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Antebellum Dream Book
By Elizabeth Alexander
Graywolf PressCopyright © 2001 Elizabeth Alexander
All right reserved.
1. Walking (1963) after the painting by Charles Alston You tell me, knees are important, you kiss your elders' knees in utmost reverence.
The knees in this painting are what send the people forward. Once progress felt real and inevitable, as sure as the taste of licorice or lemons. The painting was made after marching in Birmingham, walking into a light both brilliant and unseen. THE TONI MORRISON DREAMS 1. Toni Morrison despises conference coffee, so I offer to fetch her a Starbucks macchiato grande, with turbinado sugar. She's delighted, can start her day properly, draws on her Gauloises, shakes her gorgeous, pewter dreads, sips the java that I brought her and reads her own words: Nuns go by as quiet as lust Everything in silver-gray and black.
2. Workshop She asks us to adapt Synge's Playboy of the Western World for the contemporary stage. She asks us to translate "The Birds." She asks us to think about clocks, see the numbers as glyphs, consider the time we spend watching them in class, on line, at the hairdresser's. In class she calls me "Ouidah" and I answer. "I am the yellow mother of two yellow boys," she says. I sit up straight. Now the work begins, and Oh the work is hard.
3. She does not love my work, but she loves my baby, tells me to have many more.
4. A Reading at Temple University "Love," she wrote, and "love and love" and "love," and "amanuensis," "velvet," "pantry," "lean," Shadrack, Solomon, Hagar, Jadine, Plum, circles sth runagate and then, she whispered it, love OPIATE A date with Michael Jordan proves he is a true gentleman, arrives smiling, bearing a bouquet of red carnations, driving a modest sports car, in a sober but stylish navy-blue suit. He grins that grin. Hello Michael Jordan then off you go, have your date, then have lovely safe sex, after which you remember, you are married, you don't know Michael Jordan, even though he is your age-mate, and lumbers off the championship court nowadays looking much like you do after nursing your newborn at four in the morning blue night after inky blue night. "Michael Jordan is the opiate of the masses," comes a voice at the end of the dream, perhaps John Cameron Swayze or James Earl Jones as Darth Vader. "Michael Jordan is the opiate of the masses." Opiates are verboten for nursing moms like me. Improbable, ominous; our date was so Father Knows Best, so Mayberry RFD, such a wide, wide grin. I wake to a foghorn, "Opiate of the masses," no memory of the feel of his dark and lovely skin. TOMATO My friend Amy has a jones for pregnant women, wants to fan their flushed faces, pull out chairs for them, carry parasols above them in strong sunlight, fix figs with mascarpone for the calcium and iron. I long to be the rosy, pregnant woman people flock to, hear other women's chattering wisdom, tales: a sister whose teeth fell out from too many babies, milk that spurts across the room at any cry. Her hair went curly. Her hair went straight. Her face erupted in red sprinkles. How are you eating? What are you dreaming? Dream of strawberries, the baby will have rashes. And then one night I dream of Susan Sarandon. She's a radiant red tomato in a straw sun hat, digging in the rows of her organic garden patch, a million months pregnant, and her lover is feeding her chocolate, square by square. AFTER THE GIG: MICK JAGGER The baby cries. Mick Jagger swaggers backstage, lit with sweat. The crowd still screams outside. He's been second-lining with a gaggle of New Orleans Negroes, a white parasol, wares toreador pants and is bare-chested, bones. I've forgiven the Rolling Stones for fetishizing me and my sisters in "Brown Sugar" and "Some Girls." Black girls, black girls, black girls. Why does so much flotsam populate my brain? Why not ancient Ge'ez, the Mingus discography, suminagashi paper technique, something utilitarian? This is a four weeks postpartum dream. Mick Jagger's black baby cries again. Thank God, it isn't mine. Gotta go, love, gotta go, he says, and shrugs his bony shoulders, grins that reptile-mammal grin, picks the baby up, coo-coos, and then rocks that baby down.
Excerpted from Antebellum Dream Book by Elizabeth Alexander Copyright © 2001 by Elizabeth Alexander . Excerpted by permission.
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