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179 The Grassdreaming Tree Sheree Renée Thomas That woman was always in shadow, no memory saved her from the dark. True, her star was not Sun but some other place. Nor did she come from this country called life. Maybe that’s why she always lived with her shoulders turned back, walked with the caution of strangers—outside woman trying to sweep her way in. The grasshopper peddler, witchdoctor seller, didn’t even have no name, no name. So folks didn’t know where to place her. For all they know, she didn’t even have no navel string, just them green humming things, look like dancing blades of grass. They look at her, with her no-name self, and they call her grasswoman. Every morning she would pass through the black folks’ land, carrying her enormous baskets. These she made herself, ’cause nobody else remembered. And they were made from grass so flimsy, they didn’t even look like baskets, more like brown bubbles ’bout to pop. What they looked like were dying leaves dangling from her limbs, great curled wings that might flutter away, kicked up by a soft wind. Inside the baskets, the grasshoppers fluttered around and pranced, blue-green winged, long-legged things. The click-clack, tap-tap of the hoppers’ limbs announced her arrival. A tattoo of drumbeats followed the grasswoman wherever she went, drumbeats so loud they rattled the windows and flung back shades: Mama, the children cried, Mama, look! Grasswoman comin! And the hoppers would flood the streets. Their joy exchanged: the grasshoppers shouted and the children jumped, one heartbeat at a time. The woman would pull out her mouth harp and put the song to melody. The whole world was filled with their music. But behind curtains drawn shut in frustration, the settlers suckteethed dissatisfaction. They took the grasswoman’s seeds and tried to crush them with suspicion, replacing the grasswoman’s music with their own dark song—who did that white gal think she was? Where she come from and who in the world was her mama? Who told her 180 she could come shuffling down their street, barefooted and grubbytoed , selling bugs and asking folk for food? The white ought to go on back to her proper place. But the bugs are so sweet, the children insisted. The parents shut their ears and stiffened their necks: No, no, and no again. But the children didn’t pay them no mind. The grasswoman’s baskets were too full of songs to forget to play. One little girl, more hardheaded than most, disobeyed the edict and devoted herself to the enigmatic grasswoman. Her name was Mema, a big-eyed child with a head like a drum. She would wake early, plant her eyes on the cool window pane, waiting for the grasswoman to walk by. When the woman would come into view, Mema would rush down the stairs, skip hop jump. Bare feet running, she’d fly down the road and disappear among the swarm of grasshoppers spilling from the great leaf baskets. The Sun would sink, a red jack-ball sky, and still no word from Mema. Not a hide nor a hair they’d see, and at Mema’s home, the folk would start pulling out their worries and polishing them up with spite. ‘Running barefoot, wild as that other.’ Her daddy picked his switch and held it in his hand. Only her mama’s soft words brought relief to the little girl’s return. Hours later in the fullness of night, her daddy insisted on a reason, even if it was just the chalk line of truth: ‘Where she stay? Did you go to her house? Do she even have a house?’ Her dwelling was an okro tree. She laid her head in the empty hollow of its great stone trunk. Mema told them the tree was sacred, that God had planted its roots upside down so they touched sky. Daddy turned to his wife, pointing the blame finger at her. ‘See, the white’s been filling her head. ‘That tree ain’t got no roots. Whole world made of stone, thick as your head. Couldn’t grow a tree to save your life.’ The girl spoke up, hoppers hidden all in her hair. ‘It’s true, Mama, it’s true. The tree got a heart and sometime it get real sad. The old 181 woman say the okro tree can kill itself, say it can do it...


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