Home is both the chattering of teeth in a cold New England city and a dream in languages made of sand.
This week, I have a vague sensation (memory) of having gone somewhere, as though I’ve been languishing on the shores of an island, walking down dusty palm-lined roads, rubbing sticky mango juice off my hands and onto my thighs, looking up at seagulls flying across a sea-blue sky. I feel as though I have just `gone home’. I realize it’s because of having spent a week curling up with and crying over the stories from Our Caribbean: A Gathering of Lesbian and Gay Writing from the Antilles, edited by Thomas Glave. I’ve been traveling through stories taking place on the islands. Despite my best wishes to remain objective (okay, so I didn’t try that hard), I have seen a part of myself. I have been walking through colonial cities, between old colonial walls crumbling onto mosaic tile floors. They are cities made of composites from film, photography, childhood memories. I have been sitting on front porches and crossing cement floor kitchens in conversation with one aunt or another, who may or may not be my own. I have crawled through small spaces between cardboard walls and tin roofs, searching for what – I’m not sure. I have been here before. I have never been here. The detritus of the hurricane in St Croix is strewn across my memory: missing bridges, buildings, towns and piles of garbage washing up on shore. Or was that Hurricane George?
The silence of fear numbs my ears. I have felt it. That silence that Thomas Glave coalesces into the pleading cry: “I hope that this silence doesn’t kill me or make me kill myself, because (some of us thought and continue to think) it doesn’t seem as though I can possibly be myself, my fullest truest self, the self that everyone would love to know and hug and laugh with, greet with open hands and arms, if…” (Thomas Glave, Introduction, 2). If, If, If…It is that fear that comes from knowing that walking down dusty palm-lined roads, eating mangos, crossing under the shadows of seagulls in the sky blue sky, is as much an inscription of our potential as it is a reclaiming of home. It is a knowing that our bodies languishing under the sun, along the edges of the water, that our walks - buller footed, mati draggin’, zouk jumpin’ dancehall grindin’, rara shoutin’, calypso laughin’ - are not so much an anomaly but an unwelcome reminder. Of what? Of what? Of how we “bring our imaginations to bear” (Michelle Cliff, Ecce Homo, 99); of “/spilling out, of your jeans/into the coming freedom.” (Faizal Deen, Young Faggot, 153)
I am a child of diaspora and much more: dislocations, relocations, migration, globalization. Always, at my insistence, I know there is a place for me: “i am a poet.” (Kevin Everod Quashie, Genesis, 304); “I am a feminist.” (Ochy Curiel, Autonomy in Lesbian-Feminist Politics, 142) “If I call myself a black, feminist lesbian, I am acknowledging by that that the roots of my strength, and of my vulnerability, lie in myself as a woman.” (Audre Lorde speaking with Astrid Roemer in Gloria Wekker, Mati-ism and Black Lesbianism: Two idealtypical Expressions of Female Homosexuality in Black Communities of the Diaspora, 368)
Home is a complicated place. Contrary to the nostalgic dreams of warmth, home is not always a place of safety or retreat. And yet, despite knowing all of this, I’m not dissuaded. In my mind, in my imagination, I can conjure up the heat of the island, the scent of salt and bacalao (saltfish) in the air, the blast of bachata from a passing pick up, the sucking of limoncillo (quinep) seeds, and the quick and fiery movement of children. I can also call up the miles of poverty, the scent of rotting flesh on a hot afternoon, the blast of generators and machines tearing up new roads, and the slow, pained movements of women coming out of the free trade factories. Home is a complicated place. As Glave articulates, “The desire for Home or `home’ often abides in the traveler. Our history-perhaps especially the history we find most intolerable to remember, that began for some of us with harsh voyages across the sea, but never ended there – is about nothing if not movement, memory. Dis-placement.” (Thomas Glave, Introduction, 2).
Maybe the harsh voyage lies not only in sexual-social exile, but also in the cruelty of being able to imagine what in reality is so rarely possible. Movement, memory – what is it possible to remember? In what ways, and where can we go? In a short story, Anton Nimblett writes, “I’m outside of this scene looking in. I’m looking at me sitting here, cradled in the rich, jade hills, swigging clear strong fire from the same bottle with this man…This is so close to a scene I have wished for, even conjured over the years; a scene, imagined in lonely moments – with a different end.” (Anton Nimblett, Time and Tide, 266) In this story, the narrator is a man who runs from home to his `home’: In locating himself in his past (represented by his encounter with the man), his present gives way to his potential future (his imagined scene made real enables new imaginings). But it is the uncertainty of a different end (we do not know if his repeated imagined encounter ends in sex or death and most likely we could surmise that it ends in both) that speaks to the cruelty embedded within the imagining of a queer Caribbean. Perhaps, it is the uncertainty of whether or not the land and its people will hold us that keeps us grounded when our lives have been thrown astray. Perhaps it is the taste of beauty that allows us to continue to assert our connections to those lands (and waters) and to those people as our own, despite.
Tonight, a Thunderbird was rumbling its engine outside my cold New England apartment, and my teeth were chattering. I was trying to recall where I had before had that sensation and remember waking in my aunt’s home in the capital city of Santo Domingo, many years ago, the billiard hall across the street roaring up its generator in time for their first customers. The Thunderbird shakes snow from the rooftop and it collapses into a pile on top of another pile of snow. I am instead imagining rain pouring off of roofs in slews for my cousins and me to wash in. If. If. If…Despite living “in a country that doesn’t think I should exist” (Helen Klonaris, Independence Day Letter, 197), I can still remember/imagine/dream smoky generators, falling rain, family, maybe I can imagine a land that holds me, too.
What is this crossing I have made in my imagination? This return to a place not there, not real and yet so familiar? There is language there that is different from language here. It is language that can only be recalled through land, through water, air, sun, dust: a geography in which the everyday becomes part of one’s being, and one becomes part of the surrounding land. Not in a (shorthand: colonial) nineteenth-century-English-Romance-primitive-man-of-the-land kind of way. But in the way in which snow makes my teeth crunch and the language of the everyday becomes smothered in mountains of ice. The skies, its clouds descending, rob space from above my head. I cannot walk the same here, and because I cannot walk the same, sound and language come out differently. It’s not about words: I tell you it’s not about words. It is instead about breath: the in-between, low tide shallows, lagoons of fresh water, the eye of the storm, that time of day , “when night falls [and] everything grows confusing, [when] there are no precise contours or defined faces, nothing but blurry edges, formless masses, shadows gliding from place to place.” (Jose Alcantara Almánzar, Metamorphosis, 13)