Category Archives: Mas Rhetorica

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.

Regarding the Cost of My Book…

Some thoughts ahead of the publication of my book, Between Still Life and Afterlife: Mas, Photography, and the Self (UP Mississippi, forthcoming).

First, know this: you will lose what you hope to keep. Those of us who create know that our creations–and what we think of as our creativity–come at a cost. They do not simply appear out of a vacuum. No. Something must be given and given up in exchange for what we create. A sacrifice, in a way, without the expectation of a blessing. A curse is as likely to come. Or nothing.

The inevitability of loss is the only gain, the only reward. Know this. Accept it, if you can. Ignore it, if you must. But expect it.

Nothing is sacrosanct that existed before that created thing. No one is safe from it. (And yes, they know this and try to love you anyway, thinking themselves safe and special–almost immune. You think it, too. I think it. They try to stay, to take you as you are, but they know. No excuse can suffice, nor weak justifications satisfy. Lies, yours and mine and theirs, cannot hold. It is what it is: a reality greater than you.) No reward awaits you for admitting, publicly or in private, that there is no depth to which you will not go to defile yourself, all for the creation of a thing.

It’s a violence no one is bound to understand, one done to yourself and to others, existing beyond the limits of perfect conscience, beyond the reach of hand, heart, and mind. A violence that transcends its own inadequate morality, one that leads you to a truth that is even more inadequate: no art, no image, no words, no melody will ever bear the burden that comes from their expression. Instead, it is you who must bear it. This is how it is with something you know will outlive you, outlasting even the impulse of its birth.

I’m thinking of what I’ve caused to bring into this world, and sometimes the enormity of what it cost is too much to bear. But to see what others have not seen, you must either see differently or see different things. Each will lead you away from what, and who, you know. Each will move you, or move others. Each will bring you through the loss, through the blur of your tears, to a dissatisfaction glorious enough to see you create, again, in spite of the cost. You push, though you haven’t seemed to move.

There you sit–between the still life of what you perceive and the afterlife of a thing you have conceived but cannot articulate–understanding that though the cost is great, your creation knows no currency.

It is you who must have the courage, or the desperation, to pay.


Between Still Life and Afterlife: Mas, Photography, and the Self


Please donate and share the link below, as I try to raise money to make this book a reality. #BetweenStillLifeandAfterlife

Impressionism and the Caribbean: Francisco Oller and His Transatlantic World

Repeating Islands


Opening tomorrow:

Impressionism and the Caribbean

June 14 – September 6, 2015

From the Blanton Museum’s website:

The Blanton Museum presents Impressionism and the Caribbean: Francisco Oller and His Transatlantic World, an exhibition of approximately eighty paintings by Realist-Impressionist painter Francisco Oller (1833–1917) and his contemporaries. Organized by the Brooklyn Museum and debuting at the Blanton, the exhibition reveals Oller’s important contributions to both the Paris avant-garde and the Puerto Rican school of painting. Providing historical, geographic, and cultural context for Oller’s work, the exhibition also features paintings by nineteenth-century masters Paul Cézanne, Winslow Homer, Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, and others. The Blanton’s presentation also includes a small selection of works by contemporaneous Texas artists working on both sides of the Atlantic.

One of the most distinguished transatlantic painters of his day, Oller helped transform painting in the Caribbean. Over the course of his career, he traveled between Europe…

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French Revolution Digital Archive

Diaspora Hypertext, the Blog (Archived)

In digital francophonie noire:

“The French Revolution Digital Archive emerged from the expressed need by scholars of the French Revolution to gain greater and more flexible access to their sources. The French Revolution itself produced scores of documents by participants, spectators, and critics. These materials include texts of all sorts – legal documents, pamphlet literature, belles lettres, musical compositions, and a rich imagery. Dispersed in libraries and archives, hidden in documental series and in short individual pamphlets, this diverse documentary heritage can now be offered to scholars in a digital format. The French Revolution Digital Archive brings together two foundational sources for research: the Archives parlementaires (hereafter AP) and a vast collection of images selected from the collections of the Bibliothèque nationale de France. Both of these corpora were included in the important “French Revolution Research Collection” produced by the BnF and the Pergamon Press for the bicentennial of the…

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The Arabella Chapman Project

Diaspora Hypertext, the Blog (Archived)

Arabella Chapman, Vol 1, page 13

A project out University of Michigan that digitized two 19th-century photo albums owned by an African-American woman named Arabella “Bella” Chapman recently went live:

The Arabella Chapman Project brings together students and scholars of African American history and culture to explore the role of visual culture, especially photography, as a critical dimension of the everyday life and politics of black Americans at the end of the nineteenth century.

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Call for Papers: Tropical Exposures: Photography, Film, and Visual Culture in a Caribbean Frame

Repeating Islands

2015-01-09 17.48.15

The Cuban and Caribbean Studies Institute at Tulane University is now accepting proposals for the conference “Tropical Exposures: Photography, Film, and Visual Culture in a Caribbean Frame,” which will take place March 10-12, 2016. Proposals are due by September 15, 2015. [Many thanks to Amanda Fleites for bringing this item to our attention.]

Description: Tropical Exposures welcomes proposals for papers that address any facet of Caribbean visual representation in photography, film, art, popular culture, and other media, as well as the interaction of word and image more generally. Scholars are also encouraged to present proposals that consider social and cultural shifts toward the increasing intermediality of representation in the Caribbean frame.

Papers may focus on one terrain, image-maker, or form of media, or employ comparative strategies. Papers may be in English, Spanish, French or Portuguese, though English is preferred. We anticipate creating an edited volume of expanded essays around…

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Robert the Dancing Queen, Dead

“It’s not the dead you have to fear, son; it’s the living.
We don’t cry for the dead, but for ourselves.”
—My mother to me, April 1981


A dancing queen was murdered in San Fernando.
A transgender man was murdered.
Robert “Peter” Navarro.

Please, just say it, his name. Then, for balance, say your own, or the name of someone who loves you, or that of the many we memorialize—the many.

His mutilated body was found yesterday in Snake Valley, a forested trail that leads up San Fernando Hill. Naked. Brutalized. As young boys, my cousins and friends and I would find our way through that track, leading up to Breakneck Pass and the top of the hill, where I’d later hike with other cadets from F Company—Ayres, Tyson, Ako-Adoo, and them.

There are rocks, trees, vines.

He was there. Right there. Five minutes from Upper Hillside Street, where he lived. Broken up and dead, his body rotting. His brother Raymond seemed to know. We stood at the end of Ambard Street the other night—me smoking, he looking further up the hill to Romaine Street, where Robert was last seen alive.

“Ah feel dey kill him, yuh know.”
“Nah, boy. Doh say dat, nah, Raymond?”
“Yeah, boy. Ah feel they lick him up.”

You know how these things go, he seemed to say, remarking on his brother’s reputation as a dancing queen in the same breath as how good a person he is—was. His brother who people will tell you everyone loved.

I offered him a DuMaurier and noted the apparent ease with which he mentioned the facts of Robert’s disappearance to me: a phone call, a hurried exit, a far too long absence, then questions, searches and failures to search. He looked up.

“But sometimes,” he said, “ah does have to just come and watch, nah. Is a spirit thing.”
“Yeah, boy. Fuh dat.”

The apparent ease, betrayed by subsequent confessions of being torn apart for a brother who was a dancing queen. I found out the same way, between compliments of the season and the requisite puncheon. There was no wringing of hands or beating of a chest. He’d been crying earlier, though. And drinking. Grief is a hell of a thing, isn’t it? Grief in the offing.

This is a season of loss. Grief is its precipitation. We—all of us, everywhere—are soaked in it. It’s  not a question, we know, of whether grief will touch you, but rather of when and where and in what particular form. It’s a matter of scale, of depth and reach.

We, who run through the yard are accustomed to it. Just last week, I watched my aunt be cremated a stone’s throw from where she had lived as a child. She taught me things: how to care for the old and the sick and the dying. Care, she knew, was the manifestation of a certain kind of patience. And how to swallow when there is the impulse to bawl.

We learn to ride the wave. But our hearts still beat in the tide.

Call me an optimist (which I’m not), but I don’t yet think we’re as numbed and desensitized as those so deep in their well-earned cynicism might have us believe. I think we feel the loss. Still. We feel the hurt—either as a piercing or a deep, abiding nausea that circles the navel, forcing the eyes closed and the breath to grow long, just so you can swallow. We feel the grief.

We, my people, exist in a place between praise and lamentation. This is part of the reason we grieve in much the same way we celebrate, not because we lack imagination, nor fail to recognize one or the other. Not because they’re killing us—women, men, children—with the impunity one would expect from gasping empires and their foolish little upstart nations, nor even because we understand that the one is linked to the other, but because we are in a state of perpetual expectation and acceptance. This is why news of a transgender man’s murder would raise hardly an eyebrow among those who know him and his family—know, not knew, not so soon, so quick.

They will tell you that he cleaned people’s yards.
They will tell you that he sang (perhaps as well as he danced).
They will tell you that his manner was kind, but not to be trifled with.
They will tell you that he abhorred bullies and would dismantle you with his words if you tangled with him.
They will tell you that just before he disappeared, he danced in the yard.
They will tell you that everyone loved him. Everyone.
They will tell you that it didn’t matter who he slept with.

But it did.

Rumor has it that it was a former lover who consummated a threat made when he was still in prison. Promises to keep for those who think persons can be owned, that their bodies ought to be plundered, then colonized. It will come out soon enough (that much has been decreed).

For the moment, though, let us pretend that Robert’s life (as most will come to know it) didn’t begin where it ended, and that his disappearance is more than a cruel example of the way homophobia, transphobia, domestic violence, rape, torture, and murder are ignored in this place—this place, with its bloody absurdities and hypocrisies that snap at each other like mancrabs. Lest we betray the fact that, as a society, we are obliged to mistake tolerance for acceptance, let us pretend that his disappearance is not the preferred fate of “a macumé man.” Erasure. Let us, just for a few minutes, pretend that nothing can be done when a lifeless body is painstakingly picked from the branches, a full eight hours after being found, and that the stench that causes the corbeaux to circle is not his alone but the putrefaction of an entire society in the latter stages of decay.

Putrefaction. Complement to the season.

But take heart. The stink will pass, as all decay will inevitably end. Desiccation will follow (and, lucky us, we have the perfect amount of sun for it).

We simply have to do nothing.

Stay quiet, hold strain, relax. Vote. Don’t vote. Drink. Dance. Grieve in style. Trinidad nice and Carnival coming.

Somewhere, someone is designing a costume.

Oh, my people. What a thing to have to be strong only because you are weak, taking more and more (and more). What a thing to have to back away from that, from yourselves, just long enough so you can see what you must in the suffering of others. In their death.

Denial aside, it is the case that when you have cause or occasion to ask yourself (or anyone else who loves you) how much your heart can take, there comes an answer: More.

Always, sadly, more.

In matters of grief, there is a tendency to make what you feel be about you—indeed, because you feel it. It is, I think, a natural expression, an articulation of an instinctive response to protect and preserve oneself. You recognize the closeness of death and other dangers. You may tremble, perhaps because you are coming to terms with the fact that death comes to everyone, or perhaps because you have never known or seen it close enough to touch the dying (the way their bodies take to ambient temperatures, then stiffen, then decompose, until nothing). And even that—the not knowing—brings with it a burden that no ignorant bliss could outweigh.

In the midst of that feeling, though, you must also come to face the fact that your feelings are a privilege—indeed, because you can feel. And in recognizing your feeling as a privilege, endowed to you through nerve and marrow and ligament and sinew and blood and water, you must face the fact that the one for whom you grieve is dead.

The dead feel nothing.

Nothing. Not even sorrow for having taken their leave of us, the still living. The sorrow is, instead, ours to feel. Because we can feel.

Or because we can’t.