I know my paternal grandmother in very vague terms. Mary Wright is her maiden name and the only one I know, though she married twice. Mississippi schoolhouse teacher, mother of five, grandmother of ten, great-grandmother of seven. She has gold teeth in her mouth so when she smiles, which is always on her own terms never on command, it’s like the sun is saying hello to you.
We used to visit her in Florida when I was younger but my memory is so faded that all I recall are colors. I have no idea how or where the time will come for us to know and learn each other, but she seems to me a strong woman. A woman who used to be vibrant and loud about her grievances. I wish I had more time to be loud with her, for I have been told to be quiet far too many times to count. I think we might laugh alike, bigger than either of our bodies can hold so it comes bursting from us like lava. She probably used to look forward to big events like I did so that she could scream her lungs out and talk sounding like an old, wise woman for the next week.
I wish I knew more of her Mississippi roots, more about how her fingers bled o’er the land of white men. How she yanked her little boy, my daddy, up out them blood-stained fields when the overseer looked too pleased to see his black head bobbing amongst clouds of white cotton. Or the places where her back aches when her chest is almost at the floor. She was a sharecropper so I’m told, though her wiry, delicate hands tell no stories of torture. They are light and delicate, old bones poking through her creased skin.
What are the bruises that have melted into her darkened skin and the cuts whose scabs have peeled and blown away in the wind? How many of her tears have fallen and fed the flowers and trees around me? I wonder if we share any wounds, or if any of them came about in the same manner. Women’s scars tend to be prettier because they come with darker stories, and I hope hers have healed wholly. I’d like to sit on the ground with her, legs outstretched, and tell her about the time I fell at the end of a relay race and busted my knee up on the concrete but still won. Or the time I scraped my elbow climbing an old metal fence. And of the cuts that didn’t leave bruises, but gaping holes in my chest. Maybe she could plant her long fingers in there and sew together the tethered pieces of flesh.
Maybe she could sing me a song, then we could sing together. There’d be no one around to complain about our off pitches, or lyrics broken up by choking sobs, or heavy-footed dancing. We’d sing our songs. The ones that get me through the darker days often shrouding me in a cloak of sorrow and pain that’s lonely but comfortable, and the ones that she hummed to herself walking a dirt path to the one-room schoolhouse where she taught my daddy who he is and who I would be.
Black woman beat down by a relentless Mississippi sun, back bending but never broken, legs shaking but trudging on. I hope she comes to me in my dreams and picks me up when my hands are torn, my back aches and my chest is on the ground, and whispers to me about who she is, who I am.
In response to “A Feast of Whispers” by Jaki Shelton Green
Artwork by Paul Lewin
© Ama Akoto (2018)