From To the Realization of Perfect Helplessness (Alfred A. Knopf, 2022) by Robin Coste Lewis. Used with the permission of the publisher.
Or perhaps—perhaps—I am just an upturned tree, all my roots earth
laden and bare. Perhaps I fell over so I could worship at the altars of birds.
Or I am a harlequin waterfowl, speckled—black-white, black-white—
hiding safely in day or night. My eyelids are made of feathers
so dark they throw off an emerald sheen. And here I am—still—at home
bobbing on top of this endless white sea, batting my lashes
toward every beacon—on any remaining shore—ignited
and burning brightly throughout all the black worlds.
Early morning. Still dark. I am in a taxi. The most elegant ‘ti Creole in the world is on the radio. I catch a sliver and think how one tiny word can be sacred—an artifact—the only green thing that returns inside the beak.
We stop at a toll. It is just a toll—a toll like any toll—but I am thinking, We are all the children of migrants, none of us come from here. And I wonder if the toll-taker ever imagined that one day it would be this black mask in the back seat, or that red mask on the driver.
“The light range was so narrow if you exposed film
for a white kid, the black kid sitting next to him would
be rendered invisible except for the whites of his
eyes and teeth. It was only when Kodak’s two biggest
clients—the confectionary and furniture industries—
complained that dark chocolate and dark furniture
were losing out that it came up with a solution.”
—Broomberg and Chanarin