My Bricks Be Foul


It smelled like that potbellied rat, sprawled on its bloodied side for at least a month and ground partway into the alley floor by a steady succession of Rivieras and 225s. It stank like the sweaty, fuzzed pocket between all of everyone’s toes. It smelled like the gusts of musty air between Elder William’s old sharkskin slacks and his mottled, dusty Baptist behind. Its wide-aloud reek was the same reek Emma served up back behind the Woolworth’s, where she’d mangle herself against any boy or man with chicken wing change and a storied tongue. It smelled like the coated underside of that storied tongue. It smelled rain shower mud and sour. It flowered a stench like Johnny after needle, needle. The very first whiff of it was bound to remind you of all that sweet they said the north was after you came all that Greyhound way and didn’t find sweet. It smelled like nowhere anything was. It was nasty like Madison Street crammed beneath July, before the riots, church/tavern, church/tavern, and colored folks whispering ‘‘Motherland?’’ into the exact wrong door. It smelled like a hard ‘‘h’’ blasting from a sad, drawn-out dis how it usta be. It was the smell of afterbirth under a bad sign. It was bad. It stank like every forgotten crevice. It was the unwanted animal, the bleakest bastard hemmed in by a flurry of flies. It smelled like the roundabout struggle of that mouse trapped under the stove, like that mouse dead, begone and dust. It smelled like wrong turns and missed chances. The smell roared like that bone lodged bluesways in the belly. It smelled horrid, all splashed scarlet. It smelled like all the reasons in the world to go back to the day before the smell warped the air it was in.

It bellowed a stank, but I wanted it in my mouth. I wanted the funked slither, the one or two unplucked hairs of it, I wanted what it may have whimpered about nooses and first, fumbling sex. I wanted to taste that monstrous stink that punished so long it became reward. I willingly swallowed what hated me, and my belly lunged. So many slanted ways to nourish. So many kissings from the pig toward me, its body slashed and splayed, all its slippery gloaming served up as offering. And that little pink shard, scoured, bleached, meticulously de-shitted, and my mouth waiting for my whispered history, for that spectacular nasty.

All hail to the army in my mama’s living room, a regiment of brown women, sleeves rolled up, buzzing with task. The pre-boil. The boil. The scouring. The chlorine. Peel back the membrane. There had to be two sinks. The meticulous de-shitting. The small intestine, a little hell’s highway for whatever the pig sheds. Those women were the bridge from the venom to my mouth. It took industry. It took four cycles of cool water.

I say that to say this: I have received. I have been wholly nourished. I was baby girl on the floor next to the fridge. On the inside bottom, a jar of pigs’ feet sloshing in lime-tinged liquid. I opened the jar, gnawed on the fatty knob, sucked greedily on the digits. With my teeth, I scraped stony dots of neon candy from white strips of paper. I slurped spice from the gaunt necks of chickens. Salt pork was my crutch. I stuffed peppermint sticks straight down the maw of plump sour pickles and crunched the meld of wild vinegar and sugar. I flourished on cheese conjured from the smushed heads of hogs. My engine runs long on skinned-over lard and salt. Did I tell you that I am a colored chile? That I am a colored girl chile? That my whole body, hard and blue-hipped and gasping earth, is built of what should kill me?