High Mas: Carnival and the Poetics of Caribbean Culture (2018)

HIGH MAS BOOK COVERI’m pleased to announce the publication of my book, HIGH MAS: Carnival and the Poetics of Caribbean Culture by the University Press of Mississippi.

HIGH MAS: Carnival and the Poetics of Caribbean Culture is a book of contemporary Caribbean thought and practice. In it, I combine the arts of photography and the lyric essay to devise a way of seeing the Caribbean, the world, and the self.

I can’t wait for it to be fully in the world, but you can pre-order it here.

Kevin (@drbrowne)

Reserve your copy of HIGH MAS

for the Trinidad Launch on November 4, 2018!

Responding to the myths and crises of identity, of nation, and of belonging that persist in the region, HIGH MAS complicates assumptions about Trinidad Carnival as an exemplary festival of local freedoms. Instead, Browne explores the spirit of Mas as a deeply generative means of vernacular expression. Using the performance of Mas as a lens for reading the contemporary Caribbean, Browne draws particular inspiration from the performances of Blue Devils, La Diablesse, and Moko Jumbies—all of whom were photographed by the author between 2014 and 2017.



Essays accompany each series and frame the author’s ideas of “Caribbeanist Photography” as a practice that is both reflective and refractive. Beginning with memoir, and moving progressively toward a more extensive treatment of Caribbeanness as performance—as Mas—the book is a celebration of the Caribbean subject. It is, furthermore, a declaration of the agency of ordinary people who take it upon themselves to do extraordinary things, who deconstruct the vagaries of everyday life to construct meaning. Like its overarching theme, HIGH MAS disrupts conventional assumptions of what Mas—and the people who make Mas—can do. It recomposes the image. Relying simultaneously on aspects of memory, experience, imaging, and inquiry, HIGH MAS is an intricate argument for the relevance of vision to the Caribbean voice.

Advance Praise for HIGH MAS…

“Kevin Adonis Browne’s High Mas: Carnival and the Poetics of Caribbean Culture, is a one of a kind work that understands fundamentally all that is at stake when people make Mas–the embrace of their fierce unexpurgated beauty. The writing, and by that I mean both text and image, is as liquid as Mas itself catching the exquisite balancing of life here, life after, and life before which is ‘being’ in Mas. Mas is the body abstracted from the formal tyrannies of history and of the quotidian–not a fleeting or temporary state of performance but the production of an ongoing state of being; neither cosmetic nor decorative nor even dramatic but lodged in the existential, or as Browne might call it the rhetorical. Browne shows us everything about the permeable, uncanny habitations of these figures of Mas in his lucid images. This book is wise and field changing.” 

–Dionne Brand, poet, novelist, and essayist

“Lest we forget there was Mas (still is!), Kevin Adonis Browne reminds us of its crucial role in Caribbean culture and history. In this remarkable book, Browne turns his Caribbeanist photographic gaze on images of Mas present and past, too many taken for granted, too many in danger of being lost forever. Poet, visual artist, photographer, essayist, visionary, Browne warns us to pay attention to what we see and feel. This book with its riveting photographs and poetic prose is essential reading. It will open our eyes to what lies beneath the revelry of Mas.”

–Elizabeth Nunez, distinguished professor of English at Hunter College, CUNY, and author of several novels including Prospero’s DaughterBruised Hibiscus, and Anna In-Between

“Kevin Adonis Browne’s High Mas: Carnival and the Poetics of Caribbean Culture is a gorgeous rhetoric, a poetic, visually stunning, and necessary book. That it is a rhetoric is clear from Browne’s essays that theorize, meditate on, and historize Carnival. These essays explore memory, blindness and the problems of sight, composition, light, refusal, something like freedom and the practice of Caribbeanist photography. The subjects with whom he collaborates–those people who make Mas–inform and co-shape the photographic praxis that Browne elaborates in the essays and performs in the photos. A visual textual document of the present, High Mas leaves me breathless with the beauty of what we make, how, and under what conditions.”

–Christina Sharpe, professor of humanities at York University, Toronto, and author of Monstrous Intimacies: Making Post-Slavery Subjects and In the Wake: On Blackness and Being


Pre-Order HIGH MAS

HIGH MAS: Carnival and the Poetics of Caribbean Culture will be released on October 15, 2018. Pre-Order your copy on Amazon, Barnes & NobleWaterstones, and wherever fine books are sold.

(Keywords: Caribbean Poetics, Trinidad, Photography, Carnival, Cultural Rhetoric)

Read or download a pdf of Chapter Summaries here.


Tropic Tendencies: Rhetoric, Popular Culture, and the Anglophone Caribbean (2013)

Rhetoric, Popular Culture, and the Anglophone Caribbean


“Browne’s excellent contribution to cultural studies in the Anglophone Caribbean is grounded in a rhetorical praxis that ranges over several expressive forms, including poetry, masquerade, music, folklore, fiction, and digital media. The compelling analysis is impressive both in coverage and insight.”

Glyne A. Griffith, University at Albany

Browne’s Tropic Tendencies is a groundbreaking study, and a necessary one. [His] thought-provoking theory of the Caribbean Carnivalesque—itself a prime example of the rhetorical creolization present in the many performances he observes—blends classical and contemporary vernacular traditions to articulate an ethos that is distinctly Caribbean.

Elaine Richardson, Ohio State University

Tropic Tendencies
Tropic Tendencies

A legacy of slavery, abolition, colonialism, and class struggle has profoundly impacted the people and culture of the Caribbean. In Tropic Tendencies, Kevin Adonis Browne examines the development of an Anglophone Caribbean rhetorical tradition in response to the struggle to make meaning, maintain identity, negotiate across differences, and thrive in light of historical constraints and the need to participate in contemporary global culture.

Browne bases his study on the concept of the “Caribbean carnivalesque” as the formative ethos driving cultural and rhetorical production in the region and beyond it. He finds that carnivalesque discourse operates as a “continuum of discursive substantiation” that increases the probability of achieving desired outcomes for both the rhetor and the audience. Browne also views the symbolic and material interplay of the masque and its widespread use to amplify efforts of resistance, assertion, and liberation.

Browne analyzes rhetorical modes and strategies in a variety of forms, including music, dance, folklore, performance, sermons, fiction, poetry, photography, and digital media. He introduces chantwells, calypsonians, old talkers, jamettes, stickfighters, badjohns, and others as exemplary purveyors of Caribbean rhetoric and deconstructs their rhetorical displays. From novels by Earl Lovelace, he also extracts thematic references to kalinda, limbo, and dragon dances that demonstrate the author’s claim of an active vernacular sensibility. He then investigates the re-creation and reinvention of the carnivalesque in digital culture, demonstrating the ways participants both flaunt and defy normative ideas of “Caribbeanness” in online and macro environments.

Kevin Adonis Browne is assistant professor of writing and rhetoric at Syracuse University.


Paper ISBN 978-0-8229-6259-5
6 x 9 • 232 pp.
14 Illustrations

Buy on Amazon.
Download Tropic Tendencies Press Release.

Requiem for My Grandfather (1930-2018)

Erin is a village in the south of Trinidad. From the coast, which is eroding more quickly these days, you can see Venezuela. Pirogues skip along the waves like stones that battle in vain with the tide, interrupting the horizon. Turning inland, the exposed rock rusts, and frigate birds fly above the bickering corbeaux, all of them failing to think better of themselves as this or that scrap of fish comes loose from the beak and claws of another. Further inland, past the balata and mapipire, past the misspelled signs, the gutted quarry, the water tank standing butchered on the side of the road, past the old rum shop that wore an older rum shop to disguise itself, there lives a man.

Lived. There lived a man.

I’m not yet used to referring to my grandfather in the past tense. The proof of his death is here, his remains recalling something like dignity. I know he is dead, but I’m just not used to it yet. (I think you can forgive that. I hope you can.) It will take some practice for me. I might have done better to realize my tense if I had begun with “Once upon a time.” Maybe then, I would have grounded and situated myself, locating myself in time—knowing that for my grandfather, time is no longer a concern. Where “concern” itself no longer matters. But these are lessons no one can teach.

There lived a man. A giant.

I confess that I was afraid of my grandfather. And in awe of him—in awe of his hands. They are massive things, and I thought he could crush me if he wanted to. He never did. Even when we shook hands—the two of us in quiet duel to gauge each other’s strength. Mine and his, passing like strangers on the road. (I sometimes think that my hands are small for a Browne, but these are the luxuries of a mind that has never had to wonder where it belonged. I have always been a Browne, just with smaller hands. Not as small as my mother’s but smaller than my father’s. Smaller, still, than my grandfather’s.)

This matters, you see, because as a child, I thought my grandfather was a giant. See how we behave? How we laugh like there is thunder breaking in our throats, how our fears and loves are no less massive than the massive hands that held us all in place? But what does a child who runs barefoot in the yard know of giants? What does a child, lost and found in the safety of aunts who were more like sisters, uncles who were more than brothers know? What does a child know? What does a child know of giants? What does he know of the world around him growing as he grows, becoming a harsher place, a place coming apart at its seams, too big and rich and poor and dirty and callous and afraid, a place where people (even in the midst of this stinging heat) manage to be so cold to each other—and with such crippling ease? What does he know of letdowns and betrayals, of old and cobwebbed hurts, of laughter and rum? What does he know of heartbreak? What does he know of loss? Who can say?

What do I know now of a giant who grew into a man, and whose perfected flaws made him all the more beautiful, the darkened strings of wrinkles and failing muscles making him stronger? Stronger, as he inched nearer to his death and the grave.

I confess, too, that I have tried, in vain, to remember things I could share, but they have lost their shape, blending one into the other, swirling into a mass of things that linger but do not stay, things that trouble the mind and quicken the heart, but keep the spirit steady, half-forgotten things and half-remembered things, such that if I were to share something—anything at all—it would feel as if I were making something up that never happened. It would feel a bit like magic, pouring out of my mouth as if it were someone else’s memory that I had memorized over time, perfecting its tones and pauses, its rising and falling, pouring out as if I had crafted a myth. But, for a child who does not—who cannot—know the measure of the man whose words were few, and whose massive hands shielded him from the world in ways he could never see, for such a child, only a myth would do. It is only with myth that I can pay tribute to a man who can no longer hear me. Only with a story. Only with a story shaken from the constraints of history can I hope to remember a man I can never hope to forget. But alas, I have no story, only fragments of stories. Only beginnings—origins—and morals:

“Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, there lived a man. A grandfather.” Mine. Ours. He became what I think we all hope to become in the end: Old, a giant growing gradually smaller in the eyes of his grandson and growing greater still. Growing smaller in the eyes of the world, but growing greater still. Grander, in a way.

By the time I was strong enough to go in search of my grandfather for the stories that have made me, making the pilgrimage to the land far away, I could barely hear his voice. I had to decode the tremor of his lips and the curve of his fingers. I had to touch his brow for the nuances of miniature moles, reading his skin like braille, reading his eyes like some silent, wordless book to learn for myself that love can look like heartbreak, but only because there are tears. I want to believe that it was a blessing. Like being “first.”

Being “first” has its privileges: people boast about you (sometimes); they (sometimes) look with pride at your accomplishments; they are quick to forgive your missteps; willing to overlook your mistakes. They love you in ways they’ve never known; they beat you; and they build you up, giving you strength they could easily have kept for themselves. They make leaders of you. So when the burden of “being first” seems too much to bear, it is on them we learn to rely. It is in their collective imperfections that I come to find and perfect my purpose: Not the first, but one of many. Not apart, but a part of. It is to know this, too:

I am because he was.
I have failed because he failed, stumbled because he stumbled, stood because he stood, succeeded because he succeeded.

I know better than to make a fetish of the soul or an icon of the spirit. But some things are harder than others. So, on behalf of all the grandchildren—to them, as well—I say take courage. Breathe slowly. Dance badly. Remember carefully. Judge wisely. Weep openly. Love honestly. And know that there are lessons no one can teach. No one dares. Know that there are lessons not even a giant can teach. Those we will have to figure out for ourselves—and they are the ones that will define us all in the end.



Radcliffe Randolph Arnold Browne
April 7, 1930 – April 6, 2018



Winers in the Hands of an Angry God: A Sermon on the Monk

We is a oil and water people.
A cocoa in the sun people.
A carnival people.
To soak this kingdom, yuh don’t need much—just some rain.
— a Mas Man
“Wherefore, my beloved,
as ye have always obeyed,
not as in my presence only,
but now much more in my absence,
work out your own salvation
with fear and trembling.”
— Philippians 2:12, KJV
“This is my story, this is my song.
Praising my Savior all the day long.”
— Frances J. Crosby, 1873
“You say you want a leader,
but you can’t seem to make up your mind.
I think you better close it, and let me guide you.”
— Prince, Purple Rain, 1984


Carnival coming.
People go fly.
The dead go rise.
The living go play them.
Iron go knock.
Bottle go break.
Knee go bend.
Tongue go confess.
Kingdom—a Soca Kingdom—go come.

I have listened to Rudder’s “High Mas” and wept.
I have fallen drunk and risen to the dholak that carved a spine through Shorty’s “Indrani.”

Despers was my Damascus, once. All Stars, another time.

I have spun and spun at a crossroads in Port of Spain to Ella and Devon—Eshu, Ase.
I have seen a Blue Boy fly.
I have seen a Golden Boy beat a magic drum.
I have seen a Golden Calf become a Mad Bull.

I have seen things, so let me testify:
Carnival coming.
Jump high, jump low, it coming.
And the road will be your church,
the Savannah will be your cathedral.
And Soca will be your praisesong.
We, the people of moments and movements, of shame and of spectacle, will sing.

So sing, my people.

Sing a hymn to soothe your weary souls from the drudgery of everyday life. It will bring you peace, a peace you must also seek. You must go out in the road, put your hands up, close your eyes, breathe deep, and wine like hell for the salvation of your Carnival spirit. Even in the silence of streets you are afraid to walk, you will remember what it is like to feel. Wring the pan and drum from your spine, wring it from your shoulders. Wring out your heart. No one will stop you. Who will dare to tell you how to feel? Who dares to silence your grief? Or mine? We dance to save ourselves out of the abyss, chipping away at its walls.


Carnival coming, and people in fear will dance their terror in the hope that it will save their lives. People forced to numb themselves, who live in a country gripped with fear of death and unspeakable violence, will pulse and break open, dancing a hymn soaked in adrenaline and painted in blooFor them—us—a Road March is the theme song of a funeral procession. Public pain, set to music. We dance at funerals. We sing.


And so it will come to pass that a people on an island will forget they are in a wilderness. Rising waters lift all ships, the people will say, forgetting how to swim. A people who think themselves free will come to call themselves a “kingdom” without asking who among them is king. They forget the blind have no king. The dead have no kingdom.

But we’re still here, you and I. Neither dead nor blind. You and I. Still alive, in a way. Since we’re here, let us think together a bit. First, a couple basic points:

1. Machel is a boss. Late release is good strategy.
2. Popular culture is driven by the market.
3. “Soca Kingdom” might be shit.

Let us at least concede that. He may be easy enough to dislike, but he’s the hero in his own tropical Jungian matrix. In that matrix, Super Blue is the elder—his senex. Super Blue is also a boss, our hearts wrapped in blue. (He’s seen his share of falls and ascendencies. We love and respect him.) Bunji is obviously his shadow (the opposite is true in Bunji’s Jedi/Jungian references in “Vintage Garlin”). Faye-Ann is yet to be factored in (in public).

Archetypes aside, there’s no accounting for taste. And unless you play a song nonstop from now till Carnival, you can’t really force people to like something. (Can you?) It’s not like there’s a “Soca Mafia” silencing other artists, interrupting their competitors’ songs with drivel. (Right? Right.)

The song follows a well-worn formula, as far as songs like this go. The lyrics are also what we should expect them to be: basic. “Stamping” your name on the stage, for example, evokes that civil servant ethos, the standing in lines for hours at a time, only to be dismissed, insulted. But it also reminds us of our desire to legitimize our behavior (bad and good, if there is such a thing), to claim the space (personal), to own it outright. To own ourselves. Stamping the stage is how unfree people free themselves. We stage our liberation in such a way. We dispute squatter’s rights all the time, but squatters—and the landowners who despise them—always find a way to share the road when the time comes.

The fact that it’s “a process about a process” makes it at once a tautology and a metaprocess: a matrix not unlike the one he warns us about in “Take It Slow.” That, I suppose, is something to consider. Coupled with the reference to wining “in front of de people business place,” we could speculate on whether the “Rituals” 😉 of confrontation at the heart of Carnival can make a difference in the ways that matter to us. Or, are we on Charlotte Street, where everybody business is literally on the road? Or are we talking about people who have no business being on the road? Or is it just too late? Who can say? Double-entendres have their uses, though they can sometimes lose their sting—seeming quite numb (before numbing us).

I’m not so concerned with those things, right now, but with the beat. The heart of the matter, so to speak. It, too, is simple. This simplicity—what we may call its elegance—makes the song and the moment brilliant af.

Soca says,“Feel.”
Not “if you don’t hear, you will feel.”
No, Soca says, “Feel. Listen, if you want. Take apart the construction and the arrangement, if you must. But feel! If you do nothing else, feel!”

And I’m here for that. Simply put, if Calypso is the voice of the people, Soca is its soul.

According to Connor Towne O’Neill, when Ed Watson declared calypso dead in 1971, Lord Shorty was “determined to find a music that the young people could be part of.” He went in search of its soul. Led by the prophetic vision of what the soul of a sound might feel like, he went looking for us, feeling around for us in the dark.

It was a moment of existential and sensory transcendence. When he took the “so” from calypso and fused it with “kah,” he didn’t just connect a predominantly West African form to an East Indian one. He also orchestrated the completion of a sonic cycle that, in order to move, had to appear to simplify itself. Some would say too simple, but would follow eventually.

Shorty argued, with music, that to truly express its complexity, Caribbeanness (as he understood it) would have to transcend its form. It would have to transform. To evolve, the power of the word would have to shed its form for another—something more emotionally abstract. Not “soul calypso,” but something simpler and more elemental:

Soca is the afterlife of calypso, a praisesong for people in grief.

In this open yard of black, brown, bronzed, and blackened friars, each song is a hymn, an anthem for lovers, warriors, and heathens. It is a conduit to memory’s future. It is the sublime soundtrack of tormented people. A lovesong for people in search of themselves, a liberation that occurs in spite of themselves.
In a very real sense, then, Soca is a Mas—
and Machel may be its Minshall or its Minstrel.

He may be both. We have helped make him this way. Do we see our handiwork? Do you feel it?

Don’t worry. It coming.

Every rupture will bring forth a Messiah.
Every crisis will produce for us a prophet.
We are Carnival people; our prophets have always been different.

We’ve had Invaders and Executioners,
Stalins and Bombers,
Nelsons and Kitcheners.
We’ve had Sparrows and Swallows,
Roses and Rudders,
Melodies and Shadows.

If we fail to make a prophet, will he not make himself out of dust? Will she not carve herself from stone? Will they not make iron talk when the season comes, bending and hammering themselves into shape? Will we not try to summon that power now, when we need it most? We are a Carnival people—you and I—and our prophets have always been different. Let us chant the incantation like a chorus of our difference and desperate beauty, let us whisper it like a prayer:

We are a Carnival people.
We are a Carnival people.
We are a Carnival people!

Carnival coming, and it must not catch us sleeping. We must not say to ourselves that a kingdom without a king is just an incomplete colony—a colony of missing parts and missing people. We already know that. We must not wonder if Soca is a praisesong. For if it is, then for what are we giving praise? To whom? Through whom?


This pain is proof that we’ve made it to a new year. (Many did not.) To be alive in this dangerous and numbing time, who wouldn’t want to feel something real? We need it. We need something. Who can blame us? Who dares to? Who can judge us?
And who, but a prophet of our making, will lead us in our present libations? Who will decode for us the “Spirit in the spell” we find ourselves in? In the court of public opinion, I am a fool. Who am I to name prophets, to say whether a song is shit or not? What do I know?

What I know is that Carnival coming. And all kinda thing does happen. You just have to pay attention. I have seen a man call himself a rocket man, a minister, a monk, a god—with my own eyes, I’ve seen him descend from the heavens. Others followed.

Is this not something we ought to expect from ourselves? As grounded people—people who can no longer fly—don’t our traditions demand these transformations? Don’t we suspend our own disbelief to sacrifice our bodies on the altar of our misshapen histories? Don’t we turn to ash in this hot sun, mix our ash with water, and bathe ourselves? Don’t we know the feel of sharp sand on our tongues? Or, are we so starved, so desperate that we no longer see ourselves for who we are?


Are we so damaged that we no longer see Carnival for the Mas? Are we that lost? Have we forgotten how to pray, or forgotten what it is to be preyed upon and corrupted?

The answer to all of these questions is Yes.

We are starved and desperate.
We are damaged.
We are corrupt and corrupted.
We forget and have forgotten.
We are cynical.
We are tired.
We are lost.
We—every single one ah we—are in crisis.

So who will lead us?

To soak a kingdom, all you need is saturation. Rain. We were promised the fire next time, but we’ve had a lot of rain. We are soaked to the bone. And still, no king has come.

Who reigns when there is no king?A queen? (No, they beat women here.)
Will a child lead us? (No. We hunt and eat our children here.)

What kingdom comes of a future we have eaten? How can we breathe when our love and our rage and our sex are all so poorly staged? Will Soca reign, or will it rein us in? That, it seems, is the answer. But what is the question? What is the question, and who will come forward to ask it?

What is the difference between the prophets we make and the profits made of us? None.
The difference between a Road March and a funeral procession? None.

Who will lead us if we don’t know the difference between a monk and a Mas? We will sing and take the jamming, wining for our lives while we wait for an answer to come.

Kevin Adonis Browne (@drbrowne) is the author of High Mas: Carnival and the Poetics of Caribbean Culture (2018) and Tropic Tendencies: Rhetoric, Popular Culture, and the Anglophone Caribbean (2013).

Of Time Travel and ​Trigger Warnings; Or, Somewhere Between #BoycottHM and #BoycottHandM

My friends are like family. Which means they don’t seem to care much about trigger warnings. They just go ahead and send me things:

• mixed-race jokes
• porn-inflected jokes
• gender-based violence jokes
• the occasional mutilation joke
• jokes about misogyny and missing teeth and pain and other assorted cruelties.

And I know why they do it: not because they secretly hate me and think I’m a bit too detached from my world to be bothered by a disembowelment when set to uninteresting music, but because I’m as likely to ignore the violence as break into a full-throated analysis of one thing or another.

I know what you’re thinking, because I think the same thing from time to time: I need better friends. It’s true, but I love them all (if not equally), so what can I do? People need some way to deal with the pathology of the society of which they are a part–a society from which they hope to remain apart. It is a futile hope. And their apathy–ours, really–is nothing short of Macchiavellian. The justification, poor as it is, does work. Family, amirite? (I call people “darlings” and “beautiful badasses” on here, so it’s whatever.)

Anyway, I was minding other people’s business on social media, when I get a version of the image on this post–just the child on the left. I only saw the child on the right this morning on a Crisis Magazine tweet. My first reaction was, “cute kid.” I didn’t take the bait. I responded with a bit of cynicism–“we keep expecting these people to do right by us”–and kept it moving.

Reaction (❤, mostly).

Repeat. Damn.

I didn’t say that if the child on the left makes it past the age of 12, learns the principles of black liberation, has “The Talk” (birds, bees, bullets), and avoids Hotep fallacies, coconut oil, and kale, he’ll be as much a “survival expert” as his apparent counterpart. And that his apparent counterpart–framed as a conservative, capitalist, colonialist, imperialist mashup in the shape of a boy cut to fit a sweatshirt–not only views his blackness as a thing to be conquered, but also as an aspiration. No, he doesn’t want to be black–why would he? Rather, he is a projection of a whiteness I recognize. A child made to portray a desire for the condition of being “the coolest monkey in the jungle.” Not in the Jane Goodall sense of cool, obviously (chimps are apes, after all).

Because we know neither of those children resides in any real jungle, we can (must) assume that the metaphor is what matters here. Viewed in such a way (and because symbolic language is not what it is but what it might be), it’s reasonable to look at this child on the right as a prefabricated hipster conservative, and his gaze as a parable of inevitable gentrification. Stoops and corners, like ruins in the memory. Eminent domain, and the bodies made to represent it. Bodies designed, as it were, to desire and be displaced from it.

I didn’t say that I was thrown back–because all sweatshirts are a throwback, in the age of clima-cool. In an age of breathable clothes worn by bodies that can’t breathe, I saw this child (the one on the left) as representing something of a hybrid–a visual prelude-postscript to a very particular set of issues that plague contemporary life. In short, you could say I saw him as a superhero. I saw him, foolishly, as a young Luke Cage: developing his love for sweatshirts from a young age, causing trouble in the concrete jungle of Harlem or Bed-Stuy (or wherever black bodies are stripped of their black minds and black spirits, wherever they’re either forced or inclined to run and fight for their lives with hands up or throats clenched or hearts broken, wherever death–black death–is not a metaphor, but a reality). A young Luke Cage, before becoming a caricature of our suffering, before Black Panther shows up, takes the wheel, slaps the #Oprah2020 out of our mouths, and redeems us all.

And why not? Escapism (like desensitization and terrible Whatsapp etiquette) is a strategy for people like us. From “Flying Africans” of Modernity and Black Antiquity to the elemental Earth, Wind & Fire.

We fly. We stay fly. We be fly.

It’s how people like us, who seem to have no power, deal with shit. And I’m no different, so you can believe I’d go with Luke Cage who, before he was bulletproof, badass, or beefcake was not unlike the child on the left. Black.

And when Black Panther comes like Black Jesus, I’ll make of this sweatshirted child a young T’Challa on a visit to America, throwing shade as an unapologetic embodiment of a Signifying Monkey in this prison industrial complex of language–with its marketplaces and parlors. Before that happens, though, I try to get my mind right. I turn the conversation inward.

Me: Why Luke Cage, which was immediately (and ultimately) disappointing?

Also Me: Because I’m bound, like everyone else, by the symbols I’m given. And there aren’t enough black Jedi.

Me: Why not read this image as an homage to Trayvon Martin?

Also Me: Because while the easy imposition of black death and white superiority on children’s bodies causes me anxiety (almost as if it were prophecy), trauma is not a badge of honor–nor is resilience synonymous with recovery. There is blood on all of our shrines.

Me: Why not remix the irony of red-green colorblindness and ridicule the construction of race as an example of a dilapidated discourse, as an uninhabitable idea?

Also Me: Because the “red-black-green” progression from Martin to Luke to Cool is as much a “semiotic slight” as “sleight of hand”–a move from child to man to child; a broken promise that takes us forward from bullet riddles to cages to jungles, as if it were progress. Because “the red, the black, and the green” is how many of us learned to spell “Justice.” Because it is a nostalgia that mirrors the tragic-comic-absurd of throwback sweatshirts in contemporary culture over the past decade. Oh, Luke. If only your projections could save us.
(Also Also Me: Wait, darling, T’Challa is coming. Again. And Carnival. Wait.)

Me: Why not reach for the image of Trayvon, a child who would be 23 next month, pluck him out of the memes that made light of his black death, bring him forward in time, forward into 2018, imagining him as a smaller child now, bending time to give him more time, giving him a restart on his clock, summoning my mystical manipulation of time and flight and travel to save this child’s life before his love of candy and iced tea?

Also Me: Because I’m waiting for a future, a mothership prophesied in Soca and Funk, sanctified in Fire and Water, and reified in Black Magic. Because I’m not yet what I’ve longed for.

Me: Why not scoff at the absurdity of false equivalency and the problem of signs?

Also Me: It was an interpretive choice, obviously. And a self-care choice, as well. Because black death is as much a reflex for us as for those who would destroy us. Because I only appear to respond to an absurdity with an absurdity, something like a phenomenon to offset the silliness of sacrificing the image of children to the diseases we’ve learned to worship. There are children, lodged between #BoycottHM and #BoycottHandM. Boys, as it turns out, being anything but themselves.

There’s a larger, simpler point: it’s impossible to escape from a trap that I set for myself, no less possible to remove my skin and burst into flames. A trigger warning, after the bullet, in between the ceaseless volley of hurts that we must negotiate–often, and unfortunately, at the cellular level–for people like us.

People like us, who know the trigger is the weapon–that language is a perfect violence, one we cannot boycott. And so it is, that with all perfect violences, the perfect villains will often look just like us. Until they don’t.

Let the church say, “Ase!”

On Mango Sucking

The problem of mango string in your teeth is neither the mango’s fault nor your own. Find the right mango variety, and you’ll have less of a problem. The greater problem, assuming there aren’t any other varieties available, is the lack of choice. As in, I have no choice but to eat this mango all the way down to the seed. 

Then, of course…

What remains between our teeth is regretful, to be sure. (It’s what I imagine floss would be if it had a personality disorder and dressed in costume, tormenting others to make itself relevant.) But because it is derived from our previous pleasures, it is not essentially a regret.

It’s important to know the difference, as we walk sucking our teeth among strangers for whom discontent is the norm. Or, in the comfort of our homes, taking an adolescent pleasure in running our tongues along those teeth and smiling broadly at the bowl of skins and seeds resting on our lap.

The Cure for Tabanca

This is what I have told myself…

Tabanca is love gone bad, or so they say. The only cure I know of is this: knowing that there are two ends. The first “end” is the ending that causes the pain I feel right now. It is inevitable, always happening or about to happen. As certain as death, my human frailty, once recognized, will betray me (and others). Every character trait has a finite quality that will fall short of whatever expectations I set for them. 

The second “end” is the end of my pain, which no person can ease until it has run its course and done what it is meant to do. Whether I think of it as a poison or an elixir, I should know that what I feel is not the absence of the other, but my own, unavoidable, presence. Not the inarticulable hurt that seems to herald these bouts of maddening loss, nor the fact that I have always been a little mad, but the unsatisfying truth that I am who I am. Not the selective remembering that defines my grief and heartbreak, but the unmistakeable beating of a heart I’ve learned to ignore, caught up as  I’ve been in other sounds, other noises, bodies, mouths, eyes, tongues, words. And while I may have played at exploring the anatomy of love, I cannot escape my heart–the thing beating [within] me. It is always with me. This is why we sometimes feel like we want to die, that we will die–either because of the pain, or to escape it. So strong is the idea that this pain must subside, then disappear, that I forget that I am the source of what I feel. And while I may feel as though I want the end to come, my pain is proof that I’m not yet ready to let go. I still feel. It is a frailty that (like all other things about myself) I must accept. 

The end, in this sense, is both teleological and ontological–or, more accurately, the purpose and possible outcome (telos) of my experience is the rediscovery of my damaged, dormant, and muted self (ontos). That is the lesson, a lesson that I’ve sought to understand without taking the time to question. It is also a fact, one I’ve pretended to forget: by shifting my attentions from myself to another, I’ve only changed the direction of those attentions, not their source or their quality. And though it may be tempting to suggest that how badly I feel is a direct result of how deeply I’ve loved, the opposite may be more accurate. That is, how badly I feel is a direct result of how badly I’ve loved–and how well. Pain is pain, no matter the cause. 

But since we know that our capacity for denial is the inevitable precursor to Tabanca–a symptom, if you like–then reflection may be viewed as treatment. Recognition is your recovery. Acceptance, in this vein, is the cure. But all this denial says is that you’ve been misdiagnosed. Love gone bad was never love to begin with, only a placebo that has expired, leaving you with little choice but to withdraw. That withdrawal is nothing more than a painful return to a state you never really left: yourself.

Then I think of something pithy to say, to mask the fact that I’m as disappointing as I am disappointed. Failing to do that, I choose a kind of silence.