This Strange Continent
Let’s write of our grandmothers. Mamaw always made biscuits. Her rings hung around her thin fingers like a rattle. With these hands that drove a munitions truck during the war, that beat her children, that hurled trash at Black children at the carnival in Northern Louisiana in the 1930s when they tried to enjoy it. Let’s write of our grandmothers and say nothing but true things. Like how when I think of her I think of these delicate, bony hands and the way they pulled open biscuits and I would watch the steam pour upward into Louisiana air so thick it couldn’t hold another drop. If I fit these things on one page, can I make sense of this strange continent, this chorus of rain birds, this hallway that forever made me feel like I was an invader, these brambles and snags I fear when I reach to touch you?
Listen: There was a chicken that lived without a head. Mike the Headless Chicken. Miracle Mike. One day his owners decided to cut off his head but he somehow survived. It’s normal for chickens to run around a bit after decapitation, but Mike never stopped. His owners took him on the road. He would walk around without a head and peck at the ground as if trying to pick up food. His owners shoved feed down his throat and gave him water with an eye dropper. Charging twenty-five cents a look earned five thousand dollars per month from people who wanted to watch Mike walk around without a head. You know all of these things. Mike is famous. What you don’t know is that the suicide rate in towns Mike visited jumped by an average of seven percent after he left. These people, their quarters spent, they all went home and spent the night wondering why Mike kept trying to pick up food he could not see, could not grab, could not eat. And some of them realized the answer.