May 10, 2020

She didn't read books so she didn't know that she was the world and the heavens boiled down to a drop.


Their Eyes Were Watching God
By Zora Neale Hurston

"There are years that ask questions and years that answer."
(p. 21)
this is a year that answers, for me.

"Janie stood where he left her for unmeasured time and thought. She stood there until something fell off the shelf inside her. Then she went inside there to see what it was. It was her image of Jody tumbled down and shattered. But looking at it she saw that it never was the flesh and blood figure of her dreams. Just something she had grabbed up to drape her dreams over. In a way she turned her back upon the image where it lay and looked further. She had no more blossomy openings dusting pollen over her man, neither any glistening young fruit where the petals used to be. She found that she had a host of thoughts she had never expressed to him, and numerous emotions she had never let Jody know about. Things packed up and put away in parts of her heart where he could never find them. She was saving up feelings for some man she had never seen. She had an inside and an outside now and suddenly she knew how not to mix them."
(p. 72)

"She didn't read books so she didn't know that she was the world and the heavens boiled down to a drop."
(p. 76)

"Years ago, she had told her girl self to wait for her in the looking glass. It had been a long time since she had remembered. Perhaps she'd better look. She went over to the dresser and looked hard at her skin and features. The young girl was gone, but a handsome woman had taken her place. She tore off the kerchief from her head and let down her plentiful hair. The weight, the length, the glory was there."
(p. 87)

May 09, 2020

She was seeking confirmation of the voice and vision, and everywhere she found and acknowledged answers.

photo of my library copy


Their Eyes Were Watching God
By Zora Neale Hurston

the language and imagery >>>>

"It was a spring afternoon in West Florida. Janie had spent most of the day under a blossoming pear tree in the backyard. She had been spending every minute that she could steal from her chores under that tree for the last three days. That was to say, ever since the first tiny bloom had opened. It had called her to come and gaze on a mystery. From barren brown stems to glistening leaf-buds; from the leaf-buds to snowy virginity of bloom. It stirred her tremendously. How? Why? It was like a flute song forgotten in another existence and remembered again. What? How? Why? This singing she had heard that had nothing to do with her ears. The rose of the world was breathing out smell. It followed her through all her waking moments and caressed her in her sleep. It connected itself with other vaguely felt matters that had struck her outside observation and buried themselves in her flesh. Now they emerged and quested about her consciousness.
She was stretched on her back beneath the pear tree soaking in the alto chant of the visiting bees, the gold of the sun and the panting breath of the breeze when the inaudible voice of it all came to her. She saw a dust-bearing bee sink into the sanctum of a bloom; the thousand sister-calyxes arch to meet the love embrace and the ecstatic shiver of the tree from root to tiniest branch creaming in every blossom and frothing with delight. So this was a marriage! She had been summoned to behold a revelation. Then Janie felt a pain remorseless sweet that left her limp and languid.
After a while she got up from where she was and went over the little garden field entire. She was seeking confirmation of the voice and vision, and everywhere she found and acknowledged answers. A personal answer for all other creations except herself. She felt an answer seeking her, but where? When? How? She found herself at the kitchen door and stumbled inside. In the air of the room were flies tumbling and singing, marrying and giving in marriage. When she reached the narrow hallway she was reminded that her grandmother was home with a sick headache. She was lying across the bed asleep so Janie tipped on out of the front door. Oh to be a pear tree—any tree in bloom! With kissing bees singing of the beginning of the world! She was sixteen. She had glossy leaves and bursting buds and she wanted to struggle with life but it seemed to elude her. Where were the singing bees for her? Nothing on the place nor in grandma's house answered her. She searched as much of the world as she could from the top of the front steps and then went on down to the front gate and leaned over to gaze up and down the road. Looking, waiting, breathing short with impatience.
Waiting for the world to be made.
(pp. 10-11)

May 03, 2020

When I think 'bout dat time I try not to cry no mo'. My eyes dey stop crying' but de tears runnee down inside me all de time.

Barracoon: The Story of the Last "Black Cargo"
By Zora Neale Hurston



"When I see de king dead, I try to 'scape from de soldiers. I try to make it to de bush, but all soldiers overtake me beef' I git dere. O Lor', Lor'! When I think 'bout dat time I try not to cry no mo'. My eyes dey stop crying' but de tears runnee down inside me all de time. When de men pull me wit dem I call my mama name. I doan know where she is. I no see none my family. I doan know where day is. I beg de men to let me go findee my folks. De soldiers say hey got no ears for crying'. De king of Dahomey come to hunt slave to sell. So dey tie me in de line wid de rest."
(p. 47)

"Kossula was no longer on the porch with me. He was squatting about that fire in Dahomey. His face was twitching in abysmal pain. It was a horror mask. He had forgotten that I was there. He was thinking aloud and gazing into the dead faces in the smoke. His agony was so acute that he became inarticulate. He never noticed my preparation to leave him. 
So I slipped away as quietly as possible and left him with his smoke pictures."
(p. 49)

"It was on a hot Saturday afternoon that I came to photograph Kossula.
"I'm glad you takee my picture. I want see how I look. Once long time ago somebody come take my picture but they never give me one. You give me one."
I agreed. He went inside to dress for the picture. When he came out I saw that he had put on his best suit but removed his shoes. "I want to look lak I in Affica, 'cause dat where I want to be," he explained.
He also asked to be photographed in the cemetery among the graves of his family."
(p. 89)

May 02, 2020

Life, inexhaustible, goes on. And we do too. Carrying our wounds and our medicines as we go.

Barracoon: The Story of the Last "Black Cargo"
By Zora Neale Hurston



Cudjo (Kossula) Lewis has been seared into memory. His homesickness: unforgettable.

Barracoon is the first of four assigned reads in a Zora Neale Hurston reading group I joined earlier this year. (Hosted by the Center for Fiction.) The first of hers for me, ever. We met to discuss it just before the pandemic forced us to quarantine, and I walked away enriched by the honest and open conversation between our group of nine.

Cudjo's retelling of his experience is painful, enlightened, soft, deep. 

My understanding of African history, American history and the transatlantic slave trade has widened. My sense of origin has shifted too, his account serving as a tiny window into the experience of that of my ancestors. 

I've wanted to write about this book since February, and that I can't wholly describe its import and impact has held me back. Alice Walker says it beautifully.

From Alice Walker's Foreword "Those Who Love Us Never Leave Us Alone With Our Grief"
"And then, the story of Cudjo Lewis's life after Emancipation. His happiness with "freedom," helping to create a community, a church, building his own house. His tender love for his wife, Seely, and their children. The horrible deaths that follow. We see a man so lonely for Africa, so lonely for his family, we are struck with the realization that he is naming something we ourselves work hard to avoid: how lonely we are too in this still foreign land: lonely for our true culture, our people, our singular connection to a specific understanding of the Universe. And that what we long for, as in Cudjo Lewis's case, is gone forever. But we see something else: the nobility of a soul that has suffered to the point almost of erasure, and still it struggles to be whole, present, giving. Growing in love, deepening in understanding. Cudjo's wisdom becomes so apparent, toward the end of his life, that neighbors ask him to speak to them in parables. Which he does. Offering peace.
Here is the medicine:
That though the heart is breaking, happiness can exist in a moment, also. And because the moment in which we live is all the time there really is, we can keep going.
It may be true, and often is, that every person we hold dear is taken from us. Still. From moment to moment, we watch our beans and our watermelons grow. We plant. We hoe. We harvest. We share with neighbors. If a young anthropologist appears with two hams and gives us one, we look forward to enjoying it.
Life, inexhaustible, goes on. And we do too. Carrying our wounds and our medicines as we go.
Ours is an amazing, a spectacular, journey in the Americas. It is so remarkable one can only be thankful for it, bizarre as that may sound. Perhaps our planet is for learning to appreciate the extraordinary wonder of life that surrounds even our suffering, and to say Yes, if through the thickest of tears."