My Body: Anonymous

Anonymous submission

I remember Harlem, bright as night. I remember the darkness of the Harlem night and the endless quality of it, how the streetlight shown on the street, and the one light that illuminated the archway into our apartment building. Harlem still has this very dark and mystical place in my mind. Home was so violent that it spilled out into the chaos of the street and merged into the Harlem night.


I stopped sleeping in Harlem: between the scurrying of mice that sometimes birthed litters in my pillows and my mother’s endless threats to kill me in my sleep, I would lie awake unmoving and listening to the sounds of the Harlem night: the fights, the shouts, and the random music coming from cars passing by. I remember chalk outlines on our block, and street corners dotted with memorials of flowers and burning candles. By then my father’s schizophrenia had manifested into a wool-knitting patriarch who espoused empathy with Nazism and terrorized my mother. He beat her as he beat us all. We were close--somehow. I would go with him on his cleaning assignments to St. Nick’s projects and play as he swept up leaves. He worked with a man there who had painted a mural in the playground, and then another one on his living room wall: an African American Last Supper. These murals fascinated me and whenever I read Langston Hughes, I think of this man, and how much amidst the violence and chaos of Harlem, there was this one man who talked about art and man’s exodus out of Africa. I was twelve years old then, turning thirteen.

I remember so well the vast stretches of open lots on 125th street and the colorful markets that sometimes populated them; the color of the fabrics in the summer, and how stylish the women were in the winter with their hair done up, nails, and make-up. I remember so well being young and lost in these streets and the random abandoned houses that I loved and adopted. I especially remember the street merchants riding home on the 3-train with their shopping carts, politicking and laughing over the day passed. I remember Harlem as a mixture of joy and sorrow braided into one strand of stainless steel. I learned in Harlem that experience is where strength comes from and to live without self-pity.

Barbara PowellComment