Long before slaving blistered over seared plantations, my ancestors were the bedrock to humanity. They engaged tribal wars for the glory of deities. They hunted beasts without burden. My ancestors sang of adrenalized night skies and danced to the rhythmic drumming of oiled skins and Serengeti cries. They worked for each other reigning unabated autonomy as ancient bonfires blazed the fear of old-world shetani from the confines of their spiritual journey … and I exist in them.
Shipped like cargo to the new world, their southern songs reaped the autumn blood moon’s harvest; as property toiling on property itself, they sang of sweat and love and God above. The work ethic brought shadowing their independence secretly sought – innate as the southern Louisiana heat – seared a hellish waste of cotton fields they left … and they exist in me.
The past scratches old prison walls. The anger bleeds into today’s youth; the odium buried in shallow graves is unearthed as troubling cries – never forgotten were the auctions, the separations, the bloodlines lost. Blood born and blood gone; filial blood remembered as lucid dreams, as whip-lashed screams, reignited with vivid déjà vu moments when the mind clicks and the mouth mouths “Why them, why me?”
I am a product of several generations’ paranoia and exploitation. Not a day goes by when I don’t stream the voices of their haunt. Watching the trains wind through my neighborhood, I see their faces; and I wonder what I would’ve been and where I go from here.
In this fabric of space-time and reality, festering in a simple niche of low-class dope addicts, I was born in a back-alley tenement covered in chimney grease and remnants of dirty money crime. I was conceived in a parked car exhausted in a gutted parking garage where sunlight seeps only as far as sanity permits, found in a hell bound underworld of impatient drug deals and prostituting decadence. Here in Detroit’s lower east side lies an exploited black community galvanized from old-world bondage and branded into hardcore filaments of new-age gangsters.
Where their lives filtered decay, my life began with instant breath. A stream of visions was grasped as I gasped in the inbred prejudices and ignorance. I was bred into a society of social and economic marginality – curbed as hopeless urban wanderers – subjected to police derision and fed the scraps of low-class education. I was asphyxiated by its dense moral depression.
Felled from grace, how was I to achieve socio-political freedom as a cog, as a detriment, in the mechanism of a demographic wasteland? When the drums no longer beat an anthem to my existence, and my emotions turn cold and stale on winter mornings, in whom would I find asylum? I was caught in a perennial manifestation of urban crisis. I was conditioned for failure and the world knew it.
I grew up around drugs. I was conditioned as a little boy to catch the 8 a.m. bus every morning to sell. The graffiti on the sides suggested sex-themed gang life and emblems of rustbelt values, but the true representation was that of drug smuggling and child-soldiering. I was one of those child soldiers running errands on command from community-distinguished thugs.
I sported a Thomas the Train backpack to haul my cargo in. My mind remained melancholy sale after sale.
My old and wrinkled purchasers archived silent stories of oppression; though in their bloodshot eyes were painted of something injustice could never take: Ancestors danced across the slits of their eyes – visions more profound than their steadfast chemical romance. Within their eyes, fires licked the ancient night skies as plumes of embers spoke of celestial tales enriching the wisdom and spurring the dreams of long-ago elders. But their tales of tribal incubus bred a salient pain. Stolen and shipped like spoiled meat across a rocky ocean, maltreated and mocked like spurned animals, and auctioned to a new world of screeching bids and humid, scared nights formed a lump in their drug stained throats. The little warriors once naked and free were chained and bled, foreshadowing the fate of my community. But the drugs numbed that pain. I saw it in their eyes.
I stood at the bus stop on a Tuesday morning. It was spring.
My backpack stuffed with dope and the tears in my eyes juxtaposed the University across the street, a world away.
I watched the college kids talk exuberantly with words I’ve never heard and smiles I’ve never seen. The music of their pace taught me new insights to my existence; but my existence was battered and ignorant. My existence was the resin caked in my mother’s crack pipe – a treacherous existence scorched with demons across dark plains of lonely nights.
The ghosts I saw across the road were exactly that: phantoms across a veil, a veil I was never expected to cross. And I never knew why.
My drug peddling and incessant mental depression left me shaking at night. I listened to the hellish wailings from my withdrawaling mother. Her vessel was beyond repair, like her drug dependency reaching the end of a long guitar solo – a counterpoint of drums and notes concluding a premature culmination. The beat of her heart countered the wail of her pain, only to end in death. And I would be left to myself.
At the climax of my pain and ineptitude, I met Joey Galileo.
Standing on the corner that spring morning I met Joey Galileo, a half Italian, half black college kid always wearing a leather jacket, kindling a fire in his eyes far more insightful than any of my drawn-out customers. He looked so young, but the crow’s feet adjacent to his eyes subtracted from his seemingly inexperienced profile.
Numbed and left for the wolves, I met him. He walked across the street and stood next to me.
The first time he looked at me, a small and feeble drug smuggling inner city boy, my heart skipped beat and I farted loudly. He cracked a smile and laughed openly, which startled me. He looked again in my direction and I looked up at his eyes and swore I saw in its reflection the image of Jesus Christ scourged at the pillar – I was so broken. But looking into his eyes I found patience and ease – like freedom. My eyes watered and I looked down breathing heavily. Holding a fresh batch of newly minted chemicals, I threw my bag around to my chest and clutched it like clutching my sins refusing to let go.
I looked into the street. I watched a used syringe float in the dirty water towards the sewer drain.
My life was auctioned to the devil, and the drugs felt infinitely heavier in my arms. Memories of broken needles and bruised tracks, and my mother convulsing and crying in dirty bedrooms, and the smell of rot haunted my existence. Looking into the eyes of this beautiful soul, and his cocked head and confused squint, broke my spine. My mind snapped.
“The killer in me is the killer in you,” I thought, and with an unconscious decision I stepped into the street before a fast approaching city bus, the same bus I waited for every morning. With a defeated and capricious decision, and the life of mental slavery burning my mind, and all the souls lost – friends lost – my momentum pushed me into the contours of my fate.
The smells of burning rubber confused me as a hand jerked my backpack and self back onto the sidewalk pavement. The force of the redirection of momentum caused the pack to split and the dope to litter the pavement. Crying, I looked about bewildered, concussed, and half crazed, and I found myself face to face with the hurt I’ve experienced my entire life – the dope split and mocking my youth. I looked up and glimpsed the leathered college kid frantically kicking the drugs into the sewer. I felt so good. Watching him pick these little baggies into armfuls and rushing to the sewer was like watching a child search for eggs on an Easter hunt. His sweat sprinkled my forehead as he grabbed my upper-arms and held me to his chest. I wept.
My head was bleeding, but his hugs and the influx of breath pumped from his chest onto mine overshadowed any pain that I felt in that moment, as his love was unlike anything I have ever deserved. I didn’t know of any other embrace in my life of that caliber of protectiveness than his hysteria on that drug-ridden pavement.
My life flashed before my eyes; but it wasn’t of my past. It was of an ancient life, a static moment untouched by the cosmos defying all reason and reality, with men and women clothed in lion skins and plantation rags standing formidably looking at me in the arms of this stranger. They each brought out their beating incandescent hearts and placed them into the soil. Looking at me with universal expressions of love they faded away. Their hearts beat in the ground and sprouted.
I awoke from my vision suddenly feeling my heart beating like a supernova, and I found myself looking into the stranger’s beautiful eyes. He looked at me lovingly and spoke a sentence so delicate that I wept suddenly and laughed sweetly into his arms: “I’ll take care of you now.”