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a literary journal published by the Black Earth Institute dedicated to re-forging the links between art and spirit, earth and society

Section 5: The Fire in Our Souls

Tai Allen

Tai Allen
What memories bring
Granny likes to decorate her hair in Black colors.
“Bring over those bows.”
“Here?” I’m reaching into her wicker basket that floats over stuff — papers, pictures and ancient clippings — my grandmother is guarding with two golden lion flags. Or, the flags are X-marks, the way they cross the mirror?
“These mirrors are older..”
“…than me!” she snides. “I think this family needs better jokes? New Jokes? Or, no jokes.”
She blows a kiss. A ruby red kiss. Even her kisses are colored Black. It is impossible not to laugh in a harmony that causes me to drop the bows. I scurry to collect the properly patterned and fabric-ed cloth. I can feel those green eyes squinting at my err; while giving that “look” all elders acquire after they turn 55.
“Shoes? Now we need to figure out the shoes.”
An easy explanation would be to say my 84 year-old grandmother has a lot of shoes. That would be wrong. Antarctica has a lot of snow. Yet, no one talks about the amount of snow. Researchers will discuss the snow, the ice ledges, the frozen sea. The eco-system.
This room, not closet, is an eco-system. A living monument to her heralded worship of the shoe god.
Granny keeps nothing in vain. Pack rats nothing.
She does not discard her memories though. Writings, newspaper clippings, photos and shoes. Each has its place and position. There is nothing out of place. Except today, on her drawer there is a sea of papers and pictures. Both are removed from their albums since she will not convert them.
Today only her shoes are organized. Rows and columns of shoes.
My Dad reminds us often that his Mother-in-law is a First Born. A parent of Diaspora and a child of the word diaspora, when it meant being scattered across the continents. She remembers marching against injustice and shouting at rallies. Holding placards and rolled out canvas painted to protest.
Some nights my parents are in her room when Capt Walker has these nightmares. Dad thinks she adjusted better than most even him. “From a helicopter a battle is distant fight. When shooting at other pilots is not the same as close combat. Can’t be.”
“Shoes… lil girl?” Chuckling and rubbing her chin, imitating an old kung-fu movie. Granny watches them often, cannot get her to convert them either.
“Black, umi?”
“Too dark” She stares at me, a response to my stare. “I know I love Black but black shoes are for meetings and funerals. Or a date with a handsome man.”
Laughter again.
“And my dress is summer-full.” I stare again. “Yes, I said summer-full. Keep that word in your lil watch. Convert that one into file.” Waving her magic hand, it is both a dismissal of modern tech and a call to come sift the closet with her. There is work to be done. The Captain wants to leave soon.
We proceed to mix and match.
“Too much like my hair.
“Too much color.
“Too new.
“Too different.
“Those are ugly, what was I thinking? Who let me do that?”
The process is lengthy because pairs have a story. When I reach for an older couple. This pair was a first date with a potential who gave my grandfather a run for his money.
“Both were beautiful but only one was amazing.”
“Above them are the pair I wore to a planning meeting with Daddy.” They were sneakers, running sneakers.
“A first date?”
“The first day.”
My grandmother — through genetics and a regimen — still fits her wares from the early 21st century. Our doctor once joked she will outlive everyone. She will survive the next ice age.
I thought him kind and funny. Granny did not and asked me to leave the room while they talked. When we left he goodbyed with a Captain Walker.
“Red shoes. I am going stylize this with red shoes.”
The red flats are sassy and ruby like her lips. Shiny and fun they contrast the green boots to their left.
No one is allowed to touch them. They maintain their status as relics: dusty, worn but sturdy.
She touches them gently before sliding on her slippers. Holds the left foot afterwards, examining the beaten sole with reverence. ‎
Closes her eyes as if she is praying then declares “it’s time to go!
“Off to the parade!”
“Founders’ Day! And gran’ma is leading the parade.”
“Not Granny today, Capt Walker… Grand Marshal!”
Tai Allen Polymath poet, performer, vocalist, musician, producer, and designer Tai Allen is a Brooklyn native. He tours throughout the U.S. and internationally. His poems are in Bomb, African Voices and other journals. He recently published The High and The Low, a chapbook. His musical work has been featured on sites such as Okayplayer, CentricTV, Soultracks, and Grown Folks Music. He has performed at the Apollo Theater Music Café, National Black Writers Festival, American Jazz Museum, Ft Greene Festival, BAMcafe, Nuyorican Poets Café, and even the Today Show. He coordinates and curates concerts, exhibits, conferences, and festivals including projects at BAM Cafe. He lives in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn.



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