it takes two train rides and two buses to get to amherst (pronounced am-urst . . . i think this is to dissuade the use of the sound much like the word, 'hearst,' which mocks the tomb-like feeling warm blooded folk feel inside the white, crisp, snow-covered landscape of new england in december).
riding through amherst center, i marvel at this pleasant space. it is so unlike the raucous boom bap and shimmy i know as the bronx. my nose sniffs the air. there is no clash of odors - no smell of piss and beer, pizza, dog shit, beans and rice, general tsao's and fried chicken. life. what is the smell of snow without bus exhaust and greying slush? what is life's sound without hip hop and reggaeton, without spanglish, patois, and arabic clipping the airwaves, tripping the muffled march of too many feet?
at the student union, i am reminded that this is still america. i order falafel after quizzing the cute, smiling, pink faced student laborer about the necessary tahini sauce. i fill my styro-foam coffee cup with coffee and hazelnut cream and grab an over-sized slice of crumb cake for desert. i sit beneath a plasma screen television set to cnn and the dizzying world of war and conquest. the anchor woman demands answers from an army expert. she, and the world, wants to know if war-torn soldiers are more likely to kill their new born infants after being ordered to murder and witness sanctioned violence over-seas. the army expert straddles some ill-drawn line between yes and no . . . there are less incidences of domestic voiolence among army employees than there are among civilians.
does anyone see the bizarre in that? does anyone notice the inherent contradiction? what is the difference between domestic and international violence? what is the difference between war waged against the innocent life of one's own child and the bombing of thousands of innocents, including babies, newly weds, grandparents, students . . . countless lives. how do we assess the value of one life over another? how do we distinguish between the horror of one violent act and so many others?
my falafel is almost too perfect to eat. but i eat it anyway. and the snow outside is almost too perfect to believe, but it's surrender under my feet and the chill of the wind against my face make it real. i sip the coffee as i walk down the concrete walkways of new england's free intellectual space inside the academy. i theorize a life here, imagining myself transplanted fully from the beautiful mess of the bronx. and i wonder how i can rebel against new england's placid illusion of safety in a world of paradoxical dangers. i wonder if my daughters will fare better or worse inside this pleasantly maintained landscape. do they need the blunt and blaring dissonance of east coast urban life? do i? and really . . . is there a true escape from humanity's bizarre justification for being anyway?
i don't know.
for some reason, my mind keeps circling back to the salem witch trials, tituba, and the journey of one seeress in a foreign land.
this scares me - the violence of being black, female, alone and forced to choose between one tight space and another less tight but rife with its own mockery and potential violent ruptures, its own history of silencing.
i haven't met its here and now yet but i know it is there. the falafel's perfection is the first sign - something will be amiss here. and i will rebel by writing through it, if i choose this particular version of worldy truth. . .