ALTERED SPAYDES by Greg Tate
‘‘It was the time to hear things and talk. These sitters had been tongueless, earless, eyeless conveniences all day long. Mules and other brutes had occupied their skins. But now the bossmen were gone so the skins felt powerful and human. They became the lords of sounds and lesser things. They passed nations through their mouths. They sat in judgement.”
Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God.
You sit there like a great black hound spiked to an ivory pedestal. An all night long I heard you murmurin that devilish word. They thought I didn’t hear Y, but I did. Mumblin, feedin that ornery thing that’s living on my insides. Father John. Father Satan. What does it mean to you. You’re dead already. Death. What does it mean to you? To you who died way back there in the sixties. What are you throwin it in my throat for? Jean Toomer, Cane (1928).
”Desire, my dear Sphinx, is the ultimate form of vulnerability, and the most democratic. The only weakness shared equally by the postal worker and the great dictator. Desire is remarkably fluid. Sometimes it turns up as an object, sometimes it turns up as a circumstance. Sometimes it’s just an excuse to behave badly, to act out. Sometimes desire comes cloaked in a pre-emptive strike. Sometimes desire is a blonde girl just bright enough to be verging on catatonia and utter vacuousness while rapidly losing lustre everytime she opens her mouth. But when the blonde is brown,smart, sexy and lotsa laughs’ then what?
Desire should not be confused with fantasy. Desires should be firmly possible to grip. Desire should reside squarely in the realm of the probable. Desire should require some sacrifice. A gamble. A walk on the wild side. Desire should appear as a chance operation full of dicey prospects and a narrow margin for acceptable error. Desire inevitably fails the test. Desire demands lusting for something that when gained will turn out to be worth far less then what you sacrificed to obtain it.
Babylonia Free/Inside Out:A Womb For Homegirls Prison Journals.
Darling Sphinx, We need come clean. (As) two black women. who. Argue. Constantly. About the womb for hire homegirls. Black women of color for whom other black women dissaprove. Those of my mother Nada Free Mayor of Gothams ilk. Those who say ”Those girls are Out There.” Though the truth is they are ”In Hear.” Listening to things nobody else wants to.
All our transcorporeal generations.
Sisters wailing and orbiting the earth in search of an inviting hearth.
A basket of fruit laid down in an out of the way corner or upon an altar. A promise of remembrance. In pushing them out of our busy lives we knew we were hastening our own demise.
Isn’t this why we became Womb For Homegirls? (To) answer their calling?
Calling all black women. Calling all black women. Lettered and unlettered.
Titled and untitled. Forbidden and unbidden. Corseted and uncloseted. All kinds except your kind Sphinx.
Calling that freak of nature who listens only to her own calling.
The one who could somehow levitate beyond reach of Those Voices.
Why do no entombed grandmothers ever come around clamoring for your soul darling one? Perhaps since all you ever do is fight. Night and day. T
hey know to leave you alone and worry more about the rest of us who require the strength of numbers and superior technology.
No matter how often you scrape out Your Womb, you’ll be fine, remain fertile That being your nature, Nature leaves you alone.
Not at the mercy of Those Voices.
But let me tell you something about Those Voices In Hear.
They tell us a great and terrible army will be raised against Us. They tell us that in that time of slaughter our bellies shall autonomically open and unleash our militant and vengeful progeny. And they will fly out of us with their swords and seraphim wings and firelicking tongues and obsidian tails and they shall raze this world of hypocritical Christians, mocking Muslims, un-gentle Jews ,illegitimate Coptics, false worshippers of Kali artificial Nubians, cloned Egyptians. You know of whom I speak.
Love from Dachau, Babylonia
We all put on genocide alert today. Some kind of renegade circus for the truthful soulful and soon to be multiplying fruitful.
Cigarettes and wooly blunts burned down to nervous fingertips. Studying the smudges and burn marks we’ve reinvented the lost art
How many angels can dance on the nubs of these pawed and spavined hands? All these shaking hands. There will be no rowdiness in the lunch hall today.
No lost weekend cuddled up in the game hole with my idol Bunny Primus.
Nada Free Mayor of Gotham. The mother I thought was a cipher, a blank space in my life. She wants us all dead, my sisters and me. Wiped from the face of human memory and reproduction.
I remember the night she became mayor.
Quite vividly actually. I remember admiringly watching her and her campaign manager kissing quite passionately on the lips from the other terrace balustrade. I could see them but they couldn’t see me.
I made myself the lookout posted while my father read the little ones to sleep in their bedroom far down the hall.
I could have told him then that she was well practiced in the art of deceit, surveillance and sabotage.
That she had even trained me to believe she kept her eyes on me at all times.
That I never ever went anywhere without believing her gaze was fixed on me from some secret cubbyhole somewhere inside the walls.
Not until I became a Womb and rebirthed myself for the revolution did I stop believing those eyes continued to scrutinize everything I did.
Where once there were those who considered The Wombs a lunatic fringe of dubious and delusional females now there are teams of doctors gathered around the clock to ascertain how soon we might cesarean ourselves and give birth to sword swinging Coptic death angels who will bear the three sided faces of Marina, Romeo and Mandela Aint Free.
At the end of the day it matters less whether we will or we won’t. What matters, what threatens the status quo is that we do believe we can.
What they all refuse to understand is that the Quantum Black Womb does not carry the seeds of a race. The Quantum Black Womb does not carry on a culture.
No, The Quantum Black Womb is A Dangerous Idea.
And Dangerous Ideas have a way of spreading themselves around like a pestilence. And if we don’t have the science to do this monstrous thing we fantasize about it all the time why be afraid of us?
Because they know one day the will and the way shall come together.
We believe the day is coming soon when we shall hack our babies out of our insides and they shall be airborn and swinging sharpened steel and Coptic rebuke. I know They have begun to marshall forces against our Idea becoming Reality. Tell them I said, bring it on. Tell Nada I said, Bring it on. Come bring it Nada. Come to Harlem. Experience the magic. Feel the thunder and the metallic and acidic rain.
Love from Auschwitz Babylonia.
OF SPHINX, BABYLONIA FREE, CUT-CREATION CAPOEIRA AND THE ROBO-COPTIC BOYZ
Sphinx had blown into Gotham from Boston scarcely expecting to be spreading her wings and shaking a tailfeather in Harlem proper come Saturday night. The rainy Tuesday of her arrival had been all about schlepping trunks and other assorted luggage up to the third floor of her Aunt Snead’s South Bronx brownstone. By Sunday she had moved into the Harlem women’s shelter where her song and dance idol Noona counseled abused women and taught them martial arts. It wasn’t adoration for Noona alone which prompted this change of address. The need to move came after hearing Aunty relay to Mother the news that Daughter was keeping strange hours and even stranger company for a Barnard girl. After two hours of pacifying Mother, Sphinx got mad, got quiet and decided to get out:
`There and then I decided whoa, heifer-ho, time to go. Aint having no Aunty Snitches all up in my bloody business. That’s how my Barnard days got to be over before they’d even begun.’
On this point Sphinx has to be exposed as being disingenous: dropping out of school was actually a decision she’d made long before she got to New York. College had already been rudely shoved out the frame long before Sphinx had swiveled down Club Satana’s burgundy crystal staircase and spied Nona in the crawlspace. There sat The Woman, holding court, and smoking the biggest prayerstick Sphinx (or probably anyone else) had ever seen. Not generally known as one for mystical speculation, even Sphinx took this first sighting for an omen. After all she had only come to Gotham for the express purpose of finding Noona. In her mind going to Barnard was nothing more than a tactic to evade static with Mother about going somewhere as ‘dangerous’ and ‘faraway’ as Gotham. In pursuit of her goals Sphinx knew herself capable of any lie, any subterfuge, any deception. Not even in her wildest dreams however had she never imagined she and Noona would become running dogs right off the bat. Back in Boston folk older, wiser, and more widely traveled had told her ‘miracles happen on the regular in the big city of dreams’ but she thought they were just trying to fill her young head with bunch of old nonsense.
On her first night in Harlem Sphinx stepped up in the club and started up a conversation with an old Pretend Friend. Took him aside and liked to rag his ear off. Her Pretend Friend was named ‘Revelations’; she turned to him whenever she needed some instant agreement. He had come in handy for her somewhere around the age of ten–roughly about the same time she figured out that the life she wanted for herself was going to be vastly different from the one her mother was dreaming of for her. That first night in Harlem, The Sphinx and Revelations got to carrying on about girlhood dreams and the promises they were supposed to keep. This tete a tete between woman and epiphany occurred at roughly 3 am just inside the pearly gates of Harlem’s Club Satana. By 4pm Sphinx would be completely drunk and carting Noona to Nona’s place in a gypsy cab. Eighteen months later this very same Club Satana, a tiny but historically significant square of underground real estate, would be under new management and renamed The Bomb Shelter. The name change would occur shortly before Babylonia Free’s mother Nada, then mayor of Gotham, would call in an airstrike against her renegade daughter’s adopted community. Momma Nada would be specifically targeting for extinction Babylonia’s newfound comrades, the Womb For Hire Homegirls. The rest of Harlem be damned. Same as it ever was.
The night Revelations popped back into Sphinx’s head our heroine was not prophesying future wars. She was instead dancing wildly, wickedly humping her unzipped pantaloons against the backside of Noona The Body, easily the flyest butch in the house. It was while bumping and grinding her groin against the retrorocket ass of Noona that Sphinx realized something more precious than cotan. That something was the power of her own dreams to trasnport her mind, body and spirit from one place to another. What else, she though, ‘could have taken me this far but my dreams?’ How else could she explain that once upon a time her every waking moment in Boston had been spent in misery. Now she was not only forever gone from the dreadful Beantown but living the life she’d imagined for herself since she was thirteen. Everything that had happened since she arrived in Gotham seemed strangely familiar. Not so much predestined as presaged–déjà vu’ hardly did justice to the feeling.
”This was actually a more fugitive sensation. The kind that ran along the border dividing the imaginary from the prophetic. It was, as feelings go, this nimble sort of dream-ninja thing. It was quick, it was stealthy. It was capable of deftly dodging the border guards of the unconscious and slipping into your waking life under cover of night.”
Thanks to her quick and stealthy night visions Sphinx felt something divine was being presented to her, a naked window on essential truths. These truths might not have been carved onto stone tablets but she imagined they were of the kind that could lead people safely across desert wastes and even part Red Seas if need be. She felt she was having the kind of appointment with one’s self that could transform a poor girl from Roxbury into a sporting queen. Given enough time her desire for a goodtime in Harlem might even morph into something resembling a mission from god.
There was one problem though. A nagging belief that her visions of Harlem had arrived at the party way before she did. She suspected that they had come early, ripped and roared with abandon, slimed and grimed up the joint and then y broke the hell on out just before she showed up. Clues had been left behind in her mind. A certain foreknowledge of the décor, the floor plan, and even some of the principal players. Sphinx began to have more maddening suspicions. Been here-done-that seemed to be whispering from the shadows in a voice that sounded a lot like her own. These out-of-body sensations amused at first but soon proved not so amusing at all. She saw all the hot air come whooshing out of her birthday balloon. Scant minutes old, her grand entrance now began to feel like a repeat performance. ‘Sure it had gone according to plan, but for that very reason it all began to seem anticlimactic as a motherfucker. I mean, c’mon, girl, hadn’t you outlined the entire scenario in your damn diary two years before?’ “fade in: (teaser) Sphinx’s high yella frame falls into Harlem like an astronaut upon re-entry. our heroine drops in with a blast. makes the proverbial big splash. swivels every head in the house with a reckless display of beauty and beatitude. camera freezes on Sphinx holding every hipster’s attention from the word go. many patrons are left stuttering and mumbling blankly to themselves. Not unlike her mythical namesake Sphinx possesses the power to stop men and women on the road of life and make them think twice before making another move. force them to reconsider their claims on cleverness and mortality.”
Though her arrival on the Harlem scene had made good on those adolescent power fantasies, all she felt now was sort of blah, sort of so what? She was becoming so unimpressed with herself on several counts. For one thing the joy of turning adolescent dreams into reality actually turned out to be quite fleeting. Doing the damn thing had proven more shallow than the daydreaming that preceded it. So here she was–sort of happy, but nowhere near as happy as she thought she was supposed to be. Her skin was decidedly not tingling with any sense of triumph or ablaze with an afterglow of transcendence. Where had she gone wrong? In a near-drunken stupor she wouldnt bet on coming to any profound conclusions. Making sense of things was a task to be reserved for a later day and a later diary. (When later came she soberly recalled how ‘in a last, pathetic gasp attempt to ra-ra myself i drunkenly shouted out, `am i the shit uptown or what?’. Uptown, of course, collectively smiled back, cooly winked to others at my expense and then rolled its eyes at me! After riding my own ego-train a few miles, i quickly reversed course and humbly thanked my ancestors for getting me this far. maybe I’d been plotting my escape, my arrival and my grand entrance for so long and in such graphic detail, that i lacked any perspective on how common it would seem to Harlem. Even to me it lacked for much in the way of novelty or surprise–with the exception of meeting Noona.’
Sphinx was not prepared to discover that Noona was the type of woman who let her man use her for a punching bag. That revelation came hours after she went to bed that first night at the shelter. Rattling, simpering, heavy breathing and a dull sort of pounding had all broken into her sleep. She rose to locate those noise’s source and was led to the upstairs kitchen, two flights up. Leaping stairs three at a time, she emerged on a landing to see Noona tied to a heating pipe with inner-tubing, her puffy bruised head hung low as she kept taking even more punishing bodyblows from a squat, elegeantly dressed European male with gauze wrapped around his fingers. The only thing that stopped Sphinx from rushing him was Noona’s withering glare and a ragefilled reprimand–gasped, shrieked and stuttered out between an assortment of thuds and whacks that not even Sphinx’s attack-dog stance served to halt the force and repitition of. “Dont you come up here judging us, no. This is how we love. No bloody business of yours. Get away.”
Noona was not the first kickass woman Sphinx had met who believed violence equaled passion in a relationship. More novel was her mentor’s belief, related the morning after, that being abused helped her better understand her battered pupils. Noona told Sphinx that she experienced her beatings as a “a form of astral travel, really. Out of the body experiences that allow me to empathize with weaker women’s pain on a higher plane than may seem evident to you.”
Her abusive manchild (‘Elan’ a name Noona liked to whisper with more creamy sentiment than Sphinx could stomach) was a banker of Serbo-Castillian birth who resided in a bunker beneath Battery Park City reachable only by boat. Elan visited Noona only once a month but Noona talked about him as if they were attached at the hip, as if they were soul mates who shared a sadomasochistic lifestyle only they understood as one of love’s many splendored forms. In their dominance-submission scenario Noona could not imagine visiting violence on him. The suggestion alone, she said, was akin to advising she amputate a limb. Sphinx pushed the idea no further than to raise the question. She had heard enough insane love-stories in her time not to allow Noona’s pathologies derail her own romantic quest–milking the woman for every iota of information about technique that had once made her the reigning queen-champion of ‘cut-creation capoiera’.
Sphinx’s obsession with Noona began and ended with their mutual passion for the sport where DJs in programmed fabric sparred in a deep pit kept ablaze by crossknit particle beams. Movement and position of the whirling DJs body relative to the streaming lightrays determined the sound-mix. The goal was to simulate murderous combat while choreographing a party-rocking symphony. This meant never losing the groove and thus incurring the wrath of the tribal dance floor–a writhing mass who would throw whatever was at hand into the pit should you stumble. Sphinx had dedicated her life to the sport after seeing Noona perform in the ’57 Olympics. In those trials Noona had demolished her competitors–some suffering injuries so severe that the sport would be subsequently banned in thirty states for nearly a decade. Noona had brought her rage and well-coordinated recklessness to a sport that up until her arrival had required about as much cunning and competitive spirit as synchronized swimming. Her fury had raised the stakes and made her a role model for edge-driven young women like The Sphinx. She was also the first women anyone had ever seen who sparred completely nude after being the first to have sensors surgically implanted in her body.
Noona’s love for Elan’s abuse aside, training with The Woman made Sphinx feel blessed, like her life was finally on the correct course. Yet even with her luck running so high, the whole dropping out of school thing meant finding a job and a domicile to call her own as well. The need became acute once she realized how tempestuous shelter life could be. All those enraged spouses attempting break-ins at all hours, all those shell-shocked fugitive wives having to be kept from shutting off the y-chromosome alarms. “Too many female problems up in this camp” is how Sphinx broke it to Noona after two sleepless weeks of repelling invader boyfriends, husbands and lovers and comforting the braindead manpuppets who loved them
Noona graciously accepted Sphinx’s decision to leave (‘Girl, I didn’t think you’d last three nights’) When Sphinx professed a desire to find gainful employment Noona suggested security work with one of the gypsy protection services who ‘regulated’ parties in the neighborhood. “Hazards of the trade”, Nona informed her, “insure a high turnover rate, so generally speaking, there’s never a lack of openings. Plus, besides regulatin’ being the kind of job that’ll keep you in training and on your toes, doing security is about the best introduction to life uptown a curious and adventurous little butch like you could ever ask for.”
The first security outfit Sphinx called went by the name Rick’s Mother A Bitch. Ricks directory advert had read Let Us Lockdown Your Function And Even Your Mama Won’t Be Startin None That Stupid Mess’. When she informed the dispatcher that she was training with Noona the woman up and offered Sphinx a job that very night.
We’ll let Sphinx’s diary pick up the action from here:
“The party site turned out to be turf along the Riverside Drive Promenade between 155th and 161st streets. Supposedly I had some long lost cousins up in that area, members of the Jumel Terrace Death Squad. They were fabled as far as Boston for the wreckage they’d put on your function if it was judged ‘interminable’. I wondered if they’d show me love should they turn up. Given my past experiences with roughneck relatives, I tried not to keep my fingers crossed.
I arrived at the bivouac flying Rick’s flag and got surprised by an all woman security crew. I’d never seen a Lockdown that was what me and my girls, in less enlightened times, used to call ‘strictly-clitly’. In Boston boys tended to stay more in line when a few butches were present at events– nobody wanted to be out-stomped or out-shot by a bunch of females in front of his boys–but there were hardly enough real women in Boston to build an entire squad with. Nona told me later that in Gotham they believed that while a dick might maim you for stepping out of line, the going opinion was, based on their need to overcompensate, a gaggle of psycho-security butches was likely to panic, swarm and kill a nigknack. That line of reasoning struck me as odd since none of the women I’d seen doing the job in Boston had ever put any party people in the grave. On the other hand, these New York butches did look more than capable of putting a hurting on someone if they chose to. They were taller, sturdier and more limber than their Boston counterparts. They also clearly meant business from the showy combat exercises they put on once they’d zipped into the trade’s armored bodysuits. Stuff like bullseye shooting the short cannon while performing backflips, show off-y stuff like that. Even so I have to admit I was truly impressed by their rough and ready physicality. All in all it actually made me feel, like, for once I was among peers.
Rick’s ringleader turned out to be this buffed middle-aged butch with a brunette topknot named Tunji-Ola-Ola-Ola. I rolled up on cronegirl as she was locking metal braces around thighs about as hard and faceted as polished onyx.She stopped dressing long enough to give me a vicious once-over. I returned fire with a stare that stated, Don’t even try and get evil with me oldass butch because I’m down for whatever, wherever, whenever.’
As we drew blood with our optical daggers, I noted that Tunji’s hair was unnaturally streaked with grey and white highlights. The streaks made her look like even a much older woman, somebody maybe in her late 40s, not 30s. This struck me as odd after we’d had some loose conversation.
Tunji, I soon realized could not have been that much older than me. Twenty-seven, twenty eight, tops. I could tell she’d led a hard life;figured she’d probably hoped to soften her rough features by appearing far older than she was. It wasn’t working. I knew it, she knew it and she instantly knew that I knew and had thus detected a minor chink in her emotional armor. Knowing she had a vulnerable side probably wouldn’t hurt down the line. Especially since her first take on me seemed somewhere between begrudging admiration and mild contempt. When she came at me verbally, the Virgo in me came out without hesitation. I gave as good as I got, gambled being blunt wouldn’t cost me the gig.Quite the opposite in fact, if a butch played it right.
-So you the one who lives with Noona The Body? Office told me you’d be coming down.
-Correction I trains with Noona. I’m just living there until I can afford to move. This is where you come in. You got work for me tonight right?
-I didn`t think Noona could stand having even one real strong woman up in her space. Not seeing the company she keeps. That little Serbo Spanglish speaking boy she likes to have beat on her, you met him yet?
-Comes to lovers we all get to pick our poisons, dear. Noona probably be with a woman who liked to kick her ass if she swung that way. Some butches just funny like so. So you all are what, some bad ass bunch of straight hets or ambidextros up in this camp or what, huh?
-Some is, some ain’t. I like dick, she likes clit. Whatever floats your boo. Long as everbody knows, you know, like how the saying goes…’
-Who you fucking don’t mean jack. Long as you got your sister’s back.
-Eggzakatakly. You got a problem with butches who glaze the clit?
-Naw. Back home plenty of my running dogs was basters. I am looking for a room mate though. You know sometimes butches who baste don’t care to shack up with those of us who go in for that big black dick.
-Where did you say you were from originally?
-I didn’t. I got here about a week ago from Roxbury. Roxbury, Massachoochoo, that is. The big RPM. Thirty three revolutions per minute baby. Roxbury M.I.A.
-Well, mmph and my, my, my. So we got us a radical butch on our hands.
-That would be me. The Ism Radical kinda like Alzheimers. Kind of runs in the family.
-Your people, back in the day, were they part of the Quantum Black Movement?
-Were they? In a major way. You ever hear tell of Romeo Void? Mad pimp killer of Harvard Square? Though you mighta. Well that ignay was my great uncle on my mother’s side.
-Get the phuc yung sung out of here. Your people were QBM like that? Damn. You know I’ve heard the Quantum Blacks are making a comeback. Just like Mandela Aintfree promised thirty years ago.What you know about that?
-No, question iswhat do you about that? Aint nobody oustide hardcore fam supposed to know the deal for real.
-Oh girl, you know I only know what you hear out here–and you know out here you’re liable to hear loads of fanciful bullshit.
-Well, I been hearing that Quantum Black comeback shit since I was old enough to suck milk from the tit. Where that’s concerned I come from a long line of wishful thinkers. If I won the lottery every time I heard The Quantum Black Star liner was coming back I’d be one paid out the ass butch.
-Then you must have family down here you don’t know about. Because I been hearing that Quantum Black comeback shit a lot lately. A lot. Too much for it to be mere hyperbole.
-Oh yeah. Don’t let me be hearing it from you first if it is true. Cause ignays down here need to know. Me and mine will be mad as a mother if they’re re-starting the revolution without us.
Tunji didn’t look like she knew I was lying about having Quantum Black blood ties but she wasn’t supposed to. So what if my bloodline was too street-orientated to have ever really been down with them stuck-up Quantum Blacks? So what if my boast about Romeo Void being an uncle was something I’d once heard a classmate say? My tales of Quantum Black ties might have been bold lies, but planting them in Tunji’s brain made me feel less anxious about my money getting funny at night’s end. Never hurts to have an edge over these roughneck strawbosses, I always say. So let Tunji believe I belonged to a secret society of militant black mutants and assassins rather than my real-life family tree–that droopy assortment of played out players, overage gangbangers and hirsute hustlers if the truth must be told. When it came time to dole out the dollars there don’t need to be thoughts of shortchanging the new girl. ‘
Like most of her generation Sphinx had acquired her knowledge of the Quantum Black Movement from reading the collected prison letters of movement leader Mandela Aintfree. Formerly a reknowned sculptor of recombinant DNA, this historic figure had first come to public attention describing himself as “The race’s foremost esthetic terrorist” and as ”The Black Mengeles”. Before his capture, conviction and interplanetary deportation Aintfree had performed grusesome experiments in mutilation, scarification and genetic mutation on the bodies of captured enemy. This enemy he and his comrades in the Quantum Black Movement Race Wars identified as “the white body politic”. Sphinx actually found Mandela’s writings hysterical, frightening and enigmatic, pretty much all at the same time. The letter he wrote to his 7 year old daughter Nada Aintfree while locked under the Brooklyn House of Detention is fairly typical of his ouevre:
”Dear Daughter, We kept waiting for Childhoods End but the extraterrestials never showed up flapping their forked tails. When our show got running their speaking parts were not dubbed in. Too late for that little sister. Jonah and The Whale was a closed chapter. No man from Mars coming to play Messiah and we’d blown our chance at Black Moses back in 1929.
We told the old guard (Camelot Drexel’s disciples and that lot), Astral traveling can’t save your ass, and the 13th Pan Afrikan Congress aint never gonna happen.
Our solution was Race War. Guerilla warfare and extravavgant weaponry implants for the body. We converted our Brooklyn studios into genetoxin factories and munitions plants. Had bionic Swat teams shooting up everywhere.
We blossomed into poison mushrooms, microscopic Hiroshimas.
We inducted the apathetic through sheer terror.
Airports began belching hand grenades.
Bodies turned up splayed in the terminals like crippled umbrellas.
We were the ones who blew up the Brooklyn bridge and burned Harlem to the ground.
We were the ones who said, gentrify this motherfuckers: try moving your leisure classes into rubble and ashes.
Your generation makes me laugh.
You lean left, then duck for cover, or you make tracks for the underground railroad.
You’ll learn. Nevermind you’re no apologist for random slaughter. Nevermind you hold onto the concept of innocent bystanders. This is war, and since The White Bodypolitic never distinguishes between hard and soft targets, why should we?
You might as well be Mandela Aintfree as one more freak nigga caught straddling the fence. They’ll bring their rabid packs of modified Dobermans down on your ass quick as they will mine. Clamp on hydraulic incisors with a bent towards evisceration. Now go appeal that judgement in World Court. Make a case for the Geneva Convention under suspension of your right to bear genitals. When we came on the scene they were in the process of making BLACKNUSS the legal defintion of madness and disease.
They were making BLACKNUSS synonymous with insanity and the plague.
We were the ones who stood up and said, you want to see sick black and crazy we’ll give it to you in spades.”
As perverse, entertaining and odd as The Sphinx found Mandelas’s prose, the Great Mans’ writings never perplexed her like those of his granddaughter Babylonia Free. Babylonia, Nada’s offspring, was a candidate in Cultural Anthropology at Barnard, and a scandously unauthorized family biographer. Through a bizarre set of circumstances Babylonia became Sphinxs’ best friend in New York and in so doing provided Sphinx with quite a leg up onto the stage of world history. In her own memoirs Sphinx laughed at herself for having once found Babylonia’s work impenetrable. By then the other woman’s writing style had deeply affected her own. In fact Sphinx easily acknowledged that whatever talent she displayed for critical thinking must have come from ‘hanging around’ Babylonia. The debt was plainly revealed in the lines from Babylonia’s ‘Preface To A Proper Hagiogrpahy and Historiagrpahy of Quantum Black Theory Sphinx quoted freely from in her memoir Baby Took My Good Side:
“ Only the naive or the duplicitous will tell you that the Race Wars hadn`t been fought over race and power. They’ll try and convince you the wars had once been nothing more than an intellectual game played between two opposing systems of signification :the Quantum Blacks and their theoretical soft targets, the whitebodypolitic. Only after the dialogue left the academy, so they story goes, did things degenerate from the eloquently figurative to the brutally literal. This escalation saw debates over matters of interpetation dissolve into disputes the Quantum Blacks settled by bloodshed, bombings and assassinations. The fact of the matter was that Race War was the inevitable course of the Quantum Black Movement from the moment of its inception. After all, what movement for Black self determination could not end up at war with the state? The Quantum Blacks defined themselves as ‘Super-Nigknacks’ even though they’d acquired their ultra-BLACKNUSS from Camelot Drexel’s race-memory implants rather than street-knowledge. They indeed saw themselves as a Black and learned breed of Ubermensch apart. Therefore it should come as no surprise that this self-canonizing cadre pronounced that since they did not know their place relative to the whitebodypolitic, they would find it by bearing their signs of negation to a theoretical black hole. Not to a collapse in the fabric of space-time, dimension and gravity, but to a fold in the curtain of race memory. In effect, this absurdo non reductum meant adhering to the faith that the white bodypolitic did not exist, could not exist, had never existed, and therefore should not exist. That this negation returned the whites as a critical prescence by absenting Them as a a thing to be voided was less a contradiction in terms than the trope which commenced the psychological phase of the Race Wars. In essence the Quantum Blacks were signifying that since they did not believe in the existence of the whitebodypolitic, that bodypolitic could not impose its definitions of BLACKNUSS upon them or the world. This left the Quantum Blacks free to define BLACKNUSS for themselves as opposed to having it defined for them by the cave-boy, the other-man.”
After falsely informing Tunji of her Quantum Black roots, Sphinx inquire after her new boss’s lifestory too. Bonding with Tunji she decided might prove useful later for apartment hunting and other stuff. Before Sphinx was able to work those budding buddy-buddy sentiments Tunji toughened up again and gave her her marching orders for the night.
‘Go introduce yourself to the rest of these ugly butches over there before you see wardobe about a suit. After you’re suited up, wander around some. Get a feel for the landscape. We’ll rendezvous back here in an hour.’
Sphinx replied ‘aye-aye mein commandant’, and thought, ”Well d honeymoon is ovah now chile’. Tunji might have been impressed by my phony genealogy, but it was my tight, flexible body rather than my Quantum Black Movement backstory that she was paying for tonight.
The squads armored bodysuits were kept in a gargantuan, hovering winnabago, a mother ship if there ever was one. I was suprised at how many of their uniforms costumes had been elaborately customized by previous wearers. According to the sign-out log, many had been worn briefly–some for only one Lockdown, some, with no sign-out signature, I suspected, for even less. Many carried medallions honoring Regulators killed in the line of duty. All flashed colorful insignias. A whole load of them were from ancient,mythic Bronx, Brooklyn and West Coast protection crews: Savage Skulls, Decepticons, Zulu Nation, The Bloods, The Brims, The Crips, The Pirus, etc. Emblazoned on many were hand-drawn mystical symbols and Islamic calligraphy. I decided on a black kimono draped affair done-up with orange and crimson flamebursts. (Dragon’s breath?) The previous owner had laboriously removed generations of patches from the outfit and left it dotted with raggedy stitched-in outlines. Seemed the last woman to wear it was either an extreme minimalist, or, like me, a new girl in town who didn’t want some idiot up in here face over nothing. The costume’s helmet bore an Eye of Horus that flashed blood red lashes. This was considered a neutral symbol as every faction gave love to Metu Neter Divination. The wisdom of those legendary Harlem metaphysicians was respected by all.
Dropping from the vehicle in full armor made me feel like a fullfledged member of Tunji’s squad. It also made me feel more cautious.
I strolled over to the guard rail overlooking the deserted West Side Highway. Peering down I caught the rest of Tunji’s detachment removing particle-beam projectors from the truck at a snail’s pace. Look at those lazybones go, I chuckled. I remembered the work slowdowns I used to stage in performance of the same grueling task. Never again. No more brute manual labor for this DJ Star. All the same, looking at those projectors being set up left me feeling conflicted. Admittedly I was hungry for the arena again and bored with not competing on any level. Here’s the thing: becoming a Gothamite meant becoming a true professional and becoming a true professional meant never doing anything related to cut creation capoiera that was not sanctioned by the Olympic committee. A bootleg gig like tonight’s they saw as only fit for beginners, hustlers, and thrillseekers.
I had already paid enough dues to be way beyond giving some young fools their initiation rounds. Being good enough to train with Noona should have confirmed for me that I was all that and had nothing to prove? So why was I so feeling like a trapped tiger? Ego of course: I wanted to play a set just to destroy some lil rookie nigknacks for the hell of it. Run all the posers out of the arena and strut the circumfernce of the pit projecting all kinds menace, machismo and bad-ass mojo. Since I was working that wasn’t going to happen even if I wasn’t a bona fide Olympian. I knew my skills so were far beyond anybody who was going to show up here anyway. A streak of easy wins in a place like this would only have started me on the road to ruinous distraction. Because what I ultimately longed to do was what Nona had done:create an original style–one that left such an indelible impression on all future practitioners of the form that they would copy it assiduously and bow down whenever my name was mentioned. Noona was considered the form’s Billie Holiday, the woman who had lyrically translated her emotional traumas into the spine-tingling movement vocabulary and musical syntax of cut-creation combat. My own desires were equally ambitious .I wanted to become nothing less than cut-creation’s Miles Davis :the performer whose lyricism singed her audiences souls and made them shudder to the core. I wanted to be the sort of artist who left her fans mouths agape, eyes looking as if they were in the throes of ecstasy or the depths of a family tragedy. Like my man Miles, I wanted my every gesture in or out of the arena understood as a reflection of my haunted, prickly aura. My goal was to always leave the folk unsettled and swooning in my presence. ‘As if they’d caught themselves salivating over a beautiful corpse’, I’d tell the New York Times right before my Lincoln Center debut a year later.’
‘Anxiety, alienation, pronounced fear of abandonment, a sense of being an absent even when she was seen as quite the dominant presence in many a room.’ Sphinx suffered these not just in public but in the privacy of her bedroom. She knew these were a bizarre bunch of issues for a woman who planned to spend her life in the limelight. Over the years she would come to be described by friends, lovers and relations as someone who was ‘There And Not There At The Same Time’. So often did they describe her this way that she came to insist that phrase be used as her epitaph. The words friends actually chose for her headstone were more provocative but less poetic: ‘Dancing well is the best revenge’ So much for honoring a fading diva’s last request.
Long before she was warned to forget everything she knew about everyone she had ever known, Sphinx was crafting discrepancies between her memories and her stories. Between what she knew she knew and what she claimed to know. Having become well-versed in the art of keeping her lies straight, she never got confused as to what was fact and what was fiction. She did however leave historians a nightmare to sort out in the form of three memoirs (written during widely disparate periods of her life) and two authorized film versions. At least three of these contradicted as to how she lost her virginity. At first she was an incest survivor. Later she was devirginated by a man she humiliated into having sex after she buttfucked him with a strap-on dildo. In the final telling the dildo wearer became Mother’s boyfriend, ‘encouraged’ by Sphinx to “do to me what he routinely did to Mother”. The only thing which remained constant was her age of deflowering:all of 13. This slippery way with matters sexual was less aggravating than her prevarication when it came to Babylonia Free. A cunning maneuver since those episodes formed the basis of most scholars interest in Sphinx’s young adult life anyway.
Early on she recognized the need to complicate her herstories and keep the academic squirrels guessing as a kind of insurance against becoming only a footnote in Babylonia’s vaster epic. The false modesty, grandiosity and muted plea for immortality already present in her first book of memoirs embarassed even her most sympathetic reader, the Franciscan brother, Clay Riley. When Sphinx insinuated that she and Babylonia had been more than just friends Riley declared her reminescences “certainly untrue in this regard as no evidence from Babylonia’s extensive diaries confirms this point”. (Riley made his feelings about this matter public at an NYU Africana Studies conference before he’d even finished reading all of Babylonia’s papers. Immediately afterwards, a court injunction was brought against him, halting completion of a Sphinx biography he’d been researching for a decade. That injunction was brought by Sphinx’s daughter Circe Buchanan who was also, bless her soul, the mother of the author of this account.
As best I can ascertain Sphinx’s most honest account of her years with Babylonia Free can be found in Baby Took My Good Side:
“You can call me Geza or you can call me Skeeza. I’ll answer to either knowing, as my grandmother knew on her deathbed, That I have lived the life of a queen and have no regrets. Unlike grandmother, I am not on my deathbed and my memoirs are a work in progress. A neverending saga that will go on long after this body has given up the ghost. This is not my story.
This is the story of Babylonia Free and the Womb For Hire Homegirls. Those coltish, cultish women who always gave Babylonia a hard way to go, even after she’d saved them from her evil stepmother, Nada, mayor of Gotham.
Before she became a Womb, The original Wombs, never really liked Baby (my pet name for her). Mainly because after Baby’s man, Black Snake Dick Head, got chopped up into 13 parts and dropped on her porch in butcher paper minus face and phallus, Baby began scouring the ‘hood for her honey’s lost portions. The Wombs would see Baby out there looking for the dick and the head and laugh. They liked to break-til-broke on the child most viciously. They’d say things like, ‘Lord, look at D gal. ‘Lord, what she looking for now?’ ‘She say she looking for a dead man’s dick.’ ‘Seem to me that mans one broke dick of a fella. Lord That gal. She need to fix herself up and get herself some new dick, some working dick connected to a whole intact working man.’ ‘Hell, that gal aint looking for no man, she looking for chopped meat.’
And so on. Yet though The Wombs could call Baby a freak to her face she wouldn’t care. Partly due to her anthorpological discipline, and partlybecause she was insanely adoring of the Wombs. Truth of the matter was, Baby loved the Wombs more than she loved life itself (and went on to prove it as we well know). Baby actually did not think she was so different from the Wombs. Not, said she, when the matter was viewed objectively. I agree that this seems somewhat bewildering, but when your pockets were as fat as Baby’s were then, life is how you flake it, shake it and bake it.
For richer or for poorer, our poor little rich girl saw it like this: she was living out her dream life and the Wombs were living out theirs. In Baby’s dream life she was Isis to the deceased Black Snake Dick Head’s Osiris, a tragic goddess doomed to wander the earth until she turned up her murdered lover’s missing body parts. (For more on Babylonia’s relationship with Black Snake Dick Head see below, Appendix A, You Can Build And Bone Your Cipher***).
For the record, The Womb for Hire Homegirls were artificially inseminated black market body factories who’d farmed themselves out to an infant mercenary project cooked up by remnants of the Quantum Black Movement. The Wombs ranged in age between 15 and 40 something. They had all been carrying their pregnancies for at least three years. This was nobody’s science fiction to them. In their minds they were the last sisters truly down with the Quantum Black struggle; heroines on a mission, ready willing and able to breed tomorrow’s African revolutionaries. All things being equal, Baby reasoned, I’m carrying on after a dead man’s dick and so are my sisters, The Wombs.
The Wombs took to dressing shabby the winter Baby moved up into the ‘hood.That summer their fashion had been hooded black leather warm-up suits. Come February I was mourning their sacrifice of style for signification. Snowbanks six feet high and the Wombs were draping themselves in billowing expanses of burlap. Nilly little maternity gowns razor-slitted and gilled to ventilate the spine and the tummy. Baby read this gesture as ironic rather than tragic. So that where I saw a banged-up gang of urban bushwomen, Baby saw, `feminist semioticians mocking expectant motherhood as a form of martyrdom. Note the crocus sacks, the crown of thorns, the whole nine yards’. Every day the Womb platoon barreled across the drifts, moving down Harlem’s white peaked boulevards like a batallion of chipper tumbleweed, bare asses flapping in the breeze like it wasn’t really no thang. All I could think about was frostbite and frozen embryos, but Baby saw a runaway fashion show. Or so she described it for Essence:`Stepping smart and satying trim despite a bellyful, our ragass fashion girls continue to look good. Hanging together no matter any kind of weather.” Out on manuevers the Wombs wore their monsta-weaves knotted into a rope-train 30 mamas to be long. Where I saw a chain of male identified fools, Baby saw, a sisterhood of sidewalk mountaineers scaling the streets along cable lengths of artificial human hair’. Whenever the Wombs spoke it was en masse. They sang, cursed and chanted in rude harmony. Theirs was a cacophony of goat-mouthing you could hear for miles. Even at a murmur their approach announced a Babel of bad attitude and enough verbal artillery to take down any man’s army. A rough and riotous black noise was their sound and it screened out the ears of the curious. Outside their circle they sounded like a clarion of idle chatterboxes, talking loud and saying nothing. Baby heard differently of course.
She believed that what went on inside their cabal was an exchange of information rivaling Wall Street. In her mind, they were women clear on the power of the word and the womb to organize the world. ‘Course I never failed to challenge this bullshit line of thinking. I know Baby enjoyed these heated interjections because they displayed a crack in my legendary facade of cool. Everybody you truly love knows how to truly push your buttons, and Baby always pushed mine with a vengeance whenever she went into Womb For Hire Homegirl mythification mode.The girl just plain never tired of confessing her faith that each and every Womb’s pooh-naan was more than–my words here—‘a lower jawbone sewed on a monkey’s ass.’ No, declared she, each Womb For Hire vagina was in fact a mouth of God, immaculately genetically redesigned for spewing out the next line of pro-Black radical prophets. To really get me going Baby would also express her desire to one day join the Wombs and carve out a new identity for herself among their `muttering cult of merchandised fertility.’ Damn if she didn’t, too. (Damn her, damn her, damn her).
Baby also liked to conjecture how ‘if nothing else Sphincter-lips, I know you’ll concede the Wombs possess a sense of style and mission missing from the other uptown sisters.’ Well style or no style I did not buy into their mission or their mystique. I’d come up in the same kind of streets the Wombs had and much to Baby’s chagrin, I had no problem calling them ho’s, cows, women of low intelligence and breeding. Not to mention willing victims of a reactionary masculinism bent on reducing black womanhood to the status of commodity-uterus for yet another male dominated master race plan. We had the same argument so many times you’d think we’d have wanted a new script., but you know how those games go. –you don’t want your partner getting all new on you.
Whenever I went ballistic on Baby’s Womb For Hire idolatry she would coyly ask whether my anger didn’t derive from how many ass whippings I’d taken from sisters like them when my lightskinned longhaired cateyed ass was coming up in Roxbury. And didn’t I think the Wombs made race consciousness pale as a measure of blackness besides the capacity to bring blacker than black babies into the world? And didn’t I therefore think their black woman’s experience carried more weight than mine, no pun intended? I’d fire back how only a rich, pampered, Ivy League butch like Baby could confuse black womanhood with being a barefoot, raggedyass, knocked up and pimp-dependent ho’. Then I’d howl how my self respect alone makes more more of true black woman than they’ll ever be. Don’t care how many mud puppies they litter up and down the avenue. And so on. At that point in the discussion Baby liked to ask, ‘Could you explain to our listening audience Ms Sphinx, why so many light bright damn near white sisters like yourself imagine themselves as five shades darker than their true colors? And I’d say, ‘kiss my ass butch’. And she’d say ‘nobody does it better’. And we’d go on like that all night long, snacking on our own homemade hot buttered soul and candy popcorn. Cause beat dont stop until the break of dawn, beat don’t stop until all the freaks are gone. Yeah, once upon a time me and Baby were girls together and we liked it like that.”
Thus spake Sphinx in print. But on the fine spring night that found her patrolling the Riverside Drive promenade under the command of Tunji Ola Ola Ola, The Sphinx didn’t have a clue as to where her life was headed other than training.Beyond that, she didn’t much care either. She was too busy living for the moment. Down on the abandoned highway sonic booms were melodiously erupting every twenty seconds. The sweathogs were testing their elaborate rig of particle beam projectors. Soon they’d be spraying plasma-threaded crossbeams across the padded playing area.
The sounds of armed projectors made Sphinx excited agianst her will. She wondered if her hard and fast rules about not engaging in street level competition would hold up with a contest going on literally below her nose.
“My adamant refusal to fuk with cut dancing unless major money was on the table was crumbling. I could not help admitting to myself how much I was missing the whole proverbial roar of the greasepaint and smell of the crowd thang. Was the mercenary position costing me some good old fashioned fun? I began to wonder if I wasn’t on my way to the same nuthouse Noona had checked into years before. I had already resolved not to become another Noona:cutting off artistic options to spite my anti-commercial face. Noona’s refusal to cut-dance for all but the super-rich esthete crowd had left her without a venue. She had become an exotic phantom who sat high and mighty out along the margins of her artform on a lonely Harlem throne. The prospect loomed of her being forgotten in another generation. She had to know this whether she publically admitted it or not. Noona had not benefitted from cut-creation capoeria’s rise in popularity and patronage after her Olympic triumphs. For reasons still unknown, she had immediately checked into a mental health facility and missed out on the feeding frenzy. While she languished there for two years, players who were her inferiors scooped up endorsements, wealth and fame. When she returned however it was to advocate a return to purity that decried players becoming corporate puppets for chump change. Her fee was in the multimillions for one bout which assured that only extremely well-endowed conniseurs of the artform would ever see her again. I was both more of a populist and more of a freaking exhibitionist than Noona ever was.
Noona was still the champion in my eyes but I longed to find a middle ground between insanity and integrity, oddity and commodity. Neither living like a slave or dying like a high paid geek could do much to make my nipples hard.”
It was while mulling over career options that Sphinx got rudely drawn into the acquaintance of Medea and Melchisedec. These two fly by night characters, soon to become central to our tale, considered themselves retromusicians, (“singers of the songs time and most people would rather we forgot”) They were collectively known as the RoboCoptic Boy. (“No plural `S’ on the marquee, thank you”, read their contract rider). Later that night they would introduce Sphinx to Babylonia Free and irrevocably alter her destiny. Right now, merely for the sake of making her introduction, they wanted to drive her to distraction before the party started. Two decades later on her first broadcast special, Sphinx recalled being sunk deep in thought when “suddenly a fog of metallic vocal tones began steaming up my cranium. Though only at lowpitched, whining ambient levels they crashed into my meditations with the force of tidal waves. Somehow the low pitched voices became discernible syallables and then a monsoon of shooting stars. The sensation was annoying, disorienting, but also somewhat orgasm-inducing. I wondered if one of my sister Regulators hadn’t slipped me an ill-subliminal mickey. I was randomly chopping at my helmet with the edge of my hand when I saw them:Two dreadlocked jokers at the periphery futzing with piled-high stacks of silver chokers slung Ubangi style around their skinny little necks. From their hair alone I knew they were retromusicians. No style slavish Gotham kid would be caught dead sporting an over and out of here doo like dreadlocks. (It went beyond tacky, bordered on gauche). The only style more offensive was no hair at all. What I could not figure out was how two low lifes had gotten enough money together to cop such high end telepathic music technology. Even on the street, a Subvocalese unit cost an arm and a leg (and sometimes literally those limbs if the exchange went down at an bodyparts swap meet.) Clearly these boys were trying to mack me out with the thing and clearly they werent doing such a bad job either. I’d heard better but they were smooth enough. Certainly smooth enough to wet my dried up aint had none in six months pooh-naan. I got impressed by their balls and brazenness. So much so I didnt even think of putting a foot up their asses. See the dicks who came onto me after my divorce (and after I became a fullfledged capoerista) were few and far between. Here I was, giving em my best madface in full Regulator gear while slinging enough ammunition to bang-bang whole gangs of nignoids into oblivion and these Robo Coptic Boy were still trying to get in my pants. I cut them some slack but I did manage to shake them up a bit though. I barrelled into them sideways when they thought I was still dazed and said, `You fellas must think you’re mighty cute, but fortunately so do I. They call me Sphinx. Now that you’ve gotten my attention, you should also know that you’re getting on my nerves. This is not a good thing. I’ve been known to beat rude boys to the ground for just breathing wring on my direction. And you two want to do some kind of romance number up in my head? Rather than have a butch like me smack dem head up the Robo Coptic Boy opted to slyly and seductively change their pitch up. They were clearly bent on causing puddles of melted butter to run from my increasingly volcanic vulva. Besides reanimating my carnal aspect, the RoboCoptic Boy were also setting off feelings of unconditional sister-love as well. The whimsy I heard in their song was not only intoxicating but familiar, familial even. I got to thinking how they were really just big kids, like some of my rowdier young boy cousins. My lust for the Boy then began to take on incestuous overtones. I now longed to discipline these RoboCoptic Boy nigknacks in every imaginable sense of the word. I wanted to protect them from all possible harm as well. I knew the danger of making new friends or taking on lovers in the city Id come to realize my dreams but pushed it to the back of my mind where it kept up its danger signals. Please note that this muted sense of alarm was soon given due cause. Thanks to my passion for the RoboCoptic Boy I soon found myself out fired from Ricks Mother A Bitch. Things you see all went down the tubes when word got around the party regulating profession about how Id beaten one of my security sister’s senseless. This sister you see had gotten to smacking the pea water out of Medea and Melchisedec for trying on her what they’d already tried on me except to far less enamoring effect in her case. Afterwards I tried telling Tunji my boss that the Boy were family. To her credit, she wasn’t trying to hear that mess. ‘WHAT happened to who you fucking don’t mean jack!’ I had no answer. If I hadnt been Noona’s trainee and on the outside chance, a Quantum Black descendant too, I knw Tunji wouldve had my ass beaten to the ground or worse. Whatever credibility my family fib was ruined the next day when Tunji of all people stumbled upon me and the Boy cuddled up in Central Park two days later.
The upshot of my stupid stupid stupid rush to save the RoboCoptic Boy was that I now had to new line of work. The obvious options were strip-fighting or fuck sparring both of which were too sleazy for me The Sphinx next proud ruler of the cut-creation throne. There was always bnodyguard work if I could latch onto a rich client. Except up here in Harlem that would mean some thug ugly nigknack and I wasn’t about to go dow that road for love or money again.( I’d had my fill of that life when I went into a green card marriage with my lunatic hitman secodn cousin Keef, one crazy Trini boy if there ever was one). Until I secured patronage for my art what seemed the most do-able was dealing prayersticks downtown. As opposed to uptown where it was known to be strictly deathsquad business.
On the upside this meant Id have plenty of time for training. The downside was the potential for being kidnapped tortured and possibly terminated. There was also the fact that for lack of a sponsor Id also have to deal with police payoffs and bribes out of my own pocket. Dealing was something I’d plain avoided in Boston if only because just about everyone we knew in my family—except for my saintly mother of course—was hustling one drug product or another. After turning pro when I was 18 I had stayed as far away from family tendencies as possible. Today was a brand new day however. I was in love and trouble and broker than a broke dick dog. I suddenly didn’t care about proving I was a better human being than my guttersnipe relations. The closest Id come in the past to dealing preayersticks was rolling prayers for my Uncle Jojo when I was about eleven. Since he paid us kids off in sweets, and me in contraband asthma medicine, I thought I was getting the better part of the deal. Mother whipped me and my younger brother Dupree quite viciously when she found out about our descent into the family-run criminal underground. Mother vexed on two counts. She had always todl us not to get mixed up with street trash like Jojo. She also couldn’t believe we’d let her spend money on medicine we were getting for nothing. Only a mother could make you feel guilty using logic that skewed. Since I smoked prayersticks I didn’t have any ethical issues about to consenting adults and all that blasé blip. On the other hand I did not want to get a reputation as a hoodlum since that might stymy my chances at pulling in a deeppocket patron. Nobody wanted to invest in an artist bent on heading for a spot under the jail. Without the right connections Federal sentencing for dealing prayers could be a bitch. At the end of the day however I’ve never shyed away from living dangerously so what the hell? The Robo Coptic Boy spoke of a friend downtown who had more business than she needed. They claimed she might be willing to pass work off to a stranger who came with good references. I was dubious of their claim of being those good references but what did I have to lose by checking this girl out? Famous last words right? Firther investigatiion meant rowing downtown to this club in Soho called Nuryev via the flooded IRT subway canal over on 158th and Broadway. As luck would have it, Nuryev was where I would first lay eyes on Babylonia Free.
I heard Baby before I saw her. I was on the roof playing footsy with the RoboCoptic Boy. A screeching came across the skylight. It commanded the space like a judgement from which there was no appeal. Baby’s annuciatory exclamation pierced my eardrums like a flaming javelin, one launched by a champion lancer. This was becoming my night for obnoxious assualts on my delicate auditory organs. Baby’s banshee wail was one of her choice theatrical bits, reserved for greeting her best friends or letting a crowded club know what delight she was taking in her own fabulousness. Reeling from her din I sought out the source of this Siren call and wrecked my bulging sockets on a short and curvy half naked brown girl with darting eyes and a page boy. Stripped to the waist ina sarong she was stomping her feet on the shoulders of four buffed seven foot bucks like it was everybody’s business if she did. On several occasions she nearly fell off of her trusty stallions but without failure they stopped her fall upholding Baby’s position bestride their necks. From her tottering stance when she actually tried to stand still and the general look of obscne madness in her eyes Baby appeared to be quite drunk and yet strangely clear of purpose and mind. She was so manically focused on her performance I surmised the liquor had gotter her there quicker. I was held in suspense waiting for the muscle boys to tire of her losing battle with gravity and set her down easy. Instead they started walking towards me and the RoboCoptic Boy. They became all smiles then vanished giggling into an alcove behind some nearby curtains. I became s sight of laughter and disbelief myself Im sure as Babys walking pyramid act became 10 imploring hands. They were inviting me to come dance with them. I was looking foxy enough I guess in my sar mimiskirt and this violet neon coil I had slung over one shoulder and one breast while jewel encrusted ankelts and thighlets shimmied up just below my crotch. Not that that made me more foxy than any of a dozen other women in the place. The morning after Baby claimed it was my big barefeet that had drawn her to me. The most beautiful Ive ever seen on a dancer she gushed. Much to my chagrin Babys handlers said she he recognized me from my Riverside ‘bout’. Apparently my legend was growing as the security butch who had not only bashed one of her sisters but whom Tunji had let live to tell the tale. Meeting Baby did not at the time seem as special as meeting Noona. It smeeled fishy in fact hardly weighted with a similirly simmering sense of predestination. There are no coincidences though at the end of the day and all of our most brilliant encounter no matter how manipulated into being bever really belong to the realm of pure chance. There are always higher forces at work.
When Baby jumped off her companions clavicles and labded gracefully at my feet she stayed down on all fours for several luxurious minutes recklessly eyeballing my pedal extremities. I knew something magical was happening but exactly what I couldn’t yet say. As I helped her up she regained her composure and a nearly sober posture fronting like a soldier whod been caught looking sloppier than amug by surprise inspection.You’ she snidely cracked, ‘simply must be the lovetoy the RoboCoptic Boy went out to fetch with my Subvolaese thingy. Since they’ve already told me about my wants and needs lets just cut to the chase shall we? Can you start tonight? And by the way since youre so atheltic would you mind doing a little bodyguard duty as well? I’m going on a fishing trip tomorrow and could some more personal muscle besides me . Now do I pay rental fees to you directly or do I deal with monies through the Robo Coptic Boy?’
At which point little sisters I wheeled around to throttle two RoboCoptic necks but they were nowhere to be found.’
FROM THE WOMB TO THE BROOM
Whistles, jeers, catcalls.
They’ll tell you everything about who’s coming for you from just around the bend today. You know how to whistle don’t you Miss Busybody, Miss Know It All, Miss Delphic Oracle? You just pucker your big Ubangi lips and you blow out a jetstream of guff. You just spear-chuck profanity at everything within earshot. You screech and roar at the dick-swanging dogs and their peeing trees, at the haughty-bitch cars and their slouching lamp posts, at the squawking munchkins and their half- deaf dimwit housewife mammas.
To whistle is to expectorate tornadoes.
To funnel coiled gusts of wind that will get the whole damn world quaking in your footfalls. To whistle is to begat the fear of armageddon.
Inquiring Minds get to trembling.
They want to say, Where the hell is all that noise coming from?
Inquiring Mouths fix to ax their neighbors. They want to ax, Who’s responsible for that infernal racket? What they’ll do instead is sweat into their palms and whisper, ”Can they hear us talking about them?”
Will we hear you? Human we can practically smell you.
You and your fear and all the other stenches you carry around with you. The stink of the unimpregnated.We are not your friends, no. We are, after all, The Wombs. Short for Womb For Hire Homegirls. This is good information to have. A useful bit of knowledge you and yours can profit from.
People under your care will be forever grateful, perhaps even consider you a savior and compose detailed hagiographies after you’ve ascended the stepladder of the gods and hung yourself on the first bright star you see tonight.
These are the facts:
There are thirty of us. We have all been carrying ourpregnancies for at least five years. We have been described as duped, delusional creatures who believe ourselves to be ‘black market baby factories farmed out to an infant-mercenary trade running between Bahia and Luanda’.
This is not correct. We are just a rowdy bunch of military wives combating boredom and nature with an artificially induced form of prolonged gestation.
People in the neighborhood consider us bullies.
They have their reasons.
Our bellies are hard as titanium and we can sling them around like wrecking balls if we have to. If you want trouble with us, we’re not hard to find. Because real bad girls are never sneaky.
Because real bad girls are bullies not snipers. Because real bad girls want you to fear them on sight. They want you to quake before their wrath.To bow down. To get out the way. To cower and tremble with respect. All of the above.
All our power comes from our brazen ways and our barbaric love for open- air combat. Know that whatever terrorism we do will be done in plain sight. Know that we as a collective have never lost a fight, fair or unfair.
We like to form a gauntlet and then shove, not ease, your ass on down the line.When we bend over with our asses in the air and poop, there goes mud in your eye.
To my Lord and Savior Jesus I say please don’t let me be misunderstood. I was never one of the angry ones. Yes, I did my dirt and was known to jump into the mix when it looked like fun, but I was never vicious out of any political motives. I was there only for the drugs and the sisterhood and the asylum.
Your average regular everyday throw-a-nigga-down-to-the-ground- stomp-his -guts-out-just because-it-felt-good kind of heifer. That was never me. I was never one of those raging against the state-machine type breeders.
No, Lord that wasn’t me.
In those days I was a needy little kitten.
A baby-junkie for my midwife’s affection.
First thing in the morning, I would dive headfirst into the nest she would build for me between the swell of her arms and the cushion of her breasts. I would collapse safely into the pillow she made for me using the wingspan of her broad belly, find a warm quilt in the muscles that ripped out of her spine. Eat every last morsel of strawberry and oatmeal out of her loving spoon. Such were the minor pleasures that made my stay among the Womb For Hire Homegirls the most treasured event of my rather medicore and typical young life.
(Years later, after I became an adult, and had to tolerate more than a little foolishness from my mate, I would retreat to the memory-cave. Choose oblivion and selective memory over castrating him or sifting and sieving powdered wineglass into his cornbread. I would reflect back on the power and pleasuring I enjoyed when I was a Womb.
Our fish fries and cowgirl dances. Our hair-braiding races and steamy piss competitions. Who could hold it the longest after a day of not pissing.
The latter event always occurred in the itchy-twitchy weeds that grew in the backyard of our glorified nunnery. Shumeya always won those because her water-holding was akin to a camel’s. DJ Chlorine liked to say, “That Shumeya’s hiding two humps by her twat. How we supposed to compete with a damned desert beast?”
Slow boulevard-roaming days and rowdy shut-in nights defined our rhythm and our blues in those times. Between those two extremes you had no other option unless you also ran with one of the neighborhood deathsquads as Shumeya had done before she became a Womb. Every so often she’d have to sneak out of the Wombhouse and float across Harlem with her boy-creatures. She’d come back just before dawn, loudtalking, rushing stories of the night’s adventures out of her mouth before the words could even be properly formed.
One time she told us about stumbling on a nest of sickly mutated wombs. Wombs that were all stomachs and claws and one-eye so low on the side of their faces almost like to be almost on their necks. Barely any faces or no legs to speak of she said. ‘And these butches were so despondent they had committed the ultimate sacrilege: cutting their stomachs open, allowing The Beloved Cherubim to prematurely batwing out into the world and go slicing up everything in sight–including their mamas– before asphyxiating because their lungs weren’t fully formed. ‘
‘They’d likely only had a year of gestation. Hardly enough time to make a warrior. See those type of Cherubim, the type who weren’t soup yet, came out swinging because they instinctually know they’ll live for minutes like fruitflies, but in those minutes can do plenty damage if they’re within stabbing range. Stabbing range was nowhere most of us ever wanted to be so we were forever declining Shumeya’s offers to see Harlem by night, to go out in the urban bush where all sorts of such wild things were.
Staying out of stabbing range was reason enough, but an even greater fear was of Shumeya ditching my ass if it came to that. Of me maybe moving too slow or too suddenly or too stiffly or me being too tongue-tied or too graceless to be saved–fat bull in the china shop unable to find grace in a space where every swish of my nervous tail was likely to destroy things by barely grazing. Besides, Shumeya being a friend and so generous with her storytelling, how I could enjoy her tales without having to have any of my own and so I thought, Why risk a predicament?
There was also plenty to do in our house when the sun went down. There were games and gossip and sewing teams and bakeoffs. And every so often Shumeya might bring a boy creature home for us to molest and harrass through a hole in the fence in the alley before one of our midwives came after him with a pitchfork and a broom, making us all sigh about the big fish that got away.. Those were good times. The times before we allowed Babylonia Free to wander in and turn the Wombs into enemies of the state.
The wombs, who had never hurt nobody that hadn’t annoyed them first.
But Babylonia had made us enemies of her mother Nada, the mayor of Gotham, who decided we and our Beloved Cherubim to be a clear and present danger to the smooth running of civilization. And that was that. Same as it ever was with those evil Frees.
Crazy Babylonia. We used to see her out the looking for the dick and the head and laugh.We laughed the way kids anywhere laugh when they catch sight of a woman who’s fallen to the base of the evolutionary tree. Fallen down so hard she can’t get up.
You can’t put fallen women in front of children and not expect them to erupt in mockery. Nothing is more guaranteed to provoke the evil, mocking laughter of children than the sight of a fallen woman. We didn’t need to know anything about this womans’ life, her
pain, what had caused her fall, nor did we care to find out. All we knew was that her name was Babylonia Free and that she was so ridiculous she made us laugh.
Babylonia had put posters up all over the neighborhood about her slain lover, Black Snake Sick Head. This Black Snake Dick Head was said to have been assassinated by parties unknown though even then she had to know it was at her mother’s behest. In any event these parties had sliced and diced his body up into 14 equal segments. Twelve of these were wrapped in butcher paper and deposited on her doorstep. The missing pieces, as illustrated on her posters, were the decapitated and castrated parts.
Everybody in the neighborhood knew that she wouldn’t stop searching for those parts until she found and buried them with the rest, or die trying. Finding the dick and the head became her mission in life before she found her way to us in misery, madness and sorrow.
Before that hardly blessed day though, Babylonia could be seen climbing down into the sewers, foraging in abandoned buildings, drunkenly wandering down the most desolate of streets. Her pursuit was relentless, left no stone unturned, observed no boundaries; was fruitless, was frenzied, was wasteful and deliriously unbecoming for such a beauty as she somehow strangely remained throughout this travail.
What did we know about such love? We knew about rape, yes, and we knew about foolish passion and could tell you a thing or two about abandonment and panic if pushed on the subject. But we had nothing to contribute to a conversation on the clauses in the romantic contract which obligate a lover to sacrifice her sanity to honor her lover.
Besides, we were on our own mission of destruction. Barefoot and pregnant, some of us were highly educated, others of us barely feeble-minded, most like moi, falling somewhere in the middle but yet, and still, we were all the prisoners of our bodies, victims of the crudest sort of biological determinism.
Babylonia’s brain might have been stewing in it’s own juices for too long but we somehow knew she was freer than we would ever be. Instrument of a self-made delirium rather than the kind that came with being violated and having nowhere else to turn but the House of Wombs.
(Sure, we could leave the Wombs anytime we wanted but for what? To exchange one locked cage for another? Trade in the bad mother figure who spit you out for the one who adopted you for the genetically altered contents of your swollen belly? Where was the choice in that? None at all, so you stick with the one who has some use for you at least.)
Once upon a time the house of The Wombs had actually been a shelter for battered women. We found documents proving this shelter had been a viable safehouse back when there were men in Harlem. (As you well know today’s young Black man avoids Harlem as much for the memories it contains as for it’s race mutation afterbirths–both products of the war their forefathers in the Quantum Black Movement had nearly lost to The White Bodypolitic.)
The thirty of us who lived in the house had been raped and impregnated by wizened men who carried the Quantum Black sperm, the Movement’s last standing soldiers of the cause. We had arrived on the Wombs’ doorstep because we were told there really was no other choice after such a dreadful occurrence and because we believed the myth: that our only other option was death by spontaneous combustion in the third trimester.
My best friend Amaretto claims to have seen such an event, though my midwife Queen Moor later told me, after Harlem had been turned to ashes, that this was nothing but a lie the State had put out to insure that all those so violated would march straight into a state-run natal care facility rather than the House of Wombs.
The girls Amaretto had seen were likely women who had made the wrong choice.
Amaretto persisted in the lie even after I told of her of Queen Morr’s take. Mainly because she’d attached a good story to this lie and had told it so often and so well that to her audience it had become as essential to her mythos as the sound of the and the falling and proverbial unseen tree in the forest.
Her belly was just about ready to pop”, Amaretto says. “Thing drooping down to her knees. Lady felt so heavy dragging that thing around she couldn’t stand up straight. Like Pithecanthropus Erectus she had to stoop and crawl with every step she walked.
So she crawled into a hole in the lobby of this abandoned apartment building. Laid down shaking. Got to feeling that starvation and passed out, lost consciousness and shit. Then she woke up sweating, in a panic, started steaming and sparking, caught fire, burnt to a crisp. I seen it all. You know I even got the footage to prove it all back home. Say I don’t.”
Back home was Nebraska, was Toronto, was Pontaic, was Stoopenville, Pittsburgh, Wilmington, Cherry Hill, wherever Amaretto decided to arrive from in her storytelling on a given night. During my seven years carrying weight for the Wombs, I was second youngest after Amaretto, my junior by two and a quarter years.
Amaretto had huge globular eyes that poked out of their sockets like a Japanese cartoon character and extremely long eyelashes whose shadows fell so long on her face they looked like tall grass pushing up and flung back by a strong wind somewhere way out in the wild. Those eyes of hers were so unreal, so big, wet and Bambi-ish with extra large egg-size whites. Two milky pools hypnotically swirling around two stark islands of hazel moss.
I remember the day she came to the House so vividly. Breaking wind the second she stepped across the threshold, dragging the floor with this raggedy scarred brown leather floorlength coat that draped around her ankles and made her look like she had dooky-drawers. Big belly poking out from under this too-tight halter top which seemed descended from a tore-up Puerto Rican flag. The sheer sight of her got me immediately happy. See, I was 15. The next oldest girl after me was 19. We’re talking a
gulf of years so vast not even blood ties would have drawn us closer.
Soon as I saw Amaretto I realized it is so much easier to invent a little sister out of virgin cloth than lay claim to a real bigger one. Because with that big one, no matter how desperately you grab at her ankles and embrace the back kick of rejection, that big old half grown girl think she a woman aint never gonna be no real sister to you.
Amaretto I instantly knew was all mine.
Like all of us Amaretto had issues with this space- time continuum. Unlike most of us she decided to do something about it. See, Amaretto took to living, when she chose to, in a pocket universe of her own making. This allowed her to observe the world at an angle that displayed information well-concealed from the rest of us.
In other words she liked to trip out on occasion.
Like you’d be sitting on the galvanized toilet bench with her in the dark and all of sudden she’d saysomething weird like “Here they come, Calletta Those happy girls with the smiling faces. The girls with the ruffled shirts and pleated plaid skirts. I bet they’d like to carve a notch in my brother Harold’s banana. But Harold refuses to be a victim anymore. Harold used to be in their gang but they violated him and so Harold has no balls, and therefore Harold refuses to be a victim anymore.
Now you know Calletta, I don’t mind being a victim. You know I want to go to Mars so bad I’d sleep with an army of sailors like Mz Tralala-la-la- la-la. Two times, even. Girl you know I’d get gangbanged overtime in a heartbeat if it would only get me to heaven. Some people gonna say `That was just plain silly’ because they’ll say you could purchase a ticket for pennies these days, just real cheap. But you know Calletta I don’t want to go to Mars without my drugs and you know if you go with gangbanging sailors then your drugs can come with you too.”
Amaretto and I had the same taste in psychedelics. Actually all the Wombs except Shumeya liked the same thing–Temporal Lobe.
We liked it best because it scrambled your days into random patterns.
Made you confuse a couple of your yesterdays with about three of your tomorrows.
It induced narcolepsy and vomiting but kept you from feeling trapped in the repetitions of the House of Wombs, with its long, locked-in bookings of nights and days.
Lobe is also a prophesy drug.
Lobe is how I know that thirty years from now when they tell our story, they’ll it differently from how I’m telling it to you now. and that it won’t even be our story, that it’ll be the story of Babylonia Free and she who’ll tell the story of me won’t know a damn thing about what she’s talking about, but because I’ll be dead and the she who’ll tell the story of me will be but half dead, and clinical in her reasoning, and emotionally detached and incredibly more determined than I ever was to misunderstand the whole truth.
She’ll also jot down notes to herself that say things like “A revolution is like a novel. You can start anywhere as long as you overcome the terror of starting at all”
And this confused and conflicted little one, she will also be trying to imagine herself as me in her notes and she will fail miserably. She will be unable to find words that ring true and adequately express my experience. but even so she will still go on scribbling her error packed fictions in the filthy parlor of her great aunt’s house while waiting for her other aunts to arrive.
(Note to self: Remark on the narcissism and reliability of the so-called unreliable narrator. Reliable because you know everything she says is a lie.)
*** APPENDIX A: YOU CAN BUILD AND BONE YOUR CIPHER.
Samuel Valerian nee Black Snake Dick Head became known during the Quantum Black Movement’s war against The White Bodypolitic as the most significant combat photographer the Movement was to produce. He was also, for a time, one of my grandfather Mandela Aint Free nee Bono Pruitt’s closest associates. This friendship actually predated the formation of grandfather’s Quantum Black Movement by several years. The following interview concerns itself with Mr. Dick Head’s first meeting with Mandela at grandfather’s debut exhibition at the Andrea Rosen fils Gallery. I’ve chosen to share this transcript with Artforum subscribers because of the magazines longstanding support of my grandfather’s work and it’s continuing patronage of my fledgling efforts researching his life, art and activism. Some readers already know that Mr. Dick Head was rediscovered, reconstructed and reactivated by me after three years of arduously and assiduously tracking down the dis-assembled and widely scattered parts of his mutilated bionic bodyparts, all considered lost since the Race Wars. In seeking out his remains, I only sought to reconstruct them in the interest of art history and science. Nothing in my reading about this magnificent man prepared me for the lucidity of his memory, the scalpeled edge of his wit or the charms of his conversation. Those who crave more details will have to await my next book, Fables of A Nigger Faustus or Whatever Happened To The Quantum Black Movement On The Way To Becoming A MOMA-Fucker, scheduled for publication in the spring of next year.
BABYLONIA:You left the Quantum Black Movement at a critical juncture–just prior to the Movement’s transition from the symbolic and gestural Style Wars phase to the soft-target Race Wars period. It’s been said Mandela threatened you with death if you left the organization.Did he believe you’d betray the Movement to the white bodypolitic?
BSDH: Click bang, what a hang, your granddaddy just shot poor me. By that time the question wasn’t who Mandela wanted dead but who he thought still deserved to live. Just about every living thing reeked of cowardice, connivance and corruption in his eyes. He tried to quarantine me in Harlem until certain operations were completed. I was not having it. I could read the handwriting on the wall. I did not want to be there when the white bodypolitic swept through Harlem the way Sherman had swept through Atlanta. Of course Mandela beat them to it. As prescient as my escape was , I ended up going back to shoot the whole shebang for my agency anyhow. And, as you can see, lost my humanity in the process.
BABYLONIA: Give me your opinion on Mandela as a military strategist.
BSDH: In those days I thought Mandela was a revolutionary manque. History has proven me incorrect. He was clearly as much of a military genius as he was an artistic one. Just not very good on the managerial slash political infighting side of things unfortunately.
BABYLONIA: What brought you two together initially?
BSDH: Oh his art work, of course. No doubt about that. I was there at his first exhibition like every other would-be hip Gothamite, black, white, or indifferent. Hysteria had been mounting for months. See, no one but his assistants and his dealer had seen the work in development. The dealer, not a woman usually given to hyperbole, claimed Mandela’s work was the most important formal breakthrough in the plastic arts since Cubism, liberating the visual field as it were, from the wall to the genome. Like Cubism the work was more shocking in form than content, though that’s debatable by somebody’s ethical standards I suppose.
BABYLONIA:That sort of market-driven manipulation was all it took to get jaded New Yorkers out of their summer homes back then?
BSDH:Other bits of information about the artist leaked out in dribs and drabs. All deliberately blown into the atmosphere by the dealer, of course. We found out, for example, that Mandela was a former student of genetic software pioneer Camelot Drexel, that he had a degree in cosmetic surgery and that he had come to art-making for political reasons. We also heard that his politics were a throwback to 20th century black cultural nationalism. And so on. It was rumoured he had wanted to mount a piece at the Chicago Art Institute with his own castrated penis and had been expelled for merely proposing the idea. We didn’t know for certain that he was a brother until those first photographs appeared in Flash Art. You’ve seen them of course, the blurry black and whites vaguely reminiscent of Joel Peter-Witkins work, and Gerhard Richter’s Bader-Meinhof series. Mandela crouching with his back to the camera in a Frankenstein lab setting, Mandela leaning on table teaming with maggots and recently cut clumps of Negroid hair, micro-surgical implements at the ready, Mandela posed against a smudgy pile of humanoid figures stacked in a manner evocative of the mass graves the brothers discovered at Auschwitz. With all those gothic trimmings you could almost have missed the creepy and provocative title etched into invite’s black area:Reparations 1-9, Courtesy of The Black Mengeles.
BABYLONIA:What were your first impressions of the man from those pictures.
BSDH: From the git-go I thought Mandela was strikingly ugly. What with that half bald, badly shaved cadaverous head of his, and those ratty braided-hair implants. Not to mention the broad barrel chest way out of proportion to that puny neck. Everything about him was way out of proportion. He was Victor Von Frankenstin and the monster too. A genius who looked stitched together from the body parts of many deceased men. He had the thick forearms of a longshoreman but then such delicate, spidery fingers too–they wouldn’t have been misplaced on a concert pianist. He also had soft watery eyes–crinkly-winkly, just like a Santa Claus, only maybe more discriminating. Eyes all the more chilling for being set under those bushy demonic eyebrows. Mother Nature had clearly had a field day when she blew breath into the form of Bono Pruitt a.k.a. Mandela Aint Free. I’m sure his own physiognomy made it easy for him to freely imagine recombinating someone else’s.
BABYLONIA: Tell all you can remember about the opening night of the Reparations exhibition.
BSDH:There were lines stretching down the boulevard for a good seven blocks. No more than fifteen people at a time were allowed in to view the show–that took about 30 minutes at the brisk pace the guards ushered you along at. My party arrived fashionably late, so you can imagine how long it took us to get in.
BABYLONIA: Were there people out on the street talking about the work when you arrived?
BSDH:No, because the dealer had made special arrangements to house each procession of patrons in a warehouse until all had gone through. We also had to sign consent forms to this lockdown before being allowed into the show. The point was to build a critical mass, heighten the tension and mystery and not spoil the element of surprise for others. In the waiting rooms there was a squadron of security dressed in uniforms resembling those of Kurdish warriors. They escorted you to the restrooms, fed you, or got you out of the building to a private ambulance– if you had, as many did, a medical emergency. Extreme nausea mostly.
BABYLONIA: What was your response to the exhibition?
BSDH:I just made it in with the very last group to be admitted in that day.
Since the groundfloor windows were frosted black we had no way of knowing it was pitch black inside as well. Luminous strips on the floor served as an illuminated footpath. The path led you to a roped-off, white-curtained area that glowed from within and almost possessed an ultraviolet radiance. Suddenly the curtains parted and all that stood between us and the work were the veils covering the entrances to the shows nine exhibition rooms. Each exhibit–or specimen in Mandela’s parlance– was on display behind glass. Among them was his most famous one, then titled Cultural Properties, but later renamed Cubist Face Bitch. It or really she was blonde, heavily Nordic featured, half seated, half standing on a surgical table with her back to us. Her figure was lithe and stately.
A spotlight was trained on her rippling back and revealed it to be hideously disfigured. I mean the woman’s flesh had literally been scraped, shredded, torn to shreds. We’re talking a lunar surface of scars, welts, bruises, peeling rolls of dessicated skin. After a minute or so a levitating hologram came into view beside her. It held a replica of the infamous 19th century portrait of an ex-slave named Gordon. Gordon had been a gentleman perhaps in his early 50s when the photograph was taken. His nose was aquiline, his posture stoic yet almost effeminate. He and the blonde were posed in exactly the same way and the scarring on his back had clearly served as the model for the work done on hers. Several epiphanies came to me at once. The exacting quality of the scar tissue reproduction, the nobility of long suffering Gordon combined with his utter lack of shame, rage or visible melancholia. It was as if the violence done to him had only heightened his regality. It brought to mind Toni Morrison’s comment that the remarkable thing about slavery was that beastial treatment had not turned us into a beastial people. Ironically, it would take commodity-fetishism to perform that Americanizing deformation on our folk. The disposessed becoming demonically possessed by their desires for factory-wrought possessions.
BABYLONIA:Elaborate, if you will, on how that idea resounds through Mandela’s art.
BSDH:All of Mandelas work was a critique of the Americanization of the African soul, both the voluntary and involuntary forms of that corruption, and most especially the genetic.
BABYLONIA:Continue on about the show.
BSDH:The blonde pivoted around so that we might see her facial features. Her nose had been scraped off–a homage I immediately knew, to the nasty bit of work Napoleon had performed on The Sphinx at Geza. She only had one eye, positioned on the far right side of her face. It was streaked, outlined and adorned with kohl, Egyptian style. After a few seconds the lights suddenly dimmed on that spectacle and we were all left violently, nakedly , aware of our selves. Our shaken, shuddering selves. The second curtain parted and we saw a living tableaux, a black man and a white woman in togas.An overhead lamp flicked on to reveal that they were Siamese twins, joined together from the hips to the lower cranium. A caption floated in the air besides them–“Integration is Misegenation is Mutation”. The couple blithely toasted us before their mis-en-scene faded to black. The next installation displayed a movie screen after the curtains went up. When the film began running we were shown Mandela in a doctors smock holding a chalkboard pointer. Titles came up reading Mirror, Mirror Who’s the fairest of them all? A very pregnant white woman who could have been blonde before the surgery lay on a canopy bed. The camera moved in for an extreme close-up on her exposed belly. Her torso dissolved to a vibrant color field and we were taken inside her womb. She was carrying twins, one black, one white Both were male. In a time elasped sequence the black child grew monstrously larger than his white brother and threatened to crush him at any second. We braced ourselves for the worst, but the film ran out and thrust us back into our stinking fear. We heard the spinning and twirling sound of an empty film reel and it’s full cousin whose celluloid tail had taken to air, flapping away as it made it’s final revolutions . To say we were shocked, outraged, enraged and energized by Mandela’s work would be an understatement. We felt terrorized and victimized. More by the how of the exhibit than even the why. We knew tortured living flesh had been put forth for our delectation. Flesh transformed by monstrous science and artful skill into an objet d’art by an inhuman visionary and racist lunatic. Was the work done under threat of death or done with the consent of the participants? Were those twins real or a graphic hallucination? Were these objectified subjects of experimentation, victims or sadomasochists? Was the work reversible? I had to know. It seemed unconscienable, and even preposterous, that these ‘works’ were on sale. Yet each was tagged and priced–a parade of mutilated, mutated and deformed human flesh available for purchase by well endowed customers. The systematic fury of Mandela’s project went beyond nihilism in its vicious denial of human dignity. I knew by then my dear sweet Babylonia that your grand father was the most diabolically brilliant man I would ever meet. I also knew that I wanted to spend the rest of my life documenting his career and working methods. I’ve had more insane ideas since, if you can believe that. Excerpted and abridged from interviews Babylonia Free conducted with Black Snake Dick Head as originally published in the Winter Solstice Special Race Issue of Artforum.