Momma/Dinah Quotes in Chains
On the hearth stood the jar of flower seeds that Momma had collected, seeds she never had a chance to put into the ground. I didn’t know what they’d grow into. I didn’t know if they’d grow at all. It was fanciful notion, but I uncorked the jar, snatched a handful, and buried it deep in my pocket just as the privy door creaked open.
Momma said that ghosts couldn’t move over water. That’s why kidnapped Africans got trapped in the Americas. When Poppa was stolen from Guinea, he said the ancestors howled and raged and sent a thunderstorm to turn the ship back around, but it was too late. The ghosts couldn’t cross the water to help him so he had to make his own way in a strange place, sometimes with an iron collar around his neck. All of Momma’s people had been stolen too and taken to Jamaica where she was born. Then she got sold to Rhode Island, and the ghosts of her parents couldn’t follow and protect her neither.
They kept moving us over the water, stealing us away from our ghosts and our ancestors, who cried salty rivers into the sand. That’s where Momma was now, wailing at the water’s edge, while her girls were pulled out of sight under white sails that cracked in the wind.
The fire in my face burned on and on, deep through my flesh, searing my soul. Stars exploded out the top of my head and all of my words and all of my rememberies followed them up to the sun, burning to ash that floated back and settled in the mud.
A few people at the edge of the crowd had fallen silent. They walked away with their heads down.
My momma and poppa appeared from the shadows. They flew to me and wrapped their arms around me and cooled my face with their ghost tears.
Night crept into my soul.
Everybody carried a little evil in them, Momma once told me. Madam Lockton had more than her share. The poison had eaten holes through her soul and made room for vermin to nest inside her.
The evil inside of me woke and crackled like lightning. I could wrap my hands around her throat. I could brain her with a poker, thrust her face into the flames. I could beat her senseless with my fists.
I shook from the effort of holding myself still, clutching the crumpled paper. Momma said we had to fight the evil inside us by overcoming it with goodness. She said it was a hard thing to do, but it made us worthy.
I breathed deep to steady myself.
I threw the Captain’s note into the fire.
I was not a Lockton. Nor a Finch. Isabel Rhode Island? That would not do. Isabel Cuffe, after Poppa, or Isabel Dinah, after Momma?
I closed my eyes and thought of home; the smell of fresh-cut hay and the taste of raspberries. Robins chasing bugs in the bean patch. Setting worms to work at the base of the corn plants. Showing Ruth what was weed and what was flower…
I opened my eyes, dipped the quill, and wrote out my true name: Isabel Gardener, being a Free Negro […]