cut their arms. Then they rubbed their wounds together, so the blood passed from arm to arm.
Sketches of Tennessee.
From the time I was about ten years old, my mother and I put in our time by visiting with Irma for an hour or two every day. We’d bring her the Enquirer and Star and try to cheer her up by pointing out the most salacious stories and the home remedies for arthritis. Sometimes she’d enlist me to rub her back, and I’d perch monkeylike on the back of the couch, kneading her knots as she growled, “I could hug yer neck fer that.”
A short story from our Summer 2017 issue.
I opened my eyes and looked at the patient. Her eyes were open, too, wide and lively against the tautness of her face. They were the same eyes of my aunt Lydia who had once pulled up her shirt to show me the large birthmark on her stomach—darker than her skin, shapeless like a stain. She looked at me, and I looked at her, and as the people around us prayed for her recovery, she smiled at me.
On the morning of August 28, 2005, I evacuated New Orleans with my parents, less than twenty-four hours before Katrina came ashore, driving fourteen-foot storm tides ahead of it. We spent hours on the five-mile bridge over Lake Pontchartrain, watching Lawrence of Arabia in the back seat while waterspouts spun beyond our windows. When I woke up the next morning in Nashville, a newscaster in a dry poncho was standing near the Superdome; she talked only of wind damage.
A Southern Journey from the Summer 2017 issue.
I was feeling alright. The highway was working its gritty, illusory magic. This is all yours, I thought: freedom, control, motion. I was also feeling the salve of a change of scenery: broken-up sidewalks for marsh grass, cramped narrow shotguns for fishing camps. Tangles of electrical and phone wires for the wide-open Gulf-reaching sky. But it didn’t take long, maybe a half hour in, before I was again ambushed by G’s death.
Listen to Rev. Sekou’s powerful album Times Like These, paired with an essay by the activist artist.
Mama taught me to read when I was four years old. It was my job to read the mail for Miss Roberta, who could not read but carried a wisdom that I am yet to adequately conceive of. She dipped snuff, walked with a cane, and was indeed royalty, and she loved me. Zent, Arkansas, was a kingdom of dignity. Folks like Miss Roberta tore off the best pieces of themselves and sowed it into a quilt that shields me to this day. If it was not for that covering, I would have long been consumed by rage.