Sisters mine, beloveds
those bones are not my child.
I am a woman at point zero;
unburnable.
The wind done gone
into a dark alliance
forged from the devil’s pulpit.

Daughters of the Sun, Women of the Moon
a mercy, please.
Let’s make dust tracks
and leave the dilemma of this ghost
to those who live in a city so grand..
Those bones are not my child.

Word of mouth spread
among the not-so-little women
with no technical difficulties.
The blues people, midwives
to a people’s history,
who believed horses
make a landscape look more beautiful,
shed petals of blood
as they walked on fire
to grieve
in a land without thunder.

 

 

Book titles used in this piece:

Sister Mine by Nalo Hopkinson

Beloved and A Mercy by Toni Morrison

Those Bones are not my Child by Toni Cade Bambara

Woman at Point Zero by Nawal El Saadawi

Unburnable by Marie-Elena John

The Wind Done Gone by Alice Randall

Dark Alliance by Gary Webb

From the Devil’s Pulpit by John Agard

Daughters of the Sun, Women of the Moon, ed. Ann Wallace

Dust Tracks on a Road by Zora Neale Hurston

Dilemma of a Ghost by Ama Ata Aidoo  

A City So Grand by Stephen Puleo

Word of Mouth: Poems Featured on NPR’s All Things Considered

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Technical Difficulties by June Jordan

Blues People by Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones)

Midwives by Chris Bohjalian

A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn

Horses Make a Landscape Look More Beautiful by Alice Walker

Petals of Blood by Ngugi wa Thiong’o

Walking on Fire: Haitian Women’s Stories of Survival and Resistance, ed. Beverly Bell

Land without Thunder by Grace Ogot

Even though I love that the fact that it is no way, shape or form landlocked, Boston has never been my favorite place to live. I’ve never been able to put my finger on exactly why. We (the city and I) have simply been at odds. Despite that fact, I currently reside in Greater Boston; in the small city of Cambridge, aka Moscow on the Charles. The “Moscow” aspect is a Cold War reference designed to indicate Cambridge’s radicalism – as if the Cambridge Police Department is full of leftists.

But I digress.

Since I have committed to be here, it kinda behooves me to have a historical understanding of the place where I am raising my son. I came across A City So Grand: The Rise of an American Metropolis, Boston 1850-1900 while rummaging through an actual, physical bookstore. I immediately added it to my pile and carried it to the checkout aisle.

Several days ago, I started reading it. I have to admit that I am learning things I never knew; such as the fact that the currently prestigious Back Bay section of Boston used to be known as the Receiving Basin and said Basin

[…] became polluted quickly since sewers continued to drain into the area and, because of the dam system, tides no longer washed it out twice daily. In the 1830’s two railroad lines were built across the Back Bay on low embankments and trestle bridges that extended over the mudflat. These lines further reduced water flow in the Receiving Basin, which further increased pollution.

It was the prodigious proposal to fill and populate the Receiving Basin  that is most commonly referred to as the Back Bay landfill project.

And then this:

[… ] A City Council-commissioned report described the dire condition of the Back Bay. ‘(It is) one of nuisance, offensive and injurious to the large and increasing population residing upon it…The Back Bay at this hour is nothing less than a great cesspool, into which is daily deposited all the filth of a large and constantly increasing population.’ Trash and refuse were thrown into the bay from the Mill Dam, and wharf rats scurried in, out, and across the seawall. ‘Every west wind sends its (the Back Bay’s) pestilential exhalations across the entire city… (and) a greenish scum, many yards wide, stretches along the shores of the basin…while the surface of the water beyond is seen bubbling like a cauldron, with the noxious gases that are exploding from the corrupting mass below.’

Back Bay Boston, 1850’s (aka then)

 

Back Bay from Prudential Center, Boston MA

Stephen Puleo does an effective job of describing some of the blood girding the transformation of the Back Bay. However, having almost reached the halfway mark, I have to say it is, effectively, an Eurocentric take the history. The struggle the Irish had in Boston is mentioned enough to be described as significant (if there wasn’t a population of work-hungry Irish, drunken roustabout Irish and children of Irish women with stalwart Catholic beliefs) there would’ve been no workers to fill in the Back Bay to make it the exclusive neighborhood it is today.

Now I understand that the Irish built the Back Bay of Boston in the same way I understand that the Chinese built the railroads. However, while the Irish were doing that, what were the black people of Boston doing? If it is truly a history of ‘the rise of an american metropolis’, then it has to include all members of that metropolis who contributed to its rise.  Did Black people not contribute to the rise of Boston? According to this book, Black people didn’t, not even as footnotes. Of course, I am barely at the halfway mark but still, the absence is obvious enough to be mentioned.

I can, and do, appreciate the irony (appropriateness?) of a currently exclusive neighborhood being built on pestilence. However, the lack of inclusiveness is such that it renders such appreciation pale and anemic.

African Reading Challenge

August 11, 2012

I have been deficient. The deficiency is particularly sad because I, an African woman, should be further along in meeting the African reading challenge than I am.  To be honest, most of my current reading is research for my next book but still…

Therefore, after I finish the book I”m currently reading, A City So Grand, The Rise of an American Metropolis, Boston 1850 – 1900, I will restart and finish Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga; start and finish Griots and Griottes by Thomas Hale. After that, I’m not sure although I know it will be fiction.