Tag Archives: brown

“Can I Take You Home — To MY House?”

It was a wide living-room, luminous with sunlight.  There were no other signs, just my own prior knowledge, but I was sure the room was located upstairs.

Or, it could have been one of those houses that sits on stilts in my grandfather’s village.  There seems to be no natural reason for such a structure:  The inland area at the foot of an ancient mountain knows no floods.  There are no rivers that run by it, and the winters tend to be brutally dry and viciously cold.  But when the snow melts, it turns the ground into mush; yet, no river banks can be feared to overflow.  The thick, purple layer of evergreens that covers the sides of the dormant mountain holds its outer layers in place, and I have never heard of mudslides or earthquakes in the entire history of the family.  If anywhere else, there, in the middle of Russia, nature is obedient and tamed.

There was always a calm flow of hours whenever I came to town.  There would be bickering between the two sides of the family, and that would be the only noise I’d hear for days:  The Russian whites on my father’s side would find the brown tint of my skin somewhat scandalous.  My brown motha’s blatant sexuality didn’t help the matters either.  The matriarchs — the mother of the family and her only daughter (a matriarch-in-training) — would always insist on accompanying me in public.

But the town would be calm, and with an exception of an occasion hushing down of the old women, flocking benches at any hour of the day, I saw no outwardly confrontations.  And even those women would express their aggression with silence and gossip, to which I wouldn’t be made privy, because it would unfold behind my brown back.  This was no place for verbal confrontations or domestic fights.  An occasional drunken brawl would be talked about for months.

And then, everything would return back — to silence!

In a wide living-room, luminous with sunlight that’s possible only in August, there was a circle of mismatching furniture:  An old couch with wooden arms and flowery pattern of its material; an armchair of dark blue velvet, worn out and soiled in its folds.  A wooden barstool was covered with a crocheted throw of fluffy, egg-foam-colored thread.  And there was a rocking chair occupied by the ghost of my grandfather — the only member of the family who was always openly thrilled by the fact that I stuck out in all their photographs.

They were all blue-eyed, tall and sinewy; and in every picture, they stood behind me like a white backdrop.  I would look at the lens from underneath my bushy eyebrows, with eyes so dark, no camera could distinguish the ending to my pupils.  And above my serious, mismatching face, I would be balancing a cloud of messy hair, which, before the flash went off, had been aimed at by one of the matriarchs’ hands and yanked into a careless ponytail.

(Looking back at these photos, you can already see that my body would belong to neither my motha’s clan — a curvatious creature of wild nature — nor to the shared lean physique of the white matriarchs.  I would be somewhere in the middle:  My adolescent frame would already exhibit some softness, but the brown legs, darkened by my chronic solitary play in dirt fields and haystacks, belonged to someone who knew how to run.)

Sylvie Guillem by Richard Avedon

In the sunlit living-room, one of those hand-woven rugs took up the middle section of the floor.  On it, I would be permitted to play, occasionally, after the matriarchs confirmed that there was no work left to be done around the house.  Still, I would hide out, until my grandfather’s return.  Like me, he would be ushered out of the kitchen by the women; and while he watched TV, I finally felt safe to bring my toys out of their hiding places and spread them out at his feet, upon one of those hand-woven rugs.

There was no eating on the floor.  No eating was permitted anywhere but the kitchen and the garden bench.  At times, the old man and I would sneak behind the house and curb our appetite with fresh cucumbers or a few unwashed tomatoes.

“It tastes better this way,” my grandfather would wink at me while polishing the giant berry on against the cloth of his knee.

But seeing a skeptical glimmer from underneath my bushy eyebrows, the old man would reaffirm:

“You get all the natural vitamins when the tomato is unwashed.  Trust me.”

The secret would be to chomp it down quickly, before the matriarchs came out to the garden to collect some scallions or a bouquet of dill for the dinner salad.  So, we would climb back up the stairs (the house sat on stilts, remember?); and reassume our positions of most safety:  His — dozing off in his rocking chair, and mine — conducting stories upon a hand-woven rug.

But in my last night’s dream, the wide living-room, luminous with August sunlight, was filled with other people.  They were loud and beautiful; and they laughed with such violent joy, I noticed the open windows of the house and the shimmering dust suddenly visible in that angle of the sun.  We would be heard, I realized; and what would happen to the silence so strictly protected by the locals — it, at times, eliminates all life?

The beautiful people kept laughing, though.  The women with golden hair intertwined their limb in ways that only women do with each other:  with an intimacy that comes with tenderness and, most importantly, a lack of angst.  The children straddled the wooden arms of the couch; climbed onto the women’s knees and crawled all over their feet.

My grandfather’s chair sat empty.  I watched it from the corner of the room, where I had wedged myself in under an armpit of a tall man with laughing eyes.  He, too, was in on the joke; and he kept shooting over loving gazes my way that seemed to say that I was the pun of it.

Is this what families are supposed to look like?  Is this the way I wanted mine — to feel?

I had so little to remember them by, that all I seemed to want to keep was the empty rocking chair and my grandfather’s ghost.  The rest was up for my rewriting.

“Put Some Colored Girls — in The MoMA!”

She was brown, in a silky slip of raw salmon pink; and when she walked, the wind played peekaboo from underneath her skirt.  The hair was down, relaxed in that magical way that made it soft, but with some mighty heft:  One could easily bury a hand in it, or an entire limb; or tangle up a heart.

On her feet, she wore a pair of sandals borrowed from some Amazon warrior, which buckled all the way up to her magnificent mid-calf.  The muscles trapped under all those belts and copper buckles moved and flexed; and at any moment, she could’ve shaken off the dainty shopping bags from her shoulder blade — and start leaping:  to save a child or to defeat a monster.

“God damn!” I muttered to my partner.

But he was already on the same page:  squeezing my bicep and smiling the grin of a six-year-old who has just discovered he liked girls — most definitely!  He waited for the creature to get another meter ahead of us, stared at the ground — out of his respect for me and for my brown dream girl — and he quietly said:

“I know.”

Immediately, I thought of that ugly, old dog I have been honing to become my muse, in moments of my literal dry spell:

“but why do they do that?

why do they look like that?

why do they let the wind do

that?”

Bukowski, Hank:

Always in love with some magical bird’s legs, treating every infatuation like a temple in which to worship a departed lover.

Just as I do.

Amen!

But then again, that’s all it took:  a flight of one magical bird, in a silky slip of raw salmon pink — and my hunger was resurrected.

I felt the urge to play again, to worship, to want.  To dream.  To love.

And the literal dry spell — was over.

Another one sat sideways on a tiled step of a whirlpool, reading The New Yorker, folded in half, lengthwise.  She barely looked at me when I slowly descended into the hot water.

Okay:  There was one glance.  But that’s all it took:  a glance by one magical waterbird.

Then, she returned to reading, while all I could think was:

“Was there a smile?”

Because I swore there was.  A small one.  The one that I use myself to thank a man for his attention but to prevent any further advances.  The pressed-lipped one.  The smile-off.  (You know the kind:  It’s kind.)

She wore the tiniest bikini the color of the first summer tan.  And in between flipping the pages, she would put the magazine aside and go under the swirling, hot water entirely.  The silky hair of her Persian heritage would float above; and when she would come back up — it would cling to her long neck and the upper arms like second skin.  Or like an oily film on the wings of some magical waterbird.  She would read some more, do that thing again.

And when she slowly ascended out of the hot water, the hair continued on:  sticking to her lower back and all along her toned, capable arms; and it would invade the boundaries of the tiniest bikini the color of the first summer tan.

“you don’t know how exciting life can get

around here

at 5:35 p.m.”

(Bukowski, Hank.)

The dry spell, how ever literal, was over.

Back home, on my phone, I’d find a message from a creature an ocean away.  She was brown, caramel-brown, to be exact; and she had a library of hair styles, each more striking than the next.  At times, she’d wear it down, relaxed in that magical way that made it soft but with some mighty heft:  and every time, I would bury my entire heart in it.  Other times, she would tame it with a scarf the color of dry grass on the veldt of her heritage.  But my favorite was always the halo of tight curls, each perfected with some potion that only the brown girls know — and seemingly with a twirl of her long, pinky finger.

She would get inside my car and unleash her hair, filling the air with the aromas of coconut and that very magical potion that only the brown girls know — and with the perfume of her dreams.

“God damn!” I’d say and yank us into traffic.

And I would start speeding, as if we were a pair of Amazon warriors, about to leap out:  to save a child or to defeat a monster.  But really, my only excuse for speeding was to make her laugh, while shaking the halo of those tight curls in which I would bury my heart — for keepsakes.

“200 years ago they would have burned her

at the stake

now she puts on her

mascara as we

drive along.”

(Bukowski, Hank.)

Her message on my phone had come from the veldt of her heritage.  She had flown home, after a break-up; and instead of healing herself in the arms of the next lover, she went off to help the others, more in need:

To save the children and to defeat the monsters.

“God damn!” I muttered, this time to myself, and I sat down to write.

Because that’s all it would take:  a flight, a bird, a wing, or a kind heart.

And my dry spell, how ever literal, would finally be over.

Amen.