I lay in bed awake from the weight of something
firmly pressing into my shoulders. Startled, I tried
to get up but couldn't. I nervously rubbed my hand
along the object of my oppression and felt what
could not be denied. Was this death? Even at my
arm's full length, I could tell there was more to this
dubious beast. Immediately, I dropped my hand
back to my chest. It felt like the pressure grew firmer.
At that point, I thought I must be dreaming. Why was
death so quiet? What did it want? Terror welled up
inside of me, the depths of which I never felt before,
warm and dewy like her skin after making love. I knew
at once this is what the angel came for. And to this
wretch, I gave her every ounce of fear from my black
body, and all the black bodies of my forbearers, with
the grace of a newborn fawn taking its first steps. I
made this offering for my dead. The dead intermingled,
tangled in the fear. The fear tangled, intermingled with
the dead. All of this had the same malignancy but
each carried with it a spiritual weight that even a
religious relic could not contain. As I exhumed this
something vague and immense, this ancestral grief,
the fear became one. Sealed together, but weathered
alone, each piece in various states of degraded beauty
but all one in perfection. I am still pursued by those
miserable shapes but the veil has lifted and I am sober
to its projections.
Why must I cast out the curse on this house? Let me
pour out the love that no one has wanted from you.
Silent as a grave. I make this offering to the dead. My
dead. Fuck your white horse and carriage. You can not
grow trees fast enough to murder your sins. What You
want, You can't buy now.
Yes, this shit goes way back, but I have learned that
the pain doesn't kill you. Remember when all you ever
wanted was a 100 million dollars and a bad bitch?
The Gucci? The Louie? The Fendi? The Prada?
I was dark, wasteful, and wild. Now the preacher is
growling, save us, lord.
We are all America's most wanted, hunted by the same
children that chased down my ancestors. I make this
offering to my dead. I am grieving, but this is not an
eulogy. I have stopped trying to understand why this
happened or how this happened. It's here. It's happening.
But I am a survivor. I survived child abuse. I survived
being whipped. I survived molestation. I survived being
bullied. I survived slavery. I survived Trayvon's murder.
I survived Rodney King's beating. I survived AIDS. I
survived being called a nigger. I survived being called
a bitch. I survived the Freedom rides. I survived the
Civil War. I survived the Nazis. I survived the Great
Depression. But I am not brave. Nor am I special
because I survived. You just do it. You just keep moving
forward. It's not a choice. There is no trick to surviving.
Some of us leave traces of our soul behind in the places
where our innocence was lost. Too exhausted to fill the
holes left behind, one begins to realize that these
violations don't just take something away but they
start to push you forward.
Yes, I had to remove any essence of my humanity so
that the parts beaten into perfection would not leave
me mute. When one personality is not good enough on
its own, I learned to throw all of them at you hoping that
would make up for my dullness. It didn't. You saw me.
I always rode the edges of failure, never quite succeeding.
Like the boxers in Paul Pfeiffer's video, I danced alone.
Fighting in the ring with my own fallacies. I make this
offering to my dead. I do not feel as if I have the energy
to fight. I am seduced by the sweet tyranny of stasis.
Like the Grecian Io, my people are banished. Maybe
someone else will do the work?
They ask me...How did you do it? How could you stand
all that pain? I would just die...no, you wouldn't die. You
would learn to lay still. You would learn to hold secrets.
You would learn to scream silently through your smiles.
You would survive. You don't know how to kill yourself
at the age of eight.
But this isn't about my survival. This is about a country
that is soft. That has never been bombed on the daily.
That has never had to flee to another country to find
work. That has never had to endure another regime
through a cycle of sons, who beget more sons, who
beget more sons, who beget more sons. How will we
do it? I no longer know how to lay still. I will not keep
your secrets. And screaming is not enough.
I saw granddaddy today...well, actually I saw
granddaddy's mustache. One of those thin lines above
the top lip. He whispered, Don't worry child, God will
soon come. No, granddaddy. God is not coming. God
will not bring down salvation. God will not save us.
We are the Gods.
The ancient Greeks believed the Universe created the
Gods and I believe America created us. I make this
offering to my dead. And with it bring back their fury.
Heather Lynn Johnson is a writer, photographer, performance artist and poet, living in New York. Her work is characterized by its lyricism and cultural critique. Through the use of imagery and the written word, Johnson explores being other-ed in a consumerist society by mining the history of gender, sexuality, and the racialized body. Her formal approach to the narrative, whether visual or poetic, is distinguished by her willingness to lay bare her own existence. Johnson received an MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design and her BA from Columbia College Chicago both in Photography. Her work has been exhibited internationally and most notably at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture's exhibition of Ntozake Shange's choreopoem i found god in myself. Johnson is currently the 2016 literary fellow for the Queer|Art|Mentorship program.