Samuel

The surprise of uncovering so much information about my family at the Freedom Center yesterday totally overshadowed the wonderful news that started my day: I was accepted into the graphic novel workshop at VONA!!  I am thrilled and humbled that Adventures in Racism has gotten me into the workshop and can’t wait to get there and get to work.  There’s so very much I need to learn, and the magic that is VONA is just what I need right now.

Another thing I need right now is the money to get myself out to California and pay for the workshop, food and housing.  So tomorrow I’ll be setting up my first Indiegogo campaign and asking all and sundry to help get me to Berkeley.

It’s hard to stay focused on my excitement over my VONA acceptance, however.  My head is still at the Freedom Center.  It’s interesting to see just how thrown off kilter I am by my family tree discoveries.  As I said yesterday, the discoveries are good.  Of course they are.  No matter what I find, the discoveries will be good.  Still I find myself shaken.

I’m
looking
backward, in,
looking behind
doors, folded pages.
Close.
Looking
for myself,
a new image
a new story. There,
here,
somewhere —
are pieces
that were lost, peace
I still need to find.

There was a moment yesterday, a moment I hadn’t had time to prepare myself for, a moment I should have seen coming.  We were looking at census data from 1870, finding my great-grandfather as a young man, as a 21-year-old, as a man who had been free for 5 years.  Just that thought alone was quite the slap in the head.  Seeing him written at the end of the long-ish list of people with whom he lived, all of them white, most of them from the same family.  Samuel, my great-grandfather, listed as “mulatto,” as “cook.” And having the librarian look at it wonderingly, having her say how interesting that he was cooking for all these people, wondering if I like to cook.  And I get that part of her training is probably to help people find a connection with what they’re learning about the past.  I get that.  But when she turned to me and asked if I liked to cook, I wanted to laugh at her and push her away.  Because the fact the I love cooking is really not the point.  It’s 1870 and there’s Samuel living in a house full of people who maybe were his owners five years earlier or maybe were the first people who ever paid him a wage for all the work he did for their family.  It’s 1870 and there is Samuel, a young man who would one day marry a woman named Elizabeth and so on and so on until one day it would be April 10th 2014 and I’d be sitting in an uncomfortable chair in a pretty, wood-paneled room looking at his name written neatly on a scanned census sheet.

I like knowing that his name was Samuel.  I like that his last name came down to my mother, came down to be my brother’s middle name.  That has much more meaning for me than the fact that he worked as a cook.

natpoetrymonth1

__________

An Arun is a 15-line poem with the syllable count 1/2/3/4/5 — 3x.  It may be a new thing in the world, made up by me last year.  “Arun” means “five” in Yoruba.

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4 thoughts on “Samuel

  1. Congratulations on the workshop acceptance! I’m really excited for you. And I’m really excited about the prospect of a graphic novel by you!

    I also find it wonderful that you have discovered some details of your family history that you had not known. It does sound like a powerful and moving experience. (Awkward questions about cooking aside…)

    Like

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