“The problem to be considered here is one of time”
—Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Mask
Another one left smoldering and empty, and only time will tell. Michael’s body lays splayed on hot asphalt in the sun uncovered for approximately 4.5 hours. Sun overseeing the passage of time and the truth of his murder, but like all overseers unquestionable, out of reach, baking and burning Black backs attached to Black folks watching and waiting and screaming and crying, terrorized and horrified and bearing witness to the silence in the wake of the crash of gunshots and life fleeing flesh. To the Black folk with baked and burnt backs, time’s movement is as slow and unethical as the heat is suffocating.
Time is, so, telling. And it is so hot.
Eric’s murder spans ten-minutes twenty-four seconds across two videos available at the whim of a Google search. He cries a garbled, “I can’t breathe!” eleven times before dying—either the blood had too long been kept from his brain—brains are the greediest of organs, so too long was relatively short—or the air had too long been kept from his lungs, or both. His asthmatic body lays empty there, in the second video, vacated of “life,” and the too long too little too late performance of an EMT does not refill the vessel.
Time is, so, telling, and…
Daniel Pantaleo evaded indictment by a New York grand jury on the same day Tamir’s coffin descended into a Cleveland grave. Tamir’s death, for the umpteenth time, plays silently with a timer superimposed in the bottom left of the scene. White numbered time in a Black box with a blood-red border. Time “begins”: a police cruiser stops hard and fast behind Tamir, playing with his pellet gun; two officers leap out, and they shoot, and he’s collapsed, and stop—1.854 seconds elapse.
He/They shot Aiyana in the head on the couch while she was sleeping in front of the television her father recalls playing Disney channel programming around midnight just after the flash-bang crashed and flashed and banged and burned her blanket. Then the bullet [dot dot dot] Then over four years four months seventeen days the case [dot dot dot] Then the denial of the appeal [dot dot dot]
And, and, and, and,
Jasmine is slammed onto the ground in a place of teaching. Shakara is slammed and flipped and tossed and dragged on the ground in a place of teaching. Dajerria is slammed on the ground outside of a pool because everywhere are the pavement, the fresh-cut grass, the chlorinated waters and saltwaters, the asphalt, the wood, the linoleum, the earth, the Earth, the grounds for teaching. Repeated concussive force of Black girls and women slammed to tile, grass, pavement, and earth produces the percussive rhythm behind the over-and-over again shock and gasp at what we knew we knew and know we know and yet learn again each time, the thunderous breath and boom bumping, bumping anew on a loop letting loose the lessons of a curriculum, the ones and twos of which roll, and roll, behind a sample of final words of Octavia Butler’s Kindred, “And she screamed and screamed,” on repeat.
Time is so
Telling, time is so
In this video, suddenly, Sandra finds herself stopped on her usual way to work. Suddenly the door is open. Suddenly she is out of frame, but he is not. Where and when is her being? The void where she stands enraged and afraid only implies her being by way of his power, his gaze, his threats, his violence. Suddenly she is in the frame, transmuted into carceral inevitability meant to satisfy his carnal needs, and suddenly she is removed again. Where and when has she gone? He becomes two, then three—he multiplies as she disappears—rather, dissolves, into the disembodied and timeless fury of Black fire, manifest in a voice; but suddenly, that, too, is gone. In another video, we see that she is pinned to the earth, thrown to the ground, too. But we knew. Scene.
Another video. Suddenly, she is invisible again, out of view. Hours pass, and silently, the routine terroristic surveillance of the officers, the exterminator, and the jail nurse persist unabated, the only indication of Sandra’s life implied by the lack of disturbance in the routine. Suddenly, they are in her cell, where she hangs from a noose fashioned from a plastic, jail-issue garbage bag, strung up over a partition in her otherwise empty cell. Suddenly, she is gone. Scene.
Time is so telling
What would be a “Black time” that is better able to count to 1.854, or from 1 to 11? To catch the beat and spit something on it? To note the lapses and disappearances? To account for death and its attendant hauntings? To count all their names, to know all their faces, to revolt in the name of their lives? How do we read this time?
The truth is: Blackness is untimely. Time is of a particularly disturbing essence relative to Blackness, and this was, is, will be our problem. Lapses, ruptures, loops and repetitions, dispersals, erasures; afterlife, deathliness, ceaselessness, belatedness, earliness—in the antiblack world, virtual and real, imaginary and actual, the descriptors tell us what time tells all about Blackness, and how time might be, as David Marriott writes through Frantz Fanon and Steve McQueen, “the originary constitutive category of race.” Time as not just a fundamental feature of how Blacks, and by extension all others, are positioned in the universe, but also as a force—and an arbitrary and violent one, at that—that positions Blacks as Black.
How time terrorizes and dominates Blacks, usually as it encodes different orders of trauma—physical, psychic, historical, political, metaphysical—in, and so as, its force, demands attention. Access to what’s encoded by the disturbing feeling of too-long or too-short durations, like the 4.5 hours Michael’s body lay, splayed out, bullet-riddled, and bloody on asphalt in the hot Missouri sun, or the 1.854 seconds between Tamir playing and Tamir being killed, might allow us deeper access to the heart of the (dark) matter of what’s so unethical about time’s passage. Or to the kind of unsettling loss felt in lapses and (black) holes in time, like the missing time between Renisha’s car accident and Theodore Wafer’s shotgun shooting through the screen door, or between Sandra’s violent arrest and the garbage bag noose that carries her death. Or to the trauma of repetitions, like the strained and fatal refrain, “I can’t breathe,” cried out by Eric eleven times during his murder, and then again and again by we who, time after time, are forced to encounter our own breathlessness. Or all, and most certainly beyond, in which time’s force is felt, and its mask over what is a more sinister problem—a fundamental problem between Blackness and time—that has what I understand to be unthought, and possibly unimaginable, consequences, is “seen.”
Time as part of a master code,
a code of codes,
operating to encode Blackness in the “undecipherable markings of [Black] flesh,” the too-late-and-too-early capacities, movements, and creations of Black imaginations, and the simultaneous paralysis and vertigo of Black nonbeing.
Time as a kind of stitch, or suture,
looping through, and binding Black flesh, to Black imaginations—and Black imaginative work—and to a Black position relative to the universe. Given time, examining the ‘how,’ ‘why’ and so ‘what’ of this temporal force might decode what is at stake in at least Black literary and imaginative work—from the street to the page.
Blackness is a time crisis. A theory of Blackness in time ethically demands we bear witness to death. The deathliness that haunts and works through us, with which we are compelled or forced to work, telegraphs a mutilated temporality characterized by infinities and impossibilities, by arbitrariness and gratuitous violence. Through the everyday murders of Black folk by police force—Rekia, Aiyana, Oscar, Michael, Yazmin, Anna, Trayvon, Penny, Dionte, Tamir, Eric, Renisha, Elisha, Sandra, ad infinitum—variously named, we bear witness to the way, time and time again, Black death repeats, and so telegraphs death’s infiniteness as a series of randomly violent and interruptive repetitions.
Through our subjection to the constant disavowals of Black life that create an atmosphere, a miasma, of imminent destruction for merely being Black, we bear witness to the elongation or distention of death’s time across all ages and ages. Through the familiarity of each interruptive intrusion into life and thought, through the feeling that these many times rhyme, we bear witness to the sense that death’s time does not appear to move, that it remains in stasis, frozen, cold. Time, for Blacks, is dead and yet undying, a zombified force and feature of Black being, thinking, and living in an antiblack universe, which, to us, is a dead zone, an underworld, a cosmos of death.
This is Black time: dead, undying, and deathly time. This is untime. Time as fatally unethical. Littered with contradictions in which we are forced to wallow. Untime is as the states of water: it is cold and shows no movement, frozen; it is also ceaseless, infinite, and ever shifting via its repetitions, so fluid; and it escapes seeing and hearing, resists the tactility of definition, and obfuscating, so like a mist, a vapor—but all at once. In all, and together, unwieldy, untime becomes another telegraphic name encoding the mechanics and characteristics of Blackness in time, of being Black, of being out of, against, or in contrapposto to time.
“We may have forgotten our country, but we haven’t forgotten our dispossession. It’s why we never tire of dreaming of a place that we can call home, a place better than here, wherever here might be. It’s why one hundred square blocks of Los Angeles can be destroyed in an evening. We stay there, but we don’t live there. Ghettos aren’t designed for living.”
—Saidiya Hartman, Lose Your Mother
“Westside, nigger! What?”
—Paul Beatty, The Sellout
We are making arrangements. A story, but arranging the fragments has proven difficult; remembering has been a breaking, and here we are holding too few pieces. At the vigil for Nephi Arreguin, we stood scattered together. Shattered together, our very beings had been shaken by his sudden removal. We gathered to locate and name our sadness before pictures and posters bearing his name, and candles lit in his memory. On 7 May 2015, an Asian-American resident near Pires Ave. in Cerritos, CA, where Nephi Arreguin would be murdered, called to report a “suspicious” Black woman going from door to door asking whether or not so-and-so lived there, and gave the police the license plate of a vehicle that seemed to be accompanying her. Officers from the Cerritos Sheriff’s department respond, and find the woman standing outside of Nephi’s car, Nephi sitting in the driver’s seat. Spatial arrangements become imperative, here.
The officers claim that Nephi, refusing to step out of his vehicle when Massa ordered, attempted to, from parked curbside, accelerate in order to mow down one of the officers; this caused the officer to “fear for his life,” and he and his partner fired shots into the vehicle, striking Nephi in the heart, immediately killing him, and causing his car to collide with both a fire hydrant and a pole. No medical assistance was offered or attempted because the water spewing from the hydrant flooded the area beneath and surrounding his car, and his collision had knocked electrical wires into the water, endangering anyone otherwise able to give him medical attention. Eyewitness accounts differ. In these accounts, Nephi and the Black woman were lost, looking for a friend who they believed lived in the area. And immediately following Nephi’s refusal to step out of the vehicle because Massa told him to, the police officers fired through the driver’s side window, killing him. The shock of his death to his flesh caused him to accelerate, crashing his car into the hydrant and light pole. The officers, in these accounts, stood at the driver’s side window, and were in no way in danger of Nephi accelerating and running them over. While Black folk daily venture to do and think the impossible, the kind of impossibility here (i.e. that he could, even if he tried, run over the officer) is more a glimpse of our unethical relation to space than of the work we do and make out of nowhere.
This impossibility, derived from the account of the spatial arrangement of Nephi’s Black flesh and Black being in relation to the White/Human being and flesh of the two officers, was recounted in horror, sorrow, and disbelief by his uncle, Zachary Wade, at both the vigil and march organized to mourn and protest the untimely death of yet another of our kin. Local accounts favoring the Cerritos sheriffs described Nephi and the Black woman’s presence as “not belonging” in that neighborhood, or, even better, as looking or being “out of place.” Being out of place; being without the possibility of belonging. That his and her Blackness entered into a predominantly nonblack space in which they did not belong became the justification for the phone call that alerted the murderers to their out-of-placeness. Following what we might imagine to be Nephi’s ethical refusals to exit this space, space he perhaps felt he belonged, or at least had no reason to feel as if he did not, he was forcibly, fatally removed.
Stricken, we might begin to encounter rememories of similar removals, of ourselves, of others we can name, of still more that we will never be able to imagine. More menacing and unbearable questions: What do we make of the space of Kendrick Johnson, whose body, following an “investigation” of his yet unsolved murder, was stuffed with old newspaper after his internal organs were “discarded”—what of that displacement/replacement, and the flesh encasing it? What do we make of Aiyana Stanley-Jones’s space, the small and cozy space of the living-room sofa where she slept across from a television, and its vulnerable openness to stampeding boots, flash-bang grenades, and bullets? What do we make of the space of Elisha Walker’s shallow grave, how it housed her trans flesh, or the voids between the many “wheres” in the incomplete narrative that left her there? What do we make of the many voids in the archive—all the failures to locate the lost—all those empty spaces, all those lost names and the Black folk that, should we ever rediscover them or their remains, might not ever be able to bear or claim them?
Of creation, we worry about the possibilities encapsulated and afforded by the organized, moving space we created in his “wake.” In the city of Cerritos, which almost absolutely supports its Sheriffs department, we arranged a gathering with Black Lives Matter activists from the cities of Long Beach, Los Angeles, and Pasadena. The collective arrangement of our flesh, sound, movement, and Blackness sought to Blacken, if for a moment, the physical, sonic, and political terrain of the conservative, predominantly nonblack space of the city from library and Sheriff’s station to the town center, to the 91 freeway, to the corner of Pires where his fourth or fifth memorial endured—the first few of which had been destroyed, or removed, by residents and/or police. Our untimely interruption and invasion of antiblack space was the multifaceted “pure utterance” raised against the clarity of the statement made by the city, the county, and the world: that Black folk do not matter, in life or death, beyond being black matter, the fungible material the world accumulates to make, remake, and develop itself.
Standing, singing, chanting, dancing, and crying in the middles of Pires Ave, we met the rising threat of violent removal by officers who not only increased their presence, but also symbolically escalated that presence—one cruiser and an officer, then another cruiser and two more officers who told us to “move” out of the street, and then a police truck with high beams aimed at us from down the way. Our dispersal was imminent and inevitable; we did not belong, and we’d shouted as much with our voices, and with the collective space of our shared flesh. This was our untimely mourning for him, Nephi, for his partner and yet-to-be-born son, Nephi Jr., for his mother, Carla Wade, and her brother, Zachary, for all of them—the named, the unnamed, the forgotten, the unspeakable—and, perhaps most foreboding of all, for all of us, because the very real possibility of our own removal surrounded us. In essence, we mourned the lost, “the dead, the dying, and those living lives consigned in the aftermath of legal chattel slavery, to death that is always-imminent and immanent,” those for whom loss was not only never-ending, and not only an omnipresent threat, but also the constitutive feature of both their individual and collective beings. Being lost. Beings lost. The creation and diffusion of our moving space of mourning invaded not only the various levels (physical, imaginary, political-ontological) of spaces we did not belong, but also the very foundations of the civil society (Cerritos, Los Angeles County, California, USA, the World) that gave those spaces meaning. Which is why we had to be contained, and then dispersed, always under the threat of being removed, like Nephi, like so many others.
Stricken again, we encounter more menacing and unbearable questions: What do we make of the space of the Mondawmin Mall, which was at once a space of deliberate provocation and aggression created by the Baltimore Police Department, and a space of active resistance and Black rage spontaneously carried out by stranded, Black school students? Or of the space of the riots, created by an explosion of Black pain, rage, and love? What do we make of the space of the convening of the Movement for Black Lives in Cleveland, Ohio, which was simultaneously a space of creation and critique, and also a space for action and resistance? What do we make of the space of the MOVE compound, or of every gentrified (e.g. Compton, CA), imperiled (e.g. the BSU of UCI), or destroyed (e.g. Black Wall Street) Black community, organization and space? What do we make of what happens to the spaces we create?
Of creation and destruction, all we have asked and been asked bleeds into our particular and peculiar worries about the literary and the imaginary. What do we make of all the literary and otherwise imaginative spaces—communities, worlds, universes—we create in relation to our inescapable vulnerability to invasion, violation, removal, and other forms of violent displacement? What might we make of what all of these questions tell us about the capacity to create parallel, or intersecting, or interjecting Black literary universes, from words to the worlds? What might we make of that capacity in relation to both the fact of our loss and lost-ness, and the desire and imperative to mourn, “tend to, care for, comfort and defend” those/we subject to that fact?
We know and we don’t know.
These are our questions, and they disorient, vex. So claiming to know ‘where’ to go from here is to ignore the real and powerful “vengeance of the vertigo” we experience. Lovingly, I want to make the untimely journey to where nowhere might be. This is an imaginative enterprise preceded by a necessary, if daunting, need to map the contradictory topographies of our untimely relationship to space. Being description, cartography, the creative process spanning the desire and inclination to create the map of some/nowhere, the ethical necessity of the accuracy and truthfulness of the map, and the actual creative work of drawing, scaling, detailing, and providing a key for the map, both implicitly and explicitly describes spatial relationships—between cartographer, traveler, terrain, and the physicality of the map itself. Lovingly, then, what I desire to do is map the relationship between Black theorist theorizing (myself), the terrain of the antiblack cosmos, Black folk (my mother, my auntie, and all) who might make use of this map as we travel and navigate that antiblack terrain, and the untimely, imaginative and real Black spaces we might create.
How do we locate those/we who at the level of our being are, as Dionne Brand writes, “flung out and dispersed?” Or, how do we reckon with the impossibility of locating ourselves—the flung out, dispersed, removed, displaced and lost—as the defining characteristic of how we relate to space? And, if we can bear this total “loss of bearings,” this vengeful vertigo, in our thinking, being, and creating, how can we orient ourselves, in the flesh and in the imagination, to the parallel universes we make out of the nowhere where we are? To ask all this without recourse to the kind of spatial and temporal affirmation of a definitive set of answers is, perhaps, dangerous.
But we know and we don’t know.
We might be lost. Tumbling, tumbling, in the middle of nowhere. We know nowhere and we don’t know nowhere. Nowhere is stanky, like Paul Beatty’s Dickens. Nowhere is haunted, like House 124. Nowhere is blood-spattered like Pires Ave. Nowhere has poisonous water like Flint, like Cleveland, like Baltimore, like the other 3000 neighborhoods and more. Nowhere is a food desert. Nowhere has the worst schools, the worst streets, the worst hospitals, if any. Nowhere is a farm, like the one in Afrikatown, or the one at Lyles Station. Nowhere is undercommons, underground. Nowhere is a marooned community. And nowhere is so much more and less, too.
So we might be lost. Or at least, at a loss: for words, directions, and even the coordinates to relatively locate ourselves in the void. Having the sense that we have yet to meaningfully move from where and when we began, from where and when we were flung—Dickens, Flint, Chicago, Los Angeles, Detroit, Irvine, whatever the name borne by our coordinates in this vast labyrinth—what have we made and what do and can we make out of the nowhere where we are? Better, how do we inhabit this place, and what’s at stake in embracing that inhabitation—in allowing ourselves to meld with loamy soil, Dickensian Stank, and a total loss of bearings?
We know. We don’t know.
This is about boldly going, going nowhere. This is about venturing into the dark. With love, we set out, are cast out, are jettisoned into the void. Adrift, without the right (read: correct; ethical) words or phrases to catch hold on, or of, just the imaginative journey, the sense that we must move, and the propulsion of our “menacing and unbearable” questions.
“Whatever we make of this, so long as we make it
out of nowhere,” we might think, tumbling, tumbling, in the dark.
So there we go.
“All my niggas in the whole wide world
Made this song to make it all y’all’s turn
For us—this shit is for us”
“So much we in your work”
Swayed, pulled down, called, pulled apart, we’ve taken the leap, or made the best effort to lose our feet. Lose our way. Go nowhere, together, on an untimely adventure. But a question that haunts this wake work theorizing at the level of its motivation, conceptualization, mobilization, direction and continued development lurks behind the collectivity and communality of an ever-present and repeatedly invoked—summoned, conjured—“we.” Who and what is “we?” What is “we” about—what is “we” invoking, conjuring, speaking to? When “I” speak to and with “we,” what am “I” doing, and to what ends? Especially “here”—in an academic work, in the academy, on the page, in the labyrinthine mausoleum of an antiblack structure—and especially “now”—the untimeliness of the intervention I am making, the untimeliness of these persistent questions, nearly out of time?
I ask out of a genuine, critical concern and interest for the aims of this project, renewed by Kiese’s comment. Every deliberate invocation of “black folk,” of “we,” of a kind of singular audience, or of a singular(ly Black) section of an audience—We and “we” lead us to this point and place in the unthought, “unimaginable” (pace Sharpe) terrain of this dismembering exploration.
A destruction of wild cats. A crash of rhinoceroses. A murder of crows. Like Spillers, in search of a vocabulary against the symbolic order and the dynamics of naming and valuation it violently releases into the air we breathe to speak and think, what is the name and signification of a collectivity of the dead, the dying, and “we” who remain in proximity to—rather, entangled with death? How do we describe what it is to collectively inhabit this position? How might “we” describe the consequences of reframing black temporality as untimeliness, and black space as nowhere, on the notion of our being “here,” “now,” “together?” Essentially, what is it to be Black in time—untimely—here—nowhere—together, as “we” is?
And how is “we?” “We” is fraught with violence and trauma. “We” is imperiled from within and without. From within, “we” struggles with the sometimes fatal identifications with and performances of the violent sexist, queerphobic, transphobic, and ableist ideologies and practices of the antiblack world, which is further compounded by the disavowal of the legitimacy, the actuality of these kinds of violence, and of the trauma ceaselessly endured by the victims subjected to it. From without, “we” remains in a constant state of subjection to the terrorizing, dominating forces, institutions, and agents of the antiblack world; from without, “we” is embattled, emplotted in the ceaselessness of creative, imaginative, organized, disorderly, and always real warfare waged at every level of being and identification. “We” “all gonna get it,” sings Nina Simone: “get it,” as in, face some form of the fact of the deathliness that stalks and positions “all” of “us,” albeit in ways varied by way of gender expression and identification, sexuality, (dis)ability, and class—untimely social death captures the fundament, and the edifice molded around this framework, the way the flesh, and so what is violently inscribed into that flesh, wraps around the skeletal frame of bones and innards, influences the particular experience of dying; “get it,” as in “gettin’ it,” as in taking hold of it, the actuality of this peril of “we,” move with it, wholly, without reservation; and “get it,” as in contemplate it, to bear witness to it, to examine every facet, and to at least work and aspire to understand, or grasp it, for all that it means and does to ensure that the possibilities of “we” remain unattainable. “We” is complex, dangerous, in danger, perhaps impossible. “We” is a problem for thought. “We” must be taken seriously.
As we’ve begun to, “we” must carefully consider the constitutive features and characteristics—the “physics,” or at least the mechanics—of how “we” inhabit and move deeper into this spacetime of contradictions of Black life forms positioned by deathly conditions, of how we do the unimaginable wake work of confronting these contradictions as We are, of how this inhabitation and movement both warp the fabric of the arrangements between “us,” and of how that collective inhabitation and movement interact with the overwhelming, crushing, spaghettifying tidal forces of the gravity of our Black (w)hole. Everything we know and don’t know, and think and unthink about our untimeliness in the middle of nowhere no doubt inflects, if not outright determines, how “we” is, moves, creates, or otherwise revolts against the whole cosmos of phenomena, forces, and structures constitutively and compulsorily infused with our dark energy and matter, and simultaneously aimed against even the possibility of a “we,” let alone a “where” or a “when” where and when we might really, fully, fraught as “we” is, be. Every novel, poem, dramatic production, film, choreographed or freestyled dance, all of it; every classroom lesson, student interaction, assignment, reading, discussion, all of it; every sentence uttered, every gesture made, every thought ventured, all of it; all of it is that work, that “wake work,” that we work, that work of, as Christina Sharpe puts it, sounding an ordinary note of care for each other under the most catastrophic and disastrous conditions.
Knowing and not knowing and boldly going, then, how might and have and will we best make and take and carefully defend time and space to nurture and nourish each other under such catastrophic conditions?
Somewhen and somewhere else I’m sitting across from my mother. We sit then and there, her and my eyes gone somewhere behind closed eyelids, to and into the depths of all our “menacing and unbearable” questions, toward some horizon where masks, moments and places might be undone, broken open, revealed for their essence, shattered into a glittering, atomized refuse; broken, broken open, so that some words might be released to name what we needed, what fed us, what we wanted, what we feared, what hurts us, and what love we dream about so that the weight of our raised glasses wasn’t our own to bear—for a minute. Something, anything, inevitably fragmented, but at least fragmented. Eyes open, prayers unending.
Two glasses and a half empty bottle of Bootlegger’s Black Phoenix frost around echoic prints of hand-grips and lip-sips, kissed bottle mouth and cold glass rims. The cool and smooth of chocolate fire and chipotle smoke, coffee grounds to stay woke—the drink is vintage Lupe: unfree, chilly, between bites and laughs couldn’t sip it fast enough; deep with the flavor, filling our black positions’ casket up.
“It’s nice,” a sip, “to have a chance to do this.”
“What? Get out of the house?”
“To eat good food. Everything that’s going on, all the time, everywhere—to take a break for a minute.”
“Yeah…” a swig, a look out the window behind me, a bite. “I think we both could use something to take our minds off it all. All the stuff at school, the committee, the way they treat me; all your stuff with work, and these clients—”
“All of it, and everything else. We need nights—times, like this, to just refuel and breathe, for a minute.”
Like a daydream in a shallow pool of fire and ice, adrift to Nina Simone humming her Black Gold—and who knows where the time goes?
What and where’s that minute of time, that mote of space—to eat, to drink, to laugh, to smile, to breathe? And if we find that minute and that mote, which is hard enough given we’re and it’s always “too soon…or too late”—which is hard enough given our untimely position in a timelessly or ceaselessly violent nowhere—what are its mechanics and features? What that look, sound, smell, feel, and taste like? How long will it last, how vast are its dimensions—is its time dilated by its proximity to all our black w/holes, all the gravity of our dense and voided existences in a universe that cannot know us beyond the event horizons of our trauma? Does, or could, its presence and memory nourish us the way our hunger demands? Is it purely imaginative and speculative, or does it float somewhere in orbit of the nexus between imagination, flesh, and material? If we can’t find that minute and that mote, how can we make a mote and a minute or take them? Can we?
And if we can, how can/will we defend this sacred moment and place in Black spacetime? How can/will we unflinchingly and relentlessly defend the fundamental sacredness of each other, in the flesh, in the mind, in the spirit?
Our questions are untimely and undying, lurking behind the gesture, the flavor, the word. So another bite, another swig, pour some more, the dark and intoxicating awakening less than halfway up the cup, the sound of fizz and so much chatter, while my mom and I hungrily and wearily say and swallow silent prayers for ourselves, and the variously dead and dying that share our proximity to the casual and arbitrary death and chaos waiting in sleep and dream, thought and gesture, and everywhere, always, out there. Always.
So “together,” then, wholly devoted and broken, down the Black rabbit (w)hole we go. To do the wake work, to work in the wake, to make space, to boldly go, then, speak with, think through, imagine in the presence of, and be with death. Nothing less, nowhere else, with no time to spare.
“Nuh uh, Mom. You’re the one who started it.”
“Ok, ok.” Her eyes go somewhere. “To more of this. To good health, and to success. To less struggle.”
“To us, too.”
One more bite.
I know, and
she know, and
Earth, Water, Fire; or, Black Worlds and the Making
“I grew up cooking like this…We lived so far away from stuff, couldn’t do nothing but cook for yourself.”
Blue-purple corn dough clings like film to sticky fingers. Stolen petrichor on these surgical digits, the earthen wetness smells like so much midnight rain on soil. Such rich loam, so fertile, the mash of nighttime sky, earth and water. A ceramic vessel sits atop scarred and weathered mahogany, pregnant with the faded cornflower-indigo clay, the product of a thief’s dual alchemy—the alchemy of the theft and reassembly of the shards of a process too grand to glean in the quick desperation of stealing away, and the incomplete alchemy of the conception, the gestation, and the inevitable birth of wholes from the fragments gotten. Maternal basin, periodically rocking back and forth, round and full with the litter of what must be born, wobble-waddles closer to the brink, the end, the fall at the end of the scarred and weathered mahogany only to be deliberately, but gently, guided back to center by dirty, thief hands, not yet done stealing space and time for what must be made.
Thief’s hands cup and scoop and pat and splat forth and back the blue-purple nixtamal’d ball of sky, earth, land, of night, soil, rainfall in the Fall, the glimmering staccato rhythm of which beats like drumsticks tick-clicking behind jazz riffs in the stick move of the mixture between palms, fraying fronds not bending to the looping whoops of desolate winds but to the song, moan, cry, ululation, and spit of creative will, hungry need, necessary desperation, impossible dreams and all that good-good, real-real, blues-hued and blood black-red shit.
Another cornflower nighttime rain world, scoop pat splat forth and back, lumpy and taking shape, and another, and another, pilfered or collected and molded for and from those, we, for whom water, and earth, and sky, are everything are everything are everything and more.
Into the skillet, into the fire, hot oil crackling.
Stovetop onomatopoeia like raindrops on the drop top, sizzle sizzle, loaded communiqué like Magnitude preaching the pop pop, cookin’ like Ed Mitchell, big belly, for the first time, before the moonshine, smokin’ the po’k, sweat beading on black boy skin lookin’ blue in the moonlit Carolina nighttime—something beyond language cauterized in fire on the grill in the dark, flesh seared and meat charred, and careful, sweatless palms bearing the duty of nourishment that comes with wearing that pitmaster’s mark he’s got;
cookin’ like Sylvia and Marcus in Harlem with storied soul in pans and pots wielding the chonkiest fire to whip up that good-good and that hot-hot, that yard bird, those collard greens, that cornbread that make you pop lock into a wop wop into a milly rock and chorally quote Stony from Set it Off—
“Y’all niggas done lost y’all mind”—
while the jazz band plays and the folk dance and the project of Black joy unfolds to the rhythm of drumbeats and, clanking plates and, mm-mmmm’s and, full bellies patted in satisfaction with Black hands and, and, and dot dot dot;
cookin’ like makin’ moves in the soup kitchen, in the community center, next to the church parking lot, in the camp, at the home, at home, in the middle of nowhere, with half a pot and an old cast-iron skillet and less than a quarter of a quarter of “not a whole lot;”
cookin’ like mad-folk with a deficiency of tick-tocks on the world’s clock like bookin’ it in a quickfire from top chef mixed with the dessert round of chopped, so like Carla, Nina, Madison, Gourdet and Sbraga, from asphalt to laptop;
cookin’ like imaginatively plotting the kind of upending vengeance or reparations that’d pay the echo-looping costs of evolving nooses, whips, rapes, experiments, slaughters, and auction blocks;
cookin’ like barbecuing cop cars of the blue bloods that blot out every new sun with their batons and shot-shots when Black bodies cry out against being made to die out and the riot takes off;
cookin’ with rage like Ozai under Sozin’s comet, so cooking like firebending of the highest order before he got got;
cookin’ like innermost thoughts and unthoughts projected at inkblots;
cookin’ like words and worlds more valuable than infinite platinum ingots;
cookin’ like making fire, making fire move for the “living” and the lost, the “are fighting” for otherwise, the “will fight” for another world, and the “done-fought”s, for the timeless, the untimely, we for whom hunger sometimes feel like, and is, all we got
we cookin’ like
we cookin’ like
we all we got
and that’s all we got
Dr. John Murillo III is a conjurer. Often, that he practices Black magic with words, rife with nerdy references and citations—to/of Mass Effect, Doctor Who, Yasiin Bey, Umbrella Academy, Pokémon, Hortense Spillers, Steven Universe, Theoretical Physics and Afropessimism—infuriates misguided, uninformed, and petty nonbelievers of all kinds. He channels their dismissive and baseless hateration into inky spells, deathly cast into wordy, cinematic, weird, loving, enraged, and sorrowful sentences on comic book, essay, poetry, and novel pages. Unlike them, he believes in the “promise” and the practice “of the infinite,” tries his best like “Umi Says,” and imagines the unimaginable through, for, and with Black life and death everywhere. His curls have been described as “a portal into the boundless absurdity and wonder of the cosmos.” His favorite dish is mole negro. Find him on Facebook or Twitter.
 By himself and literally no one else.