Sing, Unburied, Sing

by

Jesmyn Ward

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Kayla (Michaela) Character Analysis

Kayla is Jojo’s three-year-old sister. Leonie named her Michaela after Michael, but Leonie remains the only member of the family who calls her daughter by her full name. Kayla was born after Michael was sent to Parchman, and thus the moment when the family goes to pick Michael up is the first time the father and daughter ever meet. In many ways, Kayla is a normal toddler, with a sweet, bubbly personality. She adores Jojo and seems to consider him more her parent than her real parents or grandparents. At the end of the novel, it is revealed that Kayla has inherited the gift of being able to communicate with the dead.

Kayla (Michaela) Quotes in Sing, Unburied, Sing

The Sing, Unburied, Sing quotes below are all either spoken by Kayla (Michaela) or refer to Kayla (Michaela). For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Family, Heritage, and Homecoming Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Scribner edition of Sing, Unburied, Sing published in 2017.
Chapter 1: Jojo Quotes

It's the smell of death, the rot coming from something just alive, something hot with blood and life. I grimace, wanting to make Kayla's stink face, the face she makes when she's angry or impatient; to everyone else, it looks like she's smelled something nasty: her green eyes squinting, her nose a mushroom, her twelve tiny toddler teeth showing through her open mouth. I want to make that face because something about scrunching up my nose and squeezing the smell away might lessen it, might cut off that stink of death. I know it's the stomach and intestines, but all I can see is Kayla's stink face and the soft eye of the goat and then I can't hold myself still and watch no more, then I'm out the door of the shed and I'm throwing up in the grass outside.

Related Characters: Jojo (speaker), Kayla (Michaela)
Page Number: 6
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 5: Jojo Quotes

I lay there until I can't no more, and then I carry Kayla into the bathroom and stick my finger down her throat and make her throw up. She fights me, hitting at my arms, crying against my hand, sobbing but not making no words, but I do it three times, make her vomit over my hand, hot as her little body, three times, all of it red and smelling sweet, until I'm crying and she's shrieking. I turn off the light and go back into the room and wipe her with my shirt and lay in the bed with her, scared that Leonie's going to walk in and find all that red throw-up in the bathroom, find out I made Kayla throw up Leonie's potion. But nobody comes.

Related Characters: Jojo (speaker), Kayla (Michaela), Leonie
Page Number: 118
Explanation and Analysis:

“All the birds go bye,” Kayla says, and then she leans forward and rubs my face with both hands, and for a second I think she's going to tell me something amazing, some secret, something come from God Himself.

Related Characters: Kayla (Michaela) (speaker), Jojo
Page Number: 127
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 7: Leonie Quotes

It feels good to be mean, to speak past the baby I can't hit and let that anger touch another. The one I'm never good enough for. Never Mama for. Just Leonie, a name wrapped around the same disappointed syllables I've heard from Mama, from Pop, even from Given, my whole fucking life.

Related Characters: Leonie (speaker), Jojo , Pop (River), Mam, Kayla (Michaela)
Page Number: 147
Explanation and Analysis:

This is a miracle, I think, so I close my eyes and ignore Given-not-Given, who is sitting there with a sad look on his face, mouth in a soft frown, and think of Michael, real Michael, and wonder if we had another baby, if it would look more like him than Michaela. If we had another baby, we could get it right.

Related Characters: Leonie (speaker), Kayla (Michaela), Michael, Given
Page Number: 150
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 9: Richie Quotes

I know Jojo is innocent because I can read it in the unmarked swell of him: his smooth face, ripe with baby fat; his round, full stomach; his hands and feet soft as his younger sister's. He looks even younger when he falls asleep. His baby sister has flung herself across him, and both of them slumber like young feral cats: open mouths, splayed arms and legs, exposed throats. When I was thirteen, I knew much more than him. I knew that metal shackles could grow into the skin. I knew that leather could split flesh like butter. I knew that hunger could hurt, could scoop me hollow as a gourd, and that seeing my siblings starving could hollow out a different part of me, too.

Related Characters: Richie (speaker), Jojo , Kayla (Michaela)
Page Number: 185
Explanation and Analysis:

I didn't understand time, either, when I was young. How could I know that after I died, Parchman would pull me from the sky? How could I imagine Parchman would pull me to it and refuse to let go? And how could I conceive that Parchman was past, present, and future all at once? That the history and sentiment that carved the place out of the wilderness would show me that time is a vast ocean, and that everything is happening at once?

Related Characters: Richie (speaker), Jojo , Kayla (Michaela)
Page Number: 186
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 10: Leonie Quotes

We are all sinking, and there are manta rays gliding beneath us and sharks jostling us. I am trying to keep everyone above water, even as I struggle to stay afloat. I sink below the waves and push Jojo upward so he can stay above the waves and breathe, but then Michaela sinks and I push her up, and Michael sinks so I shove him to the air as I sink and struggle, but they won't stay up: they want to sink like stones. I thrust them up toward the surface, to the fractured sky so they can live, but they keep slipping from my hands. It is so real that I can feel their sodden clothes against my palms. I am failing them. We are all drowning.

Related Characters: Leonie (speaker), Jojo , Kayla (Michaela), Michael
Page Number: 195
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Sing, Unburied, Sing LitChart as a printable PDF.
Sing, Unburied, Sing PDF

Kayla (Michaela) Character Timeline in Sing, Unburied, Sing

The timeline below shows where the character Kayla (Michaela) appears in Sing, Unburied, Sing. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1: Jojo
Family, Heritage, and Homecoming Theme Icon
Animals and Nature Theme Icon
Illness, Wounds, and Death Theme Icon
Race, Racism, and Miscegenation Theme Icon
...has asked him to help him kill a goat. As Jojo’s narrative begins, his sister Kayla is still asleep, as is Jojo’s grandmother, Mam, who is undergoing chemotherapy for cancer. Jojo... (full context)
Family, Heritage, and Homecoming Theme Icon
Animals and Nature Theme Icon
Illness, Wounds, and Death Theme Icon
Feeding, Healing, and Care Theme Icon
After Jojo vomits, Pop tells him that he heard Kayla crying, so Jojo goes back inside, but he finds that Kayla is still asleep. Jojo... (full context)
Family, Heritage, and Homecoming Theme Icon
Animals and Nature Theme Icon
Illness, Wounds, and Death Theme Icon
Feeding, Healing, and Care Theme Icon
Race, Racism, and Miscegenation Theme Icon
...Parchman. Pop recalls that the youngest person at Parchman then was Richie. At this point Kayla wakes up. Jojo gives her some juice and she asks him to sing to her.... (full context)
Family, Heritage, and Homecoming Theme Icon
Feeding, Healing, and Care Theme Icon
...mother, and notes that Leonie hates the fact that the rest of the family call KaylaKayla,” rather than Michaela, because she named her after Michael. Leonie arrives at the house—she... (full context)
Chapter 2: Leonie
Family, Heritage, and Homecoming Theme Icon
Illness, Wounds, and Death Theme Icon
...line of cocaine. At the time, she was at a party and was pregnant with Kayla. Given tried to speak to her, but she couldn’t hear him. Leonie didn’t tell Mam... (full context)
Chapter 3: Jojo
Family, Heritage, and Homecoming Theme Icon
Animals and Nature Theme Icon
Illness, Wounds, and Death Theme Icon
Feeding, Healing, and Care Theme Icon
The next morning Leonie wakes Jojo and Kayla early and hurries them out the door. Misty is already waiting in the car. Jojo... (full context)
Family, Heritage, and Homecoming Theme Icon
Animals and Nature Theme Icon
Race, Racism, and Miscegenation Theme Icon
...honk, and a white woman (Carlotta) steps outside. Misty gets out and hugs her. Inside, Kayla says “hi” to the little boy, but he looks at her “like she’s his dog.”... (full context)
Chapter 4: Leonie
Family, Heritage, and Homecoming Theme Icon
Illness, Wounds, and Death Theme Icon
Feeding, Healing, and Care Theme Icon
...justice system is nothing but death and brutality. Later on the drive, Leonie realizes that Kayla is sick––she is crying and coughing, and eventually vomits. Jojo unbuckles her and cradles her... (full context)
Family, Heritage, and Homecoming Theme Icon
Animals and Nature Theme Icon
Illness, Wounds, and Death Theme Icon
Feeding, Healing, and Care Theme Icon
...the time Leonie struggled to remember the specifics. Now, Leonie remembers that milkweed could help Kayla, and begins to search for it in the grass by the gas station. When Mam... (full context)
Chapter 5: Jojo
Family, Heritage, and Homecoming Theme Icon
Animals and Nature Theme Icon
Illness, Wounds, and Death Theme Icon
Feeding, Healing, and Care Theme Icon
Jojo can see that Kayla needs to eat something and that she is suffering from intense stomach pain. He doesn’t... (full context)
Family, Heritage, and Homecoming Theme Icon
Animals and Nature Theme Icon
Illness, Wounds, and Death Theme Icon
Feeding, Healing, and Care Theme Icon
...a little strange. The adults listen to music and drink wine while Jojo sits with Kayla asleep on him. The meth Misty picked up from Fred and Carlotta falls out of... (full context)
Family, Heritage, and Homecoming Theme Icon
Animals and Nature Theme Icon
Illness, Wounds, and Death Theme Icon
Feeding, Healing, and Care Theme Icon
...embraces Leonie before anyone else. In the parking lot, Michael and Leonie kiss passionately while Kayla points out birds to Jojo. However, Jojo can’t see any. Jojo recalls Pop telling him... (full context)
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Animals and Nature Theme Icon
Illness, Wounds, and Death Theme Icon
Feeding, Healing, and Care Theme Icon
Michael greets the kids, introducing himself to Kayla, and Jojo feels tense. Back in the car, Leonie takes out sandwiches that she must... (full context)
Chapter 6: Richie
Family, Heritage, and Homecoming Theme Icon
Animals and Nature Theme Icon
Illness, Wounds, and Death Theme Icon
...is River’s (Pop’s) child. He can tell from the way that Jojo tries to protect Kayla. Just after Richie died, he woke in a pine forest and found that “walking was... (full context)
Chapter 7: Leonie
Family, Heritage, and Homecoming Theme Icon
Illness, Wounds, and Death Theme Icon
Feeding, Healing, and Care Theme Icon
Jojo won’t let go of Kayla; both children sit in the car covered in vomit. Leonie can tell that something has... (full context)
Illness, Wounds, and Death Theme Icon
Race, Racism, and Miscegenation Theme Icon
When Jojo reaches into his pocket, the officer pulls a gun on him. Kayla wraps herself in front of Jojo to protect him. The officer searches the vehicle, and... (full context)
Chapter 8: Jojo
Family, Heritage, and Homecoming Theme Icon
Animals and Nature Theme Icon
Feeding, Healing, and Care Theme Icon
Race, Racism, and Miscegenation Theme Icon
...in a ball. As the officer shouts at Jojo, all Jojo can think about is Kayla, panicking at the prospect of the officer shooting her accidentally. As soon as the officer... (full context)
Family, Heritage, and Homecoming Theme Icon
Illness, Wounds, and Death Theme Icon
Feeding, Healing, and Care Theme Icon
...a gauge and a Tootsie Pop for himself. When he gets back in the car, Kayla starts shouting “Candy, candy!” and Jojo silently urges her to be quiet. Michael mixes the... (full context)
Chapter 10: Leonie
Family, Heritage, and Homecoming Theme Icon
Animals and Nature Theme Icon
Illness, Wounds, and Death Theme Icon
Feeding, Healing, and Care Theme Icon
...to sleep, and dreams that she is in a sinking raft with Michael, Jojo, and Kayla, trying to keep them afloat. When she awakes again, Michael suggests that they drop the... (full context)
Family, Heritage, and Homecoming Theme Icon
Animals and Nature Theme Icon
Illness, Wounds, and Death Theme Icon
Feeding, Healing, and Care Theme Icon
Race, Racism, and Miscegenation Theme Icon
...still annoyed about all the vomit she’s been exposed to on the journey. Leonie takes Kayla onto her lap and gives her a peppermint. Just at that moment, a wild hog... (full context)
Family, Heritage, and Homecoming Theme Icon
Feeding, Healing, and Care Theme Icon
Race, Racism, and Miscegenation Theme Icon
Reluctantly, Leonie gives Kayla back to Jojo, unable to look at either of them. They drive to Michael’s parents’... (full context)
Family, Heritage, and Homecoming Theme Icon
Animals and Nature Theme Icon
Illness, Wounds, and Death Theme Icon
Feeding, Healing, and Care Theme Icon
...Mam falls asleep and Leonie leaves the room, walking past photographs of Given and past Kayla, who has fallen asleep white eating a cracker. Suddenly, Leonie can feel Mam in the... (full context)
Chapter 11: Jojo
Family, Heritage, and Homecoming Theme Icon
Animals and Nature Theme Icon
Illness, Wounds, and Death Theme Icon
Feeding, Healing, and Care Theme Icon
...it takes a concerted effort for him not to cry. Pop tells Jojo to put Kayla to bed, saying “we’ll talk about it tomorrow.” Once Kayla is asleep, Jojo sees Richie... (full context)
Family, Heritage, and Homecoming Theme Icon
Animals and Nature Theme Icon
Illness, Wounds, and Death Theme Icon
Feeding, Healing, and Care Theme Icon
In the morning, Kayla wakes Jojo up, saying “eat-eat.” Michael is cooking bacon in the kitchen, wearing one of... (full context)
Family, Heritage, and Homecoming Theme Icon
Illness, Wounds, and Death Theme Icon
Feeding, Healing, and Care Theme Icon
...he knows that Pop doesn’t want to tell the story. Eventually, Jojo agrees. He takes Kayla back inside and makes them peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. He brings water to Mam... (full context)
Chapter 12: Richie
Family, Heritage, and Homecoming Theme Icon
Animals and Nature Theme Icon
Illness, Wounds, and Death Theme Icon
Feeding, Healing, and Care Theme Icon
Richie watches River make Jojo and Kayla breakfast, and take them outside to pick berries. Richie begs Jojo to tell him what... (full context)
Chapter 14: Leonie
Family, Heritage, and Homecoming Theme Icon
Illness, Wounds, and Death Theme Icon
Feeding, Healing, and Care Theme Icon
Race, Racism, and Miscegenation Theme Icon
Kayla is crying, and keeps repeating “the black bird, the black boy.” Leonie thinks she must... (full context)
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Illness, Wounds, and Death Theme Icon
Feeding, Healing, and Care Theme Icon
...that she did it because Mam needed her to. Leonie then lunges at Jojo and Kayla, feeling full of rage, and rushes out of the room. (full context)
Chapter 15: Jojo
Family, Heritage, and Homecoming Theme Icon
Illness, Wounds, and Death Theme Icon
Jojo finds Pop, who is holding Kayla. Kayla asks to be put down, and she walks toward the ghosts. Jojo tries to... (full context)