Ach. I’m wrestling with a painful, scary part of my book right now and it’s hard slogging. It involves writing the story of some early violence in my life and feels a lot like Brer Rabbit wrestling with the Tar Baby. Sticky stuff.
So far every time I reach for the memories I feel like one of those old-time Mississippi fisherman going after catfish in the river bank. Back in the day they used to swim down through the murky water to the holes in the mud where the catfish hide, then they’d stick a fist in. If there was a catfish in there, and if it wanted to eat (but catfish allus wanna eat) it’d swallow that fist whole and not let go again till the fisherman pulled it out of its hole and all the way back up to the surface, just a-dangling off the end of his arm like a long, slimy hand.
But sometimes…sometimes…a man would hook one of the old giants and then there’d be hell to pay. Too big to pull out of its hole with a mouth too strong to break free of, the tables would be turned. Oh, that unfortunate fisherman would struggle for a while to be sure, but in the end his thrashing would slow and stop and his body’d just float there in the current, bumping up against the bank from time to time all white and wide-eyed, like it was so surprised it was now the property of Ole’ Man River his self.
These memories of violence are like one of those old catfish giants and I have to be real careful swimming that deep. I know which holes are theirs, down at the very bottom and darker than all the rest, but I also know that if I do this right, if I’m brave and smart and catch ’em to where they have to give me a gift to make me let ’em go, then they’ll make me not be afraid anymore. That’s all I want.
So how do I perform this mythical feat? How do I catch ’em? That’s where the vast power of language comes into play. The events themselves, those sudden and brief eruptions of rage and violation that happened so very many years ago now, are long dead. But they set their stories loose in my life, dark tales feeding and growing down in their holes.
I need to reshape and retell these stories. Need to put them into harness and make them work for me instead of against me.
Namazu and Kashima from Japanese mythology
It was the dying who tried to teach me how to do that and if I can just get through this first part of the book and finally reach their stories…their luminous, beautiful stories…I know it’ll get easier.
copyright Dia Osborn 2011