The black figure has always been a subject of entertainment in popular culture, as well as an image to sell things. In some ways, that’s how people relate to us—because they’ve seen us on television.
from The Sovereign
I remember as a boy falling asleep next to Solomon. His bed, its smell, like the inmost layer of fur on a wild dog—warm, natural, beyond me. How we lay together. My small body beside his, sometimes awake enough to feel him touch me, feel his hot breath on my neck. He’d find my right ear in the blue hours of morning and knead its cartilage between his thumb and index finger like a priest with prayer beads. Sometimes he’d whisper in my ear a wish for the day. Because he wanted wisdom for his little brother, he’d say when asked why in the afternoon. Always the same answer.
With his spare change he bought me pens, pencils, paper, color. He also bought me comic books, Marvel and DC canon, which inspired me to pen my own contributions to the well-established mythos of my favorite heroes. Nothing ever came of these experiments in storytelling. No grand discovery by Stan Lee. And they’re all lost now, thankfully. But I remember drafting an alternative origin story for the character of Peter Parker—a young man bit by a spider irradiated after an incident at Indian Point.
Drunk with newfound strength and guilt over having let escape the man who murdered his dear uncle Ben, Parker decides to pursue the killer. The killer, the reader discovers, flees the scene on foot with no more than forty dollars. A dirty take. NYPD is dragging ass, so Parker follows the killer. He finds him holed up in an abandoned tenement on what was then Stone Ave., now Mother Gaston, in Brownsville. Parker doesn’t tell the police. Instead he chooses to observe him for six days from the roof of a neighboring project building, sometimes leaving him food. An apple is foregrounded. On the seventh day the killer is gone. The apple left to rot in a single, final frame.
Neither boy nor man, Parker wanders the city at night despondent over the loss of his uncle. He wants to disappear, press his nose into the extinguished shoulder of what used to feel like consolation. For lack of refuge, he hides, hanging upside down for days on end without food or water until, finger by finger, his grasp on reality slips. His senses radically compartmentalized, he experiences the world in parallel phenomenological threads, a simultaneity of occurrences in time and space processed as if happening independently. In one story arc he follows a man walking in drag from Fourteenth Street to Twenty-Third Street concurrently rapt in the breakup spat of a young couple newly graduated from a high school in Battery Park, all the while pining after the sweet scent of Magnolia Bakery on Bleecker against the general barometric trend, which seems to indicate rain. A four in seven chance of being catcalled follows the man in drag. The young lovers stand a one in three chance of getting back together (only to break up again for good).
He spends weeks apart from his grieving Aunt May, calling her exclusively from pay phones. No longer the resilient woman that raised him, she is, in his eyes, reduced to an unbearable fragility. The cubistic abstraction of a person he once felt strongly for. A responsibility he is unready to assume.
At his most vulnerable he loses the desire for language and dissociates entirely from his body. On days flooded with sensory noise he encounters, almost accidentally, his estranged body elsewhere in the city, aloof and muttering about the singularity of a sensation. The sound of the train beneath Sixth Avenue. The urgent odor of Staten Island present in traces for miles and miles.
Despite these difficulties he manages to hold it together, navigating the vagaries of normalcy by subsisting in shadow, on theft.
He dreams of walking the snow-covered streets of East New York after sunset. In these dreams he is lost and trying to get back to Church, where the community has gathered to discuss education reform. Eventually, he finds the Church, and proceeds to trudge toward it through an ever deeper and more impenetrable darkness, unable to see more than three feet in front of him. He’s abandoned hope, frozen in snow beside the chain-link fence of an abandoned playground, calling out for help, ready to cry out for Guidance, when, suddenly, he is startled by a pair of hands, long thin fingers like the bare limbs of a tree reaching through the fence. He falls backward, startled and panicked to witness Mungo, six feet tall with the enlarged and hairless head of a man, glowing red eyes, a naked body the color of Mars, four or more legs, and those long unseemly fingers reaching ominously toward him. He dreams nightly of Mungo, who leaves him with the impression that he is there to collect a debt.
Then, one day on Fifth Avenue, he encounters the man who killed his uncle. The killer’s eyes are worn considerably in his gaunt face. He looks ill and desperate. He’s walking fast. He’s wearing threat. They lock eyes in a moment of recognition. Then the killer steps into traffic at the crosswalk and is hit by a cab barreling down the avenue. His body is dragged half a block before the car comes to a screeching halt.
Peter becomes a cabbie. Providing financial security and relative solitude, the job allows him to operate comfortably on the fringes of society, witness to its microcosmic fiber. He sends remittances to Aunt May hoping she’ll use them to pay for the removal of black mold from her basement and bathrooms. With the rest, he rents a studio in Queens where he begins adjusting to the dissolution of his former life and the genesis of another: six times as strong as an adult male in peak condition, twice as agile, and three times as quick. His metabolism allows him to go for a full week without food.
He drives afternoons on routes between Brooklyn and Manhattan, making occasional trips to the airports. Even with his newfound power the unseen world, a world that could allow such a fantastical metamorphosis, escapes his grasp. Curious how even in a city as large as New York he can encounter the man who killed his uncle on the street and, in the same second, watch him get dragged to his death. Unlike Marvel’s hero, justice as an ideal is not something that keeps my Peter awake at night. What keeps him awake is an inability to forget the pathetic sound of his uncle’s heel scraping the sidewalk on the night of his murder. That slip into the ether of unforeseen circumstance from which Ben could have escaped if he were quicker or smarter or more prescient. The sound of his heel scraping the sidewalk; or, the casual vertigo of a man approaching eighty-seven, leaning ever so slightly into irretrievability. Like a child learning to walk, Ben seemed worthy of a kind of protective affection reserved only for the indefatigable. The ones who daily defy the odds and live to remind us that it’s possible.
Afternoons on duty come and go for young Peter Parker. Nightly he cruises the underworld of New York City with his off-duty lights on or no lights at all looking to scratch a persistent itch. He lingers among the prostitutes, observing them with their pimps, the johns they service, and the law-enforcement officials who take their bribes. He observes them for months, learning their behaviors and routines, marveling at slight variations in decision-making that reveal character. One girl, for example, refusing twice the pay to perform an act she is uncomfortable with, despite the risk. One john having second thoughts about cheating on his partner.
In retrospect, my take on the character was decidedly mature, postmodern, and, perhaps, dull. Too passive to rival the cult status of Spidey’s pulp origins. The regular gimmick of my vision for your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man was not a gallant, high-flying quest to protect the city from colorful villains, but the thoughtful and sometimes gritty illustration of how delicately intertwined people are in the web of life. Some would argue that Marvel’s web-slinger, with his everyman origin story, already achieves this. Maybe so. My Peter’s greatest difficulty was not asserting authority over a slew of campy villains, but learning to assert authority over the circumstances of his own life. My Peter was learning how to manage emotional and mental well-being and how to love despite loss and a history of violence. Looking back, it bothers me to think of the psychic trauma I must have internalized as a child. I couldn’t imagine an artist bold enough to try penciling my Peter. Frank Miller, maybe? Maleev? Mack? Mignola? Pichelli? Chris Ware.
And I can’t remember where I left my copy of Amazing Spider-Man, vol. II, no. 36. The all-black cover on the memorial 9/11 issue. It’s not the most valuable comic in my collection, but it’s my favorite, I think. No. 36, despite its historical import, wasn’t a particularly well-written issue. It felt rushed, melodramatic, incomplete. John Romita Jr.’s penciled iconography bordered on facile chauvinism. But there was something beautiful about its address of real time, its attempt to draw the solidarity necessary to overcome catastrophic trauma and how that solidarity, that brief American undressing of the individual, correlated with a kind of heroism.
Volume II represented an exciting rebirth for Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s Spider-Man. I liked JRJR as penciller. It seemed only natural for him to succeed his father, John Romita Sr. George Pérez or Jack Kirby he’s not, but for Spidey I liked JRJR’s angular lines, his magnificent spreads, and thereafter imagined Spider-Man penciled intermittently by inheritors of the Romita name. My attachment to the old-made-new ethos of Amazing, vol. II had much to do with the zeitgeist, the imminent release of the Sam Raimi film, and my rekindled love affair with things generally heroic, dynamic, and extraordinary.
I can’t tell if it’s still raining. I’d rather walk tbh, that’s how much I abhor car service, but sometimes, late and desperate to get anywhere in this city, you do strange things, make questionable decisions. Gideon Schwartz has the radio on low, music spilling faint over the glass. It’s funny. You give up on certain things, on certain places and people, until the unfinished finds its way back to you—as unprepared to deal with it now as you were then. I didn’t plan on calling Gideon, but between Millie still groggy from the birth and the baby, it only made sense to phone it in, take a risk on a stranger. “We hanged our harps upon the poplars in the midst thereof,” he recites to himself in the driver’s seat. How like an old man, humming to dam up the weight of the world, he assumes the vague shape of a familiar Psalm. Wearing a red knit cap high and tight on his head like the unpinched tip of a condom, Gideon glances in the rearview at the backseat imbrication of our bodies. My back angled against the door, cradling my wife in my arms. My wife, her feet up, half-awake against my chest. Our newborn girl asleep against her mother’s breast, asleep against the postdiluvial light of a city at night. Being escorted home gratis, at ease with a world passing wet and electric outside.
The barely audible voice present over the radio is masculine, crooning in Spanish, and the instrumental accompaniment hearkens to another bygone NuYor. Héctor Lavoe is crying, post-orgasmic tremolo and vibrato, through the second verse of “El Cantante.” The song’s been stuck in my head all day.
“We lost him in Kirkuk,” says Gideon out of the blue. “Couldn’t find him. Not dead. Just deserted. Last I heard he was doing merc work in northeast Iraq. On the border.”
Gideon makes a smooth left turn onto Second Avenue, cutting through Stuy Square.
“Sol used to get letters,” he said. “You never wrote?”
I pretend not to hear Gideon’s question. Outside I catch sight of a young man, Slav-looking, in a bright red Spyder jacket. He’s a long way from Brighton Beach, only a few dark hairs out of his boyhood, hanging around Union Square with head down and hands in pockets. Like so many of the goons I grew up with, all buddha smoke, body spray, and affected machismo.
My eyes drift back inside to the warmth breathing in sync between my arms. To the bundle of quiet cradled between her arms. “Black Ice” hangs from the rearview filling the cab’s solemn atmosphere with an artificially cool scent. But I just want my wife. I want to be home with my wife. I press my nose as softly as I can into the top of her head, let her birth-labored scent fill my nostrils.
A new silence settles. Gideon, it seems, has abandoned his curiosity regarding my brother. Lavoe is still singing.
The song was written for Lavoe by Rubén Blades. Performed to beautiful effect with acoustic accompaniment by Blades himself in Jennifer Lopez and Leon Ichaso’s 2006 biopic, El Cantante, we are treated to a glimpse of the song as it was intended to be performed—that is, as the lament of a sad and resilient clown. The song debuted on Lavoe’s 1978 Fania album, Comedia, the cover of which features him dressed as a Chaplinesque tramp with toothbrush moustache, bowler hat, and cane.
What makes Lavoe and his performance rare, nigh operatic (clocking in at over ten minutes), is the sincere struggle which combusts marvelously within his own voice. At once a declaration and waging of war. His voice is simultaneously composed of and distorted by a melodious tremolo. This undercurrent of tension lends it a distinct sublimity, impressing upon the ear an urgency and tenderness which inhabit the same auditory space. The song is about the affective labor of the performer, in this case a singer, and Lavoe is clearly working in this song, showcasing the affective endurance that made him a star.
A tonal preoccupation and struggle with affective labor mark his work as he became a transnational phenomenon. Lavoe was a quintessential product of the diaspora. A boy from a small island transplanted to the Moloch that was and is New York City searching for success and stability in adulthood. His popular success came only after the wholly American experience of having his name changed (from Héctor Juan Pérez Martínez) to sound more marketable and sophisticated. More European. The name Lavoe, an ironically unsophisticated portmanteau of la voz, marked our young, gifted, and ambitious Héctor Martínez.
The narrative of exile (political and socio-economic) that commonly frames the Latin and Caribbean diaspora is entrenched in this loss and labor. Asked constantly to submit and assimilate, the exile must suppress, if not lose, language and memory. The exile is stripped of identity, cautioned toward liminality, and shamed for cultural visibility. Moreover, the exile, thrust again into the mechanized hold of capitalism, must find work. What does this look like in a post-employment economy?
Where affective labor has adapted to the demands of an increasingly wired world by operating on-call, the laborer must be ready at all times, even during sleep, to respond to a happening of necessity. Affective labor varies across the board, but a general lack of recognition and understanding for those who labor discreetly to provide a needed service reminds us of an ethical and metaphysical quandary as old as history itself. Sports, art, religion, sex, entertainment, education (public, private, and hard-knock), law enforcement, legal and judicial systems, politics, the health care industry, psychiatric services, hospice and visiting nurse services, childcare services, nannies, the death care industry, the hospitality industry, human resources. These are only a few examples of extant industries and occupations that have as their focal point practices of affective labor. These affective industries exist in service to a humanity that happens irrespective of all thinkable mores and socio-systemic apparatuses. Why? Because the body has its needs and its needs have so far eluded absolute control. Even for the oncologist, the sudden disappearance of certain cancers can only be explained as an act of God.
So the question is posed to the arriving exile: what service can you provide for the betterment of our union? Lavoe could sing.
“For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion.’” Gideon’s voice startles me again out of reverie. He’s still reciting the Psalm, pulling lines from memory. I hope he’s not reading. I can’t tell from the backseat. The drive has been smooth sailing so far, cruising downtown in that imperceptible seam between night and day where city residents dissolve like so much ground glass back into the architecture. The baby is awake in Millie’s arms. That, I can see. Her eyes puffy and open. Her skin a tissue colored the muted bark of an ash. Wrapped in a pink cotton blanket. Wisps of hair peeking out of a pink cotton cap. Seven pounds even. Her eyes are open.
“How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?” mutters Gideon, suddenly recalling the next line of the Psalm.
The song shifts dramatically in the second half from epic recitation to antiphon. Like a Greek tragedian, Lavoe makes the song his own in a call and response with a backing chorus, inviting a discourse that extends well beyond the borders of his performance. With his eyes shut tight behind aviator shades, feeling and responding to the sound of his band, he reaches in excess of their canny consonance. Ecstatic, running over, calling attention to his greatness above and beyond all those bygone performers. Daring any and all critics to challenge his assertion. Typical posturing. But for his contemporaries he reserves a reverence.
Lavoe’s choice to conclude the song with a roll call, una descarga, is a curiosity. Mis saludos a Celia, Rivera, Feliciano. His esteemed contemporaries. Celia Cruz. Ismael Rivera. José Luis “Cheo” Feliciano.
Celia Cruz, of the three, garnered by far the most international success. She is perhaps the most significant icon of Latin-Carribean music and culture. Ismael Rivera was a man of the people. A mid-century pillar of Afro-Latinidad. Born and raised in Santurce, he bridged the gap between folk traditions like Bomba with modern Salsa. Rivera’s phrasing alone is notable for its inventive vitality and playfulness. He had the righteous bravado and swagger of a homegrown, hometown hero and worshipped only at the feet of black Christ. Cheo Feliciano, like Lavoe, was another product of the diaspora and a founding father of Salsa. A rehabilitated addict, both original and prolific, with a Prussian blue voice, Feliciano reinvented the romance of the bolero.
Lavoe’s improvised acknowledgment of these artists at the very end of this operatic song is an attempt to absolve a debt owed. With a kind of hipster savvy, Lavoe bows to a tradition which is African, Indigenous, European. A syncretic tradition from which he borrows and to which he contributes. This was, in a sense, the ethos of Salsa. An aural manifestation and representation of the island’s creolization. A rhythmically engaged account of history chronicling the triumph of love over encomienda, genocide, slavery, colonialism, imperialism, and exile.
Perhaps more importantly, in this acknowledgment, or deference, is a concession to the idea that Lavoe has moved beyond entertainment. He is exposing the metaexigencies of being through the labor of his music, stepping from stage into audience. In Lavoe’s voice, which is the voice within his voice, there’s this unavoidable comingling of eros and thanatos—a transmigratory cycle wherein his desire for life (in carnal pleasure), when realized, hastens death. He was, as such, a tragic case. An addict, a Catholic mystic who frequently consulted Babalaos, Lavoe died of AIDS-related complications in 1993.
His performance is a primitive calculus. He has nothing to say and everything is his tongue. He sings until he can no longer sing and if he has ceased to sing it is only because the highest authority in this universe shall have chosen finally to mute and reclaim what was divinely bestowed upon him at birth. His expression engenders both the actualization of his being and his inability to exist entirely within the imagined paradigm of his actualization. Shape and shapelessness, like a dream from which he wakes without language to describe what unspoken feeling lingers in the base of his skull, what temperature goes unabated in his palms.
One could even say that the same ethos that produced Salsa also produced Boogaloo, Uprock, the Hustle, all that and Hip Hop in the South Bronx. The context of Hip-Hop’s origins is, of course, different from what precedes it, but the ethos remains the same. Charlie Ahearn’s 1983 film, Wild Style, is the most popular depiction of Hip-Hop in its “Golden Era.” But a more accurate film depiction of the origins of Hip-Hop can be found in Gary Weis and Jon Bradshaw’s 1979 documentary, 80 Blocks from Tiffany’s. Both films are relatively poor attempts to cash in on the then-burgeoning fascination with the culture and condition of the inner city. But unlike Wild Style, 80 Blocks from Tiffany’s is negatively capable and projects a wildly prophetic and strangely lucid vision of Hip-Hop’s life cycle—from its miraculous inception to its sad and frequently contested death. The film’s memorable opening montage features the up-tempo second part of “Consuelate” by the Alegre All-Stars, precursors of Fania music. Weis and his crew follow, or try to follow, the exploits of the Savage Nomads and the Savage Skulls, two South Bronx gangs, as they go about their lives, giving brief and poignant testimonies of their experience. We glimpse the bombed-out ruin that was the South Bronx in the seventies. These are the conditions Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five chronicle in “The Message”: “Broken glass everywhere …” The Nomads and Skulls are clad in biker leather and punk garb, Alan Vega rockabilly fringe on a stroll, military surplus featuring memento mori and neo-nazi iconography. Swastikas, SS patches, and Kaiser helmets. Their rebellious sartorial choices were not meant necessarily to offend, but to provoke and suggest their eccentricity from bourgeois America. They were self-styled enemies of the state—an aesthetic frequently revisited in Hip-Hop. Think of Kanye West and the appropriation of confederate flag iconography for his Yeezus tour merch. Or Capital STEEZ and his controversial Pro Era logo, an interlocking 47 designed to look provocatively like a swastika. All of this—prophetically contained in one documentary.
80 Blocks crescendoes at the block party with DJ Frankie Dee spinning behind the sweet yes, yes, y’all / freak it to the beat y’all of India, her eyes askew, sheepishly clutching the mic. Producers chose Chic’s “Everybody Dance” to overdub the scene—one impossible to forget. This was our Wild West. Our frontier America.
Elsewhere, a decade later, El General Edgardo Armando Franco coolly proclaimed that the pum pum would not be his undoing, inaugurating the movement that Tego Calderón would initially dismiss as “a carbon copy of dancehall.” Reggae en españolwas a cultural hybrid of West Indian and Latin that went from local diversion to international fame when a deadbeat (por no decir caco) ballplayer from Villa Kennedy, Daddy Yankee, gave the world a gallon of his own high octane “Gasolina.” By then, nothing of Shabba’s toasting over Bobby Digital’s “Dem Bow” Riddim had survived the trip. It slipped from Patois to Spanish (nigh faithfully) at the new-world crossroads of the canal, making its way to New York and from New York to Puerto Rico where Shabba’s “Dem Bow” would arrive as Dembow, forever transformed by the same manic languor of eros and thanatos that marked Salsa a score in years prior. Reggae en español had finally become Reggaetón.
I hadn’t noticed the Lavoe hush into another music until, I think, Herbie Hancock’s “Mimosa” picks up on the radio. Gideon’s nodding along to Willie Bobo’s steady timekeeping timbales. The cab eases to stop at a red light before crossing East Houston. Moving slowly from NoHo into SoHo. Millie’s awake. Our eyes meet in the rearview. Her gaze is unflinching, full of her mother’s patrician unreadability. She closes her eyes again and repositions herself against my chest, stretching her swollen legs while holding the baby against her breast. I know she’s tired. She wants to be home. Soon, my love.
Bluish light from the backseat touchscreen lingers on her face. Back-to-back advertisements flash for popular new haptic suits. The advertisements segue into two news anchors mouthing headlines on screen. I want to turn it off, but the most that passengers are allowed to do is mute the feed, so I lower the screen’s brightness, letting the glow die down in the cab as we approach the Manhattan Bridge.
The streets are remarkably empty of traffic. Gideon turns onto Canal Street from Chrystie, then from Canal to the Bowery, winding our cab around the triumphal arch and onto the ramp for the Brooklyn-bound upper level.
“I have a thing with heights,” mumbles Gideon, shaking his head as the car climbs quietly up the bridge and ascends into the sky over lower Manhattan. DSR is scrawled in fading white paint across the top of a tall and narrow tenement. It’s been there for as long as I can remember, posted on the red facade of the tenement beside the city’s first Chinese Presbyterian Church on Market Street. Seeing it always reminds me of 80 Blocks from Tiffany’s. DSR lives. A bittersweet thought considering that most of the original Skulls and Nomads are dead. And how one or two reformed Skulls gave their lives to the Lord, swinging wide right on the moral pendulum to make up for wilder days.
In the cab Millie kicks her clogs off, careful not to disturb the baby. They drop to the cab floor with a dull thud leaving her free to stretch her toes. She’s still wearing the hospital socks with rubber treads, two or three pairs of which she forced into my jacket pocket. Her ankles are swollen from birthing, but her breathing is regular and comfortable. A caravan of cop cars go careening down the Manhattan-bound side of the bridge flashing their berries. One train, then another, trundles along the tracks beneath them.
The cramped graff-bombed roofs of Chinatown pass quickly in the window as the cab drives onward—a bright blur of names and post-human personae claiming fame and heavens.
My last intimate memory of Chinatown is of having dinner with Millie, over a decade back, at a noodle restaurant on Doyers. She called it Chinatown’s Bloody Bend—Doyers apparently famous for the early-twentieth century Tong wars. These were gangland wars frequently involving hatchets. The narrow winding strip of road just off of Chatham Square sits in lower Manhattan like a hole in the fabric of spacetime, a remarkable confluence of old and new.
When last we were on Doyers at the noodle spot Millie ordered the Fujianese wonton with knife-pulled noodles and I had the pork and hand-pulled noodles. It was my first time there and I’d never had Fujianese wontons, so she let me try one and I loved it. Savory meat bundled in a silky dumpling, submerged in some sort of all-day-divine broth. Her bowl of wontons was clearly superior to my plain old pork. When I went back for another wonton, casually dipping my sticks in her soup, she threw a spoon at me, a gesture I took to mean I don’t want to share. Only after dinner would I understand what this meant. All tenderness aside, we talked about semi-weighty things, musing on postwar capital, the blaring faults of bipartisan politics, and why this may have been one of the reasons British astrologer Alan Leo believed the American national character to be Geminian, as opposed to the Spanish Sagittarian, French Leonine, or the entire continent of Africa in Cancer. We agreed that though no mention was made of the small Caribbean nation known as Puerto Rico, Leo most certainly would’ve deemed it Scorpion in nature—an island possessed of a closeness the colour of a scorpion’s carapace; the complexity of an entire hemisphere contained therein. In the middle of our conversation Millie’s face flushed. She swallowed the last of her last Fujianese wonton and announced with a coy, soup-sated smile that she was pregnant with our second son—my first—Ridgely Torrence. That was my postprandial notice.
The cab draws higher into the sky, doing seventy now on the way to Brooklyn. Chinatown tenements part revealing New York City’s skyline between the trussed beams of the bridge, its dark, painted face wrung silent from millions of projected fantasies and dreams.
The expressway comes into view, a narrow strip of asphalt wedged and winding between the Brooklyn Bridge and Brooklyn Bridge Park, as the cab zooms over a baseball diamond and an almost empty FDR Drive. Tired, but awake. The expressway looks uncongested. Only the intermittent red taillights of cars on their way home or to work on the graveyard shift. Gideon can take the BQE to the Prospect Expressway and drive straight there. Going home to the house the boys call St. James Infirmary—a centenarian Queen Anne–style home so called for the wealth of stray pennies strewn about the foyer floor and the family of mixed-race squirrels nesting in the eaves. Its bold, triangular front gable covered in dark, near black shingles makes it one of the most impressive homes in Ditmas Park. The house sits on an elevated brick terrace, gained by low stone steps and enclosed by a vine-covered wall.
A gale force wind last week broke an entire branch from the Gingko tree that grows beside the house. The branch fell on the roof and made no sound. The first thing I noticed when finally I saw what happened was how hollow the branch had grown. To my astonishment, an active beehive had taken residence there, its fragile insides now exposed to the elements. I stood for a long time watching the bees scramble to recover order, hemorrhaging jelly and honey and young. It only seemed a matter of time. For all of their industriousness, the bees could not rebuild their broken tree.
The body was never recovered. And there was no interrogation regarding its disappearance.
Andrew E. Colarusso’s The Sovereign is forthcoming in May 2017 from Dalkey Archive Press. Born in Brooklyn, he is the founder and editor-in-chief of The Broome Street Review and teaches at Brown University.
The black figure has always been a subject of entertainment in popular culture, as well as an image to sell things. In some ways, that’s how people relate to us—because they’ve seen us on television.