The Museum of Motherhood presents an excerpt of Ekere Tallie’s novella, “Conversations with Strangers.” These selections are told from Sangria’s point of view and highlight the dangers and pain of being a black mother in 1963 and now.
The entire time I was pregnant with Coltrane, it felt as though I had no skin. No borders between myself and the world. I felt everything. Everything. Color had scent, scents had temperatures, when it rained my body wept, and my hair would be filled with clouds. I heard so many thoughts. So many dagger thoughts and news of war and more than once Tashem came to home to find me huddled in a corner, cowering in a closet. For the first time in a long time: afraid. Conscious of the swirling in my body called emotion. I asked Tashem what kind of fools we were to be bringing a child into this chaos. “Weren’t we once innocent,” I ‘d say, “and look at us now.”
And more than once, I’d hear someone’s dagger thought and I’d think about the air my son would breathe, how he would choke on it some days, and I wanted him to stop growing. I wanted him gone. Because how could we protect him from the daily deaths? I walked without skin; I ached for my unborn child. He would walk outside of me. How would I protect him?
One night he appeared in my dream. Our son. His eyes wide, brown, wondering; his tiny body the color of a chestnut. He was pointing at something I couldn’t see. When I woke up I understood that this child wanted to be here, and I cried for hours in Tashem’s arms. Full heavy tears that rocked both our bodies. I cried bricks from the wall of my body because I understood the agony of mothers.
My mother had me in a hot brown place with deep blue arms, coral fingernails and a steel drum pulse. She had exiled us to mangoes, ripened sun, temples, and mariachi; we prayed in bloody soil where skulls whispered and women wore white and danced in the wise hips of the ocean. We grew together, more like sisters than mother and daughter. We learned to cure with roots, to divine with shells, to cleanse with leaves.
The elders told her we’d have to go back.
“But I am a child of here!” I could hear my mother’s voice, shrill as death in the house behind me. “Sangria is a child of here! Not a nigger bitch spic whore half-breed! Sangria is whole. I didn’t have my baby here to take her there and let them break her. No! Sangria is a child of here!” I had never heard that tone in her voice and its chill wrapped around my warm saltwater body. Where were we going? Why was my mother so afraid?
Five months later we left. I’ll never forget the water streaming from my mother’s eyes as we boarded the plane for New York. She held my hand and repeated, “Be strong.” When we landed, we were greeted by my mother’s relatives who looked as though they too had been crying. They hugged us warmly, welcomed us with love, asked about our flight, told my mother I was beautiful, talked about New York and how we’d like it. But still, there was a sadness perfuming them.
After the car ride to their place in Harlem, after chicken, macaroni and cheese, collard greens, yams and sweet tea, the television came on and I learned that four girls were killed by a bomb in a church. I knew then why my mother left this place.
“I’m sorry, Sangria,” she said, her voice quiet like it was coming from a tiny space. “I am so so sorry.” And I knew then why my mother had left this place.
Bio: Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie is a poet, writer, educator, New Yorker and world-wanderer. Her poetry and fiction have been published in several journals in the United States, France and South Africa.
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