Where is Your Black Son?
In the Dream
Your black son tells you a story of a boy he knows. The boy likes eating potatoes with sprouts. The boy strokes one, a spotted brown vegetable with faint green tubules clawing outward in all directions. He likes the nubby pieces. Stiff pills of baby potato.
Sometimes your black son dreams of these sprouts. He’s in the doctor’s office. On one wall, the doctor has a life-size diagram of a male body with red and blue webs of veins. The thin paper on the exam table hisses and bunches and your black son lies down. He stops moving to stop the sound, even though he’s not comfortable on his back. He rests with his eyes open, listening for movement outside of the room.
Your black son feels a rough caress at the bones of his ankles. He tries to jerk his legs off of the table. He can’t. Knotted bands rub across his neck, in the crease of his elbow. When it scratches around his chin, he sees it for what it is— a bumpy shoot of potato sprout, now peeling off into more thin shoots that inch into his ears. He doesn’t yell. They curl from beneath the bed and snake layers over stomach and his chest. Your black son stills and closes his eyes as the sprouts shackle him to the bed. When the nurse walks in he finds a purple and green cocoon atop a human sized potato where the exam table should have been.
In the Window
Glass exploding, skating across hardwood floor in jagged chunks. Your black son flies through the window, his body curled in half, a soundless canon. He shoots through the frame and then falls to the floor, rolling until he slams against a wall. His head smacks a base board. He lies, stunned, breathless for a few seconds as the room whirs before him. Your black son sits up and lifts his eyes to the afternoon sun. The trees are warping, twisting their trunks and heavy limbs over, bowing in repeat. The slatted window panes hang from one screw.
In the Water
Your black son is by the lake at the edge of the woods. He plays with the sand beneath him, shaking it and pouring it through a small hole made by the bend of his pinky as waits for the beach to clear.
Eventually he is alone, and he smiles when the sun swirls pink and orange. Behind him, the birds come waddling from behind the trees, their white puffed chests washed pink by the sun. Their black flippers are stiff and outstretched. Thirty of them come toddling from the shade of the forest onto the beach.
Your black son whistles a short succession of notes and the other birds appear from around the trees, their royal blue necks and heads bobbing twice the tempo of their feet. They amble on their long legs, dragging iridescent feather tails behind them. The peacocks meet the penguins on the caked sand. Their white and blue bodies touch at the breast, and the peacocks spread their wings into shell-shaped fans, filtering pink and orange light through their ocean colored feathers.
Your black son stands, brushes off the sand from his jeans. He walks toward the water, arms stiff like the penguin flippers. His feet stir ripples in the warm green water. The birds follow.
On the Street
Your black son is on the street. He appears unsettled. He might be dreaming of potato sprouts.
By the House
Your black son appears down the street by the house with fifty small windows and blue curtains. He’s wearing a baseball cap and a hoodie. He rounds the right corner of the house by the large flower bed of purple blossoms and appears again on the left side by the stone statue of St. Mary whose hands are clutched in prayer. Then he disappears. The street is silent. Your black son stands on the red shingled roof, balanced, despite the deep slant. He looks out over the quiet neighborhood. He walks down to the edge of the roof and steps off. He’s in the air. He’s floating in front of the house with fifty small windows and blue curtains and looking out toward your house where you are standing, reaching for the newspaper by the mailbox. He’s looking at you.
A few good words with Charnell
BVS: The voice of the narrator in “Where is Your Black Son?” is omniscient, god-like, floating around and inside of the series’ black son. Who (or what) do you see the speaker embodying?
CP: The speaker does have a seeming unlimited access to the world of the piece. In spaces where the black boy is alone, the speaker somehow knows and relates the truth. In this way, the speaker embodies those with true and intimate knowledge about the black son, representative of those in our world who possess true and intimate knowledge about black sons.
The boy in the story appears in surreal settings in which he doesn’t seem to belong, similar to the way black sons in our world find themselves in places they don’t seem to belong, like in the mouths of many people who perhaps have no contact or relationships with black youth but are in positions in which they are afforded to speak about “young black men,” especially concerning the media attention on black boys and police brutality. Unlike the strangers’ mouths that speak the names of black boys they never knew, the narrator in this piece has intimate knowledge about the boy’s life.
BVS: I was very drawn to the potato as object, as favorite food, and as potential jailer/murderer of the black boy. It seems not by accident that potatoes multiply themselves—their flesh give way more to flesh, those “faint green tubules” birthing the next generation. It felt especially important as a metaphor when juxtaposed against the black son, who is, without ever explicitly stating it, in danger of being unbirthed, or of being, as the title of the piece implies, gone. There is a play between the allusions to proliferation and waning. I wondered how you saw the potato and the boy speaking to each other.
CP: The allusions to the disappearance of the black boy in this piece are allusions to the killings of black boys in our world, specifically in the hands of the police. The speaker says the black son is on the street and that “He appears unsettled. He might be dreaming of potato sprouts,” the same sprouts that have just been seen consuming him. In order for the son’s existence to be in jeopardy, something or someone must jeopardize it. He doesn’t not simply wish himself away. The potatoes, as harmless as they seem, become those agents of destruction.
BVS: We all have read poems that feel as though they were written with our experiences in mind. What poem(s) speak to your blackness, what poem(s) paint your likeness?
CP: My first encounter with poetry that spoke to my likeness was, like it has been for many others, the poetry of Maya Angelou. Her portraits of black women encompass grace, resiliency, and strength. One of my favorite lines of hers is, “I am a black ocean, leaping and wide” in “Still I Rise.” The wild beauty of that image stuns me.
I am also drawn to a few spoken word poets, Zora Howard and Alysia Harris in particular, who often speak about their experiences as young black women. I love the richness and grit of truth they present when testifying to their identities as black female artists.
Charnell Peters is a senior professional writing major at Taylor University. Her work is published or forthcoming in Fiction Southeast, Altarwork, Cleaver Magazine, Ruminate Magazine, Quick Fictions Application, The Secret Place, and Fire Bible for Kids Devotional.