Danny Rivera The Ballad Of The Pantera Negra

It has come to this, hija, she remembered. It has come down to this, she once heard her great-grandmother say, to the shame that consumes the lives of my children, my neighbors, this sickly body, but she could find no possible way to respond, to react in kind; there was no triggering of electrical pulses with which to set shoulders or fists in motion. There were no words to complement the range of calamities so eloquently detailed in the beaten, discolored diary once kept by the women in her family and passed down to succeeding generations, and whose origins lie in the manifests of slave ships bound for Barbadian ports from Bristol and Liverpool, from Lisboa to the scrum rising in Recife, from Catalonia to Cartagena’s burned shoreline. So burned by the light of the golden cross were those sands, its peculiar strain later recorded onto leaves as the heat of locust swarms elevating in the fields. This was a heat so punishing, a heat so grave and resolute, that no man could ever fail to repeat the warning: the infernal wave covered them, ate them, took them away, out of the fear that sons & daughters would suffer the same indignity that had proven itself a stain on the Veracruz family—living within their cells, grafting onto layers of blood as history, their chained dogs reduced to shocks of marrow and gunpowder.

The dread-current stalked the pilgrim’s length of migration, as though a pantera negra reflected in streams, those caravans moving in a silence so profound that even children were unable to interpret the diamond-pressure in their fingertips or photograph the swollen casks of their bellies, veined growths borne not of hunger, but of a much quieter desperation; in this she found no manner of speaking, and she tired of the thought of needing to speak, of needing to provide ausilio to her great-grandmother, a woman with enough relics in her chest to overwhelm cities and statues of soapstone overlooking harbors, but lacking the pleas to confirm the full extent of human frailty, the letters of each phrase loosening from each other as though a net, engorged with the day’s benediction, cut loose from its owner by the tide and lost to the unrepentant sea. Absent now are the flags to describe the shame that has kept her people from marking their names on dirt roads with oiled hair and their afterbirths, absent are the words in memory’s language to denote the disintegration, softer, of the present; perpetually absent is the shiv with which to carve jamás onto her own tongue.

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