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“This is not a story to pass on.” So concludes the freed black community after its brush with the preternatural, as found in Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel Beloved (1984).

Five years in its composition, the author dives deep for pungent images to express the inexpressible horrors of southern slavery and its afterimage during the Reconstruction, these anecdotes honed from her grandparents’ and parents’ experiences. Through Morrison’s artistry, her characters, no longer silenced, speak.

The setting for this novel is 124 Bluestone Road, on the outskirts of Cincinnati, Ohio. Within this two-story hovel live the protagonist Sethe, her eighteen-year-old Denver, and Beloved, the poltergeist of Sethe’s second daughter. The time is 1873. The narrative follows a circuitous route, with frequent insertions of backstory: Sweet Home, a small plantation in Kentucky where Sethe and five slaves tend the needs of the Garnets, a childless couple; Sethe’s “marriage” to Halle and their begetting four children; schoolteacher’s torture meted out to all the slaves, some escaping, others killed or rendered witless.

At the center of this circuitous route is lodged Sethe’s unspeakable crime that shimmies, beyond all telling. It takes forever to get there: the journey bristles with tension. Indeed, her poetic language crisps the soles of feet, squinches sensibilities, and fuels outrage.

“Love is or it ain’t. Thin love is not love at all,” Sethe tells Paul D, an aging Sweet Home former slave. From her perspective, her crime takes on a different hue—countering Evil and provoking questions that itch, badly, in the night.

 

 

 

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The ground still shivers from the impact.

It happened during the pre-dawn hours, Friday morning, May 19, 2017. Lashing rains and winds felled the centuries-old oak tree alongside the serpentine driveway leading to the entrance of the Second Baptist Church in St. Louis, Missouri (established in 1831).

The exposed roots give pause: blunt scraggily remnants suggesting disease. More distress is also noted in the large swath of thumbnail-sized shells protruding from within deep grooves of the bark near the seven-foot base. Yet the leafy branches strewn on the ground give no clue to these disorders. Perhaps an arborist could have intervened, years ago.

To those sensitive to such events, the lesson is obvious.

In whom or in what are we rooted lest the storms of life topple us over?

 

 

In the 2012 fantasy film, Beasts of the Southern Wilds, five year-old Hush Puppy’s name suggests a savory deep fried cornbread ball served with catfish, one of the staple foods enjoyed by the misfits poaching on the Bathtub, an island in southern Louisiana. Tromping around in white boots, undershirt, and pants, she seasons the worlds of those in the film, as well as millions of moviegoers.

Fending on her own in her mother’s abandoned shack, Hush Puppy’s imagination empowers her with unusual wisdom. Close to the earth, she plays: listening to heartbeats of all living creatures, attuning herself to their rhythms, and growing in wisdom. She is content, despite living among the trash washed up upon their shores. Everyone does.

Even her alcoholic father, Wink, irascible, unpredictable, cannot resist her simple ways.

However, a hurricane inundates the Bathtub with salt water brought on by the storm surge; it slowly begins to kill all life forms. The survivors, passionate about preserving their community, eke out their existence, Hush Puppy among them. Her intuition empowers her to handle the terminal illness of Wink, to listen to his failing heart, then to push his flaming shrouded remains, placed in his makeshift boat, into the Gulf. Within the company of the survivors, she continues on.

Beasts of the Southern Wilds is a film of transformation. Despite insupportable death challenges, Hush Puppy emerges; her wildness and that of the misfits honed to keener truth. Indeed, fresh grace buoys their next steps, hand in hand.

In my perception, this story resonates with the Passover and Easter mysteries this week, also intended to hone our wildness. May you discover, anew, this sacred nourishment.

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