- What I Know about Blues and: The Museum
What I Know about Blues
Yes.Yes I know butterflies can tastewith their feet.Blackberry vinegar or applewater can break a fever.
Do you hear the sharp lengthof my mother’s tongue?Use every part of the fruitand stem, she’d say, don’t leaveanything behind.
I know the skin of fish mackerelis softer than an eyelidand salt—the way it siftsthrough tips, it pileson a wife’s lap like gold.
I know the aloe plant can fadeor fix any scar—chicken pox,a hand half open, a closed fistif the touch is light enough.
I know how to hold a breath insideuse my body to sayI can be your ClementineI can be your sweet baby.
And yes, I know how to name things.I’ve been called little lady, pickaninny,gel, mamacita, the black one,the big one, the dark one, woman,each name makes a map of me.
People come here to be dazzled.To be swept into carefully labeledhistory of high yellow and dark skin,like the slow roll of hands steepedin trumpets, ivory keys or the bramblethorns of cotton. Loud speakers trailall visitors—did you know this oneinvented peanut butter? part of thelight bulb? oh and that lotionthat makes those old kinky strandscut straight from the root. [End Page 756]
Some exhibits are more popularthan others. Novelty items likeAunt Jemima’s head scarf, yellowedslave bills of sale, basketball jerseys,mammy saltshakers, and Obamabobbleheads are high-volume areas.On the second floor timed to lightsand a smoke machine, a trio ofanimatronic colored girls singdoo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo, with plasticmulatto skin covering their nuts andbolts. Bobbed hairstyles and silkchiffon completes the Motownlook, but somehow they seemsolemn in the lights.
Then there’s me—here she is,here is our last little darkie.You see the pigmentation here?We don’t let them get that darkthese days. If pain had a shapeit would be one giant muscle,it would be the sound the humanmind makes when you realizeyou don’t own a body anymore.I’ve been here for years now.I can’t remember the last timeI saw the sun or felt a taprootnext to my feet, or being in love,picking juniper berries so thick itstains my nails like blood comingclean. I often ask what God wantsfrom my face and empty body.
When the crowds and tour groupsdisperse, my bones ache toslide side-by-side in the dark.Like the bison, dinosaurs, and ourblood brothers the Indians, you’ll findmy carcass in this museum—strings around my pelvis, and thinclear wires making my fluted bonesdance, say hi, in the last greatAfrican mammal display. [End Page 757]
Cynthia Manick is a Pushcart-nominated poet and a Cave Canem Fellow. She holds an MFA in creative writing from the New School and her work has appeared in Callaloo, DMQ Review, Gemini Magazine, Kweli Journal, Muzzle Magazine, Sou’wester, Spillway, and elsewhere.