Coney Island by Katherine McBride
Xavier and The New Year
She screamed not with her voice, but through her body. The screams radiated out through Jane’s limbs, reverberating in the droplets of sweat she wore in her hair, like some ancient atavistic oil that would harken forth the long line of her ancestors. That was my wife, I remember thinking, and yet looking at Jane I knew that I’d never seen this woman before. That this was the first time I’d ever seen Jane, soundlessly writhing, laboring with our first child, a boy we named Xavier.
Despite the way the night turned out, believe me when I say I remember it well. Even now, years later, when all our children are grown and I am old and prone to the pitfalls of forgetting, even now I can conjure up that New Year’s Eve in a glut of sparkling detail. What a strange time that was. My world then was riddled with holes, and the night Xavier was born proved no exception. What do I mean? Well, there were gaping dashes and sucking loops that left me dangling between the weft and warp of time. An anything – a murmur, a reflection in the eye of a stranger on the crosstown bus, the anthers and corona of an orchid in a cafe window, a caught breath – and I fell out, coming to to find myself staggering through the fogged lacunas of my memory.
That delivery room, though, that I can rebuild in my mind, fitted with its medical rocking chair and smelling reassuringly of antiseptic. I remember wondering why I was there at all. I felt useless; a scarecrow fitting of a husband, a nitwit sentient who would deter only the most foolish spirit. That night returns to me now often- it was a portal, that night and that year – the nearest I came to the truth of our small, short lives. I remember Jane in her agonizing sixth hour of labor, which for a first child, the nurses assured me was nothing, nothing at all. Her compact, freckled body had splayed, dilating the four centimeters that were in my opinion far too few, paltry, and awful. I had a premonition that she would split open like a pomegranate, with viscous, watery sachets of seeds and blood splattering on the linoleum floor. And no baby anywhere, just juice. Jane had the heart to laugh at me, and that, I remember, felt nice.
It was then, at the end of the sixth hour, that the doctor announced it was time to begin. Time to begin confused me all the more, because I knew this had been going on long enough already. The doctor was a mournful looking Romanian man with a crook on his nose. He was named Cotici. Dr. Cotici meant to push, I realized then, and with the word, the mercury in me began to swirl, and the past to creep into the night. I was holding Jane’s hand, or she was holding mine and I know I was thankful then that she kept her nails short and rounded. Alistair, Jane asked me, are you with me? I told her that I wasn’t sure where I was. I wished for her then that I could have been some man other than myself. Jane answered me in voice remarkably civil, as though asking for a cup of tea: Then bring me my mother, Alistair.
As I exited the nurses whispered to me conspiratorially that our baby was set to be the first born in that uptown hospital in the New Year. One nurse, still half a girl, smiled brightly through her lip-lined lips and said that we might even have the city’s first baby on our hands. Her small hoop earrings swung, time-ticking pendulums. Why that meant glory, or success, or happiness I wasn’t sure, but I nodded and headed for the door. I moved through the corridors, despicably relieved, towards my mother-in-law. The hospital was amuck with a hellish mix of guts and gore, drenched heavy in inches of champagne and whiskey. The thing was it was 11:15 p.m. on the 31st of December and a jovial energy hovered on the violent edges of the hospital and the city. My child, I knew, would emerge into this decadent and noxious winter night covered in a glistering golden dust, and I thought suddenly of Aaron’s golden calf and God’s wrath and man’s slaughter.
Therese, my mother-in-law, held a charcoal evening clutch in her plump hand. She had come straight from some nearby party and her floor-length black dress was weighted with dangling beads, which jingled as she stepped. She looked like a bordello lamp plopped in the middle of a warzone. I remember I said nothing, actually, but Therese rose anyhow, her rosy body moving past me without a word. She patted me on the back and laughed a clipped, regal laugh. It was the laugh of a general who knows what lies on the other side of the mountain.
I was left in the waiting room with the lingering dark floral notes of her perfume when it happened. I collapsed into the plunging gravity of memory. I’m not speaking in metaphors. When you are old, you will understand that memory is a both a tangible and a fluid thing, and when you are old you will know that memory has always run through you, more vital than the blood in your veins. As the years pass, memory will do away with you day by day until you see that you have only ever been a catalyst for memory, a humble host. The memories will run on beyond your withering body, beyond the end of the decaying Earth, and making its own way, ebbing in eternity.
I say this quite literally then that in that waiting room memory took hold of me with the sound of my own mother’s voice whispering in my ear. She murmured again and again, “I will love you until the end of the world,” the way she’d done every night when I was a child. Then I was small boy being tucked tightly under flannel covers in our old apartment on Park. Her eyes twinkled before me in the darkness, two mystery starscapes. “Until the end of the world,” her English words lilted, broken, and her native intonations echoing of shadows and rocks and shallow graves. What was she telling me when she said she would love me until the world’s end? Did the world have edges and conclusions, a final page in a fairytale? Or was it that her love was apocalyptic? When the sun burned into its fiery death and the earth froze to stillness, would my mother’s love finally be quenched? And was that enough?
Now remember, when Xavier was born, my mother was still very much among the living, but the woman in my dream was not. Understand – she was the mother I’d lost, she’d lost, a foreign girl who said Alistair, strangely: all is stars. By the time I was in the waiting room on the Upper East Side and the winter sky was mineral and stark and my child was coming, my mother knew all the names my Connecticut Yankee father had misplaced. She knew it all, and the lost spaces in her were lost too. My memory-heart pooled with memory-blood for this ghost of the woman my mother had been. She, who was hiding in my brain, who slipped past me like light through lace, and left me wondering whose heart she was fluttering, the boy’s or man’s, which were inevitably both mine, and the same and unsame.
A steady slapping on my back broke me back through and again I was in the hospital waiting room with a gin-breathed man in a disheveled tux. He held me in a half-hugged embrace. He asked me if we’d timed it. I blinked a few times and he repeated his question. He meant the birth, the pregnancy – had we timed it. He winked at me as though we were both members to an exclusive club of inseminators. I had the urge to punch him in his glib, pink slice of a mouth, but also to hug him, collapse into his arms, have him throw me in a cab and send me home like a drunk. But my then I remembered my Jane, my bride, and I wondered how long I’d been out.
The delivery room had reached a fevered pitch as the minutes raced to midnight. Therese was smiling. Cotici was smiling. The nurses were smiling. Not Jane. I admit I became ensnared in the tangle of the moment, thinking for a while that we had planned it this way, that this was the fruition of our dreams, and that we weren’t flying blind, blindly seeking in the bruised purple black interior of my wife, some sort of key, or some sort of oblivion. And I could picture then a fantasy life where what we wanted was simply the first child in the New Year, and I could see the aureole of Jane’s red hair on the pillowcase with me inside her, her hoisting some gargantuan mad-hatter pocketwatch and counting seconds. Timing: my baited breath, the shudder of hips. Her shouting “Go!” from the sidelines of her own form. Then us collapsed, again just two people unsure of their endeavor, like two NASA scientists who’ve launched a priceless mechanism into the unknown heavens hoping to reach, hoping to wake some other life. A life where we were two forced to wait, to wait and see if it had meant anything at all, our work, our effort, our love, which is not so unlike the reality of what had happened at all.
But here again was Jane in the hospital bed, and this is what I remember: The vicious scent of iron filled the room to every corner and I worried for a moment that I might be bleeding. Jane, sweet sweat-soaked Jane, I said, I’m here, but she stared into a nothingness between her knees, as though she were staring into a chasm, a deep void. I knew that she was battling her own glittering and hidden infinite for her child. Dr. Cotici said, “We’re crowning.” Another nurse yelled that the time was 11:58. Then a keyhole appeared before me and I slipped back into the billowing blackness and I know nothing more of that night.
Through the keyhole where I’d slipped was the memory of a dream. It was a dream I’d had as a boy and have had forever since. I am crouched in midnighted space peering out to a craggy and mossy-green mountainscape. A edgeless lake spills interminably back into the horizon. Around the lake mountains rise like cusping fingers. The air is still. Then the lake-surface shatters into refractions of colored light and from the algaeic waters emerge my mother, my father, my sisters, my wife, my neighbors, every unnamed person. These water-people link their soggy fingers and sing. I cannot hear them, but I know they are singing and that I know the song. As they sing, children climb down from tree tops and old, stooped ancestors wander out from hidden mountain caves. Old Jane and young Jane are there, and Xavier newborn and ancient. A thousand selves and other selves.
I am not there, but here on this other side in an perpetual vastation without a body or a voice or a space. I am happy. Within this space is every nothing and every everything: I am there, folded into the batter of the giant everlasting memory of the world as it is existing and unexisting, extinguished and aflame. Then the keyhole disappears and all is darkness, the space where peace and chaos are the same. This is the end.
I woke with a mouth full of blood in a hospital bed next to Jane. I had fallen to the floor right as the years had changed. The baby I had known all my life was sleeping on her sturdy chest. I asked her if he was the first. He was one of the many, she said.
Yes, you see, I remember it well. Now I am old and the melancholy of the New Year is here with me again: the crushed party favors, the blood running in icy gutters, jazz records playing in the early hours of the morning, as I dance with a woman, my wife, a darkened stranger through the temporal trajectory of our hurtling planet. And we wait, Jane and I, for the memories that will come to claim us and bring us back to the end of the world.
by Kathleen Nora White
by Jamie Hinrichs
At the End of the World
there is a body
of water. We sit brackish not unlike a weeping Circe
and the day hasn’t fully committed to raining.
The water sweeps the shore unhurried, the small collisions, sand and
wave, the tidal pull and here I am, wishing for the impossible.
Who, if not you, brought the summer? In the end I was left
caught-breath and humid, skin stuck to skin. Who waited? Who brought the hollow horse,
the soldiers who took up the gates, tore the slept-in city, crept the beaches, soft
water lapping at their knees?
We’re all on the wrong side of the wall. Didn’t see that coming.
Though it is a warm night the opaque sky shivers.
I reflect sky on the reservoir. Clouds pulse to clouds and frightened stars
come back again. This is no consolation. Still it is damp and gray
night, the deepness between hours the only mechanism that stays. I found a way to let go.
I found a way to go
to the dead. Could have waited, could have withered. Could have: breath,
not gone. Blood, not gone. Hands, not gone. Tongue. I maybe found a small potion.
Then I felt nothing. Then I thought of the rivers, Hudson and East, and the Venetian
lagoon. Then I stood quiet and only watched
the water run out beyond the bridge.
At the end here is a pool. You’ll have all of me: the
waters and wishings, commas and ellipses. The goings and the goings and the
comings. And and and. Awash, all hued, I but not
the rest of me learned to river, remember, move. All-encompassed. All-right.
Allegorized. Already I was ready: and, and, and alight. Reinvent the end and
it’s morning. Maybe it’s time better suited to forgetting but who keeps it?
If not you.
by Farryl Last
by Jamie Hinrichs
The Beat Goes On
At this point, I don’t need to explain to you what twerking is. Or why everyone’s suddenly obsessed with it and why that perturbs me. What’s more interesting to figure out and what I want to know is: how can I escape? Upon reflection, I realize this is a question I’ve wanted answered long before a foam finger and teddy bears became symbols of oppression. It might have started in sixth grade, the first time I heard a white person rap the word “nigga.” Another time was when my ex wanted to educate me on daggering, the “new” dance she and her other privileged, white friends had discovered and claimed at their small liberal arts college in Massachusetts. I couldn’t have spelled it out at the time, but the burning sense of confusion, anger and violation I felt really came from the desire to not be in that moment. I needed to somehow escape into a world where I wouldn’t have to encounter blatant fetishizing of culture near and dear to my heart—who I am, where I come from, the blood in my veins. Growing up in a rustbelt city, on the wrong side (meaning “ghetto side” meaning “black side”) no one gave a shit about our dancing. To the outside world, we were young statistics-in-the-making practicing our barbaric, animalistic moves. They didn’t see the crowns we earned on the dance floor, or understand how we found self-confidence and freedom through moving our bodies. A few decades later and suddenly everything we were told to feel shame about is coveted, but only for its exotic aura. We are welcomed into the house, but we still have to enter through the back.
Lately, I’ve been running to the world of global bass for relief. Global bass is an umbrella term given to the fusions of global ghetto sounds, all rooted in syncopated beats and heavy bass rhythms. It’s created by DJs and Producers who are connected and powered by the internet. You don’t hear it on the radio. In fact, I don’t listen to global bass as much as I experience it live at parties like Que Bajo and Azucar! in New York City (though sister parties exist in cities like Philadelphia, Portland and San Francisco). As these titles suggest, the scene is heavily saturated in Latino culture in the States, equally influenced by the sounds of Brazil as it is by that of Spanish-speaking and Caribbean countries. However, there is also a strong presence of Southeast Asian, African, Central Asian and Middle-Eastern sounds. The language barrier serves as the security gate; you can’t claim what you literally can’t understand. Similarly, it’s hard to walk into a cultural space that’s extremely unfamiliar. I don’t think we’ll see Miley Cyrus dancing to kuduro anytime soon; it was hard enough getting my black friends to have the patience for bachata.
Race and language are not the only hindering variables. Global bass is referential: DJs often disorient older, familiar songs by placing them in different contexts: slowing them down, cutting them up, adding new rhythms. Songs you may have grown up with are queered, politicized, de-politicized, sexualized and remixed to a point of convolution where the original song is conveyed only through a sense of déjà vu. The experience of a global bass dance floor follows a theme that has been common in the Latin music scene for decades, particularly that of Brazil: inversion. It is a complete restructuring of the familiar, achieved through hybridization, or what some call cultural cannibalism–a constant devouring of surrounding influences. I’d go as far as call it cultural regurgitation: bits and pieces from that genre, this genre, that country, this ethnicity, are chewed-up, swallowed, and spit back up a congealing pool of dance music. Of course, this is not adequately appreciated if you have no grasp of the original references, despite how vague it becomes in the blended beats. If you’re not familiar with the referenced song then you miss out on the moment or statement the DJ is trying to make. Thus, a cultural border is made, the “us” and “them” are separated, and a community of others is protected.
When you are of marginalized identity, you work to find spaces, both physical and experiential, where that marginality isn’t so obvious. For most of my life, I have been the only “one” in the room–even if that room was looking pretty brown. As a QPOC, I know first hand how fitting in is not easy, especially when you are the square peg to the round hole of what you are “suppose” to be like, or what’s most accepted by your peers. Looking back on my teenage years, I can’t blame my black friends for not being into meringue or salsa. That music belonged on the west side of town, where the Puerto Ricans lived. Our town was regimented and had it’s code; we made due with what we had–so did everyone else– and when you’re lucky enough to get so little, playing around with different ways of experiencing it is a luxury you can’t afford. There is no room or time for inversion and remixing, even when your body and self desperately need the flexibility. It’s not surprising that I ended up in a city as diverse as New York, where the rules of who you could be and where you could be her are more grey. I’m not alone in my exodus to the super-urban promised land. Cities have long been centers of new possibilities and identities, and on the dance-floors around the world I’ve been on, I have always encountered the booty-shaking sojourner, taking a dance break from her journey to freedom and security. “We really just wanted a space that was safe,” says Crystal González-Alé, co-founder of Azucar and La Joteria, in a recent article in Bitch! magazine. “We wanted to go out and dance to the songs we grew up to without having worry about the creepy guy in the club.” I don’t want to have to worry about the creepy guy in the club either, nor the the well-intended but ill-informed drunk party guest who finds me, my hair and my body movements fascinating for all the wrong reasons. Just because you have yet to take responsibility for your participation, albeit unknowingly, in the perpetuation of racial hegemony doesn’t mean I don’t get to relieve myself from the burden of my otherness from time to time.
Insulated by the cultural wall, I breathe freely in the egalitarian world of global bass. I enjoy the reinterpretations of dance-hall and reggaeton tracks that peppered the soundtrack of my yesteryear. As well as the funky blends of sounds from countries that I’d never encounter in any other context – countries that I don’t know much about and probably couldn’t place on a map; countries that remain in the global south, even as their music travels easily and freely to the north, perhaps without much (if any) compensation sent back to the artists who make it. Their products are shipped around the world, repositioned and claimed by people like me, who use this cultural product for their own purposes. We feel like discovers, or even pioneers of a scene. We could also be called post-colonial cultural imperialists, but that would kill the vibe.
Appropriation: what happens when one culture or group of people steal from another culture without giving credit. But can it be called out in a web of sharing between cultures that has been going on for centuries, first over trade routes and now over Soundcloud? Claims of authenticity can only be supported if origins can be traced, and that’s nearly impossible with the dance music of the global south and north. It’s nearly impossible with the popular music of mainstream America. Through the various trials of appropriation and regurgitation throughout history, ownership becomes hard to designate. There’s still a debate on who created salsa, so there’s no way we’ll figure out who twerked first: the Malaya dancer in the Arabian peninsula or the girl at an outlaw party in the Cayman Islands. Ownership in the era of digitized music is almost an obsolete idea, yet we still cling to it as if the taking and remixing isn’t what has created the very sounds we wish to protect. Appropriation – or hybridization, whatever we call it –is the driving force behind musical creation and cultural continuation. As long as people are looking towards other genres and scenes for sources of jouissance and inspiration – whether they’re preachers’ daughters exploring sexuality or cultural voyeurs looking for a new world to experience – white girls will twerk, I will dance to Forró, and music will evolve. What then happens to the safe spaces when the novelty wears off and the culture that once built the security wall is consumed into oblivion? At last weekend’s Azucar, in between sweating it out with spinning jot@s and taking shots of Southern Comfort, I looked around and sighed in defeat: soon others would come, just like I did, to see something new. They would bring their ignorant and curious friends, just like I did. Even those of us in the community will commit treason until the flood of influences and claims drowns out the memory of the specific. In a year from now, maybe two, the queer and the brown will be on the move again, pushing the margins back even further. Then what: does the chase continue until there is no margin left? In our increasingly diverse, global and connected world, will we become so remixed as humans that our points of origin are lost, our lines of separation removed, and the security to be a common right and not a luxury? Probably not. The push and pull will continue and the sojourners will run to find their freedom, only to be chased down again by those who need it to, decade after decade, century after century until the end of the world. It will be exhausting for the runners, but pretty awesome for the evolution of music.
by Elisa Peebles
by Katherine McBride