Monday, August 24, 2020

Bloodbath, South Carolina

It was only in the twilight,
When he felt that you had passed the test,
The now-empty bottles of choice liquor,
And the four and a half hours of roots reggae,
That he would admit that he was a prodigal son
Of Bloodbath, South Carolina.

"Raised on the ironic side of the tracks",
He would then clarify for you,
"And steeped in the muddy blues"
That last one delivered matter of fact.

He would keenly watch for the contours of your reaction,
The bloodlit eyes squinting as he nursed his drink.
I must have passed, as I didn't even blink,
And merely asked if he went back home often.

I guess I didn't realize that some people
Ran away from where they came from,
Never mind the curse of the hometown magic
My own roots are now located somewhere in the Atlantic
Not too far from the shores of the Gulf of Guinea
An exiled soul, rather, chased from the land of Aburi

Instead we turned the conversation back to music
Enjoying the bass response on the Tannoy loudspeakers
His favourites came either from the chitlin circuit
On the one hand, or some Caribbean island on the other
Roy C, first and foremost, was a touchstone singer
With his tales about life in Infidelity, Georgia
Burning Spear's Man in the Hills album
Would be on constant repeat, and perhaps the obvious dub plates:
Old Slavery Days or that old faithful refrain
Repeated twice to punctuate the sad claim

No one remember old Marcus Garvey
No one remember old Marcus Garvey

Maroons and borderlands were the order of the day
Any fences erected were for mere display
A reflexive disdain of The System's authority
Our conversations returned inevitably to matters of identity

Like his best friend, Bill, whose second home
Was just a stone's throw away
On the outskirts of Slaughter, Texas
He was quiet as it's kept,
Full of wariness towards outsiders.

Bill, tall, broad-shouldered with his long red mane,
Would only share his last name, Sherman,
When he was comfortable with you, and
"Never in North Carolina, you know,
The old man was rough on them in that campaign"

And the memory hadn't faded one hundred and fifty years on.
Such careless whispers could get you burnt by the sun
That was a thing they shared, a kind of identity crisis
As if the sins of the great-great-grandfathers were visited on the sons
What more someone who had flirted at one stage
On the internet, with a recruiter from ISIS
They'd drop these harrowing pearls
In the middle of the nighttime conversations
Again observing your pupils for involuntary reactions.

The stain of Bloodbath, of course, lay much much deeper
Than even Bill's ancestor's civil war march of the grim reaper.
The river turned crimson and overflowed its banks
Its living memory would never get Hollywood's chance
Like Antebellum, Mudbound and Rosewood,
He weaved a tale of unglamourous and relentless lynching
There was no saving grace, and no stich up by avenging
Watchmen, rescuing set upon folks from Tulsa's Wall Street
They were quick to call Bloodbath, South Carolina ancient history,
And there was no small amount of irony,
For those blood vessels that came to rest on Sordid Creek
Belied the remains of a mass gathering of lost souls,
And presaged a strike for appropriated black gold.




Come Smoke My Herb from Meshell came up next,
Conversation turned to our comfort women
And long ago moments of bliss.
"I swear man, that woman could kiss,
I didn't care about anything else,
I would still die for those lips".

Man, trust him to raise the tenor of the conversation
Just after I had quoted him that Twi proverb
"Ababaawa animuonyam ne ne to"
A young woman's reputation lies in her buttocks.
He continued with a sharper retort,
Steady sipping quinine tonic on the rocks
"You guys keep going on about matters of ass.
I'm telling you, back in my town, we have slightly more class.
You wannabe hustlers talking about big pimping
While the reality of a flesh and blood woman
Would make you flee from her garden of Eden".
Touché, I was bloodied in this game of the dozens
Still, nothing I had said came close to barbershop heresy
I wore my mask of fundamental unseriousness for my own reasons.

At length, he got back on track talking about his town's legacy
How you couldn't be wedded to a generation's insanity
Those scrolls he laid out had words written in blood and sin
He deciphered them for us, disdaining the town's eponymous gloom
I began to understand the complexities, that he was no cartoon
A burdened man like him only moved to his own tune
With wist and fortitude, drawing outside the prescribed lines
He lived with an outlaw's sensibility and attitude
A soul forlorn in his fortress of solitude
He preferred prickly cactus to a well-manicured lawn
And so I kept on listening until the crack of dawn
Shooting the breeze with these two children of men.

The soundtrack turned, and we moved away from the Jordan River
To cross the desert of Black Soul, we paused and shivered,
Then, my goodness, shuffle serendipity once again took hold
Her ethereal voice came back on over the futuristic dub undertones
Forgiveness and Love fittingly played for Messers Ebony and Ivory
An odd couple burdened by their parallel, intimate legacies

"Caution, take heed of our insatiable appetites
For even the lion can be brought down by a mosquito's bite
The victors may well write the initial tale with their spoils and glory
But look at you, only a century later, debating these fraught histories.
Narrative closure is an all too human necessity
Storytelling is a given in the affairs of men."
These were my parting comments as I left the two of them
"The tales that we weave will outlast our own timelines.
Bloodbath, South Carolina is a region of the mind."


Gold Coast by Kagyah (2002)

Bloodbath, South Carolina, a playlist


As usual a soundtrack for this note, a musical conversation, perhaps, on the legacies of men.



See previously: Touch

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