Tuesday, November 30, 2021

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 Tamara J. Madison

 
 
 
 
 
   

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BARREN
Poetic fiction 
by 
 
Tamara J. Madison
  
 
dedicated to the circa 400 victims of the syphilis experiment,
women who contributed to gynecological research,
and to all our Mothers…
 
 
Thus named to reflect the history of the land, Indigo County was really no more than a town but the pompous residents in command insisted on the privileges and prestige of a county. The town's name murmured of its centuries of growth from the great indigo plantations tilled and toiled by the funk of free labor. With the Emancipation and Lee's Surrender long since passed, East Indigo's prominent citizens remained rich off the wealth from former slave hands and bustled about their business in rainbow hues of blue starched and pressed to arrogant perfection. Colored folks from West Indigo, however, existed on snatches of laughter and joy barely breathing through their dull, tattered, color limp rags, many still with stained hands as constant reminders of the degradation that had festered their humanity. 
 
West Indigoers were not to be seen in East Indigo before the sun raised its head or as it closed its eyes. Many a black body had drug from wagons, waved in the wind from whimpering trees or raced as supper from hungry hounds if caught in East Indigo at the wrong time, in the wrong place, by the wrong persons. With the so-called outlaw of slavery, East Indigoers carefully established colored quarters, boundaries and regulations and meticulously enforced them. All heaven, help a black stranger stumbling into town unaware. 
 
Rumor ran that the reason indigo and other crops grew so well in this place was because of all the "nigra" blood and flesh that had fertilized the soil. Prosperous farmers joked and teased that "'nigra' blood could make dung and ashes sprout fruit and flowers in the desert." None of them seemed to mind at all as long as a few "nigra's" remained to till and plant and feed the gluttonous prosperity of East Indigo.
 
Well times had long since changed in many ways and the Mayor of East Indigo bustled about with that change. With his inheritance as a play field, he grew to be a big man with big plans, needing big, big plots of land to develop those plans with commerce as the key to continued financial success. North, east and south of East Indigo lay white settlements and already developing projects. The only place to move was across the tracks. The Mayor and his Klan council had exhausted their tactics to scare West Indigo away. Apparently the coloreds had adapted to burning crosses and threats and paid them no more mind than dust under bushes. Though the Mayor and his Council had plenty of gruesome ideas left, some of the coloreds would still be needed to clean their toilets and provide amusement, thus care must be taken not to rid the town of all of them. With the swelling of his dreams, the Mayor grew restless and desperate to scoot them away from those tracks. The railroad would be vital for business. Foreseeing no other alternative, many of the coloreds just had to be rid of.
 
After many months of the Mayor's unsuccessful efforts, the perfect opportunity rode into town in government cars. City slick officials donning dark suits, stepping quickly in shiny shoes, flashing badges and clutching secret papers, spoke big words with vapid breath and no melody in their mouths. Only their lips moved when speaking; the rest of their faces, framed with dark plastic shields concealing their eyes, remained frozen and numb like their spines and spirits.
 
Indigo, "a highly recommended, domestic candidate", had been invited to participate in a "medical experiment" due to lack of funding to carry the mission overseas. With a greedy go ahead from the Mayor, a "free clinic" with a "doctor" and a "nurse" along with all the "necessary equipment and paraphernalia" were positioned at the railroad tracks, of course, in West Indigo. After thanking the Mayor for contributing to this "research in modern medicine," the men road away as swiftly and surreptitiously as they had come, tediously wiping away every speck of their presence. Pockets plumped and restlessness subdued, the Mayor sat fat and waited.
 
Mysteriously only a couple of weeks stood between the day of the "clinic" installation and the day of the rumbling steel birds that flew over West Indigo. No one solicited the services of the free "clinic" for those standing weeks between. The white building housing the white "doctor" and white "nurse" clad in bleach white uniforms with their shiny, sharp surgery instruments did not at all appeal to West Indigoers. Luttie Belle May Hawk Richardson III healed their ailments and had since anyone could remember. Luttie Belle May was an old knot looking woman even when she stood straight and tall. She had been a pretty yaller gal once with the kind of long, wavy, raven hair that made men drool. Now adorned with eagle feathers and shells, her hair still hung long but had not been combed folks estimated since before the war, and it looked as though some kind of creature just might live in that nest of nappiness somewhere. Luttie Belle May hardly spoke or visited folks. She tended her garden of collard greens and roots and formulated her potions to be ready for the many troubled souls that knocked upon her door. Some say she looked like such a knot because she laid hands on folks and absorbed their pain, bore it upon herself, carried it for them. Luttie Belle May was the most respected, most feared soul in town, east or west. Council meetings, town gatherings, holidays, births, the joining of lives, and deaths in West Indigo held Luttie Belle May at the helm of all their affairs. She rarely uttered a word, but when she did ears fell upon their knees and humbled themselves to listen. Luttie Belle May's house and garden stood as sentinel right near the railroad tracks, directly behind the new clinic.
 
The rumbling steel birds dove and soared above West Indigo in great display. A sticky, wet, foul smelling substance sprayed from their bellies settling onto rooftops, smothering gardens, muffling whispering flowerbeds and drowning gurgling wells. Luttie Belle May knew of their coming and began hastily making preparations while the Mayor stood safely on his porch watching with a grimy grin, fondling coins in his pockets.
 
Within a few days, every man, woman and child had fallen suspiciously ill and desperately searched for some type of treatment. When Luttie Belle May's prescriptions failed them, West Indigoers (against her caution) flocked to "the clinic" for their deliverance. After all times had changed and Luttie Belle May was getting old; maybe she just wasn't mixing properly these days. Men, elders and children were restricted to visiting the clinic only on Mondays and Wednesdays. Women ages 15-50 were seen throughout the rest of the week except Sunday. The men recovered from the dry coughing, burning rash, bubbling blisters and bleeding noses rather quickly with a few injections and a dose or two of medicine. The women's wounds, however, did not heal so easily...
 
Fearful and confused by the fits from their own bodies, the women piled into the clinic where they were herded into corners, draped behind an uncaring curtain, and thrust rapidly out the door. The waiting room convulsed from their nauseating presence. Some of the women held hands; others dabbed stinging tears and profusely bleeding noses. All sat with knees glued together praying that the river rushing from their erupting wombs would suddenly, miraculously halt. Sharp pains ricocheted from the tips of their breasts to the lips of their enlarged labia leaving their swollen insides wounded and exhausted from battle.   Mothers, daughters, grandmothers, sisters, and aunts skillfully avoided the horror and helplessness in one another's eyes. Violated they questioned themselves searching for answers and reasons for the life dripping tortuously from their bodies. Like they had closed themselves customarily during their moons, they now shamefully hid themselves from their fathers, husbands and sons carrying alone the burden of the heinous, gnawing curse.
 
"Next" is simply how and what the women were called. To the "doctor" and "nurse" at the clinic, they remained nameless, faceless and oblivious to anything human or even life like. When summoned each womanly eased herself from the bench and dragged herself helplessly behind the blood stained curtain.
 
"Strip from the waist down. Lie quietly. Feet in the stirrups."  These next cruel and harsh commands did not contain the slightest hint of compassion or skill in beside manner. Feverishly each woman followed instructions without hesitation relinquishing the hope of any other alternative. 
 
In the beginning the staff had cleaned and sterilized the instruments according to professional procedure. After monotonous hours of the same operation over and over again, the "doctor" replaced the necessity of procedure, sterility, or even cleanliness with the selfish demand of convenience. One by one he recklessly slashed the women from their breastplate to their pubic bone often with stained instruments barely even rinsed. The "doctor" plowed stubbornly through their bodies ripping, tearing, and cutting selfishly to find evidence in support of his “experiments.” A black-eyed, full moon howled as screeching tears crashed against the linoleum. Shocked tubes, ovaries and uteri splattered and shuddered against the cold, clammy porcelain of the sink nearby. Like patching a piece of ragged dungarees, the "doctor" sewed them back together often numbly humming hymns to some motherless, blind god. He had divorced himself from the inhumane cruelty of this "duty", his "work" long before even arriving in Indigo. Some day the world would thank him for his brave research and ingenious discovery in "modern medicine". These "specimens" were merely contributing to the saving of millions of lives in the very near future like his two charming daughters and lovely young wife. 
 
*****
 
After significant analysis and recording, the staff disposed of the remains of their research by dumping them in a covered earthen pit behind the "clinic". From a short distance, Luttie Belle May observed and shuddered hearing the earth moan and feeling it shift in great anguish beneath her feet. For three days and three nights in a smoke filled house, she fasted and prayed, fasted and prayed, fasted and prayed for her people. When the "clinic" closed for two weeks on vacation and left no one in its care, Luttie Belle May did her own analysis and diligently put the results of her own "research" to work. She sat loyally at the bedside of every woman who died after lying beneath the white man's knife.   Some of the women did recover, however, and Luttie Belle May nursed them as she had always done in the past. None of the women or their families ever returned to the "clinic".
 
In the dead of winter, Luttie Belle May plowed the rock-frozen, frozen ground and planted. Blood boiling in her veins, she worked arduously neatly establishing rows, cradling the seeds in her hand and blessing each one before softly burying them in the earth. Daily she tended them, watered and weeded them singing all the very while. Folks in West Indigo passed by smiling; this must truly be a good sign baring the news of desperately needed good times. Luttie Belle May never ever sang before.
 
From powerful prayers, tender tending and the breath from the Creator's own lips, the seeds took root and unfurled beneath the ground. Swaddled in lush collard green leaves, the seeds all grew anxiously to full term. This time the earth shifted in the pain of labor and joy of birth as warm rains showered happily all over West Indigo. Neighbors in East Indigo stood in their yards staring in disbelief at the bright clouds bursting rainbow-tinted diamonds over that disgusting, little shantytown. For months the fields and landscapes of East Indigo had suffered drought and still no rain came to their side of the tracks. "Must not be enough 'nigra' blood," thought many while gazing upon their barren fields, shaking their heads not knowing how very wrong they were.
 
Nine and a third months had passed, Luttie Belle May sent word that the women folk must gather in her garden for a special "healing ceremony" at midnight of the first new moon. Each woman must bring blankets and dress with protection from the pending heavy rains. The women began assembling at half past eleven; curious and puzzled, all were in place by a quarter 'til the hour chattering and whispering, speculating as to why Luttie Belle May had requested them. She was still up to something. Many wondered if she had grasp of her right mind, singing and carrying on like she had been lately.
 
On the sixth stroke of midnight, the skies again sprinkled sweet rain and Luttie Belle May appeared on the front porch hobbling on her one good leg out to the yard where the women waited with swollen breasts and all sorts of questions spilling from the tips of their tongues. Luttie Belle May said nothing but fell on her knees and prayed a howling, melodic prayer in a strange tongue. The louder she prayed the harder the rain fell as the clouds rode the waves of a warm, wet wind thudding drops lubricated the earth. The women's eyes stretched in amazement as the earth contracted beneath their feet causing most to drop to their knees. Still praying, Luttie Belle May greeted each woman by drizzling drops of oil in her palm and instructing her to massage the strangely clumped collards greens at her feet. Curiously the women all squatted and gently stroked the leaves with oil and rainwater. One by one the leaves shifted to the music of the earth's moan. Gradually, instinctively without ever lifting her eyes, each woman carefully pealed the leaves one after the other in growing anticipation. In the center of each clump lay a plump bundle (sometimes two) of love with clear, shining, wide eyes and thick, dark, curly hair, toothless squeals and fat feet kicking and flapping collard green leaves. Their complexions represented the rainbow shades of the earth herself. Ecstatic with tear soaked laughter and breasts overflowing, the mothers bundled their babies and pressed them close to the emptiness they had carried shamefully for so long. Each woman arose and kissed Luttie Belle May Hawk Richardson III as she blessed the child in her arms.

 

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