ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



Leona can lie when she want to lie and you can’t get no difference when she lying or thinks

she’s telling the truth. It’s like pulling hen’s teeth. You know deep down it’s not there.

But you hold onto her “that’s the truth” because there just ain’t nothing else.



A Dwarf’s Lament 

By Rudolph Lewis


The mind-wringing night is damp with sadness. Lovemaking gives me no rest, only a moment’s release. My bed this morning is hard with memories. Sitting up, I light a cigarette. I lean back against the cool wall and draw deeply the tobacco and fire into my lungs and blow out puffs of smoke into the darkness.

This woman by me snores like a man without a care—satisfied and sure of herself. Papa wouldn’t give a copper for me and my situation and a woman like Leona Harris. He the upright man. A head taller than middling. And on his burying day the sixth of November 1910—he stretched out in the cold ground and I shacked up with a woman he’d give not a glancing note.

But that’s not the thing. Here, I’m a man 42 years old, at the end of the first decade of a new century, uneasy with what Daddy, packed in the cold clay, thinks. Dead or alive, there’s no way pass Sam Francis, that man among men.

I, a man twice over and still I hear, “That’s Sam’s boy.” As if I ain’t got a life of my own. Always in his shadow, even now on his burying day.

The dark room is blue with the fullness of the moon and stars, true in the reality of time and space. To be up there with the gods of the night, with that smithy in the sky, away from all this . . . Blue smoke clouds away into the dark shadows of the room.

Damn it Papa, what can I say, she makes me feel good. Ain’t that enough—to hold a woman in my arms? She makes me laugh. She doesn’t treat me like a child ever at your belt buckle. Ain’t that worth something, even though I settle for less? Ain’t that worth something, Pop?

Leona rolls away on her side. Crickets and frogs and silence reign in the morning air. A bird chirps to his mate. I love the smell of her in the taste of my mouth. She knows I am a man, all man, and then some. She done told me time and time again, nobody makes her feel the way I do. She talks like she done been around the world. And I, a man more than she could dream.

“Baby, you ain’t like these other men. They so rough. You make a woman feel like a woman. And make her feel proud of it,” she told me, in one of her moments of sincerity.

Not like other men? That talk makes me uneasy. I like my toast unbuttered. I don’t trust that easy spread. I’m not one of her lounging friends. I got my own mind and need straight talk when we’re not stretch out for lovemaking. There’re times I want things clear as a bell.

Leona can lie when she want to lie and you can’t get no difference when she lying or thinks she’s telling the truth. It’s like pulling hen’s teeth. You know deep down it’s not there. But you hold onto her “that’s the truth” because there just ain’t nothing else.

“Everything you say is a lie,” I told her once, my foot planted, my finger in her face. “Everything you say is a lie.” She shuddered as if I had just cut her open and pulled the blade. But that was mean of me, too mean. My hurt cut her too deep, even for her comfort. There’re times work and wisdom can’t satisfy and I just need her, like a drug to kill a pain.

I pull my pants on, then the socks, and tie my shoes. I don’t know where my shirt and hat is. Shadows hide the truth of things. I stumble on a stool, noisily, waking her.

She sits up in bed. “What’s wrong, honey? Come gib Mama a kiss.”

She’s like honey to a bee. I sit on the edge of her bed of flowers and take her in my arms. My face in melons with large nipples that are her breasts.

“You going somewhere? I’m fixing you breakfast this morning. Some grits and bacon. Me, you, and a cup of coffee.”

She’s soft and lies heavy in my arms like longing. I kiss her and take her tongue wet in my mouth. Breathless I nibble her ear. I want her like maple on pancakes.

I pull back, “I got to go. There’s still a hundred pounds in the field.”

“Come on sweet daddy,” she begs like a kitten. I pull away from her voice. Tentacles that bury in your brain and you lost in some inky world. And you don’t know which way to turn.

“You seen my shirt, hat, my things?” I call out to her.

“Guy, you needn’t talk to me like that.” Her knees on the bed, she look into the darkness. “Check the corner. On the chair.” Her green eyes sharp as a cat’s. “There they are! You must be blind as a bear.” I fill the last slit with a button. I toss water on my face.

“See you soon.” I move toward the bed, her breasts, and her peach-fleshed lips.

“Come on baby, don’t go.” She pleads, her hand hot on my thigh.

Baby, I’m leaving, I say, over my shoulder. Always the pull and tug, the drag and the ceaseless struggle of desire. I walk into the purple night.

God knows I hate to steal away from a woman willing and wanting me to roll around in her garden. Sweet delight of forgetting everything. A few clouds from the south pass across the moon. The air on my neck warm and chilly like a woman’s fingers making circles in my mind.

What am I to do? My daddy died today. Can I get passed that, and go on? It all seems so undone. The foundation laid but the house still to be raised.

I come to the wooded wagon path, dark as pitch. I pause for a moment and look back across the field to Leona’s house. She crouches at the window, her heart sends out a silent call for me to return. That’s the imagination of desire, a wish. I’m certain she’s dead to the world.

I turn toward the deeper darkness of the woods. I get to the branch and I’ll be half way home. The crickets and the frogs stop their songs suddenly as I step beneath the tall overhanging oaks. An ear to silence, they smell death about me.

I never knew him. It was always work and wisdom talks. More often the work of silence than talk. He never told us about Suffolk. Only that some man owned him.

“I don’t know what you mean, son. A man has to work. But I didn’t own it, my hard driven work. Somebody else told me what to do and what not to do. Where to go and when to come. I were a child when I was a grown man. I was more capable than many. Now I own my work. I own me. Most of all my chillun. And that’s the key to life. No man has a say other than me when it comes to my own soul. That is all any man needs to know, for that’s every thing.”

The moon is high in the overhanging limbs of oak and gum. Who can count the stars in the sky? So many mysteries no one can talk about. No one can explain the ways of God. A deer crashes through the pines.

But how does one explain no mama, no grandmama, no granddaddy. What child doesn’t want to know where he from? To know is to be more than half a man.

“Son, I know your heart’s pain. But I haven’t the words. All your answers will come in time. God is good. In him you can find rest. Joy is in here. (He placed a hand across his heart.) Every man is got to grasp it hisself. It’s special for each. Some things you got to find for yourself. But you got to listen. Forget the things in your mind. Listen to the voices in the wind. They echo what is in your heart and the good that is in the world.”

I didn’t look up. His eyes were on me. He wanted to know how his words weighed on me. No room to wiggle. Always the tension, the struggle. The silence.

Every man can’t be of such dogged will as you, Papa. A back unbent still at eighty-one. You made everything easy. You just lay down one night and decided you had had enough. And died. You decided you could no longer stay away from a woman we never got to know, your young wife, and our mother.

The stench of the pig pen is in the air. The house is near. I come out on the field of naked cotton stalks. No light yet at Sis Tammy or at Malviny’s.

The old man was proud of his two daughters and the choices they made in husbands. Men that stand tall. They chose men that wanted to make their own families. Men who found comfort under Papa’s tree. That sturdy oak of a man. A man that other men looked up to.

But no wife for his first born and no chillun. There was never even the slip of a tease. He held back. Maybe he didn’t have the words. For me his silence is still pregnant.

He never asked “What’s wrong son? Why can’t you get it right?” Never one reproach. Always the silent distance. A presence that uttered the refrain: “He’ll work it out.”

Work it out? Work it out! What in the hell is that? Can a mouse be an elephant? A pony, a horse; a guinea, a turkey? A dwarf a man? How can one get pass that?

The wind picks up. We gonna have an early snow this year. A thin snow, a mild winter. Just enough to kill a few mosquitoes and clear the head of the fog and mist of summer.

“How is it going girl?” I unlatch the stall. Minnie comes to my hand. She asks for little and gives much. I don’t know what a Virginia farmer could do without his mule. She knows how to test a man’s fortitude in the wet heat of the sun. Ash-gray dirt scorching bare feet.

I stand aside and she trots to the other end of the yard. The pigs are alert and begin their chorus of grunts. The rooster in the yard struts to the fence. The hens are restless.

I open the barn door and pull out a few ears of corn. And then the burlap bag and head toward the blue whiteness of the autumn field. I’ll have a hundred pounds before the day’s end. My fingers in the soft whiteness of cotton. . . . Life is more than a dream.

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Blacks in Hispanic Literature: Critical Essays

Edited by Miriam DeCosta-Willis 

Blacks in Hispanic Literature is a collection of fourteen essays by scholars and creative writers from Africa and the Americas. Called one of two significant critical works on Afro-Hispanic literature to appear in the late 1970s, it includes the pioneering studies of Carter G. Woodson and Valaurez B. Spratlin, published in the 1930s, as well as the essays of scholars whose interpretations were shaped by the Black aesthetic. The early essays, primarily of the Black-as-subject in Spanish medieval and Golden Age literature, provide an historical context for understanding 20th-century creative works by African-descended, Hispanophone writers, such as Cuban Nicolás Guillén and Ecuadorean poet, novelist, and scholar Adalberto Ortiz, whose essay analyzes the significance of Negritude in Latin America. This collaborative text set the tone for later conferences in which writers and scholars worked together to promote, disseminate, and critique the literature of Spanish-speaking people of African descent. . . . Cited by a literary critic in 2004 as “the seminal study in the field of Afro-Hispanic Literature . . . on which most scholars in the field ‘cut their teeth’.”

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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.

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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

Browse all issues

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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 /

George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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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 16 June 2008




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Related files: Dwarfs Lament  Tale for Sam Williams