comfrey harvest

Live From Planet Earth is a hands-on, cooperative meditation — on self-sustaining, tropical, organic human being and development — rooting and producing through your generous, reparative, faithful contributions. Please support by helping us fill this measure little by little, slowly but surely: Biennial ($2400); Annual ($36), ($180), ($2400), ($6000); Monthly ($3), ($5), ($10), ($15), ($25), ($30), ($40), ($60), ($70), ($80), ($90), ($130), ($200), ($500), ($1000).


live from planet earth

Cultivare, cultiva terra, arable land, colere, colō; worship, protect, cultivate.

Live From Planet Earth extends a special unlimited invitation to our family's small estate in Jamaica for our $2400+/biennium members. Sign up by clicking your membership contribution amount below.

Enjoy: 1. Nature Immersion Therapy & Africana Study Abroad (regenerative & sustainable permaculture gardening: organic fertilizer production/worm composting/seed saving/germination/eco-friendly pest & disease management/multi- & inter-cropping, swimming/breathing/stretching/walking/running meditation, & book/music/media study group); 2. Vegetarian/Vegan/Plant-Based Nutrition (complimentary menu of fruits, roots, seeds, herbs, & vegetables); & 3. Wellness/Skin Therapy (complimentary facial care, consultation, techniques, & nutrition/exercise study: see below). (become a contributing member at any lesser amount & you'll have our deepest gratitude for your support; if you're a friend wanting to reach out, feel free to use our personal emails to send us support through the Zelle/Quickpay feature in your banking app or CashApp $lvfrmplnt3).

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"It was wonderful! Even more than we expected. Greatly appreciated!"

"I didn't realize heaven was gonna look like this."

Live From Planet Earth is a hands-on, cooperative meditation — on self-sustaining, tropical, organic human being and development — rooting and producing through your generous, reparative, faithful contributions. Please support by helping us fill this measure little by little, slowly but surely: Biennial ($2400); Annual ($1200); Monthly ($5), ($10), ($25), ($30), ($40), ($60), ($70), ($80), ($90), ($130), ($200), ($300), ($500), ($1000).

Wellness/Skin Therapy ... eternal spring. As a regular gift to our $10+/month members Live From Planet Earth offers traveling & video wellness/facial skin care consultation, techniques, & nutrition/exercise study led by our licensed esthetician Madeline Lafontant, who will assist you in building your personal care regimen with natural extracts/active-ingredient botanicals & a skin-analysis plan for long-term skin barrier stabilization. Let us create/maintain a healthy sense of self, practicing essential wellness rituals as old as humanity herself. Sign up by reviewing & choosing your desired membership below.

//wellness at

Video Consultation & Nutrition/Exercise Study
30 mins private Q&A: Youtube, Skype, Whatsapp, Facetime

Skin analysis, Massage, Maintenance, Extractions, Aromatherapy, Hydrotherapy, Detoxification, Hydration, &/ High Frequency
60-90 mins in Jamaica (partial airfare reimbursement), &/or at your home, job, events, &c.

"I've worked with her for 5 years & I continue to be grateful for her care & attention. When we first met, she treated my skin, & over the years we've come to think about skincare more holistically & center the conversation around what is in my body, what I consume, & what is around my body (stress, &c.) & fold that all into a plan about how to not only care for my skin, but also my self. I can't recommend her enough!"

"So informative in explaining every single step she's doing with my skin. I'm glad I finally met someone who was really willing to help and boost my natural skin barrier function, instead of focusing on giving that instant glow without really thinking about sustainable skin health."

"Not only extremely knowledgeable and attentive, but also she was ridiculously charismatic. My skin spoke to her, and she listened. Everything she applied to my face was explained thoroughly, and I never felt my face wasn’t in good hands. My skin was restored to a healthy glow, better than some longer facials I’ve had before. She helped me understand what type of post-facial care I needed for my problem areas."

"You are seriously the skin whisperer. It’s insane how much of an improvement I see."

Live From Planet Earth is a hands-on, cooperative meditation — on self-sustaining, tropical, organic human being and development — rooting and producing through your generous, reparative, faithful contributions. Please support by helping us fill this measure little by little, slowly but surely: Biennial ($2400); Monthly ($10), ($270), ($280), ($290), ($300), ($320), ($400), ($420), ($500), ($520), ($1000).

breaking (the) media

𓆃 The Need to Grow

𓆃 "Baba Heru Speaks on Using the Language of the Neteru"

𓆃 "Traditional Mesoamerican Medicine for Healing Trauma"

𓆃 "youtube/livefromplanetearth"

𓆃 "see where you are"

𓆃 "being able to actively converse with survivors after they're gone . . . in the age of artificial intelligence"

𓆃 "Chadwick Boseman's Howard University 2018 Commencement Speech"

𓆃 "WAKANDA UNITE! Black Panther Inspired by Jabari DCX"

𓆃 "Live From Planet Earth"

𓆃 "Africana Study Abroad"

𓆃 "The Last Generation of Black People"

𓆃 "the mattertime / a nwn perspective of matter, space, & time (on matter, mind, & the battle of time) 𓆫𓉑𓆣 
wakati wa jambo / mtazamo nwn wa jambo, nafasi, & wakati (kwa jambo, akili, & vita ya wakati)"

𓆃 "The Liberator Magazine"

𓆃 "instagram/lvfrmplnt3"

𓆃 "soundcloud/livefromplanetearth"

𓆃 "polygyny/polyfidelity: realistic solution to oppression & disunity?"

𓆃 "the pyramid people v. the people of the sphere & circle"

𓆃 "Kale Companion Planting Guide: 7 Plants to Pair With Kale"

𓆃 "Pauli Murray Named to Episcopal Sainthood"

𓆃 "113 Million Chickens & Turkeys in Three Eastern Counties Alone"

𓆃 "Disposal of PFAS Waste Increases Contamination"

𓆃 "Solar+battery in one device sets new efficiency standard"

𓆃 "Thursday night chats with Andray Domise"

𓆃 "The Nick Cannon Solution"

𓆃 "if the critiques of Jewish whiteness go unheeded & are categorically dismissed as anti-Semitic rants we should expect to continue to return to this issue far more frequently"

𓆃 "Caribbean countries are selling citizenship for as low as $100,000 — here's how the ultra-wealthy are cashing in to avoid pandemic travel restrictions"

𓆃 "This is the most comprehensive X-ray map of the sky ever made"

𓆃 "WHO: It's 'very unlikely' countries can eradicate the coronavirus now"

𓆃 "Fannie Lou Hamer: Stand Up"

𓆃 "Debating Piketty's theories on 'Capital' & inequality"

𓆃 "Miami-Dade schools superintendent: 'Makes no sense' to pack schools"

𓆃 "Barbados considers allowing visitors to work remotely from the island"

𓆃 "Search for solutions to stop plastic pollution"

𓆃 "How Many Bowel Movements Should You Have Every Day?"

𓆃 "I Left America To Ghana Because Of Obama"

𓆃 "It is Time to Address Airborne Transmission of COVID-19 ... studies have demonstrated ... beyond any reasonable doubt that microdroplets small enough to remain aloft pose a risk of exposure beyond 1 to 2 meters [3 to 6 feet]"

𓆃 "One family's quest for a Native American tribute"

𓆃 "Black Sands, the Seven Kingdoms"

𓆃 "Kemetic Ascension - Importance of Purification"

𓆃 "239 Experts With One Big Claim: The Coronavirus Is Airborne"

𓆃 "Airborne Coronavirus Detected in Wuhan Hospitals"

𓆃 "work done amid internal conflict creates nervous exhaustion"

𓆃 "Interoception"

𓆃 "The Immune System & COVID-19 Treatment"

𓆃 "Hasan & Keith Ellison On Justice For George Floyd"

𓆃 "DiGyeFest"

𓆃 "Camping on The Monkey Island"

𓆃 "I'm a Black American. I Had to Get Out."

𓆃 "Dave Chapelle's 8:46: The Breakdown & the Breadcrumbs with Dr. Greg Carr"

𓆃 "Black cop fired after intervening on chokehold: I lost everything"

𓆃 "David Simon has an idea on how to fix policing"

𓆃 "Truce meeting in war-torn Kingston Central"

𓆃 "Code Black: Can You Hear Us Now"

𓆃 "Police"

𓆃 "Nine Petitions of the Farmer Whose Speech is Good"

𓆃 "Saving Lives by Treating Acne with Diet"

𓆃 "Space Conceptualization in the Context of Postmodernity: Theorizing Spatial Representations"

𓆃 "Kwame Ture Converting the Unconscious to Conscious"

𓆃 "Howard University Graduate School was live"

𓆃 "Private Equity Investors have been buying up doctor's offices, cutting costs"

𓆃 "Amaranth Greens: Kale, Make Room For This Super Green"

𓆃 "Shinrin-Yoku (Forest Bathing) & Nature Immersion Therapy: A State-of-the-Art Literature Review"

𓆃 "'A Lot Of People Helping Each Other': Visitors Flock To George Floyd Memorial Site"

𓆃 "Floyd's family asks police chief question on live TV"

𓆃 "Dr. Greg Carr Discusses Martial Law"

𓆃 "Mpls. Residents Finding Hidden Incendiary Devices In Yards"

𓆃 "Ill. Man Charged With Rioting, Giving Out Explosives At Mpls. Protest"

𓆃 "Why we must come together now"

𓆃 "From The Center Of Solemnity To A Hail Of Rubber Bullets: 38th & Chicago Vigil Raided"

𓆃 "In Class With Dr. Greg Carr: Who Was Henry Bibb?"

𓆃 "Deep Rest"

𓆃 "The countryside is where the radical changes are: Rem Koolhaas goes rural"

𓆃 Domestic Migration to Dispersion Accelerates (Even before COVID)

𓆃 "Guidance (Not Dictation) from African Spiritual Observances"

𓆃 "Selective Silence: An Experiment in Connection"

𓆃 "The Role of Marketing in the Obesity Epidemic"

𓆃 "Herbalist Dr. Sebi, Cell Food Specialist"

𓆃 "Preparing Our Immune Systems"

𓆃 "Intro to Africana Studies: A System for Studying African People, Places & Culture"

𓆃 "A 3D Atlas of the Universe"

𓆃 "How Earth Moves"

𓆃 "The Cuban Literacy Campaign"

𓆃 "Kobe Bryant - The Power of Sleep & Meditation"

𓆃 "Dr. Michael Greger on How Not to Die"

𓆃 "The Correlation of Permaculture & Yoga"

𓆃 "2/2: Dr. Greg Carr speaks on Bernie Sanders, Jesse Jackson, Gary Indiana 1972, & Reparations / Medicare For All / Subsidized College For All"

𓆃 "Dr. Greg Carr on 2020 Election 2/2"

𓆃 "Queen & Slim Could Be One of the Great Love Stories of All Time—if You Let It"

𓆃 "Natural Services From A Cultivated But Somewhat Unmanicured Lawn"

𓆃 "More than a third of U.S. healthcare costs go to bureaucracy/administration (insurance company overhead & provider time spent on billing), more than $800 billion in 2017, or nearly $2,500 per person"

𓆃 "U.S. health-care system is most expensive in the world, delivers worst health of any rich country, costing $1 trillion more per year than the next-most-expensive system—Switzerland's; U.S. households pay extra $8,000 per year"

𓆃 "Jan 6: Joni Eisenberg interviews Drs. Anthony T. Browder & Greg Carr / Working For Peace, Africana-Studying Ancestors Abroad"

𓆃 "Jan 6: Julianne Malveaux interviews Dr. Greg Carr / Pedagogy is Studying Together & Asking Who Are We To Each Other, Who Have We Been To Other People?"

𓆃 "Superior pinpoints strategic racism in science & the history of"

𓆃 Former Cigna executive Wendell Potter: "existing health care system is irreparable... absolutely convinced... private insurance companies aren't motivated to keep costs of care low... We cannot keep the multipayer system in place & just add a public option. That's not going to work. That's just going to add even more complexity to the system"

𓆃 "How Centrist Bias (a.k.a. Boundary Work, a kind of rhetoric performed in public argument where something is asserted to be science by stressing what it is not, e.g. pseudo-science, faith, or religion) hurts Sanders & Warren; The media has a bigger problem than liberal bias: false-equivalence, i.e. the reflexive assumption that reality is halfway between whatever two contending sides assert"

𓆃 "Black women 320% more likely to die from complications in childbirth"

𓆃 "In New Round of Tests, Bayer-Monsanto's Weedkiller Still Contaminates Cheerios, Oats, Granola; Latest Findings Come as Courts Levy More Than $2B in Judgments Over Cancer-Causing Glyphosate"

𓆃 "Fear, uncertainty, and doubt (often shortened to FUD) is a disinformation strategy used in sales, religion, marketing, public relations, politics, cults, & propaganda, generally a strategy to influence perception by disseminating negative & dubious or false information & a manifestation of the appeal to fear"

𓆃 "3M/DuPont 'Forever Chemicals' (Per/Poly -fluorinated Substances: PFAS, PFOA, PFOS) Found in More Than 1,300 Contamination Sites in 49 States' Water Systems/Sources, & Rain"

𓆃 "The Misleading Health Benefits of Drinking Red Wine; All alcohol (3rd leading U.S. cause of death behind tobacco & poor diet/exercise) is an addictive neurotoxin (stroke), carcinogen (cancer), & depressant"

𓆃 "The 7 principles of Kwanzaa/Africana Heritage: Umoja/Unity (to strive for & maintain unity in family, community, nation, & race); Kujichagulia/Self-Determination (to define & name ourselves, as well as to create & speak for ourselves); Ujima/Collective Work & Responsibility (to build & maintain community & make problems our problems to solve them together); Ujamaa/Cooperative Economics (to build & maintain our own stores, shops, & businesses & profit from them together); Nia/Purpose (to make our collective vocation the building & developing of community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness); Kuumba/Creativity (to do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful & beneficial than we inherited it); Imani/Faith (to believe with all our hearts in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, & the righteousness & victory of our struggle)"

𓆃 "Conversation with Dr. Bruce Lipton about sound (vs. chemical) healing, resonance, & harmony"

𓆃 "History Suggests that Most Physicians Likely to Remain as Participants in Medicare for All"

𓆃 "A deeply funded lobbying group led by a former Hillary Clinton aide is out to kill Medicare for All"

𓆃 "I Saw A Paid Culinary 226 Union Organizer Heckle Bernie Sanders & I Haven't Stopped Wondering Why"

𓆃 "Medicare For All Is The Only Viable Plan & The Fifth Circuit Just Proved It"

𓆃 "The Forested Garden: What is a Food Forest?"

𓆃 "Economic Analysis of Medicare for All by Robert Pollin, James Heintz, Peter Arno, Jeannette Wicks-Lim, & Michael Ash (UMass Amherst Political Economy Research Institute): Nobody is purveying more nonsensical double-talk around it than Biden who doesn't have the integrity to recognize that it will generate net savings for virtually all... Buttigieg's public option approach cannot produce any significant cost savings because it does not offer any opportunities for administrative simplicity"

𓆃 "Dr. Umar Johnson On Private (vs. Charter) Black Education, Politics, Entertainment, Wealth, Therapy + More"

𓆃 Watchmen Vol. 3 Soundtrack: "Laura Dickinson, Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross, Dan Higgins, & Rich Breen / The Way It Used To Be"

𓆃 "Debate on The Origin Of Jesus"

𓆃 "Granary 12 - Land of Extortion (Weapons of Desire)"

𓆃 "Seven Fires Prophecy & the human extinction"

𓆃 "Is African Spirituality Bad?"

𓆃 "Lessons on talking across our rancorous political divides"

𓆃 "How America's Elites Lost Their Grip"

𓆃 "Deconstructed Special: The Noam Chomsky Interview"

𓆃 "Morbid Symptoms"

𓆃 "When Marx Looked Outside Europe"

𓆃 "Against Reconciliation"

𓆃 Adolph Reed Jr. responds to critique of left by Obama & warns that establishment Dems would try to kill Bernie Sanders if he wins

𓆃 "The Real Deal with Medicare for All"

𓆃 "Roberta Flack / I Can See The Sun In Late December"

𓆃 "About That "Here Are All the Black People" Advertising Week Event..."

𓆃 "Does modern porn lead to more sex positivity?"

𓆃 "How more women in porn production could help curb the stigma"

𓆃 "Two cannabis-based medicines, used to treat epilepsy & multiple sclerosis, have been approved for use by the National Health Service in England"

𓆃 @SlinkJohnson "Respect. OG conversation. Time for the OGs & vets to lead. This is how the big homies are supposed to get at you. Tell them youngstas the truth."

𓆃 "Former AU Ambassador To The U.S. On Her Dismissal, France's Ongoing Influence In Africa"

𓆃 "James Baldwin & Nikki Giovanni, A Conversation"

𓆃 "The Helical Model Pt.1, Our Solar System is a Vortex"

𓆃 "The Helical Model Pt. 2, Our Galaxy is a Vortex"

𓆃 "2Pac's Mom Afeni Shakur Gives Amazing Speech"

𓆃 "ROOTS 1977 Miniseries Trailer"

𓆃 "All About Weeds"

𓆃 "New Rule: SCAMerica"

𓆃 "Billionaires Now Pay Lower Tax Rates Than Working Class"

𓆃 "Making Garden Compost From Wastes, Principles & Results"

𓆃 "Dual Nationality"

Submissions: scripts at

Live From Planet Earth is a hands-on, cooperative meditation — on self-sustaining, tropical, organic human being and development — rooting and producing through your generous, reparative, faithful contributions. Please support by helping us fill this measure little by little, slowly but surely: Biennial ($2400); Monthly ($5), ($10), ($25), ($30), ($40), ($60), ($70), ($80), ($90), ($130), ($200), ($500), ($1000).

basil harvest

Live From Planet Earth is a hands-on, cooperative meditation — on self-sustaining, tropical, organic human being and development — rooting and producing through your generous, reparative, faithful contributions. Please support by helping us fill this measure little by little, slowly but surely: Biennial ($2400); Annual ($36), ($180), ($2400), ($6000); Monthly ($3), ($5), ($10), ($15), ($25), ($30), ($40), ($60), ($70), ($80), ($90), ($130), ($200), ($500), ($1000).


the pyramid people v. the people of the sphere & circle

Excerpt from Ayi Kwei Armah's, KMT: In the House of Life. Chapter four: The Way to Yarw:

● ● ●

/ / / "According to the court traditionalists, our people knew days of great glory thousands of years ago, when there were kings of godlike power. They still dream of calling back those ancient days of so-called glory."

"What do the traditionalists here in Yarw have to say about the dream of ancient glory?" I asked Astw.

"Sweet food for rotten spirits," she said, "that's what we call the glory of kings, the pride of nobles. The people at the court pretend they don't see that to be a king you must have people under you. Some see it but don't care, as long as they themselves are close to royalty. In this town we call such people the pyramid people."


"They look at the pyramid and admire it, seeing it as a symbol of power that at some time was ours. They ignore the real meaning of the pyramid: the huge injustice, the lack of balance. Balance is the main measure by which we in this town judge what we do. Pyramids are part of our history, but in Yarw we're not people of the pyramid. We remember something better, a symbol holding greater hope."

"A better symbol than the pyramid?"

"The sphere, the circle. The static symmetry of the pyramid oppresses the great world underneath. The sphere is a natural sign of balance. It moves, and no part of it is set up over any other part. It's about balance, movement, change. Can't you see the beauty of the sign?"

"How long have people here preferred the sphere to the pyramid?"

"Legend says we came here already loving the sphere, knowing the ravages of the pyramid. Our people, those who stayed in the great centers and those who chose to come to Yarw, came here together with the first great migration, traveling from the parent of rivers to the sea here. The pyramid people saw the Joliba and said its behavior reminded them of the other great river they know. They thought it was a sign that they could call back the days of royal power time had swept behind us. The few who wanted to try a different beginning, the people of the sphere and the circle, came this way."

"Was it ever clear what the different beginning might be?"

"No. Everything we know about it says it was not something ready made and definite, like a pyramid. It was a hope, an idea, something unfinished, perhaps not even really begun. A dream."

"Of what?"

"Life without the brutalities of caste, without people who know and people not allowed to know, without those who work and those unable to work. No poverty, and no massive riches. The sphere is about a world without the terrible injustices we now call natural."

"An attractive world," I said.

"Yet strangely powerless in the confrontation with this other world, this world of injustice in all its ugliness. The pyramid. Castes. The rich and the poor. The informed and the ignorant."

"Why do you think an idea so attractive has remained so powerless?"

"This is what so many conversations here are about. It often comes down to a question of speed. The good dream is too slow. What the traditionalists in this town want is to turn knowledge into the property of everyone, like air. But everyone sees it would take ages to bring about such an outcome. Meanwhile, the nightmare life is faster, and easier. So we live it. Intimately, many of us are too numb even to wonder if something else might be possible. Think of this as a riddle: the training of expert traditionalists always ends with an oath. The new master of knowledge must swear never to reveal what he knows to the people, only to other initiates. So those responsible for knowledge in this society swear to keep it hidden from the people, and make it a plaything for nobles."

"Did Hor also take the oath of secrecy?"

"All trained traditionalists take it. Hor is not simply trained. He's a master at this work, a teacher of masters. Yes, he took the oath."

"And, having taken it, stopped asking questions?"

"That might have made life simpler. But Hor couldn't stop asking questions. The man has never been able to stop thinking and asking questions that matter to him. Most of his adult life, the oath stood confronting him as an injustice too great to do anything about. Yet somewhere in his being he never gave up looking for a way to defeat the oath. From the time I first saw him, I knew here was a man obsessed with the search for a solution to the riddle of the traditionalists' oath. What happens when the keepers of knowledge are under oath not to share it? Imagine the keepers of granaries filled with food, forbidden in times of chronic famine to distribute it except to a chosen few. What happens to human beings placed under the absurd supposition that some are chosen, other damned? What happens to the society thus deprived of knowledge -- knowledge of self first, then knowledge of the real nature of the world? Part of the reason Hor and I found each other is that he has always been struggling to find answers to these questions."

"You share the obsession?"

"Let's say it lives at the center of my life. When Hor and I met, he was preparing himself for a lonely life, with no one to talk to about his deepest dreams. Then he heard me asking why women had been pushed out of the work of traditionalists, when it happened, how it happened. He told me he had been thinking those thoughts for years, not knowing he'd find anyone to share them with."

"Did he say, though, that he really hoped to find answers to the riddle of the traditionalists' oath of secrecy?"


● ● ●

Submissions: scripts at

Live From Planet Earth is a hands-on, cooperative meditation — on self-sustaining, tropical, organic human being and development — rooting and producing through your generous, reparative, faithful contributions. Please support by helping us fill this measure little by little, slowly but surely: Biennial ($2400); Annual ($36), ($2400), ($6000); Monthly ($3), ($5), ($10), ($25), ($30), ($40), ($60), ($70), ($80), ($90), ($130), ($200), ($500), ($1000).

weekly kale harvest

Live From Planet Earth is a hands-on, cooperative meditation — on self-sustaining, tropical, organic human being and development — rooting and producing through your generous, reparative, faithful contributions. Please support by helping us fill this measure little by little, slowly but surely: Biennial ($2400); Annual ($36), ($180), ($2400), ($6000); Monthly ($3), ($5), ($10), ($15), ($25), ($30), ($40), ($60), ($70), ($80), ($90), ($130), ($200), ($500), ($1000).


polygyny/polyfidelity: realistic solution to oppression & disunity?

In the following email about polygamy/polygyny/polyfidelity, a reader, sharing her thoughts after an individual study on the subject, wonders if a modified or resurrected, egalitarian version of the practice might be an immediate solution to and defense against persistent forms of politico-economic oppression such as greed


let me look @you

As a gift to our potential members, Live From Planet Earth offers 2 chapters from the forthcoming novel Let Me Look @You, a 21st-century urban tale of post-Black survival, art, and love. Join us today with a monthly contribution to help us publish this project in full, printed and perfect-bound for all 1-year members (annual or 12 consecutive months).

exclusive feature
Michael J. Wilson
(TBD). Let Me Look @You. The Liberator Magazine.
(artwork: Madeline Lafontant)

///Chapter Six

I woke up to the sound of a wooden table snapping and crunching in the back of a garbage truck outside. It's always during the most pacifying dreams that the waking world puts together an orchestra of grating noises to rouse you from your peace. Nothing is worse than the scraping sound of my doorbell, which is why I cut the wire to it. I rarely turn the ringer up on my phone. I keep my windows shut in the summer to try and drown out the noise of car stereos and home entertainment systems, but the bass still rattles my walls. I think a perfect day for me would include sitting silently with Contessa by my side and maybe a little rain, or even better, heavy snow so that I wouldn't have to put up with the ruckus of snarling buses and wailing ambulance sirens.

The first thing that I remembered after the sweet image of Contessa had vanished momentarily from my mind was that I was still very poor. I reached for my wallet in the back pocket of a pair of jeans I had hanging on the closet door. I opened it and it was empty.

At that time, I had a job. I worked as a counselor for drug-abusing high school students. Most of the kids were dropouts trying to finish their GED requirements and remain clean, but I don't think any of them quit using drugs entirely. It was my job to oversee the progress of a small group of students by visiting their homes during the week to help them with their studies and talk to them about any problems they were having. After these meetings, I would add comments about each student to his or her individual file, which then had to be turned in to my boss, Rosa, every two weeks. Rosa's office was on Wall Street and going to visit her there always made me feel very important, even if all the big finance companies had fled lower Manhattan since 9/11 leaving vacancies to be filled by mismanaged non-profits like the one I worked for. Signing-in in the lobby, taking the elevator to the seventeenth floor, looking at all the workers going back and forth between offices and bathrooms—it gave me the sense that I belonged to something larger and more important than the dreary little world of my room with its internet and empty, unwashed bowls. It was an easy job too, aside from the visits to Rosa, I had complete freedom to arrange my schedule however I liked, so long as I recorded two visits per week with each student. A visit was supposed to last two hours, but I was usually able to leave in fifteen minutes because people don't like visits from social worker-types to begin with. Some of the families were friendlier, but most were happy to see me close my binder and walk out the door. With shortened sessions, I could take on more students and that meant more money. On average, I made about three thousand dollars a month—if I felt really sinister, I could take home five.

I was broke now because I hadn't been to visit any of my students since first becoming obsessed with Contessa. I'd spent the last couple of weeks submerged in the depression of defeat, I started feeling ugly and out of shape and very few events interested me but those feelings passed and, feeling reinvigorated, I pledged to get some more money, find Contessa and show her that she had made a mistake in being with anyone but me.

The rent for my room was due soon so I had to hurry. Any day now, old, evil, plodding Randall was going to come knocking on my door with his ashy fist, asking dryly, "You got the rent?" I was motivated by this and grabbed the necessary folder and paperwork describing the case of Erin Greene, a marijuana-abusing dropout who was now twenty years old and unable to read much of anything. His forms stated that he had been a masterful dodger of school, having somehow evaded truancy and absence notices for three years. He was only discovered after Mr. Chapman, a teacher who was taking his science class on a field trip to the Natural History Museum using the trains, was teased by some of his students for not recognizing "Erin Greene" whose name had been called every day of the semester without a response and whom they had just seen walking on the platform of the C train at Euclid with his mother and younger sister. Embarrassed and uncertain, Mr. Chapman took it upon himself to ask the mother if everything was all right, seeing as how Erin hadn't been to class in several weeks. Ms. Greene was baffled. Finally captured in this manner, Erin confessed everything to his mother right there on the platform and re-enrolled in school. Later, when it was discovered by his schoolmates that he was the oldest freshman in the school's one hundred fourteen-year history, he was forced to dropout once more on account of all the jokes being made about his "senior citizen" status. He endured those taunts for two daunting and friendless years, all the while developing an insatiable appetite for weed and cheap cognac. Finally, after being called to the principal's office under suspicion of selling weed on campus, he was expelled and recommended for the BRIGHT Program where I was assigned to help him get his life together.

Now, to get to Erin's place, I had to take the bus on a solemn journey to the very back of the city, which is East New York. I say that this bus ride was solemn because everybody always seemed grimmer once we crossed New Lots Avenue into that neighborhood of barbed-wire fences and burned couches waiting at the curb.

I gathered just enough change from my drawer to cover the bus fare there and back and went out the door quietly so as not to alert the brooding Randall, who I was certain was upstairs with his ear pressed to the door or his head hovering out over the steps waiting to catch me as I left. I made it out undetected. Outside, December was approaching, but November was doing its best to keep the inevitable snows at bay. The sky was silver and sunless but there was still some light. The uninterrupted grey of the clouds looked hard like stone and I imagined the sky itself cracking and revealing some unfathomable scene behind it, like God in her dressing room. My old friends, the brownstones, stood proudly, ever ready like sentinels on the night watch, all lined up together at the shoulders with their longing, darkened windows forever staring across the streets at each other. Half a block ahead, I saw my bus cross the intersection, so I ran to join the line of passengers queuing up to board. As it turned out, I was ten cents short on the fare, but the bus driver was impatient and unconcerned and agitated with traffic and crammed passengers who were unwilling to make room for the newly boarded. Without even looking at me, he waved his hand as if batting at a gnat and said, "Hurry up."


Everyone on the bus eyed me suspiciously as if my presence meant that they would have to share an already low supply of food with me. At each stop, two people would get off and ten more would get on. The traffic jam we found ourselves in felt unjustified; there were no accidents, no broken stoplights, just people fighting like rats over a few inches of spaces in a given lane. In the midst of this congested nightmare, one of the passengers, completely invisible to me, began preaching a fiery sermon on Daniel in the lion's den. The preacher was furious, and his quotation of scripture carried such a dazzling note of sincerity and charisma that some of the passengers couldn't help themselves and yelled "Amen." The preacher's terrifying assault on the sinner came next and was followed by ominous warnings about the return of Christ. A large portion of the congregation soon lost interest and one enraged passenger came right out with it, yelling out, "Shut the fuck up, please!"

Tension spread throughout the bus; some of the riders sided with the preacher while the others grew more unsettled. It had gotten so crowded that I was no longer holding on to the rail above my head. I was packed so tightly I could do nothing but stand up straight and listen to the preaching.

Although I was hedged in from every side, it wasn't claustrophobia that was responsible for my agitation. It wasn't the creeping odor that began to fill the bus or even the general want of personal space. What really bothered me was being unable to get my phone out of my pocket so that I could look at Contessa's profile to see if she'd added any new pictures. If Contessa had been standing there next to me she would have liked to hear that sermon and perhaps we would have both glanced over at each other and smiled about it, knowing we had just silently established a little inside joke together, something we could bring up later that night or over the phone and laugh about. Although shrewd and cunning, Marcelle did not have the higher type of personality necessary to share brief and delicate moments with people around him. Boorish people, like Marcelle, were incapable of camaraderie; the savage nature of their upbringing and its constant state of paranoia and hunger forced people like Marcelle to rely on banditry and cheap flattery so as to keep everyone around them reeling and off-balance.

I missed my stop. I was now in an unfamiliar part of Brooklyn because the bus had made a detour around some construction. I was jammed in the center of the bus too. Everything outside looked miserable, impoverished, vandalized, and shuttered and the sun was setting. I pressed the tape above the rail to get off at the next stop. I was the only person getting off at that stop and people grunted at me as I squeezed by them to get to the door. Standing on the sidewalk again I sort of missed the back-of-the-bus-preacher's voice. It was calming even though his frightening message wasn't. I went for my phone and used the map to find out just how far from Erin's I was—about six blocks. The important thing was to not look stupid and lost. There were some people hanging around, wobbling in front of a fried chicken spot, pulling on the last bits of cigarettes. Homeless people, winos, hookers, and even dopeheads are generally not a big problem. I find them to be rather polite if you just say, "No, I don't have it, sorry." They usually don't have time to sit around and keep begging the same person for money. But that logic only worked for me in Bed-Stuy; these East New York stragglers were persistent. It wasn't so much that they begged more, but that they were more insistent on not being so easily dismissed.

I was about a block away from Erin's when I turned a corner and was approached by a haggard man. He walked up to me decisively, wearing a tattered black trench coat with a wool sweater beneath and brown pants full of stains. He did not have an odor, which was my primary concern as he invaded my personal space before catching himself and backing up a bit out of courtesy. He had an untrimmed beard and yellow eyes though, I admit, he did not go about with the usual delirious look of defeat so common among street people. He had a spark of intelligence in his face and he addressed me with the greatest poise.

"Excuse me young brother, now look now, look... I don't mean to bother you in the least. I can see from how you' dressed right now that you' got very important things to get to so I don't want to keep you for too long, I don't want to take up too much of your time, but the Lord put something on my heart to share with you. And, I'm gon' say too that I'm not out here on nobody's drugs or out here begging nobody for anything. I believe a strong and able-bodied man should work for his food and work for his money; it builds character, and character is something that a lot of all these young brothers don't have no more, because they've tried to extinguish all that good character out of our community. Let me be one hundred percent honest with you and say right now though that I am an alcoholic, but I don't touch no crack cocaine or no heron, and I'm not anybody's criminal—just to assure you, young brother. Like I said, the Lord put it on my heart to come up and share something with you, and I think it would be to your benefit if you listened to this good word.

"Now, check this out, you might find it hard to believe, looking at the way I look right now, but there was once a time, not too long ago, when I had it going on just like you, but at that time I was using drugs and living in sin and I allowed those things to come in and take over my life. I was an abuser and a user, you understand what I'm saying? I was a loser and an abuser and a user. Heh, heh. I'm going to show you my wallet just so you know that I'm telling the truth, I ain't trying to run no game on nobody. Here we go, see that? That's my expired drivers license from 2012 and if you look closely you can also see that I used to live on the Upper West Side, I was well to do, I made money, I was a professor, I had a good life with a beautiful wife and three smart and beautiful children. I was living the good life for about nine years until them drugs got inside me and tore me away from my family. My wife left me and she took the kids with her and I ain't seen none of them for the last, what, five years? And look at this, this is my American Express card. See it has my name on it, "Thomas Cooper." That's to prove that I didn't steal this wallet. All of the contents, including the three dollars inside, belong to me.

"I'm sure you're probably still asking yourself, "What the hell does this old fool want?" but I assure you that I'm just trying to share my testimony with you young brother. Now, do you know what the word acclimate means? To become acclimated to something means to become accustomed to or, better yet, used to something, so you could say that I became acclimated to my lifestyle on the Upper West Side and certain kinds of entertainment and certain types of food... You know for a long time I didn't eat any meat? No pork, no ham, no beef, no chicken, no veal, no turkey, no flesh, because I was eating the best, the freshest vegetables, the seasonal vegetables. I had bok choy and swiss chard and I was eating that stuff everyday and I felt so good in the morning and so healthy and just fresh inside and out and my kids, well, I didn't force them to eat what I ate, but they liked how I would season my vegetables and they sort of played at becoming vegetarian too, but not my wife, no, she loved her meat, she would make the best chicken, but she still liked to eat those vegetables and that bok choy with me.

"Now, you would think with all of that going on for me, that I liked to date white women, but no, no, no. My wife was black, real black, you know what I mean, because she was from Georgia, and darker than me. Stay away from them white women young brother. Even though they love smart brothers like you and me, do your best to stay away from them because they don't want nothing but those African nuts, and once they get them... Well, what do you think happens to a man, to an African man when he loses his nuts? Think about that young brother. Think about that young king.

"Now I know I went on for a while, but I had to speak to you out of love and concern for you, because we are brothers, young brother, and I wish you all the best success on your path and I only ask that you bless me if you can young brother. I'm very hungry this evening and if you can find it in your heart to help me out with anything just so I could get a sandwich to eat tonight..."

Without any delay I went for my wallet only to be reminded again that it was empty. I searched through my other pockets hoping desperately to find a few quarters to help the old man. His story, even if it was just a scam, had touched me. The only coins I had were those I needed to take the bus back home after leaving Erin's—there was no way I could walk. There was nothing in my pockets so I had to tell him that I couldn't help him. He didn't miss a beat. The old man simply waved another blessing at me and bid me farewell. When I looked back after him, he had already turned the corner and disappeared into the night.

I was finally at the entrance to the housing project where Erin lived. The Montgomery Houses was a vast collection of brick cages that had seemingly burst forth from their graves, surrounded by dead trees and garbage. The buildings looked frightening from the ground as you walked up, everything was dark and it took a moment to realize that the blacked-out holes dotting the exteriors were actually windows to apartments with human beings living inside. There were a couple of playgrounds with brand-new equipment although each was empty because of the cold. People stood outside of the entrances to some of the buildings carrying on conversations about the upcoming election or else silently dragging on menthol cigarettes. Trash bags had been piled up in clumps against the iron gates; someone had even detached a kitchen sink and counter and left it in the middle of a walkway.

After some assistance with the door—I still had not mastered the trick of getting it to open without a key the way the residents had—I found myself in the flickering lights of the hallway. A man in a wheelchair had fallen asleep waiting on one of the two unreliable elevators. "9E" was the apartment number and when the elevator crashed into place and ripped open I stepped inside over a puddle of piss and pressed "9". On the way up, I looked at Contessa's new profile pictures. She was still gorgeous, although she was fully-covered in winter clothes now. Her hair was still billowing and full of life. I thought about the little flower she wore the night we danced together then the doors opened. I took a big step again, so as not to step in the piss which I had almost forgotten about, and I rang the bell at 9E.


I feel very manly when I walk in the door to Mrs. Greene's apartment. She's older than me of course, maybe in her forties, but she welcomes me every time as if I were a father coming home to his family. She smiles at me with pretty teeth and the lines in her face disappear for just a moment as she walks me into the living room where a comfortable seat is waiting along with a glass of water and maybe even a bowl of soup. The children are in the back rooms, hidden. She always wears something loose-fitting, so as not to give off the wrong impression too plainly, but her strut is impressive and she moves about the small, dim apartment with grace, welcoming me to my seat before she yells for Erin to join me at the table.

"Erin, come on, Mr. Bellinger is here," she says before turning back to me and smiling.

There is always music playing when I arrive. This time she was playing a song I had never heard by the singer Mary J. Blige. The music is too loud and, noticing my raised eyebrows, she lowers the volume completely, which gives way to the music playing in the back of the apartment. The smell of fried shrimp reaches me before the lyrics from Erin's room do but, eventually, I can make out the words,

"It ain't nothing to chop that bitch off/
It ain't nothing to chop that bitch off/
Stupid bitch be on the nuts tho'/
Crazy hoe be trying to front tho'/
I bust that nut and then I'm gone tho'/
Stupid hoe be like, 'don't go.'"

Silent embarrassment washed over me after hearing those lyrics from the back room, which the highly perceptive and dutiful Ms. Greene picked-up on immediately. I wasn't embarrassed for myself, having heard the song hundreds of times from passing cars outside of my bedroom window. I was embarrassed for Ms. Greene. She went through great pains to give me the impression that her household was a stable and sustainable one for Erin to study and remain drug-free in. It's true, I never smelled marijuana when I came to their apartment, but it wouldn't have been out of the ordinary from what I usually saw in most of the apartments I visited. Some of the other parents had boyfriends who wouldn't even bother to turn down the television or put out the Blunt, let alone acknowledge my presence. The mothers, always a bit ashamed of their boyfriends' behavior, would smile graciously and guide me to a quieter, more hidden part of the apartment to begin working with the delinquent student. I was always able to tell how often a man stayed in the apartment by how filthy it looked.

Ms. Greene's was a clean apartment, but it was cramped and the presence of a lurking twenty-year-old son only made it feel even more suffocating. The daughter, who was not home this time, had even begun having her boyfriend visit, so often that he too was becoming a member of the household. Still, it had always been a relief to cross the threshold at Ms. Greene's.

As for the obscene music, I even had to be honest with myself and say that it wasn't embarrassment that I felt for Ms. Greene after all; it was really only a small surprise, something akin to the feeling we get when someone shows up with an unexpected but useless gift, which we take with a rush of gratitude only to sit beside a similar gift that we had just received only yesterday; I hadn't expected to hear those lyrics, but I shouldn't have expected much else. It's pretty much the case these days that no matter where you go, whether to a mall or a small bakery or just to a good friend's house, there's going to be some kind of music playing. If there is no music, you'll suddenly notice how awkward everyone gets just sitting there having to listen to that little buzz in their ears—which is the sound of the brain remembering what it's actually meant to do—and before long, unable to endure the silence any longer, someone will stand up and ask, "Have you heard this?" and begin playing this week's new hit. The fact that Erin's choice was such a ratchet song has no extra bearing on the original problem, which is the loss of silence, and not merely the foul language or the pornographic content that replaces it. After all, at twenty, Erin is an adult and is entitled to listen to whatever he likes.

Still, something has to be said about a barrage of songs that condone "nutting on a bitch's weave, flooding the streets with the best dope, and treating these monkey-hoes like some garbage on the floor." However crude the lyrics, these songs continue to be among the most popular and it can't be simply because they're all so profane. You can't go anywhere in the neighborhood for too long without hearing some young person chanting one of the hooks and yet the hooks themselves are often the trashiest part of the song. I guess that's what makes all of this new Black music so funny; on the one hand, one might take up the argument that all of the vulgarity is merely a radical resituating of language; the former slaves have finally managed to make English say something that isn't dry and evasive. Instead, they manipulated the language to say something revolutionary and breathtakingly honest. What American—no matter his color—doesn't like having a selection of pussy catering to his need, multiple cars to drive around and floss in, endless amounts of cash to flex with? And what's more, selling dope is nothing more than a metaphor for that most-American of practices: hustling, which more and more has become the only way to get money and women and, most importantly, security in this land of failed banks and toxic mortgages. Without hustling, what would America be? The fact that low-income black criminals and other social misfits and outsiders have found a way to explain all of this in tantalizing, simple, and musical terms is nothing less than a testament to the creative genius of the Nigga.

But sadly, that can't be the whole of it now can it? We have to account for the raging ignorance such music has become the soundtrack to. We have to also account for its sharp contrast to the truly dynamic and virtuosic masters of music, all those greats who played actual instruments and sang about love and God and all the beautiful, hopeful parts of life. In the face of all that beauty and joy—the kind of music that allowed the slaves to maintain their dignity even while being whipped and raped; the kind of music that encouraged a woman to walk bravely amid the police dogs and fire hoses aimed at her—in the face of such history, the music flowing from Erin Greene's bedroom was, at best, unadulterated nonsense; nothing but cyclical, elementary, brute ignorance designed to captivate the dumb and entice the feeble, and what's more it represented a cloaked attack on the Black race in particular, in the form of hypnosis and entertainment, subterfuge involving the tom tom, which has always been so irresistible for black people.

"Boy turn that stupid mess off, Mr. Bell is here for you!" Ms. Green yelled out and just as quickly, the music was muted and Erin came out shyly to the kitchen table where I was sitting with his file open in front of me.

"Good evening Mr. Bellinger," he said, taking a seat, reluctantly, across from me.

After we exchanged greetings, I looked down at our progress sheet to see what we might be able to finish during the session. I also wanted to see Contessa badly. The sheet indicated that it was time for me to give Erin his piss cup for the drug test he was supposed to take in the next few days, but I had lost that some weeks ago. There was also a math assessment that he was due to take and luckily I did have a copy of that. As I gathered the necessary forms, Erin sat there uninterested; he looked rather annoyingly at the sheet of math problems.

"Now, you remember the last time I was here, I gave you that English assessment," I began ceremoniously; it was important not to let the GED students feel too friendly with the caseworker. "This time I want you to do another one, except it will be in math."

"Nah son, I don't fuck with math," he said plainly, pushing the test sheet back toward me.

"Watch your damn mouth, E!" said Ms. Greene with concern.

"It's just an assessment to help you get ready for the GED test," I went on carefully, "You've got to be prepared or else you'll have to stay in this program and keep trying to take the test over and over."

"What kind of math is it?" He pulled the worksheet back and examined it with his mouth hanging open, frowning. "Yo, can you just take it for me since it's not even the real test? These questions look too hard for me anyway, I'm not at that level."

"If I took the test for you that would defeat the purpose of assessing you to see where you need help," I said, trying to maintain an air of authority.

"And I'm telling you right now, mistah, I can't do none of this. Them question look hard as shit, yo. I can't pass that."

"It's not about passing or—"

"So you saying I can fail?"

I said yes before realizing the trap he had set. When he gave the assessment back to me five minutes later I saw that he had filled in "A" for all fifty of the multiple-choice questions. He hadn't tried to work through any of the problems; the instructions were to "add and subtract positive and negative integers." It was still my responsibility to grade the assessment and because he had not taken the test seriously I basically ended up having to "take" it for him. A large part of me wanted to say, "Fine then, you dumb little nigga," and tear the test to shreds but it would have broken poor Ms. Greene's heart.

She was standing near the stove looking at Erin and I with so much pride. Her boy was finally getting his act together, finally getting serious about life—"he gon' be a doctor..."

Erin Greene scored a seventeen percent on the assessment. I smiled spuriously at Ms. Greene when I shook her hand goodbye. The next day, I called Rosa and told her to drop the Greenes from my roster and I haven't seen any of them ever since.

///Chapter Seven

November finally gave way to December and I took the transition in stride. It was the fifth year in a row that I would spend Thanksgiving alone. I'm not big on holidays and my relationship to my family back in Virginia is strained, to put it gently. You might even say that I grew up all alone, in my own head, although I have siblings—one younger sister and an older sister who is now in prison for murder—we never were very close. My parents separated while I was in high school, mainly because my father was an alcoholic and a philanderer, but my mother was no saint either; she was a gold digger, who never fully respected my father because he spent the little money he did have on drinking and taking out other women. My gift, to myself, was being accepted to college and leaving that life behind. I haven't been back home to visit in two years and probably won't go back until someone dies. I don't mean to seem so disenchanted with my family, suffice it to say that the torture and despair I experienced growing up back in Virginia will make for a fine book, which I promise to write just as soon as I have Contessa and maybe start a normal family of my own, that way there won't be so many tears on the pages.

December opened with a few brilliant days of sun and on the first Friday of the month I received an invitation to attend a panel discussion on opening night at the Brooklyn Institute of Fine Art. The artist Theodore Mdembe was going to present a work that promised to be more titillating and controversial than anything he had done before, including his most recent show, which featured the artist placing himself inside a 10x10 foot steel cage in the middle of a museum in London and living there, naked, for a whole two months. The Internet went into hysterics when it was discovered that Mdembe wanted nothing more than bowls for food and water and a metal pan to be used as a bathroom—all three were cleaned as often as possible. Although he was only on display for four hours a day, the artist chose to remain in the cage even after the museum closed. The show was a humongous success and was touted as the most provocative statement on race in the 21st century, surpassing even Kara Walker's sugar mammy sphinx which had been erected in an abandoned sugar factory on the Brooklyn waterfront just a couple of years before.

I accepted the invitation without question. I'd always considered myself a great lover of the arts and had been to one of Mdembe's shows before, in Chicago, where he managed to perform a tap dance routine non-stop for twelve hours. The show was given the same amount of praise as the one in London, but there was a segment of reviewers who thought the show had been the work of nothing more than an art-house coon. As for me, I was conflicted; the performance was beautiful and the skill involved was superb—but he did tap-dance for twelve hours. According to the artist himself, the point of all his work was "to amuse and enrage, to seduce the audience into ignoring their politically correct thinking for a moment before finally realizing that they were committing the same crime as the racists they'd been taught to despise."

I purchased one ticket and then went about getting an outfit together for the next night. I kept it plain—faded blue jeans, brown boots, a dark green wool shirt and a heavy coat with matching scarf and gloves. I put some cash in a small envelope and slid it under Randall's door upstairs. Next I made myself a small bowl of canned chili, which I ate along with an apple and a glass of tap water. During my meal, I looked at pictures of Contessa; she'd added one new picture of her holding a cat that probably belonged to one of her girlfriends. She was still stunning, but she was clutching the cat like someone who doesn't have anyone to share a laugh with before she goes to bed. Maybe I was just reading too much into it, but what good is it not to have little innocent fantasies about the people we want? It's just a little harmless daydream, but sometimes those daydreams become so vivid and sumptuous that I get nervous and have to stop looking at her pictures all together. In such cases, when the savory memory of Contessa becomes unbearable, I let it all vanish and retreat back to the mundane reality of my computer desk.

The best remedy to neutralize those kinds of thoughts, I've found, is to look at the pictures of people I care very little about. I closed the window with Contessa's pictures, went to Instagram in my phone, and searched for the hashtag "#mdembeBIFA" and saw seventeen people had already posted screenshots of their ticket purchases followed by such captions as "so ready for this;" "its going 2b totally epic;" and "not excited about this #coonery, but a friend bought my ticket ☹." I switched back to my feed to see if any of the people I followed had posted anything noteworthy. There was Grace Hampton who had purchased a new dog, some sort of Chihuahua mix, with teeth that were too large for its head. There was also the spaghetti dinner, which did look appetizing, although Patrice Clark, the cook, summarily ruined the dish in the final picture by dumping Parmesan cheese over the entire bowl like some kind of fiend. I admired Chris Dalton's use of filter in his ongoing road trip project, and I also enjoyed the underground photographer Josephine Booker's explorative collection of abandoned brownstones and empty lots throughout Brooklyn and the Bronx. On Facebook, Camron Freeman was hosting a meandering debate in his timeline. The subject involved a pair of male rappers who had put out a sextape and statement proudly embracing their homosexuality and encouraging other black celebrities to come out of the closet in similar fashion. There were eighty-seven comments, with most of the opinions in favor of the rappers' actions, though some people had enough audacity to type out, "they're tools of the White Man" and even, "nasty fucking fags smh." Part of me felt the urge to get enraged and join the debate, but if I had attracted the attention of anyone in the thread with a particularly witty or snide comment, I would have to stay up with the conversation until the end and I didn't have time for that. Beyond that, there wasn't much else of interest. I put the phone on the charger and went straight to bed.

The next morning, I was startled out of bed by a banging sound in the hallway. I opened my door cautiously and looked out to see Randall pulling a loveseat down the stairs. There was also a small side table holding open the front door of the building. There was never any mention that he was going to be moving out, but sure enough there was a big truck waiting out front with its hazard lights on and I could see that there was a bed already loaded inside of it. He was in a hurry as he struggled to get the loveseat to fit between the handrails. Although it came as a relief to see him taking his things out to the truck, I wondered what I would have to do about the rent. Ever since I'd moved into my room, I always paid my rent to Randall in cash; I never once met the actual landlord. I wasn't sure what I'd have to do about the rent or if I'd have to move out soon as well. At least I'd have the bathroom to myself for a while. I called out to Randall to find out what was going on.

"I'll tell you all about it later tonight," he said without looking at me, keeping his focus on the stubborn loveseat. "If anyone comes around here looking for me just tell them I went out of town a few days ago."

And with that, he finally got the chair down and out of the front door. He loaded the loveseat in the back of the truck, shut the door nervously and sped off in the truck over a speed bump. What else could I do but wait to talk to him later that night?

The wind was starting to pick up outside so I stayed in bed for the rest of the day until it was time to get ready for the museum. I spent the majority of the time on my phone of course, reading mildly interesting articles and taking casual note of the various updates to my friends' profiles. I came across a blog post condemning Mdembe for being a "culture vulture" of the African American experience on account of him being a Nigerian artist who worked exclusively on subject matter related to American slavery. The post pointed out that the artist only came to America for graduate school and thus had no real connection to, "The Black American Experience." I wondered if the blogger lived in Brooklyn, and whether or not she would be coming to tonight's event.


The opening was set to begin at seven o'clock so I left the house at six anticipating a long line to get inside. I was right; when I came up from the train at the BIFA station, the line was snaking around the corner and doubling back on itself. In spite of the cold, there was an absolute frenzy outside the museum. Apart from the line, there was a large crowd of onlookers who seemed satisfied knowing that they wouldn't be able to get tickets, that it was worth standing in the cold just to get a look at all of the people who were actually going inside.

The museum building itself was impressive. The BIFA is housed in a neo-classical structure that sits at the triangular intersection formed by Flatbush, Atlantic, and 6th Avenues with its facade facing the southern approach of Flatbush. From there, I was able to see three large, vertical banners hanging from the building's cornice and each one featured a striking, if not garish, close up of Mdembe's face. The first banner showed the artist smiling widely with his teeth clenched tightly together; the second focused exclusively on his bulging eyes and raised brows; the final banner zeroed in on the artist's nose, the nostrils of which were flared up as if the picture had been taken just before he was about to sneeze. Viewed from the avenue, with the brake lights and headlights of the bumper-to-bumper traffic, the banners gave the impression that a giant black man was inside the museum, shackled behind a curtain on a stage, waiting to be viewed by a clueless public.

The massive crowd outside was still growing and in true New York fashion, the newly arrived were creating a spectacle of expensive winter coats and hats and dazzling scarves. A veritable fashion show was coming into form near the entrance as the ticketholders arrived in cabs or from the subway station. Every variation of natural hair was to be seen on the heads of the women, from dyed locks, to two-toned afros, and intricate arrangements of braids. Some of the men wore beards and fedoras, long wool coats, and leather gloves, while others sported expensive sneakers or seasonal dress shoes. About a third of the crowd wore glasses. They all looked smart and you could hear sophisticated opinions being shared relating to Mdembe's oeuvre and the nature of Black art. There were a few local celebrities in line attempting to look nondescript, perhaps upset that they were forced to wait on line with everyone else. The singer, Joanna Knight, known for her modern take on the slave work songs, was there with an unknown woman, perhaps on a date. Chelsea Little, the digital artist highly regarded for her pixelated portraits of black vaginas, was standing near me and laughing and smoking cigarettes with an adoring group of friends. Everett Benson, who had made a name for himself with a recently published memoir, was also nearby, immersed in some profane debate with two other people.

I was standing in line taking all of this in when, at fourteen past seven, the line began to move. There must have been two hundred people ahead of me and an equal number behind me. People were starting to take pictures of themselves, their friends, and the immense banners when I saw Contessa walking right past me toward the end of the line. She was alone. She was wearing a marvelous, burgundy overcoat with black leather gloves and boots. There was her red lipstick and blush again and her famously spirited blowout. She didn't see me as she walked by and I worried that she might be looking to meet up with Marcelle, but my instincts told me that, if anything, he would never come to an opening, it was more likely that he was somewhere planning an after party instead. It took every drop of reserve to keep myself from calling out to Contessa and offering her a place on line. That would have been too overt and thirsty and I needed to make the best of this opportunity.

The line lurched forward at a constant pace now and, soon enough, I was able to see the ticket scanners at the entrance. It was my first time dealing with them, but I watched as other people went in without pulling out their phones to show their tickets; the little machine just scanned it off of your phone even if it was in your pocket. I thought that was very convenient. Once inside, I followed the people ahead of me to another set of doors where about fifty of us had to stand and wait for a short time. Everyone was excited. Finally, an official opened the doors and motioned us to come inside.

The gallery space turned out to be a vast hall, maybe three hundred feet wide and five hundred feet long, with a ceiling some thirty stories above. The entire space was filled with man-made trees and grass, taking on the look of a lush forest. The intricacy and detail of the trees was astonishing, each being carved with great care, the trunks and branches looking naturally twisted, gnarled, more so by the passage of many seasons than by the painstaking labor of the artist. There was even an artificial stream with glittering water bounded by a dreamlike array of flowers in various and vivid colors. A mesmerizing assortment of papier mΓ’chΓ© butterflies was sitting amid the flowers, and the ceiling and walls had been painted to resemble a soft, purple evening sky. It was as if we had come across an undiscovered enchanted forest. For a brief moment, you would have thought we had entered a veritable paradise, complete with boulders to frolic around in, until you noticed that there were black bodies hanging from some of the branches, some of them burned to a crisp and some of them "fresh" except for the little streams of artificial blood running down the exposed breasts, backs, and legs. The artist seemed to take even greater care in rendering the facial expressions of the would-be corpses than he did in the detail of the trees; each face was contorted with pain and bewilderment, a few even featured swollen tongues jutting out of their mouths. There must have been about twenty "bodies" representing men and women, with their genitals in full view, either attached or in the grass just beneath them. The entire setting was a fusion of fantasy and nightmare, and it soon struck me with the qualities of an insane hallucination. I was dumbfounded. Some of the spectators actually turned to leave but the more adventurous went ahead and touched the bodies, surprised that they actually swung.

I realized then that a great amount of time had passed since I'd felt genuinely stunned by something. If I take the moment that Contessa first called out my name on the train as the highest and most paralyzing degree of amazement I'd ever felt, this "Nigger Forest" came to approach that feeling but it did not surpass it. With that first encounter with Contessa, the affair was intoxicating but private; the other passengers in the train car had no notion of the sudden warmth that rushed me then, they didn't notice the parade of pride and the succulent tension that builds after being recognized in a crowd. Little moments like that, the brief rushes of joy and alarm we get to experience without ever calling attention to ourselves, really are remarkable because we feel immediately changed without anyone else being the wiser. It was something just for me. But to walk into a gallery of lynching, now that was all together embarrassing—not because I felt any particular shame at having to look at such a deliciously vicious portrayal of history—it was embarrassing because it was clear that I was at a loss for how to account for what I was viewing, just like everyone else. We were collectively stupefied and although it's true that some reacted by touching the bodies admiringly or else by taking pictures and smiling the way people used to do in those old lynching postcards, I was willing to wager that no one really knew what to make of the scene—they were just better at me at hiding it.

I caught sight of Contessa just as a small group of people was moving on from spinning one of the bodies. Contessa stopped the body from swinging and moved in closer to examine the feet. She was still alone. I walked right up to her.

"Hi, Simone. What's up? Is Marcelle here, too?" I had to get the formalities out of the way.

She looked at me quizzically for a second, then recognized me.

"Oh, hi, Adrian!" She smiled and opened her arms to hug me. I wanted to hold on to her for longer, naturally, but I kept my composure and stepped back a little.

"Yeah, um, Marcelle didn't want to come, he hates Mdembe. I didn't know you were into him?"

"Me? Oh, yes! I've been into his work for years. I saw his last big show in Chicago and I thought it was amazing," I said, happy to have found some common ground.

Apparently, the shocking display of lynched bodies did nothing to disturb Contessa, she was smiling and freely touching the feet and examining the streams of blood as if they were dresses in a department store. She had no reservations whatsoever, but I still wasn't sure if it was all just an act to hide her confusion. Then again, she looked entirely dedicated to those bloodied feet; she was displaying a morbid side that I hadn't been able to glean from any of her social media. Just when you think you've got a person figured out, they come out of left field as a necrophiliac.

"He's been working on these cadavers for three years; there is a total of fifteen of them in this exhibit and each one contains a full model skeleton inside. He said he based the faces of each body on his own family members, as well. The ambition in the corpses alone shows his mastery of sculpture, to say nothing of the surrounding forest."

I nodded in agreement, desperately hoping that her admiration ended with the work and did not extend to the artist himself. Just the same, I was now willing to read every book about Mdembe so that I could always have something to talk to Contessa about. For now it seemed that so long as I was able to stand and listen, I would get to be next to her all evening.

"I think, on the whole, the piece isn't even about slavery or Jim Crow, or at least it's about something even deeper than the two. He has managed to get a diverse group of people to contemplate a brutal era in American history, that's certainly true, but he's also managed to make it beautiful, and that's the genius of it, he's taken the whole, "We Shall Overcome" bullshit and made it gorgeous instead of just pitiful.

"It's got the same mystical, eerie quality as Doris Ulman's 'Baptism in the River,' especially with regard to the construction of the forest setting, but there's also an element of Aaron Douglas' silhouettes in his Harriet Tubman mural. And also take note of the bodies, which borrow so tastefully from Eldzier Cortor's nudes. And though it's all so serene, it's captured that same frenzy of movement found in Barnes' 'Sugar Shack,' as if the bodies were dancing in their nooses. Now turn this way," she said taking me by the shoulder, "and you can see how he even put little paintings on some of the leaves, they're a bit hard to see from a distance, but those are little Adinkra symbols stamped on the undersides of the leaves. The symbol means mmere dane, or 'life changes'... I'm also really impressed that he chose to stay away from the silhouette method, and instead camouflage the bodies against the backdrop of the forest; it adds to the unsettling experience of walking into a paradise only to realize it's actually a kind of hell. The use of natural colors for the skin, which is also taut and shiny when it isn't burnt or scarred too much, lets us know that the victims were real people—young and supple individuals at that. I'm almost certain that if we could reach up to the eyelids and pull them back, we would find that only some of them have brown eyes. I mean, look at that one—it's light-skinned with reddish hair and freckles. And look at the teeth on this one, some of them are missing. If only we could get closer to the hair..."