Holding Hands Under the Hanging Tree
Savannah Guthrie: I was thinking, this country did elect an African-American president twice. Do you think it’s harder for Americans to elect a woman than it is an African-American man?
Hillary Clinton: I think there’s a lot of evidence—a lot of research—supporting[…] the idea that race is a much more motivating factor for voters than gender is.
-The TODAY Show, Sept. 13, 2017
You say you’re planning a march rally sit-in teach-in demonstration boycott petition protest phonebank rally (Will you? Be there.) thing. I ask if you’re also planning to take a look down at the Black corpse you stepped over crossing the street.
“Down with the patriarchy!” is all you can say, not noticing how you walked into the room and I was lacerated. When you took a seat at the desk beside me, your not nearly out of reach-ness haunting me, my stomach unsettled itself and moved me to a quivering point. I have half a mind to cut off my hands and fold my gold earrings up in them for you. Maybe that will be enough tribute for today.
You recognize not me but “Sister” you say at my body, labeling my mass with the weight of “Sister.” We are after all triangular. And my body completed with the assertive cleaving of a vagina must be Sister to your body with its vagina you say. You expect me to understand our native allegiance like a sinner understands that their calling is penance. But I don’t know what you want from me if churches are still segregated and the confession box is on your side of the chapel.
Inhale Exhale How dare I accuse you of being racist!
People rally more around race than gender, you know!
You hyperventilate white tears of fire. I sit still and burn. I know Mamie Till would have liked some rallying before her baby was bullet hole adorned and deposited in the Tallahatchie. But behind every Carolyn Bryant is an “X” on the ground in magenta Scotch tape marking where we Mamie Tills were told to stay———and wait———clutching at our Black sons, wondering when our daughters won’t come home. Stage left.
Stage left is where we huddle. Kneaded into the weighted folds of the curtain.
Out of sight of the lights.
White women call themselves the granddaughters of the witches men couldn’t burn. But we, we are the granddaughters of the granddaughters who watched their grandmothers hang at the white witches’ orders, then went back to the fields with the stench of rotting flesh still soaking the unpicked cotton, still lacing the unsmoked tobacco, still embittering the unchewed sugar cane, still hugging shivering shoulders the way grandmothers always do. We are the granddaughters of the granddaughters whose witchcraft was used to strengthen their arms to pick the strange fruit and free the nooses for their mothers and their sisters and their daughters and their daughters and our daughters.
For our leaders who are now saints and angels. Trees are falling in the forest and we hear them break ranks to lay down. Strong bark backs give out, aching arms reach heavenward. Trees are falling in the forest. Battered-boned toes brush the sun’s rays as our defenders fall amongst us, grazing our ankles. We, their progeny, feel the soil violently ripped asunder, scattered particles flung forth like hallelujah sighs. Trees are falling in the forest upturning the world. Our warriors lay down for deserved rest.
By Aurora Lynelle Celestin
Aurora Lynelle Celestin is a New York-based poet, fiction writer, and playwright. She holds a B.A. in religion and creative writing from Columbia University and an MFA in creative writing for fiction from The New School. She writes with a womanist lens, and her pieces frequently center on themes of progressive Christian theological reimaginings, trauma and mental health, and marginalized female voices. Aurora is an incoming M.Div candidate at Union Theological Seminary.
“Holding Hands Under the Hanging Tree” was originally published in 2020 in Faith In Full Color Volume I: Interfaith Perspectives On Race & Justice.