By Amira Shokr
On October 13, 2016, the Drown Writing Series poetry reading event—sponsored by Amaranth (Lehigh’s literary magazine), The Women’s Center, and the Zoellner Arts Center—made for a lovely afternoon. A small gathering of people that love literature came together in the cozy setting of the Humanities Center in celebration of poet Nikki Giovanni’s Thursday, October 20th visit to campus. A light lunch was served to accompany a poetry reading by members of the Lehigh community.
Several shared poems with an enthusiastic audience. Some poets, like Brian Reese, recited from memory. Reese gave a rigorous reading of his poems and brought to life scenes of his home town Scranton, PA. Others like Joanna Grim shared stories of heartbreak and of modern day prejudices in her poems “Ben” and “Women Who Travel Alone.” And Amaranth’s own Robert Fillman and Connor Burbridge gave poignant readings of their poems—Fillman reciting a poem about bullying and coming of age in “Re-learning the Walk Home,” and Burbridge, an insightful look into the demise of the service industry in his poem “Dispatches From a Dead Mall.” Another student, Jamir gave an emotional performance with a powerful poem called “Righteous Love”—a very relatable experience of heartbreak and love.
All of the poets’ performances were unique, and each came to life in the lovely atmosphere of the Humanities Center. The afternoon was well spent and much enjoyed, and I encourage people to go to the future poetry readings and gathers of the Drown Writer’s Series.
The next Drown Writers Series reading event will be on Thursday, December 8th, 2016 at noon at the Humanities Center. Please mark your calendars!
Notations Series: Tavis Smiley, at Zoellner Arts Center, on September 30, 2016
By Lauryn Ragone
Author, publisher, and PBS talk show host Tavis Smiley of the Tavis Smiley Show, and political activist spoke at Baker Hall at 7:30 p.m. this past Friday, September 30.
Smiley walked onto stage waving to the audience, which was comprised of mostly faculty members, Bethlehem residents, and Lehigh Valley Arts School charter-school students. The charismatic TV host admitted that Lehigh personally asked him about his agenda and he stated that he speaks best off-the-cuff.
Smiley stated that his goal was to open the audience’s minds through his lecture. His talk covered a plethora of topics from the election, race, poverty, love, and leadership.
He began his speech with the question, “How do we make America as good as its promise?”
He compared his question to Donald Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.” Smiley commented that his question is different because Trump’s slogan implies that America was once a great nation. Smiley questioned the greatness of the nation with its history of segregation, inequality, the disenfranchisement of women and minorities, and the mistreatment of Native Americans and Asians.
Smiley wants a country with promise and equality for every gender and race, which led to his next question: “Who are we really and what kind of nation do we want to be?” Smiley said this is the question that Clinton and Trump address during their presidential debates.
He admitted that America is losing hope.
“You can build a whole life on nothing but hope,” Smiley said.
He referred to his own personal experience of having nine siblings, three beds, and all living in one trailer.
“2017 needs a little hope,” Smiley said.
Smiley believes that hope is created through strong leadership. He discussed the importance of leadership in the upcoming election: “You can’t lead people unless you love people and you can’t save people unless you serve people.”
He said love means that everyone is as worthy, which is how he suggests making America as great as possible. He compared his ideas of those great leaders, such as Gandhi and Mandela.
He also criticized President Barrack Obama on his lack of leadership in developing economic opportunities for the black community.
At the end of his speech, members of the Lehigh Valley Chapter Kappa Alpha Psi honored their Indiana University brother, Smiley, with the fraternity’s lifetime achievement award. Following Smiley’s award was a question and answer session where residents and Lehigh Valley Art School students asked him a variety of questions from the election, to writing programs, to police brutality.
Throughout his speech, the audience applauded and acknowledged his statements. His calm and enthusiastic demeanor made him an inspiring speaker.
By Leonard Otto
Bich Minh Nguyen spoke to a friendly, interactive crowd at Baker Hall in Zoellner Arts Center on Tuesday, September 6, 2016. The audience was made up of Lehigh upperclassmen, faculty, and droves of excited first-year students who had been assigned to read her novel Stealing Buddha’s Dinner as a Lehigh Summer Reading Program selection.
Minh began her talk with an inclusive exercise, asking the audience to shout out the titles of memorable books they had read during in their childhoods, in high school, and recently. She smiled and wrote down the titles, addressing each of them individually.
“Whoa please slow down guys! I can hardly keep up!”
After going through the titles she asked the crowd,
“Now what do these novels and stories all have in common?” Silence fell when she noted that, in fact, every author named was a white male. “Oh, except J.K. Rowling. There we go, there’s a woman.”
The exercise was a worthy introduction to her discussion of her motivations for writing Stealing Buddha’s Dinner and its purpose. Nguyen went on to speak about the traditional notions we hold of what a great American author really is: “Like Hemingway- masculine, powerful…”
But the audience was not to blame for this. “We all feel this way. How did we get here?” she went on to ask.
Nguyen discussed how these types of thoughts can be attributed to the food we eat, the books we read, and the advertisements and television we are exposed to throughout our lives. These influences, she explained, are a huge part of our identities and the ways in which we view the world around us. The question “how did we get here” and “how do young people come to understand their identities” were just some of the questions she asked herself when reflecting upon her childhood as an immigrant living in a suburban U.S. town, and the questions that drove her to write the book.
“Food plays a huge role in the book because it played a huge role in my life. Food brought my family together. My dad would bring home weird food he found fascinating, like Wrigley’s spearmint, or fried chicken in a bucket. In fact, I want some fried chicken in a bucket right now! It always tastes better from a bucket,” she joked.
She concluded her talk by noting that “we can’t rely on ourselves” to discover our identities, and that we should be open and accepting of the differences in culture, and the differences in person that make us each who we are.
A powerful message and an inspiring speech.
Thank you Ms. Nguyen, I think we all took something away from what you had to say.
An interview conducted by Daphnee McMaster
“We have to put our stories out there. We have to spell them out. And we have to take risks as writers.” –Dr. Darius Omar Williams
As any creative writing major will tell you, writing fiction can be hard work. Writing work that has character development, originality, and significance are the most important aspects of writing fiction. As a member of the Amaranth staff, and a creative writing minor, I know the difficultly of this balancing act. In my search for more information about creative writing, the process and the product, I stumbled upon an email inviting students to attend Dr. Darius Omar Williams’s “Brown Bag” discussion about his debut novel, Blue Light ‘Til Dawn*, a work that focuses tremendously on ancestral connections, the mystifying and spooky, religion, afro-futurism, and the LGBTQIA spectrum. I recently had the pleasure to sit down with Professor Williams, of the Department of Theater and Africana Studies, and discuss his time at Lehigh, his first novel Blue Light ‘Til Dawn, and his family and cultural ties to Mississippi and his writing.
Dr. Williams—the artist, poet, and writer—was born and raised on Mississippi soil. From the moment I stepped into his office coated in hues of orange, black, and yellow, African artifacts and decorations, I discerned that Professor Williams gains much of his strength in writing and performance from his deep connections with Mississippi, music, and spirituality. Professor Williams’s novel requests an open mind that respects and appreciates the spooky and mystifying. It encourages people to learn of the gothic darkness of Yoruba divinity and culture. His work rattles and shakes with the music and culture of Mississippi Delta blues. Professor Williams’s novel Blue Light ‘Til Dawn asks its readers to submerge their whole self into a soul that understands the delicate connectivity of life and death.
Williams work does not shy from issues that people face daily. His work has profound significance in touching on subjects that relate to his personal life and the world at large. He creates a novel that committed to divorcing itself from the westernized definition of spirituality. He utilizes especially West African spiritual tradition and Yoruba culture to enlighten readers of the differential understandings of spirituality. Blue Light ‘Til Dawn tells the story of a young man named Elijah Waters who has the ability to metamorphose into water in order to balance the connection between the lives of the living and the dead. Waters is in a six year relationship with another young man named Supreme Hunter. Hunter’s character, with his strength and power, expresses the epitome of what is commonly perceived as black male masculinity. As Elijah defines how he connects to the world of the living and those who’ve passed on, he learns to establish the realness of the connection between both worlds. Williams speaks of his work as if the story is directly his own personal experience.
I asked Professor Williams where he found his inspiration for the novel, how he came to find its meaning and significance, and what the work does for not only his reader’s but himself. Williams responded:
I started writing the story of Elijah, and Elijah is really a mirror image of me, and of him having this relationship with his aunt from the other side, or them having this relationship as she crosses over into the spirit realm. The metaphor for this crossing is called Black River.
Without hesitation, Williams expressed that the passing of his aunt was what drew him to writing his novel. When asked about his creative process, he informed me that character names were created to establish the personality his characters embodied and that places were named with the utmost significance.
Professor Williams is dedicated to his work and does not limit his imagination or creativity. I asked Williams what drew him to Lehigh and he expressed that the middle ground between the artistic worlds of New York City and Philadelphia were only but a short drive from Lehigh. Professor Williams surrounds himself in cultures that have a strong focus on art and spirituality. After my interview and the knowledge I gained from sitting down with Professor Williams I asked him for suggestions he would have for aspiring writers. Two key words left his lips: “read” and “write.” Although he expressed that it is not always the easiest task, it is a necessary one. As I was in total agreement to his advice, I stopped to ask what he would suggest to writers afraid or not willing to share their work. Professor Williams spoke confidently and stated most assuredly, “We have to put our stories out there. We have to spell them out. And we have to take risks as writers.” As I left Professor Williams interview, one question repeated over in my mind.
What is the story I need to tell?
*Provided below is an excerpt from Dr. Darius Omar Williams’s novel Blue Light ‘Til Dawn.
I Shall Be Released
Elisha Waters felt every bit of pride imaginable. He stared at the blue banner in front of the store, a gentle whisper of horseflies somersaulted across his face. He felt prouder than ever with years of perfected emotion and human suffering in his eyes. His muscled thighs trembled; their massive strength coiled him like a note inside a jazz singer’s throat. He felt arrogant and exhausted; unusual emotions of solitude and grief. Standing in front of the blue banner with his fists against his hips, Elisha Waters felt everything. His beastly nature of ennoble gratitude enveloped his beautiful neck. He remembered his youth: how he used to sing in a desperate rage to old B.B. King records.
Elisha knew how to moan, long before his lover’s eyes reminded him of wild honey. Tupelo-favored honey. He would moan to the spell of soulful music. Elisha was happy as long as he had some good weed, some good vinyl and a nice turntable with a brand new needle. He loved listening to old music: Gospel, R&B, Motown, Blues, especially the Blues. Blues masters Howling Wolf, Robert Johnson, John Lee Hooker, Lightening Hopkins, Bobby Blue Bland, Muddy Waters and of course B.B. King would invade his sage scented skin with their masculine indulgence. Music was his place. His home. His sanctuary. He’d close his eyes, tilt his head back, take a long luxurious pull from a peach scented blunt and just start singing:
Ain’t got nobody in all this world
Ain’t got nobody but myself
Today Sparkle, Mississippi was familiar and hot. It was summer again. All the sunflowers and magnolias were in full bloom. Elisha loved the sight of flowers, especially sunflowers. Their burgundy, orange and yellow colors awakened him like silk. So he turned toward the eight foot tall creatures nestled among the shrubs. They stood silent beside the oval shaped window of his tiny store. Their unanimous silence. Their magnificent arch and savory smell reminded him of a tasty armpit. He planted two summers ago in preparation for a hot, musty day like this. They loomed against the white dirty paneling of the fifty year old building. Dry mud from yesterday’s delicious rain engaged in silent fellowship with the fresh beehive gazing proudly on the roof’s crooked edge. Every year Elisha destroyed the beehive with a broom. Every year the beehive returned with a more determined ferocity. These were moments of contention for Elisha who prided himself in the ownership of his store. With the exception of dry mud, beehives, rain and any other force of nature he could not control, Elisha was meticulous about everything, even the old Marvin Gaye memorabilia displayed behind the oval shaped window.
Everyday he shined that elderly window until his fingernails hurt. Everyday he dusted Marvin’s album covers with a pristine feather duster: What’s Going On, Let’s Get It On, I Want You; his three favorites. Everyday he pulled the vinyl, glossy and smooth, from their acid free protective sleeves, shined them to perfection with the finest record cleaner. Over the last ten years, he had purchased more Discwasher Vinyl Record Cleaning Kits than he could count.
Even the brown skin, leather face mannequin standing near the entrance to the store had to contend with Elisha’s exaggerated sense of order, fashion and style. The clothing on the mannequin would change on any particular day. Elisha named him Marvin. Marvin could go from reggae man, banjee boy to runway king in the blink of a heartbeat. Today Marvin wore a faded pair of low rider jeans, a body shirt and an over-sized belt with a diamond crusted superman buckle. The albums on display behind the pink and green sales counter would reach out and touch unexpectant strangers with the pine-scented aroma oozing from their delicate handmade frames. You could hear anyone of them singing on any given day: Nancy Wilson, Johnny Mathis, Nat King Cole, Sarah Vaughn, Carmen McCrae or Nina Simone. Nina Simone’s High Priestess of Soul album was one of Elisha’s favorites and could usually be heard whenever he was in a good mood.
Today he was feeling divine. Absolutely divine. Today marked the 10th Anniversary of Mahogany’s grand opening. Today would officially be declared Old Vinyl Record Day. Today King Solomon, the bluesman from Meridian, would give a free concert. Today men and women of every generation: young, old, black, white, west africans would crowd the 600 ft. square building with their infectious energy in anticipation of finding another great recording. Perhaps Brother Saul, the local postman with divine lips, would finally run across one of the last original copies of Thelonious Monk’s Round Midnight or Suzy Johnson, the blond hair paraplegic with one eye who always warned Elisha about the second coming of Christ, would finally discover an original copy of The Caravans first studio recording. Even young Miles Edwards, only sixteen years old, came searching for another piece of vinyl anointed with the basement inspired aroma of pristine Motown. Elisha did everything he could to please his acquisitive customers. He perused the internet. He visited the homes of long distant relatives. He went to flea markets. He even attended national conferences where used record store owners would come together to celebrate the glorious memories of vinyl music in search of an expensive or inexpensive rare copy of something special recorded by a special someone in an effort to please the yearnings of a weary eyed customer. Their yearnings, like day old hunger, would sometimes be fulfilled at an exceptional price. Especially the time Elisha paid one pretty penny for the wrinkled creased Caravans album. Forty five dollars plus tax to be exact. Luckily, there wasn’t a scratch to be found on the thick, obscure LP. Not one scratch to be found. Not one. Miss Suzy paid for the album in full. Elisha was pleased.
It was almost two o’clock, only two hours before the big concert. So Elisha disappeared inside the old shed behind the store. Soon he remerged with an over-sized wood cart. He pushed the heavy thing out front, in the middle of the newly trimmed lawn. The cart was worn down from the weight of folded chairs. He removed each iron chair, carefully placing them side by side, row by row. Some were white. Some were brown. Some were red. Some were jet black. Some looked grand in their store bought shine. Some suffered in chipped paint. As he labored in silence, the sky uttered the possibility of rain. Elisha’s thighs ached at the thought of rain. He’d been planning this concert for months. He spent nearly three-hundred dollars on food, balloons and the finest brands of liquor in hopes of earning all of his money back. Elisha grunted at the light touch of rain, its gentle kiss trailed against his shoulders and ears. Elisha shook his head in defiance, bit the inside of his soft as cream lips and started humming a familiar tune. Something like The Thrill Is Gone, Sweet Sixteen or a combination of the two. As Elisha immersed himself in the raw apology of his throat, King Solomon and his guitar Cleo emerged upon the dusty hue of Eastview Road. Honey Child, Elisha’s twelve year old Golden Retriever, barked at the sight of King Solomon coming down the road. It was a familiar funky road. The smell of skunks, rabbits and shit would panic the nostrils of an out of town traveler. King Solomon, his coarse grained legs, trotted down the road as if the familiar funk was anything but foul. Elisha disapproved of the rank odor. Today he fought the funk with the burning of ocean breeze incense. On the porch out back, rows of huge potted plants, natural soy candles and a small organic garden of fresh vegetables and fruits created a satisfying atmosphere in and outside the store.
Honey Child was nibbling on a roasted flavored pig ear as she nestled her aging body in the thick grass beside the blue 1974 Ford pickup truck. She softly rose, surrounded by the smell of indigo daisies, when she heard King Solomon singing. She chomped on the pig ear, relished its natural taste, trotted toward King, dropped the snack from her mouth, and panted as he drew closer to her. Droplets of fresh rain descended onto King’s well-structured face as a confident storm continued to peer through the large hysterical sky. King lowered his head and balled his hands into a fist. His song pulling at his chest, he roared his brown body into a heat wave of lyrical notes: Even when it’s raining child I gotta keep on marching down this road. Even when the sun ain’t shining no more I gotta keep on.
Elisha was possessed by this road. The same road where his mama and daddy slid into a ravine one brief November night. This road, stubborn, rocky and unpaved, reminded him of shattered glass and blood. He remembered Mama Alice’s face when she told him the news, “Baby they gone. You won’t see your mama and daddy no more. At least not in this life. Elisha I’m sorry.” Her coarse ashy voice trailing away as she began to pray in low hushed tones. Mama Alice’s pronouncement loosened his bowels, pressed hard against his sobbing face, sent a sharp pain through his shoulder blade. Elisha was only twelve years old when his parents died with no brothers or sisters of his own. He had nobody but Mama Alice. She was no kin to him but a spiritual mama nonetheless. After his mama and daddy died he had nobody but her. Not even a favorite cousin. Most of his folks were still in Chicago. The few that were in Mississippi rejected him vehemently, called him a sissified punk. The only loving relative he knew left town two weeks before the crash. Aunt Gloria hitched a train to New Orleans after she killed the baby inside her with a determined rusty hanger. She had a nervous breakdown and ran to New Orleans. He never saw Gloria again. One shaft forgetful year, Gloria wrote a letter to Elisha with no return address:
June 4, 1985
Please forgive me for leaving. I know you was mad. I hope you ain’t mad at me no more. It’s been three years my lovely nephew and I miss you so much. There is a lot I want to share with you. There is a lot you would never understand. But do know this, my sweet Elisha, your Aunt Gloria is doing just fine. I got a job at a dry cleaner near Jefferson parish. I’m making almost $6.00 a hour. Can you believe that! Soon I will be able to send for you and we’ll visit the French Quarter and I’ll show you the pretty homes on Canal Street and Napoleon Avenue.
New Orleans is so many things. Sometimes I hate this place. Most times I love it. They got the best gumbo with okra, crabmeat and fresh shrimp. This place is alive. I get scared though. Mama Alice swear up and down New Orleans ‘bout to tip over into the water. New Orleans is a blur. It is noisy, too friendly and loud. I got my palm read today. Some root woman told me I can’t bear no more chirren. I believe God done cursed me Elisha. God mad at me. I didn’t mean to kill little Jesse still warm inside my belly. He felt like too much and I couldn’t take it no mo’. I needed to free him or something. And now that my life feels safe and satisfied, Elisha honey, your Aunt Gloria wants another baby so bad. Root woman say it ain’t never gon be. Pray it ain’t so. Elisha pray to the good Lord Jesus it ain’t so. I love you.
P.S. Don’t you let none of them sons of bitches in our family make you feel bad cause you different. You special you hear me. You so special my handsome nephew. Elisha there is a light in you. And when it glows, sullen faces become warm. You one of God’s finest creations. Anybody with eyes can see that.
Elisha’s eyes welled with tears. They fell down with the humid heat, engaged in communion with his worn leather sandals and unmanicured feet. Elisha gazed beneficently at the road. This road of ash and soot and the reminder of his mama and daddy’s bones was the same road where his record store stood. 450 Eastview Road was a far cry from anything urban or fancy. It was a proud country road, honorary and crude in all of it’s unrefined eminence. 450 Eastview Road was Elisha’s antiquated church away from the fussy home he shared with Supreme and their seventeen year old son Douglass on 180 Aura Street. Eastview Road was sturdy and tough. Aura Street was busy, yet kind and forgiving. Elisha shifted in and out of his two worlds with effortless ease. He’d grown accustomed to his existence in the two different atmospheres. His love for both realities was an equalizing weight.
Honey Child barked with greater force as Elisha jarred energy from the road with his supernatural thoughts. King Solomon loved Honey Child. Honey Child loved King Solomon. She wagged her tail, ran in a circle and repositioned her neck. King Solomon roared a hefty grin. He was two-hundred and fifty pounds of muscle, baldhead with thick eyebrows. His sable colored face was magnificent. King Solomon was a splendid height. He was seven feet tall and proud. He always wore one of three fedora hats, his pimp daddy signature. The Blueshawk guitar on his broad masculine shoulders was his most loyal female friend. As King Solomon drew closer, he eventually knelt down, offering Honey Child a gentle rub. He cleared his throat and looked up from the spot where he was kneeling, his smile landed on Elisha’s chin then he grunted,
“Hey there Elisha, you ready for the big concert?”
“I should be asking you that question cause I ain’t the one singing this afternoon.”
King Solomon grinned again. This time in a whisper. He rose rather abruptly, removed a pack of Newport cigarettes from the pocket on his shirt, lit one of them and took a few drags as he raised his baldhead toward the banner at the top of the store.
“That sure is one fine banner,” King Solomon proclaimed.
“Thanks. Queen Bee did that.”
“Oh yeah. How’s old Queen Bee?”
“She still don’t like dick.”
“No King. She still don’t like dick. You already know that. All the good dick in the world wouldn’t change her mind for nothing.”
“That’s too bad cause I sho do love that girl. She is one fine feisty thang.”
“Well I’m sure you got plenty of women folk other than Queen Bee to choose from.”
“You reckon. But don’t none of them loose broads have no spunk. Not like Queen Bee. That girl is on fire. I like that.”
“Well I’m sure she likes you too. She just don’t wanna fuck you.”
King Solomon was silent for a moment. He flicked the cigarette on the ground instantly noticing Elisha’s raised eyebrows. So he retrieved it and tossed it in a nearby pot of other crushed cigarette butts. Elisha was clearly not in the mood for his chivalry, so King decided to shift gears.
“Hmph. You think it might rain?” King Solomon was serious.
“Sho smells like rain.”
“A little rain ain’t never hurt nobody. We gon have this concert no matter what.”
“Well, as long as it don’t pour down. An old fella like me can’t stand a whole lotta rain.”
“You want sumthin to sip on King? I got some Hennessy up in the store.”
“Hell yeah. Hook me up.”
“Go hook yourself up. You know where it’s at.”
“Gwine now. I need to finish setting up these chairs. The folks gon be here in a minute.”
King Solomon limped inside the store as Honey Child followed. He was thankful for the prosthetic leg that kept his dignity intact. King lost his leg in the Vietnam War. He learned to live without it through his guitar Cleo. B.B. King had Lucille. King Solomon had Cleo. Cleo had been with him for years. His Gibson Blueshawk guitar was a distinct lightweight ebony piece of art, made from poplar with a rosewood fret board and mahogany neck. This semi-solid guitar had two sound cavities with f holes and a varitone circuit. Cleo was King Solomon’s religion. She sanctified him. She soothed his heavy breathing. She even saved his life one night when a jealous husband cocked a gun against his neck. Not knowing what else to do, King Solomon offered him a song. The jealous husband laughed and smoked King Solomon with his Jack Daniel stained breath.
“You gon play me a song? You gon play me a song? Huh? You cocky son of a bitch. You gon play me a mother-fucking song! I ought to blow your goddamn brains out. You fucked my wife. You been fucking her for three years. You know what that does to a man? Huh? You know how that makes me feel man? You been all up in my woman’s pussy.”
“Hey man. I’m just a backwoods guitar player. A guitar playing fool who needs to keep his pants up. Your woman don’t want me no more especially after the last bad trip I took her on. My loving ain’t worth a damn man. Let me play a song for you blood.”
“Make it quick. Play like you know what you talking about and you better not flinch. You hear me. You jive guitar playing motherfucker.”
The jealous husband continued to protest with the forty-five caliber gun against King’s trembling throat. King Solomon went into a dark riff. The same riff he played when he was famous. It was a riff resembling the rage of a violent husband. It was a blood riff. Sexual and warm. An easy slow-grind. Hot like chamomile. Wild as Vietnam. It was a poplar tree, a branch, a sullen limp dick. King Solomon pleaded for his life with every desperate new stroke. Patrons inside the bar started weeping for their own lives. Some wept for their long ago daughters and sons. Women wept at the sight of their drooling breasts—once plump, cocky and young. The riff was colorful and intense. That jealous husband cried himself so, he shot his own self in the head. King Solomon was relieved. He never ran after another man’s woman again.
After Elisha completely set up a total of one-hundred chairs on the tight-spaced, finely trimmed yard, he began covering two large picnic tables with elaborate pieces of African Kente cloth. He would wait at least another hour before firing up the grill in preparation for the spread of food: barbecued ribs, t-bone steaks, turkey burgers and jumbo franks. A number of other delicacies were artfully prepared the night before and earlier in the morning: potato salad, baked beans, eight pecan pies, eight sweet potato pies and four homemade lemon cakes. The fine food waited patiently in the closet-of-a-kitchen at the rear-end of the store. Elisha didn’t prepare food as well as he maintained Mahogany Used Records. So Mama Alice baked all of the southern delicacies with her eighty year old frame. She baked the sumptuous pies and cakes. She whipped up her best concoction of potato salad and baked beans. She even prepared her famous recipe of lush banana pudding. Elisha loved Mama Alice’s banana pudding especially with the vanilla wafers snuggled softly in the middle. He remembered the last time she prepared banana pudding for him, one day after the funeral. He would never forget.
The sky remained strange. It kept suggesting the possibility of a post-choir shout. King Solomon could be heard crying and talking to his dead wife Manny. She had been dead for more than ten years. He was singing, crying and talking. Justa singing, crying and talking. Manny, baby why you leave me. You the only woman I ever loved. Manny I need you. Baby, I need you right now. I miss you girl. I’d cut off my other leg if it could bring you back to me. Manny! Manny! Elisha prayed King would sober himself enough to perform. He needs to get his shit together. The folks gon be here in a minute. He can talk to his dead wife later. Manny ain’t going nowhere. King kept on crying and Elisha was growing impatient. He shouted toward the entrance to the store, “King, you better not be in there drinking up all my good liquor! I paid a lotta money for that booze and I plan on selling most of it this afternoon. Sober up man! Later for all that.” Elisha straightened the collar on his shirt and slapped the dust off of his loose khaki pants. He sighed an unsympathetic sigh. Erratic thoughts overwhelmed him with doubt, tightened his spine and numbed him with increased intensity. Elisha yearned for Supreme’s calming fingers. Every time he said, Baby pop my neck, Supreme came running to his rescue. To Elisha’s relief, he knew Queen Bee would be here in a minute to grill the manly meat. She loved grilling meat. She could grill a piece of meat to perfection. Elisha smiled at the thought of Queen Bee. Her sunny face eased his pensive mind. Like Solomon said, she was one pretty brown skin thing. Queen Bee had legs for days and every time Elisha played Let’s Get It On, she would twine her hips screaming, “Hey now, that’s my song!” Queen Bee could really dance. She stole many a wife with her fortunate legs and buttery complexion. Queen Bee, her fast talking self could cuss like nobody’s business. She challenged Elisha in all of their minor disagreements. Whenever she would land him with a firm and unshakeable point, he’d purse his lips and roll his neck and scream, “You Tupelo, Mississippi bitch!” They would laugh when it was over, sit apt-like among the settled dust, throw back a few shots and smoke a fat ass blunt.
Queen Bee was on point about almost everything: Elisha’s relationship with Supreme, the low-down on all the black sissies and dykes, local and national politics, the future of his store. Elisha’s store. Damn Elisha loved his store. Mahogany Used Records felt like almost famous sex. Felt as mysterious as Mama Alice’s eighty year old skin. Felt like hardwood floor sex like the time Elisha and Supreme stripped the mildew carpet, installing the hardwood floor in every corner of the store. After they purchased the red oak flooring, they kept the wood inside for two or three days. Because it was damp that week. Finally, when it was good and dry, it was time to get to work. They would have to cut and drill the boards, aligning each of them perfectly. Supreme hesitated as he scanned the areas in all three rooms. His words cornered Elisha.
“Baby, you want us to lay down all this wood?” Supreme’s voice was smoky as burning lumber.
“Well, you always laying your wood on me so what’s the problem man.” Elisha retorted.
“Ain’t no problem baby. Supreme got this. I’m just thinking to myself, this a hell of a lotta work. We gon be installing this shit all day.”
“Okay. So what’s your point. Don’t I do stuff for you that take all day. Sweetie, this is the store I’ve been dreaming about my whole life. Everything has to be right.”
“I know, baby, I know. And we gon do the damn thing. I just don’t see how we gon finish in one day.”
“Trust, we will. Tomorrow’s the grand opening Soup. Stop fussing man and let’s do this.”
Supreme always got weak whenever Elisha called him Soup. Elisha nicknamed him Soup cause Supreme had soup cooler lips, the dick sucking kind. Those soup cooler lips could make Elisha howl. Their moist sensation. Their incredible sensation. Supreme stood his ground and kept barking about all the work. So, Elisha shut him down with a massive tongue kiss. Supreme smiled like it was going out of style. He loved the fact Elisha was sexy and smart. Elisha’s sharp intellect made his dick get hard. Supreme loved making love to Elisha. Elisha loved Supreme’s fine piece of wood. His powerful wood, as tough as Mississippi, sometimes motionless after a night of unsteady breathing. His wood. Somewhat elegant. Straight not crooked. Circumcised. Black. Sometimes Supreme’s Sunday night wood sent Elisha running to CVS or the adult bookstore for a box of Eve’s Sweet Romance Douche, WET Lubricant and a super-size pack of Trojan Magnum condoms with the conceited black and gold wrapper.
Maybe that’s why they made love for more than two hours after stripping the mildew carpet and installing the wood floor. They covered all three rooms. I can’t stand the rain against my window. They did it on the red oak floor. They did it. Lord knows, they did it. A slow screw against the wall. They did it in John Coltrane, Miles Davis like breathes. They did it fast on the pink and green countertop. They did it to Billie and Sarah and Lena and Dinah and Ellaaaaaaaaaa. They did it to the silence. The ordinary silence. They did it to the rush of heavy rain against the oval shaped window like a drunk bastard slapping the hell out of somebody. The heavy rain cheered them on screaming more, more, more, more, more! They did it sideways with Elisha’s springtime ass tooted out, Supreme’s favorite position. Elisha opened his mouth and Supreme smothered him with his soup cooler lips, his tongue spinning between the spaces of Elisha’s Listerine breath. The vanilla mint kind. And they would cry. And they would cum. And they would cry. And they would cum. And Elisha would scream against the crackle of a needle on one of his antique Zenith record players still crackling at the end of a forlorn LP. His scream lasted long like a blue light ‘til dawn. Elisha and Supreme anointed the store with nothing but themselves. They blessed it with the sweet stirring grace of a love supreme.
Now the people started coming. The sun spread its golden wings. The determined rain disappeared. At least forty or more people could be seen walking toward 450 Eastview Road. There was Brother Saul, his divine lips aiming toward the store. His high ass sang, sat perfectly perched in a tight pair of Calvin Klein jeans. There were the two white hippie boys who were Muddy Waters fanatics and the Mexican chick who sang the blues in Spanish. There was forty five year old Sebastian Brown, a former Baptist preacher. Only some of them walked. Others drove in their Volkswagens and trucks. Miles Edwards trotted down Eastview Road on his Huffy Ten Speed Bike. Many of the men in their rustic jheri curls wore over-sized sunglasses in a bad attempt to get their swagger on. They dashed out of their cars walking an outdated walk, the kind that protruded their gregarious guts. Their women proudly stood beside them in increased circulation, sporting anything from natural hair to fabulous weaved hair. They gathered together inside the lovely space of colorful chairs. This is where King Solomon sang on a four by four wood stage. He sobered up enough to set up his Blueshawk guitar and a two foot stool. King labored on the stool in a crouch like position.
Mama Alice, her gray head of woolen braids safely wrapped in a too-tight scarf, displayed her false teeth, the ones she hardly ever wore. Her wiry arms didn’t complain one bit as she served gracious portions of food. Elisha stood beside her, resting his head on her shoulders for a minute. She stroked his arm and closed her eyes before she spoke. The sound of her voice meant everything to him.
“How’s my handsome man doing?
“Mama Alice, your handsome man is doing just fine. I mean, look at all these people.”
“Now that’s what your Mama Alice like to hear. Supreme should be here directly. You’ll be feeling even better.”
“You sho’ right about that. He need to come on.”
“What time he say he gon be here?”
“Honey, its just four o’clock. Give the man some time. If he don’t show up, you want me to beat up for you?”
“No, Mama Alice. I don’t need for you to do that.”
“Well you just let me know. I got my pistol in the car.”
“I most definitely will.” Elisha and Mama Alice laughed until their stomachs hurt.
“Let me stop acting a fool ‘fore you embarrass an old lady out here.”
“Mama Alice you do not need my help to do that.”
“Chile hush your mouth and straighten up your shirt. Supreme will be here before you know it.”
“Yes ma’am.” Elisha responded in a youthful tone.
Without warning, Mama Alice shifted into a terrible silence. She firmly gritted her false teeth, the inside of her mouth dry as grain.
“Your mama and daddy would be so proud of you.”
“Yes ma’am they would. Today is in memory of them.”
“Amen. Today is a special day for you. God done rained his blessings on this place. Elisha you sowed your seed and waited on him. Just look at this beautiful harvest.”
“It’s amazing. I never imagined my little record store would have such an impact.”
“Well it did. It sho’nuff did. I just hope that redneck contractor don’t come ‘round heah today talking none of his mess.”
“He better not. I’ll cut him with this knife.”
Mama Alice laggardly wiped her hands on a make-shift apron. Elisha’s yellow-red laughter subsided. The abrupt silence out-witted them. The mention of the red-neck contractor smeared their faces with a dismal question mark. Mister Luke O’Hara was a disheveled old fool with three teeth. He’d been trying to convince Elisha to sign off on a redevelopment project for months which essentially meant, handing over the store at an ungodly price. One tired Tuesday afternoon O’Hara trampled in the store threatening to buy Elisha out. Elisha ignored him as usual but Mama Alice almost beat the shit out of him. Instead, she cut him with her words, “This section of Sparkle don’t need no redevelopment. Folks happy the way it is and they love coming here to buy they records. Good music sir, that’s all the redevelopment we need.” But Luke O’Hara would not back down and he stayed on Elisha’s tail, kept him on his hind legs. As Queen Bee always said, “That white motherfucker gon do whatever he got to do to bulldoze Mahogany Records and at least twenty more homes in the vicinity.”
Mama Alice ended the silence with a fist. Her apple-jawed speech was sufficient enough. Her balled up hands landed on the edge of the table. She interrupted the silence. “Enough with all that. Enough.” Mama Alice spoke with elderly precision. “You can’t cut the man, then his blood will be on your hands. Remember that chicken foot I gave you. Go set it on his porch tonight.”
“Mama Alice, you know I don’t fool around with no voodoo.”
“It ain’t voodoo honey. It’s voudon and it’s a part of our African tradition. It’s who we are baby. How you figure most of these women round heah hold on to they husbands. They don’t just pray. They use pork salt meat.”
“What do they do with the pork salt meat?” Elisha inquired.
Before Mama Alice could utter another word, Supreme grabbed Elisha from behind, quickly interjecting, thus answering the question himself, “They put it in their panties when they bleeding, let it rub against they pussy and walk around with it for days. It drives they men folk crazy. E, I thought you knew that. How the hell you figure we been together so long.” Supreme busted a gut with his loud laugh, bent over and clapped his hands into a boisterous clap.
Elisha looked back and nearly broke out in a sweat. He screamed, “Man don’t be sneaking up on me like that. You liable to get cut with your old filthy self. And what you know ‘bout pork salt meat. You better not be messing with no voodoo. Don’t even think about it.”
“Calm down baby, I’m just playing. Mama Alice how you doing? Supreme leaned in and offered her a kiss. Before you knew it, he was sipping on some gin. Mama Alice answered him in a soft yet confident tone, “I’m feeling real good Supreme. Feeling real good. How’s everything down there at the Nissan Plant?”
“Just work. Work and more work.” He swallowed another swig of gin and made Elisha smile with his groovy grin.
Mama Alice responded with pleasure, “I hear you baby. You can handle it though.” Supreme loudly agreed, “And that’s exactly what I’m doing. I took the night off so I could be with this fine thang here.” “Oh stop,” Elisha responded in a melted sort of way. He was relieved to be in the company of his man. Supreme sat his drink on the table, unbuttoned a few buttons on his shirt and placed his right arm around Elisha’s waist. He kissed Elisha’s cheek almost delicately. Elisha immediately responded, “Stop Soup. You see all these people out here. Somebody liable to start some mess.” You know how ignorant some of these church folks can get.”
Supreme defiantly scanned the crowd awaiting anybody’s disapproval. He spoke even louder, “What? You mean I can’t get no sugar from my man on the 10th Anniversary of his store. This is your property E. This here your land they shaking they asses on. Fuck them church folks.” He held Elisha even tighter and kissed him again, this time, on the mouth. Supreme challenged Elisha, “Let’s give em some religion baby. Come on E. Let’s give these happy bastards out here some love Supreme religion.” He kept scanning the crowd and then screamed, “Somebody say amen!” Miss Cora, the biggest hypocrite in town, shook her head in displeasure as she downed another Forty.
Finally, King Solomon was halfway sobered up and ready to perform. He spoke to the people first. He always spoke to the people before he sang. King Solomon liked talking to the folks. It was here, in front of Mahogany Used Records, where he talked his bravado talk. Everybody listened. Supreme flexed his arms as he placed his hands around Elisha’s familiar waist. One of Elisha’s cheeks curbed into a dimple. Mama Alice squinted her cunning eyes, gradually settling into the comfort of a lush lawn chair.
A nearby fly tried his best to remove the smile from King’s too-drunk face. Even the over-grown oak tree felt no pity for him. Finally his words fell from his mouth rather eloquently as Queen Bee stood proud over the rinky dink grill. In her mind she kept on muttering, His drunk ass.
“How many of ya’ll out there love the blues. I said how many of ya’ll love the blues. If you don’t know nothing ‘bout the blues you got a hole in your soul.” King’s slurred speech didn’t bother the crowd much. He was in his element. It was here on the crooked stage where he congratulated Elisha. “None of this would be possible….in fact I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for my good friend Brother Elisha. He has been blessing us with his store for ten long years. Everybody give it up for Brother Elisha. Come on now. You can do better than that. Give it up! He is the reason an old fool like me can still book a gig. He is also the reason why we are gathered here today to celebrate music, to celebrate who we are. There’s something special about the people of Taylorsville. We got spunk. We know how to have a good time. Am I right? And no, we don’t always have to agree about every damn thing. Hell, some of ya’ll out there probably hate my guts. You see, that is what’s so special about this wonderful store. In spite of all the fighting and carrying on and all the bullshit, we still know how to come together and have a good time. If it wasn’t for Elisha’s love for his community, ya’ll wouldn’t be here eating all this fine food and drinking all this good booze. Today is a day for us to honor Elisha for all he do in addition to all the dancing and flirting and carrying on. Now don’t flirt too much ya’ll. You might piss off somebody boyfriend, girlfriend, husband or whatnot. Believe me you, King Solomon know all about it. I know what I’m talking about. Been there, done that and if it wasn’t for my guitar Cleo, I’d be dead. I’d like to dedicate this first number to the finest broad in Taylorsville, Mississippi. This is for you Queen Bee.” Queen Bee whispered under her breath, “What the fuck?” King Solomon sang. He aroused the crowd of people:
Sweeter than a honey bee, yeah, baby been sweet on me
Sweeter than a honey bee, yeah, my queen bee
Oh she rock to my soul, mama love me to my soul
Love me to my soul, oh she rock me to my soul
Taj Mahal’s Queen Bee lifted the primordial spirit of the crowd. It seduced them. It satisfied their pain with an invisible arrogance. King Solomon’s interpretation of the song was more upbeat. He strained his neck veins as he sang. His sweet guitar Cleo was constant and faithful. She too, untangled the people’s sufferings.
Supreme whispered into Elisha’s neck, “Congratulations baby. I’m proud of you.” Supreme towered over Elisha. His strength was monumental. Elisha’s shapely figure provided Supreme with a human ecstasy that felt simply amazing. His concentrated love for Elisha was terribly precise. Elisha’s love was chronic. Some of that good shit. Their union was undisputable. It was the conscious. It was the undeniable conscious.
Before the concert ended, at least seventy five people showed up. Middle aged women in their sharp-for-real wigs joined in on the electric slide. Some barefoot brat tussled with his mama’s purple skirt. Another little black girl with braids ravished a barbequed rib. Some of the children saddled themselves on the shoulders of their strong black brothers, uncles or cousins. Baby mama daddies gulped down large quantities of Bud Light Beer. Elisha was happy. He danced with the people in the pretty green lawn. He drank his favorite brand of Mount Gay Rum. He sold over two hundred LP’s. He danced with Queen Bee. Together they did the twine. He rejected the flirts of sneaky lustful husbands. Supreme stood in obscure view and smiled. As the secular music soared, Elisha raised his arms in warm expectancy. His beautiful mouth released a long overdue chant. He sunk his feet into the ground and rolled his neck like baby let me tell you something.
By Samantha Zukergood
For the fall semester’s last installment of the Notation Series, Lehigh University’s Zoellner Arts Center welcomed poet Stuart Dischell on Thursday, November 5th, 2015 at 7:30 pm.
As an author of four collections of poetry, his poems have been published in The Atlantic Monthly, The New Republic, and Good Poems, among other journals. Dischell is a creative writing professor in the Master of Fine Arts program at The University of North Carolina Greensboro, and he has published Good Hope Rode, Dig Safe, and Backwards Days. Earlier in his career, he taught at Boston University. He has received awards from the NEA, the North Carolina Arts Council, and the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, and he was a recipient of the Pushcart Prize in 1994. Finished in 1990 and published in 1993, his collection Good Hope Road will be brought back as a contemporary classic by Carnegie Melon Press.
Born on May 29th, 1954, Dischell grew up outside of Atlantic City, New Jersey, and many of his poems are greatly influenced by this area. He vividly remembered driving his high school girlfriend around Atlantic City on his bicycle.
Introduced as “wise and rambunctious,” Dischell began writing poetry at the end of his high school years. Major themes of his poems centered on women, temptation, lust, those who are lost and wandering, forgiveness and love lost, and his poems generally use vivid imagery. He found that it was ironic that the Ohio Review had published poetry assigned around his poems and asked for submissions of his poems, but have not yet published him.
At the Notations Series event, he read “The Jetty,” “In Daylight,” and “Days of Me.” He then read “Lyric Poet Disease,” “The Athiest’s Son,” “The Squash Man.” The poet also enjoyed making his audience laugh both at his performance and his poetry.
Dischell begins with his ideas then moves to form in his writing process, but recognizes that the writing process is highly personalized. One of his past students begins with form then moves towards ideas and says, “form liberates the imagination.” He has been inspired by Walt Whitman.
by Christopher Ruhl
Author Trudy Lewis was born and raised in Bellevue, Nebraska. The daughter of a former United States Senator, Lewis attended the University of Tulsa as an undergraduate and Vanderbilt as a graduate student before earning her Ph.D. from the University of Illinois-Chicago. Currently, the fiction writer is the Director of Creative Writing at the University of Missouri. As a fiction novelist, Lewis has been recognized with numerous awards such as the William Goyen Prize, the Sandstone Prize for Short Fiction, and the Glenna Luschei Prize from the literary journal Prairie Schooner.
On October 29th, 2015 Lewis visited Zoellner Art Center’s Lower Gallery as part of Lehigh University’s Notation Series. In front of a crowded audience, Lewis gave a reading of the first two chapters of her most recent novel The Empire Rolls. She introduced the novel describing the main character, Sally, born and raised in the Midwest just like the author, herself: “Park ranger by day, roller derby announcer by night.”
The first chapter introduced Sally in the roller derby, using this scene to develop some of the characters. Lewis concluded the chapter and hinted to the audience of what to look out for in the second chapter. For one, Lewis suggested to find the reoccurring theme of territory and its importance to Sally. Secondly, Lewis remarked how we would see a gender stereotype reversal. The second chapter introduces Sally as a park ranger where she encounters a group of polluters in her park. Sally pulls out a gun on these polluters, a moment captured on film by her boyfriend Jared. The chapter concluded, leaving the audience wondering: how will this slip up potentially affect Sally’s job, relationship, etc. Lewis explained the role reversal mentioned earlier was the fact that Sally, a female, was the one wielding a gun, while Jared, a male, handled a simple video camera.
After her reading, Lewis was kind enough to answer questions from the audience regarding both the novel and her career as a writer. Much of the audience seemed interested in her inclusion of roller derbying in her novel. While Lewis admitted that she herself does not have experience in roller derby, a few of her friends and colleagues practice the sport. She mentions how it can serve as a place where women can freely release their rage and anger accumulated from everyday life. Lewis explained this concept fits very well with the characters introduced in her novel.
According to Lewis, she knew she wanted to be a writer since she was five-years-old. However, she did not identify herself as a writer until she left home for college. It was then that she knew writing was what she wanted to do as a career. Lewis asked the students in the room who identified themselves as a creative writer. The response via show of hands elicited a smile from Lewis at the podium.