The First White Black Man
saturday, sept 4, 2010
Far from ordinary
all this becomes ordinary far from where it happened
an ordinary building on an ordinary street
like any other in a town grown up around rushing for rail and gold
it does not speak back to voices from the street, volumes elevated by inebriation
it does not even echo but stands
an obelisk of quarried brick
absorbing sound as if it were a fluid poured directly into cracking grout
letting loose occasional whispers of where here happened to be
this is where language retires
behind a mask of weary words that make no sense of nothing
no, these walls do not have ears and
no, these walls do not have capacity for speech
(that would be far too far from ordinary)
but trapped inside somewhere deep maybe behind a loose brick hovering amontillado-like to suffocate lurking sounds is
a building’s soul if buildings can have souls
and even voiceless it gesticulates, a prairie preacher listen here listen up for here there is a story to tell, and to tell it well, unleash a cast of characters from here and here and mostly here with resonance and dissonance from there
the problem with history is that there’s too damn much of it and the little we do remember, well, that has a way of interfering with the best of stories, pitching truth against a brick wall until it splatters a sputtering version that suits the palate even if it rails against the stoney obtrusiveness of fact
we peek into our pack of characters to travel into acres of possibility, to unearth the stench and pleasure that is mixed into the mortar and sealed into an ordinary building
Sir: it has long since been my eyes grew foggy patches across their line, and teeth that once could address the most indelicate of morsels ended falling one by one to leave a head empty of all but the ideas of youth. But death is nothing but another ferry ride and I have done my share of those. Crossing water, that’s the thing, it has always been this way for me, the answers come from crossing water, questions too, and most of all, the memories and memoranda from those heady days. I once told my friends that having explored portions of the North Thompson uninvestigated by any man not native to this land, I must thereby be the first white man to pass that way, if, of course, by white you mean not one of the Secwepemc or their relatives east and north and west. That always got a rise and a laugh, me of Crucian blood, naming myself as White, a last laugh in a muddled type of way. My name? Smith, easy enough to write down in census books, though that name was passed down not so much through bloodlines as through the lineages of property. Which is why born two years after emancipation, my parents middlenamed me Freemont, a free man of colour, note the two e’s, and this I carried with me proudly all my livelong days. John. Freemont. Smith.
he came to me as if in a dream he did and i was shy and turned away. Mary i whispered when he asked me my name, Mary, and that was it and nothing more. He leaned into me then and whispered back some words i have long since misrecalled but i know or think i know they had something to do with how he would take me away as his bride and that was the truth of it. My parents, well, my parents, they were dark as he was, but of a different sheen for where we came from in the dark clear coastal nights there was considerable passage between the indians and the blacks and while i do not know for certain, i feel my people did not come exclusive and uncut from africa.
...a bit more written, but needs some morning revisiting before it posts...