ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
Once I even shrieked at her you have no right to turn father into a laughing-stock!
She said how do you know hes your father, you fool and she giggled in a dirty way;
then she explained it to me. . . . She could make a lot of men happy
June, The Colonel’s Youngest Daughter
By Stoyan Valev
Lying down in the hammock, suspended between the earth and the firmament, the old colonel liked to say:
Its only when you mix heaven and hell, is the best reality created, June! Christo comes straight from hell, you were raised in heaven! Your kids will be strong people!
June, the colonels youngest daughter, was looking with fear at the man, who was trimming the tree branches with love, or turning up wildly, yet majestically, the earth in the garden with the spade. They seldom spent the weekends at the colonels, but, as soon as they arrived there, Christo threw himself all in the garden and it changed completely under his hands. When they were in town he liked to work on Sundays too; he was thirty-two and was a manager in a division of a multinational company with a budget bigger than the one of the country he was born and managed to wrest himself out from.
There life is experienced, it is in your hands, and you can model it the way you want! Here, June, all the energy people have goes for survival. Other people model your life here. There you can be what you think you should be. And here you must be, at least ostentatiously, what the others expect you to be! Can you see the difference? Its killing people!
June, the colonels youngest daughter, was mincing next to her husband, tripping over her feet, all in sweat. She had that feeling, that she should have prevented that journey from happening. She failed, perhaps, because she did not want it. June wanted to learn what was imbedded in her childrens souls, because Christo was their father and she was the colonels youngest daughter.
Now she was following Christo in the weed-grown village cemetery. They were going to his mothers grave.
The dead, June, are here enemies too!
For the dead either good or nothing, the old colonel repeated, and June reminded Christo of it.
Not now! Not here! For the dead only the worse! Here the good that people do is hated the moment it appears! The most hated here are the good guys, the most respected the bad guys!
Christo was walking with a furious anger, he did not pay attention to the fact that he trod on old graves and monuments. June was meandering after him, but trying to avoid one, was bound to step on another grave.
Here, death, June is liberation from the burden of life! While there, death is a crowning moment.
Christo gave a loathing kick to a bush, appearing on his way, when they reached his mothers grave.
A cross. Made of wood.
His mothers name was written on it with paint.
That was all.
Wild and savage.
Then she stared into his face and saw the tears.
Men never cry, June! If you see a man cry, he is worthy of contempt! The old colonel liked to say, lying down in the hammock, suspended between the firmament and the earth.
But Christo was standing between heaven and hell, she had to forgive him. She turned her eyes.
I hate her, though I must love her. Mother.
He gave a sob and sat on the edge of the grave. She huddled in him, and he told her everything she wanted.
There were countless men in her life. Bitch. My father knew everything about her adventures, but didnt do anything. He was laughed at. The other children threw stones at me; I stalked them and beat them black and blue. When I grew up, I asked him why dont you chase her away? He said that was the wife God chose for me, I love her you have to think about your wife Such suicidal meekness is possible only here! Once I even shrieked at her you have no right to turn father into a laughing-stock! She said how do you know hes your father, you fool and she giggled in a dirty way; then she explained it to me. . . . She could make a lot of men happy, it was a sin if she didnt do it . . . And she told me may God give you a wife like me! I hated her, though I was supposed to love her. But how was I supposed to do that?! I cant! It hurts!
A sudden gust of wind appeared and whistled past their faces. June looked around scared, was it his mothers soul?
It was only when they drew away that it occurred to her they didnt go to his fathers grave, did they? She did not dare ask, but there must have been some deep meaning to this, a meaning that she was not able to grasp now.
On their way back they stopped before a Thracian shrine, next to the cemetery. It was obvious that it had been dug in both with spades and an excavator alike. There were remnants of marble and ceramics¡
They have always been digging for treasures here, he shook his head, smiling strangely. And have always found something. The authorities have always forbidden it, fined some, but the people kept doing it. No archeologist set his foot here. . . . The money they gave to build fences, to hire guards, was much more than the expenses for the archeological diggings. Do you understand the absurdity? You dont, I shouldnt have asked you . . .
They entered the yard of his fathers house. His brother Nako lived here now. This primitiveness was somewhat strange to June ¨C there were hens walking in the yard, two pigs were grunting and digging the earth out, three cows were feebly sticking their heads out of the cowshed, a sheep bleated sadly from somewhere. The stench was unbearable.
Two enormous black dogs snarled together and started at them, but the chains pulled them back and stopped them.
Why dont they let them loose? June asked.
It goes like this here! Christo smiled spitefully. It is the way people and animals live here. Otherwise they will bite!
Nako and Velitchka, his wife, were waiting for them in front of the house. They felt uncomfortable and uncertain. Velitchka had hidden her hands underneath her apron. When they stopped in front of them, she put out only her right hand to shake hands with June. The American stared into the eyes of the Bulgarian. There was some fright in these eyes, something welling up inside. June sensed the smell of death, madness, hopelessness.
Nako looked like a trapper to her; she had seen trappers in the films about the Wild West, which she had always loved to watch.
While they were eating they kept silent. It surprised June they hadnt seen one another for more than 10 years, why were they silent? Dont they have to say something to each other? Or, perhaps, they didnt want to?
It was not until they all had finished their meals that Nako uttered one word only:
Christo started laughing so loudly and cheerfully; the way he laughed only in America. June looked at him startled.
I am only asking. As a man to man. You are laughing! Nako said embittered.
Dont we even have the right to ask any more? Velitchka shook her head with a silent, cruel reproach.
You, shut up! Nako snapped at her and turned to Christo: Im only asking!
Brother, everything here is yours! Didnt you understand?! Christo spread his arms in despair.
Well, Ive had to ask, thats the proper way to do it! Nakos broad face beamed; Velitchka turned and crossed herself unnoticeably.
What century are you living in, brother? Christo suddenly asked quietly.
Nako tapped the table. He took a drink and said sadly:
I dont know. I am a simple man.
Christo laughed again but turned serious straight away:
Dont you dare excuse yourself like that?! Its true that only the scoundrels, the block-heads and the fools stayed here. Only the ones that think they can steal everything!
Where do you put us in, Christo? Velitchka asked unexpectedly peevishly.
Do I know . . . Christo shrugged his shoulders and pursed his lips. What do you think?
Id like you to tell us, so that we know! You, guys, keep coming here and telling us, what we are, how we should live, what we should do . . . Velitchka was shaking her head. June sensed with all her being the hatred that woman had for Christo. She shuddered.
A hostile silence set in the room.
June, the colonels youngest daughter, was listening with an ever increasing interest, though she did not understand a word. She could tell by the growing tension that something important was going on. Something fatal. Suddenly Christo turned to June and started talking in English:
Nothing is ever changing here! Our teachers were just like wardens in prison, never have I met such malicious and disgusting creatures. They hated everyone who tried to think for themselves. Our fathers supported them. Perhaps out of foolishness? Our fathers were evil out of fear; they dreaded the thought of any change at all. Their best argument was thrashing us; thus they thought they proved right. Brutal force. Mother was crying while beating me. Was it cruelty out of compassion? Nako hated them, but listened to them. He has been working his ass out for forty years and has achieved nothing?! Look at the pigsty he lives in! with disgust, he showed around the room.
Like the Middle Ages! Nako was looking at him with a straight face. He felt the English language lacerating, lashing, just like a whip. As if gunshots were fired in the room.
Nako shivered at every word. He felt it like a threat, like the swishing sound of an axe over his head. He was looking at the danger with curiosity, as if he marveled at her, although he was afraid of it.
He had given in, June told herself, listening to Christo but looking at Nako. They were so different, those two. Complete strangers.
Brother, did they tell you that were taking them to the states? Christo asked cantankerously.
Velitchka gave a sob, stood up and caught at the table with both hands.
It was them who wanted it! Christo was talking with a fierce malice in his voice: The have been admitted to the best American universities! If I dont take them, theyll come to America by themselves. It isnt that they wont make it, but it would take them more time and effort without my help. Their visas are ready, they are coming with us! Tomorrow!
Velitchka gave a scream, started wailing and swearing at life, fate, destiny and waved her hands helplessly – she began calling down curses on Christo.
Shut up! Nako said in a bored but authoritative voice.
God strike him dead! God! Our merciful, orthodox God! May his soul be damned forever! May he have the hardest of lives! Plague on him! May he crawl all his life and his wife too, the cursed whore and his children, the damned scoundrels! And that damned America of his may it go down to hell! she was cursing, drawing back to the door. Suddenly she disappeared, as if she, herself, had fallen down the eternal pit of damnation, while begging the it to open its gates for Christo.
No, Christo, I realized it in the end, no, you cant live here by your honest labor, Nako admitted in a suppressed voice. He was working up a piece of bread between his fingers. I have always been honest until now, and see what Ive got?! The kids are not only laughing at me, they started to hate me! They keep saying it is uncle Christo we rely on, he is our savior; you are nothing, a mere nobody . . .
Christo smiled satisfied; Velitchkas voice was heard in the adjacent room.
Shes talking. Over the phone with her daughter. Nako pricked up his ears and carried on: Shes asking her if it is true. Stupid! He said that in a mocking way, but with a condescending, overt love.
Velitchka gave another scream; she set up a terrible howl, as if she were dying.
June, the colonels youngest daughter, quite frightened, caught Christos hand under the table; he turned to her and smiled.
Well, Christo, alright, Nako drop the glass down on the floor. . . .The children are coming with you, thats clear. Velitchka and me are gonna die in a few years! Then what?
What then?! Christo smiled maliciously. So what, brother?! Thats the end. The logical end, brother!
So, you say, thats the end?! Is that right, brother? Nako asked panic-stricken, he was about to stand up but gave it up and powerless, collapsed onto the chair: The end! But, there have been people here from times immemorial? Havent you seen the Thracian shrine?!
Big deal! Christo grunted out. Thracian shrine! There are shrines, but there are no Thracians! Thats it, isnt it?
No . . . Nako shook his head: We are still here, arent we?
How many are you?! What are you your kids are running away from you as fast as they can?!Christo asked with increasing bitterness.
No! Nako wailed once again. Good or bad, we are here! What weve done is all we can! But what would follow us?
Bars closing! Christo snapped his fingers.
Why? Nako asked.
Because the proprietors are stupid!
Hey! Nako straightened up menacingly.
Brother, do you remember how mothers own sisters envied her? Christo leaned over the table. We had been rich! Why?! Because we had two sheep more? They hated her deeply, didnt they? Her own sisters! Do you remember?
Yes, I do, Nako nodded and gave a sigh. They poisoned them within a year.
Then?! Christo asked triumphant. Let alone the things they kept talking about her?! Though they were right to some extent, cause you know . . .
No, they were not! Nako clenched his fists and dreamily uttered: My mother was a beautiful woman! What a beauty! I can picture her even now! The most beautiful woman I have ever seen, that was she!
What about Velitchka? Christo grinned ironically and winked at his brother.
Forget about her! his brother waved her hand disparagingly. Mother was the real McCoy!
You are going to excuse her lovers next?!
Yes, why not! Beauty is no prey to judgment! He waved his finger. A beautiful woman must be loved!
What about Dad?! What are you gonna say about him?! Christo whispered.
He was happy in his own way! He loved her the way she was! Nako smiled in ridicule. Go on, you damn little judge!
Do you remember, Christo said maliciously squinting his eyes, Dad was more eager to be in the neighbors . . . way, than put in order his own cellars or clean the basement! He did all sots of foolish things he knocked down their stone walls, he destroyed their garlic at night . . .
That was correct. That was bad. Nako agreed, and with glowing eyes, confessed: Im just like him!
Well, then? What does that mean? now Christo was talking just like a prosecutor.
Its bad, I know, Nako heaved, raised the glass from the floor, brushed it with his fat fingers and poured some wine. He was drinking thirstily, taking big swigs; his Adams apple was rising and falling.
How is it possible that nothing remains here in this land of ours, Nako? We steal everything, destroy everything! Nothing has remained of those who lived before us! Why? We dont build anything to stay. Why? The man dies and the house with him. In ruins. The land remains only. I keep looking at the houses the owner kicks the bucket, his house soon in ruins, the yard running riot its as if no one had ever lived there.
You are damn right! Nako grinned and scratched his head. The guy dies and its as though he had never lived . . .
You couldnt even build a church, and you claim you are Christians! When we were driving home, I stopped to look at it its so rickety I can knock it with a single push. I peered inside its all over birds dung! Is it where you pray?
I havent set my foot there for ten years, I dont know, Nako shrugged his shoulders with an evil indifference.
The community center is in ruins, as if a bomb had fallen! You have stolen the roof tiles; there isnt a single stone there!
I took the steps only and broke them into gravel, Nako admitted and grinned.
Well then, tell me, dont you deserve the coming of the end?
Nako sighed loudly and asked cunningly:
And you, how did you manage to bud in there? You left flat broke!
It was difficult, brother, Christo sighed. But I said to myself If I dont start to play the game, Ill take my life, but I wont come back here.
My wife says that if all the kids go to America, she will hang herself! Nako said, and then he looked around, listened up and stood up.
June saw his powerful back, covering the door for a moment.
When he was back in a few minutes, his face was white as a sheet. He sat down, sighing heavily, poured some wine into their glasses, and pushed the glasses into their hands. He poured some wine onto the floor, a thin trembling trickle, and said:
God have mercy on Velitchka! She was a crusty one, but weve had some life together!
What?! Christo got startled, the glass spilt its contents onto his white T-shirt, he put it on the table quickly and stood up obviously frightened.
She hanged herself. On the lean-to. Lets bury her, so you can go to this America of yours. Nako took the knife from the shelf and made for the door.
Christo followed him, and behind them, horrified, trailed June. She did not understand what had happened, but she sensed it was something horrible and frightful.
When she stood up before Velitchkas hanging body, she heard the voice old of the colonel, lying in the hammock, suspended, just like the body here, between the earth and the sky: Christo, my girl, is coming straight from hell!
June, the colonels youngest daughter, suddenly stretched both her arms towards the sky, heavy with clouds, and started crying wildly, in the Bulgarian way, that is inconsolably.
Translated from Bulgarian by: Ivailo Dagnev
Stojan Valev was born and live in Bulgaria, Eastern Europe. He is specialist in Bulgarian language and literature. He graduated Paisii Hilendarski University in Plovdiv in 1982 and taught there 5 years as an assistant in Russian literature of XX century. He used to work as a journalist in radios, weekly papers and daily papers. He used to be chief editor of the weekly Freedom, the daily press Maritza and Twenty-four-hour news maker. He published his stories in the Collection of stories A Murder on Christmas and A Murder of Love, in the following editions Paper for the Woman, Womans Kingdom, Review, and For the Woman.
In 1999 Hermes Publishing House published his first book When God Was On Leave. In 2000 two Bulgarian theatres put on scene his play for teenagers An United Class. His second book is The Bulgarian Decameron, in two volumes published in 2002 and 2003 by Golden Apple Publishing House. The two volumes include 30 stories about the love life of the Bulgarian in the past. His screen script on his story Unfaithfulness one time and a half won a competition of the Bulgarian National TV in November 2002. In 2003 Golden Apple Publishing House published a story collection of 40 stories named Time for Infidelities. Some of his stories have been published in many issues in USA, UK, Australia, New Zealand, India, Italy, Poland, Kingdom of Nepal, Ireland, Canada, Switzerland and some are going to be published soon.
posted 17 February 2005
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#14 – For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree
#15 – Homemade Loves by J. California Cooper
#16 – The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper
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#19 – Stackin’ Paper by Joy King
#20 – Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey
#21 – The Upper Room by Mary Monroe
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By Sugar Ray Leonard with Michael Arkush
In his New York Times bestselling memoir, one of Americas greatest boxing legends faces his single greatest competitor: himself. In Washington, D.C., during the 1970s, a black man could get into the newspapers in one of two ways: crimeor boxing. Sugar Ray Leonard chose to fight. After winning a gold medal at the 1976 Olympics, Ray wanted to call it quits and go to college, but his familys financial needs made him go pro. Boxing history was made.
All the while, another, darker Rayone overwhelmed by depression, rage, drug addiction, sexual abuse, and greedbattled for dominance. In The Big Fight, Ray comes to terms with both these men and shares a brutally honest and remarkably inspiring portrait of the rise, fall, and ultimate redemption of a true fighterinside and outside the ring
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By Michelle Alexander
The mass incarceration of people of color through the War on Drugs is a big part of the reason that a black child born today is less likely to be raised by both parents than a black child born during slavery. The absence of black fathers from families across America is not simply a function of laziness, immaturity, or too much time watching Sports Center. Hundreds of thousands of black men have disappeared into prisons and jails, locked away for drug crimes that are largely ignored when committed by whites. Most people seem to imagine that the drug warwhich has swept millions of poor people of color behind barshas been aimed at rooting out drug kingpins or violent drug offenders. Nothing could be further from the truth. This war has been focused overwhelmingly on low-level drug offenses, like marijuana possessionthe very crimes that happen with equal frequency in middle class white communities.
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By Randall Kennedy
Among the best things about The Persistence of the Color Line is watching Mr. Kennedy hash through the positions about Mr. Obama staked out by black commentators on the left and right, from Stanley Crouch and Cornel West to Juan Williams and Tavis Smiley. He can be pointed. Noting the way Mr. Smiley consistently voiced skepticism regarding whether blacks should back Obama . . .
The finest chapter in The Persistence of the Color Line is so resonant, and so personal, it could nearly be the basis for a book of its own. That chapter is titled Reverend Wright and My Father: Reflections on Blacks and Patriotism. Recalling some of the criticisms of Americas past made by Mr. Obamas former pastor, Mr. Kennedy writes with feeling about his own father, who put each of his three of his children through Princeton but who never forgave American society for its racist mistreatment of him and those whom he most loved.
His father distrusted the police, who had frequently called him boy, and rejected patriotism. Mr. Kennedys father relished Muhammad Alis quip that the Vietcong had never called him nigger. The author places his father, and Mr. Wright, in sympathetic historical light.
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By Annette Gordon-Reed
Andrew Johnson, the seventeenth man to ascend to the highest office in the land, is generally regarded by historians as among the weakest presidents. Gordon-Reed has no intention of moving Johnson up in rank (America went from the best to the worst in one presidential term, she corroborates). So this is no reputation rescue. Gordon-Reed, author of The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family (2008), which won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, takes as her task explaining why we should look anew at such a disastrous chief executive. She reasons he is worth looking at, though her reasoning yields a far from sympathetic look. In a short biography, all bases can be covered, but the author is still left to exercise the tone of a personal essay, which this author accomplishes brilliantly. Her personal take on Johnson is that his inability to remake the country after it was torn apart rested on his deplorable view of black Americans.
In practical terms, his failure derived from his stubborn refusal to compromise with Congress in the abiding post-Lincoln controversy over who was to supervise the Reconstruction, the executive or the legislative branch. A failure, yes, but more than that, a failure at an extremely critical time in American history.
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By Wole Soyinka
Aké: The Years of Childhood is a memoir of stunning beauty, humor, and perception
a lyrical account of one boy’s attempt to grasp the often irrational and hypocritical world of adults that equally repels and seduces him. Soyinka elevates brief anecdotes into history lessons, conversations into morality plays, memories into awakenings. Various cultures, religions, and languages mingled freely in the Aké of his youth, fostering endless contradictions and personalized hybrids, particularly when it comes to religion. Christian teachings, the wisdom of the ogboni, or ruling elders, and the power of ancestral spirits
who alternately terrify and inspire him
all carried equal metaphysical weight. Surrounded by such a collage, he notes that “God had a habit of either not answering one’s prayers at all, or answering them in a way that was not straightforward.” In writing from a child’s perspective, Soyinka expresses youthful idealism and unfiltered honesty while escaping the adult snares of cynicism and intolerance. His stinging indictment of colonialism takes on added power owing to the elegance of his attack.
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From The World and Africa, 1965
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update 19 July 2012