Untitled_222_444, Saysah Yoroonatii
this started as a vision. a dream. a reimagining. a rumination. this started as a vision. a dream. a reimagining. a rumination.
it is all of those things.
this work is inspired by Audre Lorde’s glorious biomythography Zami: A New Spelling of My Name, and the world-building of Black futurism, such as Sun Ra’s Myth Science, and Detroit techno duo Drexciya’s album notes from their 1997 album The Quest. it is a continued exploration of the ways in which Black myth-making, creativity, and ecologies of care are, and have been, vital for our survival.
i combined paper-mache and paper-mache clay, and a creation process involving rice and cornrowing in this performance to recover this transformative praxis of Black resistance history in which African peoples, especially women and gender diverse folks, would weave rice grains and seeds in the cornrows of their hair. this practice ensured their protection and nourishment from familiar seeds as a way of resilience, sovereignty, and survival in unknown geographies. this was particularly practiced when taking long journeys, in the threat of displacment or war, but especially during the threat of the violent (and ongoing) abductions into the slave trade.
it is no coincidence that this practice was woven into and embedded in the ethereality of our hair as a form of survival.
not only was this an act of service, but it was a deep act of care and love.
i think a lot about the fact that for many of these folks, those moments of rice grains and seeds being cornrowed into their hair may have been the last time they were with their beloveds and kin.
what was being said? what was being felt? what was being prayed over?
this was an act that held the multiplicity of ritual, grief, and futurity.
i aimed to honour their lives, intelligence, and stories—both recorded and unrecorded—through this piece.
Mothered, Anna Daliza
Among a flood of prospective undergraduates, I left the auditorium. I walked a couple blocks to the intersection where Mom and Dad had agreed to pick me up. I saw the car waiting, Mom leaning against the passenger door, smiling and waving.
She grabbed me tightly; I could smell the hospital lingering on her clothes.
On the drive home, I told them what I learned about the program. The practicum started in year one, which meant that I would be working with real patients by year three. I told them when I would hear back about early admission, but that wasn’t soon enough for Mom. She asked if I could find out sooner. I told them I was thinking about it, but I still wanted to look at other schools, maybe in other cities.
At this, they both quieted. Dad reached for Mom’s hand, and, after a moment, his eyes found mine in the rearview mirror. I fiddled with the waxy paper bag containing the university pamphlets. The sun beat down. The car bumped along the beat-up road.
We used to drive forty minutes to a Chinese restaurant called The Lucky Kitchen because Mom was convinced the food was fresher. One night, Dad brought home take-out to surprise Mom, and we ate it in bed with her.
Mom and Dad’s bed seemed huge to me as a child. When I had nightmares, I would climb into their bed and sleep in between them. And when I was home sick from school, I would spend the day sitting cross-legged in their bed, watching cartoons and eating soup.
In a few weeks, their bed became a place where I spent nights and days again. I was thankful for the size of it, so that I could sit at Mom’s feet while Dad leaned in beside her, my sister sat on the edge, all of us munching on chicken balls and trying not to spill plum sauce on the sheets.
We spent some nights watching movies together in their bed, and when I came home from school, I did my homework beside Mom, spreading my books out over the duvet.
The edge of the bed was a threshold Mom’s visitors did not cross. Most walked around it, somewhat aware of being in a different spatial plane. They looked on from the outside, where it was safe, commending Mom on her strength; sometimes they looked away and changed the subject. “Would you look at the colour of those leaves.” From where we were, on the bed with Mom, inside the greenish aura of illness, we couldn’t see the leaves.
The aunts who came most often made themselves comfortable among us in bed, cuddling up right next to Mom. We all squeezed in together; Mom was like a girl at a sleepover.
On Sunday, Mom’s cousin Maroun, who we called Uncle, came to the door with a pine cone and a snowball.
When we were kids, Uncle Maroun was always joking. He said hello by rubbing his coarse stubble on our cheeks, leaving our faces raw and red. In the summers, we went to baseball games in Detroit, and Maroun would entertain himself by pelting Mom with peanuts. Driving home with the windows rolled down, I remember Mom’s curly black hair blowing in the wind, the shells of peanuts still tangled in it.
Maroun was tossing the snowball back and forth like a baseball between his hands.
“You’re not going to throw it at her,” I cautioned, hoping that I didn’t have to explain Mom’s condition. He came inside, walking past me, and I got my first look at the snow covered ground. I realized we had missed the first snowfall, both Mom and I.
Seeing what Maroun had in his hands, Mom sat up, more alert than normal. He offered her the pinecone, and she immediately brought it to her nose, forgetting that her sense of smell was nearly all lost due to her treatments. Still, she pressed the pinecone against her skin, inserting the narrow tip into her nostrils.
Maroun placed the snowball on her cheek. She looked up at him, barely reacting to the cold.
Mom tasted the snow, rubbing it first on her lips, then biting into it. Where the cold touched, her skin glowed pink, then red. Drops of melted snow rolled off her cheeks, dripping onto her nightgown. I watched drop after drop wet her clothes, and I waited as long as I could before I had to reach for the snowball.
“Let her enjoy it,” Uncle Maroun hissed.
His voice paralyzed me. I wanted her to enjoy it, but my uncle didn’t realize the challenge of changing her clothes when she was wet. I couldn’t argue in front of Mom. The snow continued to melt, soaking her. My face flushed.
I felt something cold on my arm. “Here,” Mom said, surrendering the snowball like a toy that didn’t belong to her.
I was laying horizontal at her feet listening to her breath. Always listening to her. My phone blinked on, lighting up the room. Dad had fallen asleep in the armchair in the corner, a murder mystery still open on his lap.
“is it crazy that i wanna see u tonight?”
“It’s late,” I texted back.
Mario replied right away, “i’ll come to u.”
I put my phone face down on the bed and the room went dark. A few nights prior, Mom had begun waking up through the night. Her eyes opened wide, and staring straight ahead she whispered, “I’m scared.”
The first time it happened, I asked what she was scared of. Realizing that she was still half asleep, I helped her lay back down. Mom didn’t have to tell me, I knew.
My phone buzzed again. Mario texted, “take ur dad’s car. come here. plssssss.”
I got to my feet slowly, trying not to wake Mom. From my parents’ bathroom window I could see my Dad’s car in the driveway.
A dim light from the bathroom shone into the room, casting a soft glow on Mom’s face. She almost looked like her old self. Her face still full, her dark eyes intense with life. This was the mom I thought of when I closed my eyes. The woman sleeping in the bed was increasingly like a stranger.
“Ok,” I texted back, “I’m coming.”
Mario and I had been dating on and off since the ninth grade. Right now, we were off, but when he opened his front door we kissed like no time had passed since we last touched. He dragged me into the living room and pulled me onto the floor where he had laid down a blanket. With his parents upstairs, we took off each other’s clothes quickly and quietly, moving towards the place where we always stopped.
Tonight, he didn’t want to stop. I let Mario pull me into him, trying to break the invisible barrier that had always been there. “Spit,” he said, holding his hand out. I spit. “More,” he teased, adding his own spit to his hand.
We began the delicate work of moving a body like it’s made of broken glass. “Let’s wash her,” I said.
She had told me that every movement was stabbing pain. This was when she was still verbal, before the palliative care, when they sent her home with fentanyl. There was a change in her breathing, she began to wheeze, her hands, which were normally like ice, began to sweat. Only her body communicated now.
It took the strength of the support worker, my dad, and me to move her onto her side. I used warm, damp cloths to clean her back. This part I did alone, while the worker held her in place. Dad winced at the sight of her bedsores.
After bathing her, the support worker began to assess her vitals. She scored thirty percent on her Palliative Performance Scale. I repeated “Thirty” until the word lost its meaning. It was the lowest score yet. Dad left the room to call the aunts.
Some days after Christmas, the support worker told me, “Sometimes the dying need permission to die.” I continued watching Mom’s chest rise and fall, as before, not noticing the room emptying around me.
The worker spoke to Mom as she packed her bag. She said, “You’ve been strong for your kids. You’ve got good kids. Now don’t worry about anything anymore.” She might have touched my shoulder as she was leaving.
Mom told me I was blue when I was born. The moment I left her, my lungs failed to function on their own. Despite the nurses’ reassurances, she knew that something was wrong. She lost her voice from how much she shouted, crying for the nurses to bring me back to her. I was kept away for one painful hour during which I was pronounced clinically dead for three minutes.
Thanks to the doctors, a normal colour eventually returned to my skin, and the nurses delivered my flesh coloured body to my weeping mom. She took me into her arms, and from then on, held onto me as tightly as she could.
I wondered, as I stood over Mom’s bed—if that original separation nearly killed me, what might happen if we separated again?
When I finally noticed that we were alone, I unswallowed the lump in my throat and spoke to her for the last time.
He looked small sleeping alone in their big bed. I walked past her side, seeing it empty for the first time. I put my hand on his chest. He woke up calmly, like someone used to being woken up several times a night. “Sorry, Dad. I need your help.”
Dad reversed his car out of the garage, stopping next to Mario’s dad’s SUV, which was parked dead in our driveway.
“Come here,” He said, his breath visible in the cold dark. He lifted up the hood of his car. “You too, Mario, I want you to see how to do this. That way you can borrow your dad’s car without getting caught next time.” He was joking, trying to help us feel less embarrassed.
We stood side by side, shivering, and watched him connect red to red, black to black, then start the cars one after the other. Mario mumbled a thank you, then drove off without kissing me goodbye.
I always loved the way it smelled in the garage, the gasoline and motor oil.
“Thanks for showing me,” I said as Dad wrapped the jumper cables into neat loops. He looked up and smiled. He still looked small to me.
“Oh,” I said, “I forgot to tell you. The university emailed. I got in.”
I turned to go inside, but before I could, he said, “Your mom was proud of you.” It came out loudly, like he was nervous to say it. The words hung in the air for a moment. I turned back to him, but he was already facing away, his arms stretched up to the hooks where he slung the cables.