Recipe for Dream Deferred Jambalaya after Langston Hughes / Swimming Lessons
Recipe for Dream Deferred Jambalaya
after Langston Hughes
Twelve and a half (12.5) million raisins, each wrinkle a welt
whipped to the surface by the sun’s rawest rays. Three (3)
pounds of prime rib excised from five (5) pounds of decayed,
death-dealing flesh—be advised: it is best to pick away
at the rot methodically, like a vulture scavenging for supper,
or a nail scraping scab-encrusted skin in search of ruby-hued
wounds, or a man scrounging through a soul’s wreckage
for the last unflagging shreds of humanity. One (1) stick
of sugar cane, milled no further from the field than tomorrow
can run from the wraith of its yesterday. Infinite (∞) boatloads
of rice, cured three (3) weeks in biting brine. Stir thirteen (13)
minutes, or until it coagulates, umber like spilt blood, heavy
enough to warp an iron spoon beneath its weighty load.
Serve warm. Eat until, like a greedy leech, you explode.
You turn the creaky faucet, cautious
feet planted as through they grew
from cracks in the white porcelain
tub. You sit, bathed in steam, scrubbing
your skin of any traces of outside.
Beads of sweat drip from the edges
of a black mass fenced in by taut
rubber, tucked away beneath a plastic
cap. You wish you could slip under,
wet your hair. You wonder what
the world looks like through eyes
blurred by water. But your mother
taught you to bathe, not to swim.
You feel yourself start to sink.
The whites of your eyes skim
the surface, pink with chemical
sting. You ponder the strange pain
of being able to see, yet unable
to breathe. A rare agony known
by those who plunge into the open
arms of an aqua pool, or slipped
into the cool relief of a bath
they didn’t know was their last
for the foreseeable future. Men
who climbed out of water never
to feel clean again. You wrench
yourself from the clutches of the sea-
green behemoth and perch a safe
distance away, avoiding the gaze
of the guard looking down on you
from his white throne in the sky.
The irony drips from your wild hair
to your glistening skin. Chlorine
makes lava of invisible tears. You
bring the towel to your face, cursing
the day your mother thought it wise
that you try to learn how to swim.
You cross your heart, but don’t hope
to die as you utter the Savior’s name
and kneel head-first into suffocation—
a temporary suffering necessary for
the salvation of a mortal soul, naïve
and knowing nothing of earthly hell.
Forcing air from your nose to avoid the sting
of resurfacing, you silently thank the Lord
that your mother made you learn how to swim.
The waves call to you as sirens hail
unsuspecting prey. White- foamed caps
bely a danger that lurks just beyond
the depth at which your breast grazes
the briny surface. Mollusks, bottom-
feeders burrow into the shale—a ragged
assortment of fragmented shells, stones,
broken glass, dust of ancestors’ bones.
Where others see an endless playground,
you see only a mass grave. Your friends
dive deep into the surf, floating like fish
unencumbered by the memory of their brothers
dangling on hooks before their damp eyes.
Like strange fruit dangles from vines, like men
from trees. But you just wade, even though
your mother made you learn how to swim.
It’s just a bath, a pool, a basin,
an ocean. But your DNA
reminds you of a time when
a person would enter the water
and only a body would emerge.
Black and blue have never
mixed well against a white
background, much less on
a wet canvas. And when you
are hit with this reality,
there is nothing you can do
except dig your heels into
the weighty sand as though
your mother never taught you
how to swim.
Ariana Benson is a poet-storyteller from Chesapeake, VA. She holds a BA in psychology from Spelman College and is currently completing an MA in poetic practice at Royal Holloway, University of London as a 2019 Marshall Scholar. She received the 2019 Academy of American Poets Edith A. Hambie Prize, and has work published in Aunt Chloe and Auburn Avenue literary journals. Ariana thinks of herself as using language to fashion a collage of stories that represents Blackness in its infinite richness and depth.