The world is burning. Listen to Minnie Riperton on cassette tape. All of the records are in flames. The archives in ashes. Blood pools in the gutters of the streets. A black girl in a pair of ’85 Air Jordans levitates down the block. She is clutching a copy of The Red Record she transcribed by hand, the Book of Eli in her backpack. All the buildings are boarded with eponymous red Xs on their Third Eyes. The house where Muddy Waters lived is broke down. Johnson Publishing is stripped and gutted as a woman of ill repute. The invisible fences between neighborhoods are electric.
Howlin’ Wolf is growling from the mouth of a 17-year-old on 71st Street squatting in the wreckage of Sun Ra’s mothership, mumbling, I’ll feel better if you understand. You won’t listen to me. Black Youth Project 100 is holed up in an architectural effigy they psychically constructed of the house where Fred Hampton was murdered. A transgendered 14-year-old in their ranks is finger painting AfriCobra murals from memory on the walls with looted Kool-Aid packets and bottled water. A cluster of hooded teenagers is reciting lines from Gwendolyn Brooks poems in unison at the top of their lungs on the porch. Remembering, with twinklings and twinges. A freshly shorn Chief Keef speeds by on a dune buggy in a wasteland he created with his own hands. The north side is surrounded by CPD in riot gear. White people there haven’t seen the sun for decades. This is Chicago as we know it, knew it, know it, knew it. Time is an illusion. Depending on the body that you live in, history is slippery as memory. All of it is a series of concentric circles. The question is where do we connect? And when?
Imagine your mitochondria as a listing of names in a chattel slave ledger, or numerical assignment in an internment camp. Suppose your body a record of undocumented workers, or five generations of the spoils of war. Envision yourself booty, Loose Booty, walking the streets—the unholy offspring of poets and mass murderers, both colonized and colonizer intertwined in your cellular structure like an un-pruned rose bush around a rotten trellis. What of history then? Think of the body—your body—as an encyclopedic volume of 1,000 years of experiences. In the middle of one book you have yet to crack exists facing pages, a story of the bludgeoned on one, and the bludgeoner on the next. It’s all one story; The Book of the Dead, The Book of Life nestled next to each other like sleeping children. They are dreaming dreams in your bloodstream.
Which side do you choose? What if you don’t have to choose? These wormholes we call History and Time are the chronicle of near-Biblical lies based on scientific fact. What happens if we wrap our arms around all of it? The Dead, the Living, the Soon Come, all the same time and space. The Good, the Bad, the Ugly, the Sinners and Saints, all inside us at this moment, right now. What if I looked you deep in your eyes and said, “You are the war-torn and the war monger. Both the land locked and the astronaut.” And what does it matter? All of the history books are piled up and molding on the cold floor of a closed school anyway, and the average American couldn’t tell you the top news story last week, much postlude less comprehend the psycho-sociological importance of bringing down and burning every Confederate flag ever made and raised in this country. The room is divided between shoulder-shruggers and angry-faced emojis. God Bless America.
What we believe is this: The wasteland is the compost of the Now. The Future is already here, crawling, tottering like a drunk in the alleyways of time, walking like a sophisticate, running in the shadows with his pants slung low as a gunslinger. The final frontier is between your ears. It is post-apocalyptic dystopia or utopic bliss depending on your position. We can stand in the sun or crouch wounded in the dark; regardless, it’s all of our making.
We are major manifesters. Our DNA contains the skeletons in history’s closet; our left foot is slave, our right is slave-driver. These clouds of high-energy electrons are not static objects. Nothing is static. We exist in a continuum of time that is ever evolving, ever changing. We do not need to re-invent the wheel nor re-form the weapons. The moon and the sun go on playing an eternal game. We are natural phenomena engaged in an unhallowed battle with our Mother. Time is not a line, it is a series of concentric circles. It is also an illusion constructed to induce us to consider the concept of progress as an intellectual exercise. Progress is a verb. The only universe we control is the one between our ears.
Our ancestors said, We shall not regard our swelled head as a sign of real glory for shadows fade at evening. They asked us, ARE YOU LIGHT OR VERY DARK? We know that this is not an inquiry about flesh. We do not worry about history because we look into history’s eyes when we brush our teeth in the morning. We flush streams of history down our toilets, throw chunks of it up when we drink too much gin.
History digests our lunch. We blow history out of our nose. Even in this moment, history inhales and exhales, a secret agent and innocent bystander. We believe that walls are witnesses. As are trees, and street lamps lined along I-94. Even blue boxes, blind and blinking, carry our stories.
History, as Written by the Victors. by writer Krista Franklin, contains lines from Gwendolyn Brooks, Howlin’ Wolf, Oliver Pitcher, Bob Kaufman, Aimé Césaire, Flavien Ranaivo, Wole Soyinka, and Winston Churchill. It is reprinted (with minor edits) with permission by the author from her book Too Much Midnight (Haymarket Books, 2020).
Krista Franklin, The Ghosts of Songs, 2018, 18 x 12 inches, collage and pencil on handmade paper. Courtesy of the artist.