ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



 “It’s good you come see me when you did. In three days you’d been dead.

You’ve got the wrong notion if you think you been conjured.

There ain’t no conjure about you. You been poisoned.”


            Conjuring & Doctoring

A True Story about the Fabled Doctor Jim Jordan

Told by Ella Jackson Lewis (August 23, 1998)

By Rudolph Lewis


Your daddy was sick. I got the heater cherry red. Still he felt cold. Sweat falling off him big as the digit of the little finger. The quilts or no amount of cover could keep him warm. I was worried but I didn’t let on. I knew the good Lord would have His way.

That night his brother Arthur came by. William had got worse rather than better. Arthur too had got some worried about William.

“Ella,” Arthur asked, “do you mind if we took him to a man down in Carolina. A man named Jim Jordan.” [People say, “JimJerden,” as if it were one name.] I looked hard at Arthur and then William and he looked like he wasn’t going to get any better.

I was near making a decision when Arthur added, “The people Over-the-River swear by him.” That’s the river they call Nottoway. I heard people speak of Jim Jordan, who hadn’t. I found out he was Clarence Carter’s grandfather; Elsie Carter’s daddy. Clarence was my son-in-law, as you know, your Aunt Susie’s husband. People were quite envious of Jim Jordan’s fortune, but I think more frightened of him than not.

I got my coat and we gathered William up. We went way down into Carolina, past Scottlesneck, where Papa was born and raised. Maybe about 130 miles from Jarratt. We drove through forests of countryside and then towns and then more countryside. Until we finally come to Jim Jordan’s house, way out in the middle of nowhere, in the dark night.  When we pulled into his yard, it was just about daybreak.

We knocked and Jim Jordan opened the door. He was a big man, a coal black man in bib overalls. Arthur told him we come from Virginia and we needed help.

We entered a room that a table had been set with fried chicken and fish. Three women and two men were standing at the table. I was hungry ’cause we had drove all that way and hadn’t ate. We passed by the food and they didn’t ask us to have any of that food that looked so good to me.

We passed into a room that was dirty. Well, it was not really dirty. It was junky. Papers, books, boxes all over the place. Jim Jordan invited us to sit. We began to move papers and other things from the chairs. But he said never the mind, “Sit.” And we did.

I and Arthur looked at each other and then to William. Then to Jim Jordan, who looking hard at William, says, “Who’s these people with you?” And William tells him we was his wife and brother.

“So what’s your ailment?” says Jim Jordan, looking at William. And William tells him that he’s been to the doctors and the doctor’s medicine done made him worse. And that he couldn’t keep warm.

Jim Jordan didn’t say nothing. He looked through the shadows in the room. All around as if he’d misplaced some item, and then he spoke again. “It’s good you come see me when you did. In three days you’d been dead. You’ve got the wrong notion if you think you been conjured. There ain’t no conjure about you. You been poisoned.”

Jim Jordan then reached in a big box and pulled out a crystal ball about so big [the size of a medicine ball] and hung it on a hook. He sat near it and then took hold of the spinning white globe. He held it before us and told us to look.

Plain as day, I saw our field in back of the house. It was empty, except for William’s plow. Then someone comes into the picture and smears something on the plow handles. And then I saw the man’s face. It was William Moore.

“This is the man that poisoned you. You see how he done it. Do you know this man?” And William nodded he did.

We all knew the man. William Moore lived within a mile of us on Jerusalem Church Road. Your daddy and William had a fuss ’cause William Moore didn’t paid for corn your daddy had sold him.

Jim Jordan put the crystal ball back in its box. But he was not finished with us. He pulled a smaller ball out of a box and hung it on the hook as before. Again, he stopped the ball’s spin.

A face was in the ball. It was Rebecca Parker, plain as day. I could see her as if she sat here before me. Jim Jordan says to William, “Do you know this woman?” William cutting his eyes quickly toward me, nodded yes he did.

“She your wife?” And William slowly shook his head and muttered no. “This is my wife,” turned to me slightly and placed his hand lightly on my knee and took it away.

“But you spend time with this woman. You got a good wife here, smart, a hard worker. You ought to treat her better than that. You done worked yourself into a mess by what you been up to. This woman spread a white powder under the mat of your truck on the driver’s side. Get your brother to take it away. Leave not a drop of it under the rug.”

To rid William of the poison in his body, Jim Jordan gave him a bottle filled with a brown liquid, milky brown. A bottle about so high, over a pint. And William had to take it for four days. Then he was to come back to Carolina.

And so we went on back up to Jarratt in silence. Arthur found the powder under the truck mat. Swept it out. And did like Jim Jordan told him, he took the white powder down the woods and poured it into a flowing stream.

Mama and Daddy and their son-in-law Samuel “Busta” Rivers

Later Arthur and I talked. He asked me about what I had seen and heard. And asked me what was I going to do, to say to William. I knew there was nothing to do but pray and hope for the best. Your daddy wasn’t gone allow what he had been doing was wrong. At least not to me.

“Ain’t no need to ask a man what he been doing,” Mama told me long time ago. “Ain’t no need to go on with your husband about where he been and what he been doing. I knew your Papa was going to tell a lie.”

So I took my mama’s advice to heart.

When I worked at Jarratt Motel as a cook, I got home around 10 o’clock. Times were when I came in William would have just got home or he’d come in just after I got there. Or we’d come in at the same time. It was plain he’d left work, come home, put on his sweet-water pants and his Sunday shoes and went out.

I put Mama’s advice to work. I stopped saying anything to him about his comings and goings. And he didn’t say anything: he just came and went as he please. And so I just stopped fussing about it. Said nothing. And he began to wonder what was going on. He couldn’t read my mind. After a while he changed that routine.

William took Jim Jordan’s potion. And he threw up again and again. That poison was coming out of his body. It was like a green liquid spewing, oozing from the earth, wracking his body. I thought that potion was killing my husband. But he got better. God was good. After a while that medicine it stayed down.

That Saturday, we went back to Jordan’s place in Carolina. I think the town was called Como.

“You feel better? I see you look better,” says Jim Jordan with his hand on William’s shoulder. William said that he was, though a little weak. He said he’d be okay if he could keep some food down.

Jim Jordan gave William another potion, brownish like a cola. And it had little tiny bits of roots in the bottom of the bottle. We both were told to take the potion.

“You won’t have to worry about this poison ever again. You can roll in it, sleep on it, eat it and it will have no effect on you.” I took the potion.

“Two people going to visit you soon.” Jim Jordan told us. “If they ask for pin or beans, don’t give it to them. Keep a careful watch while they are there. Do not let them out of your sight.”

Sure enough, the next day William and Rosa Moore came to visit William. One sat at the foot of the bed and one at the head of the bed. After a while William Moore got up and went to the back door. And Clarence was there. And then he went to the front door and somebody was there.

So you see, he couldn’t do his business. William Moore wished your daddy well and said he knew he’d be on his feet soon. He didn’t explain how he knowed that. He and Rosa got on out of here. And they never came back or tried any other foolishness.

I’ll tell you how else I know that Jim Jordan’s ball was right. A friend told me that Rebecca was going to have a party at my house. I ain’t knowed nothing about that.

So I asked your daddy, “William, I understand you and Rebecca have planned a party. Why didn’t I know about this. I’m the one who got to clean up. I’m the boss of the house.  You’s the boss of the outdoors. And I say, ain’t no party going to be here.”

He hemmed and hawed. But he knew I meant what I said. So he and Rebecca went about from house to house peddling barbecue.

What’s that you say? No ain’t nothing like that’s ever gone on with me. Your daddy lied if he said he took me to a root doctor down in Carolina for a tumor. I’ve been to no root man nor conjure man for no kind of ailment.

I bethcha he didn’t tell you he had gone hisself to Jim Jordan ’cause he was poisoned. It’s true I did have a tumor. I went to a colored doctor out in Emporia. I can’t right remember his name right now. But it wasn’t Cartwright. Well, anyway, he said I either had a tumor or was pregnant. I knew I wasn’t pregnant.

As it happened, I was listening to a religious program on radio. The preacher says to put your right hand on the radio. He was going to pray for people’s ailments. And I placed my hand on the radio and my right hand on my side. I heard the tumor when it popped, like a May pop.

When I went back to Emporia to see the doctor, the swelling had gone down. All that was left was a darkening of the skin where the tumor had been. And the doctor asked who had done the surgery. I told him I had no surgery. I told him of my praying. I told him if there was a doctor it was Dr. Jesus.

“Conjuring & Doctoring” was published first in The New Laurel Review, Volume 21 (Anthology 1999). Editor Lee Meitzen Grue. Journal address: 828 Lesseps Street, New Orleans, LA 70117.

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1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created

By Charles C. Mann

I’m a big fan of Charles Mann’s previous book 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, in which he provides a sweeping and provocative examination of North and South America prior to the arrival of Christopher Columbus. It’s exhaustively researched but so wonderfully written that it’s anything but exhausting to read. With his follow-up, 1493, Mann has taken it to a new, truly global level. Building on the groundbreaking work of Alfred Crosby (author of The Columbian Exchange and, I’m proud to say, a fellow Nantucketer), Mann has written nothing less than the story of our world: how a planet of what were once several autonomous continents is quickly becoming a single, “globalized” entity.

Mann not only talked to countless scientists and researchers; he visited the places he writes about, and as a consequence, the book has a marvelously wide-ranging yet personal feel as we follow Mann from one far-flung corner of the world to the next. And always, the prose is masterful. In telling the improbable story of how Spanish and Chinese cultures collided in the Philippines in the sixteenth century, he takes us to the island of Mindoro whose “southern coast consists of a number of small bays, one next to another like tooth marks in an apple.” We learn how the spread of malaria, the potato, tobacco, guano, rubber plants, and sugar cane have disrupted and convulsed the planet and will continue to do so until we are finally living on one integrated or at least close-to-integrated Earth. Whether or not the human instigators of all this remarkable change will survive the process they helped to initiate more than five hundred years ago remains, Mann suggests in this monumental and revelatory book, an open question.

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Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

By Melissa V. Harris-Perry

According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel.  The selfless Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.     

Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.

As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.

*   *   *   *   *

The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

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*   *   *   *   *

The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 — The Founding of Haiti 

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update 8 January 2012




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