Theft (A Short Story by James Haile)

He walked into the building and arrested everyone. He wore what appeared to be a mask covering his nose and mouth; it was not clear if he was there to rob the place, or if there was just another outbreak; or, if it was merely the coincidence of his dark skin pressed against his darkened features that shrouded his broad nose and his dark, plum lips causing them to disappear into his cheeks and his chin. Whatever was the case, whether he wore a mask or not, he was, indeed, there to rob the place.

He had become arrogant, even audacious. But, he wasn’t careless or reckless; it’s just that he just didn’t care about precision; of crafting the perfect plan, not to mention the perfect escape, because he knew, whatever that was going to mean, they could never catch him. Let them come; he would wait for them. He was well aware of the feeling of metal entering into the body hot, and staying there; or, leaving. He knew entrance and exit points in himself and in others—and had been the cause of both. He sat with his back against the wall and waited for them to come, and only stood up when they entered into the building and recognized him with a point and a glare and gave chase to try to capture him. Running, running, running the speed and danger of his flesh.

Quick feet press and break the ground, concrete to asphalt to rubble, to dirt broken open to carry his body into the air to float, crumbling earth, asphalt, concrete, grass, turf, motorcycling legs beneath upended by the supernatural: blackened mask and features became glossy raven, wearing feathery just beneath an extended mandible. The officers and the patrons ran out to catch only a glimpse. A fluttering up into the air, and the cascading fall of small plumage calmly, circularly landing on their shoulders. Haloed by the sun just above their head, the black thing appeared holy, right before it disappeared into the glint and din of the towering, mirrored buildings.

*          *

He had walked into the store to pick up exactly three things. Juice. Coffee. And, boxed cake. The pandemic was now two weeks in, and things were pushing their way off of the shelves. But, he wasn’t there to join to fracas; just to pick up a few luxury items for the virtual brunch later in the day for his wife’s centennial celebration of her alma Mata. A hundred years. Generation upon generation, recently removed from slavery, they had built the school for colored girls—those whose fathers could not be named, but whose mothers had ensured them a future. And, it was simple: walk into the store; down the aisles; select the specific three items and leave, unnoticed. With one simple rule: don’t attract attention.

It couldn’t have been any simpler: they had already ordered their essential wartime munitions—water, toilet paper, paper towels, soap, frozen and canned goods—online. He would be invisible, move through the building undetected, slide his card into the machine, and disappear as anonymously as he had entered. They had mapped out his entrance and his exit, and his escape, if necessary. Park exactly one hundred yards from the left most entrance; get a handheld cart only, never a bascart; wear agreeable colors—turquoise or fuchsia, but never black or brown; no deviation from the three items; and, lastly, walk in straight lines, never zig-zag—the store had been pre-mapped, and his direction clearly laid out: aisle three for the coffee (if he couldn’t find Kenyan whole bean, Ethiopian would serve as a solid second; and, if those failed, and only if those failed, Folgers or whatever he could grab. He wasn’t to stand in one place more than exactly one minute, timed to the buzzing on his digital wristwatch), aisle eight for the boxed cake (whatever he saw at eye-level; he was under no circumstance, no matter how grand the Dutch chocolate or the Windsor Torte looked, to stretch his arms over his head, or to bend at the waist; if he could not reach forward, he was to leave it); and, aisle fifteen for the juice (preferably orange, the pulp to liquid ratio was irrelevant, whatever shelf was least populated would be selected—he could not run the risk of a full shelf; of pulling 64 fluid ounces a-loose, and having the small backfire/snap back sound of plastic adjusting for a recently released, too tight squeeze of a container). He was, under no condition, though, to backtrack for a forgotten item. If he missed aisle three, they just wouldn’t have coffee; or, if he somehow missed aisle eight or fifteen, she would understand what stress can do to memory—no sense being a hero for a caffeine or sugar rush.

He knew the layout: two entry doors, two exit doors (each would open in the opposite direction, but that would only spook the customers and draw unnecessary attention to himself); five cameras, and two uniformed guards. It was supposed to be a routine visit; it wasn’t supposed to include helicopters or sirens; or, the crack-whip sound of misidentification and misunderstanding. “You’re innocent; you haven’t done anything wrong. I love you,”—this was the last thing his wife told him as he was pulling/backing out of the driveway. He hadn’t forgotten any of the rules; hadn’t deviated from the plan, was there to purchase exactly three items. But he was navigating the pandemonium of black flesh and ended up robbing the place.


*          *


He parked exactly one hundred yards from the left-most door. He and his wife had measured the distance themselves during their dry run the night before. He had picked up a handcart and had remembered the perfect posture—back erect, eyes straight ahead, slight bend at the knee. He was making his way to aisle seven, and had made it safely there. He selected the Kenyan roast, whole bean, placed it in his cart, stood up—not too quickly, but the adequate speed, a slow and deliberate ascent—made an about face to go back down the aisle; he turned left at the endcap and walk approximately one hundred feet to aisle eight when it happened. He had been spotted. Before he entered the aisle and could select the boxed cake: “Excuse me. You; yes, you.” This how it began and ended.


He always knew he could become what he needed to be. His wife had always hoped that he could just color himself the shade of whatever background he was in; they had rehearsed it, and had been ready for what would happen to them under these conditions when the pandemic broke out and everyone began to obsessively hoard, and had decided this was the best strategy.

He had simply eschewed what they had decided upon. He had decided, in this moment, to abandon it all. The strategy for safety; the resurrection of organized and disciplined principles—never engage, always stare ahead, avoid conflict; there were ten steps to practice for shopping as there were for sitting at lunch counters to order a soda (any brand), a hamburger and French fries. No matter what is said, never stop, pick up exactly what you have preordained in the list. Execute, execute, execute. But something changed, “You heard me, I know it. What are you doing here? Hey, you.” Radio silence, then. “We’re gonna need back-up.” And, the plan was deviated; the order broken, he turned around, backtracked like he had a change of heart—not of his selection of the Kenyan blend: “I might try Ethiopian or maybe Columbian instead”—and it was decided in that moment that he was, in fact, there to rob the place. Routine and planned became spontaneous at the flash and speed of a man once invisible, now turned hybrid: half-man, half-illusion. But, in this moment, he also knew he would never be caught, octopus disguised as cuddle fish suddenly unhidden shifting shape into lion fish, moving his arms to make what was a purchase look like an obscene gesture of concealment.

It is never really clear when a shapeshifter changes form if it is for protection or predation. He had felt in himself a changing, a subtle and uncontrollable shifting and knew he could not control the outcome. He could no longer hide himself, and knew, in that moment, he no longer wanted to. It is said that when they dream, octopus change colors and can even look like they are wearing masks, can change the texture of their skin to look ragged and pointed, or soft and light; even dark and ominous depending on what they are dreaming about, and in/for black men it is no different.

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Excerpt from: “The Buck, the Black, and the Existential Hero: Refiguring the Black Male Literary Canon, 1850 to Present”

“His lip is slightly curled, like a coiled spring or the haunches of a cat watching and ready to launch on a small and insignificant field mouse in some middle-class suburban backyard, just below an open kitchen window and in a bed of freshly laid flowers, except his lip was poised to let loose the slow leak of a small and clever phrase, rather than inhale an insignificant pest. Nevertheless, he and the coil and the cat were on the verge of something they thought monumental but were each ridding the world of something it never wanted (to begin with)—a mouse, another clever phrase, more relief of excess tension.

…This man did not realize that when one wakes up in the morning or releases a curled-lipped claim of wit or justice, what can happen in the span of the day. He did not think that like the field mouse leaving its nest, an anxious spring releasing its exertion, or a cat thrusting itself through an open window, that one’s life is but a series of chance occurrences. Rather, this man thought of the world as a scripted rehearsal of stimuli and response, actor and audience, and had become reckless in his very belief in the power of cleverness or the repose of moral outrage to manipulate the actors and actions on the stage. He imagined a landscape where there was (yes!) moral outrage but also manipulation, and he imagined that he, too, could raise children to attend college, move out to the suburbs, and take care of a wife who could bake pies and sit them in an opened window, just above innocuous pests and their own small world of wonder and danger, that he could be a Great Baron of this land—albeit not of an entire country or continent but the thirty by sixty square feet of his own backyard!—unaware that he was not hunting as the cat had done but was being hunted as the equally inane pest.”

The Buck is a beginning statement, not of this particular man’s life but of how to begin to think and write about him, how this man’s existence challenges traditional concepts, traditional language forms, and storytelling to reflect the diversity and complexity, contradiction and fluidity, that this man himself is and represents . . .

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In Honor of Refugees – Home by Warsan Shire

no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well
your neighbors running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.
no one leaves home unless home chases you
fire under feet
hot blood in your belly
it’s not something you ever thought of doing
until the blade burnt threats into
your neck
and even then you carried the anthem under
your breath
only tearing up your passport in an airport toilets
sobbing as each mouthful of paper
made it clear that you wouldn’t be going back.
you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
no one burns their palms
under trains
beneath carriages
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled
means something more than journey.
no one crawls under fences
no one wants to be beaten
no one chooses refugee camps
or strip searches where your
body is left aching
or prison,
because prison is safer
than a city of fire
and one prison guard
in the night
is better than a truckload
of men who look like your father
no one could take it
no one could stomach it
no one skin would be tough enough
go home blacks
dirty immigrants
asylum seekers
sucking our country dry
niggers with their hands out
they smell strange
messed up their country and now they want
to mess ours up
how do the words
the dirty looks
roll off your backs
maybe because the blow is softer
than a limb torn off
or the words are more tender
than fourteen men between
your legs
or the insults are easier
to swallow
than rubble
than bone
than your child body
in pieces.
i want to go home,
but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home told you
to quicken your legs
leave your clothes behind
crawl through the desert
wade through the oceans
be hunger
forget pride
your survival is more important
no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
run away from me now
i dont know what i’ve become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here

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What She’s Reading – Warsan Shire via Lemonade

What I love about the arts is the way that one form of expression inspires another.  Music inspires dance.  Literature inspires film. And poetry inspires the world

“Grandmother, the alchemist, you spun gold out of this hard life, conjured beauty from the things left behind.
Found healing where it did not live.
Discovered the antidote in your own kitchen.
Broke the curse with your own two hands.
You passed these instructions down to your daughter who then passed it down to her daughter.”  

– Warsan Shire


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Revisiting Sula

I first read Toni Morrison’s Sula when I was 17.  Although I was old enough to appreciate its symbolism and complexity, I could not identify with the themes of judgement, love, loss and survival.  I was 17.  I had not lived, lost and learned that life could hold the dark moments.

FullSizeRender (2)Several quotes from Sula remained with me in the 15 years since I’ve read the novel.  Fifteen years have passed and I, an older and (hopefully) wiser woman, now understand the meaning of these quotes more deeply.  I understand that Sula is inherently about life, love, choice and perspective.  As I approach my 32nd birthday, I realize that this novel deserves revisiting, in order to better appreciate these themes.

Here are a few passages that, for me, have stood the test of time:


On a dream deferred
“Had she paints, or clay, or knew the discipline of the dance, or strings, had she anything to engage her tremendous curiosity and her gift for metaphor, she might have exchanged the restlessness and preoccupation with whim for an activity that provided her with all she yearned for. And like an artist with no art form, she became dangerous.”

On letting go:
“It is sheer good fortune to miss somebody long before they leave you.”

On choice:
“When you gone to get married? You need to have some babies. It’ll settle you.’
‘I don’t want to make somebody else. I want to make myself.”

On Sadness:
“the loss pressed down on her chest and came up into her throat. it was a fine cry — loud and long — but it had no bottom and no top, just circles and circles of sorrow.”

On love and sacrifice:
“‘Mamma, did you ever love us?’…’What you talkin’ ’bout did I love you girl I stayed alive for you'”

If you’ve read Sula, I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on the novel.  Are there any novels you read at a young age that now have deeper meaning to you as an adult?


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What She’s Reading: Between the World and Me

FullSizeRenderBetween the World and Me is Ta-Nehisi Coate’s visceral and highly introspective account of what it means to be a black man in America.  To Coate’s (and perhaps the millions who identify with this work, myself included), to be black in America means that your body is disposable.  Cheap.  Ripe for plunder.  Between the World and Me is Coate’s first hand account of the historic and current violence against black men perpetrated by figures of authority in America.  In this text, he forces America to take a long hard look at itself through a dirty mirror.  And it hurts.

Personally, several pieces of this book struck a cord with me.  But Coate’s take on one seemingly benign phrase that I have heard all my life, particularly floored me:

All my life I’d heard people tell their black boys and black girls to “be twice as good”, which is to say “accept half as much.”  These words would be spoken with a veneer of religious nobility, as though they evidenced some unspoken quality, some undetected courage, when in fact all they evidenced was the gun to our head and the hand in our pocket. …No one told those little white children, with their tricycles, to be twice as good.  I imagined their parents telling them to take twice as much.  It seemed to me that our own rules redoubled the plunder.

This is a must read!





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A Long Read of A Brief History . . .

marlonI started reading Marlon James’ epic novel A Brief History of Seven Killings in May 2015 and did not finish until January 2016.

I’m not a slow reader.  In the past year I’ve read lengthy novels such as The Famished Road and The Wizard of the Crow in two weeks.  I am also not averse to authors who utilize stream of consciousness, a complex technique that shifts between the interior monologues of multiple characters.  Toni Morrison’s Beloved is one of my favorite novels of all time.  But A Brief History bored me to the point that, for months, I lost motivation to finish.

If you are familiar with this blog, you will know that I am a huge fan of Marlon James.  His second novel The Book of Night Women, is among the best I’ve read in recent years.   But unfortunately, A Brief History took me on a journey that was cumbersome and painfully slow.  If you don’t believe me, note that the first few pages of the introduction include a list of roughly 30 characters, some introduced only briefly to the slowly building complex plot via stream of consciousness.  Although his writing in A Brief History is highly descriptive, illustrating James’ immense talent for language, the plot crawls, at times painfully, throughout much of the 680 pages

I don’t want to talk at length about what I did not like about this book.  We Afro-Librarians prefer to leave lengthy book reviews to critics.  This post is simply to share my thoughts on this highly lauded novel since so many readers have asked (via Twitter) for our opinion.  And there were beautiful moments and applause worthy passages.  The depiction of each significant death was simply poetic, magical even.  So if you’re interested in 20th century historic fiction novel depicting Jamaica, politics and the nuance that is Bob Marley, this book will not disappoint.  But readers be warned, this novel requires patience and stamina!

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National Poetry Month featuring Yrsa Daley-Ward

Some of us love badly. Sometimes the love is the type of love that

implodes. Folds in on itself. Eats its insides. Turns wine to poison.

Behaves poorly in restaurants. Drinks. Kisses other people. Comes

back to your bed at 4am smelling like everything outside. Asks about

your ex. Is jealous of your ex. Thinks everyone a rival. Some of us

love others badly, love ourselves worse. Some of us love horrid, love

beastly. Love sick love anti light. Sometimes the love can’t go home

at night, can’t sleep with itself cannot contain itself, catches fire,

destroys the belly, strips buildings, goes missing. Punches. Smashes

heirlooms. Tells lies. The best lies. Fucks around. Writes poems,

impresses people. Chases lovers into corners. Leaves them longing.

Sea sick. Says yes. Means anything but. Tricks the body. Kills the

body. Dances wild and walks away, smiling.

– When it is but It Ain’t

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National Poetry Month featuring Nayyirah Waheed

“what i never
from my mother
was that
just because someone desires you
not mean they value you.
desire is the kind of thing that
eats you

leaves you starving.”

The Color of Low Self Esteem

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10 Novels on My ‘Book Bucket List’

WP My TBR (to be read) list is a mile long and filled with books I want to blog about or have simply piqued my interest.  But there are a few novels – 10 to be exact – that I absolutely have to read before I die.  Some of these selections are critically acclaimed and highly recommended by readers.  Others have been recommended by friends/family whose reading taste I highly respect. There are also a few that have simply been on my TBR list for so many years that it will be a huge accomplishment to check them off.

Taking a slight detour from our typical Afro-lit theme (there are not many titles left on my afro-bucket list), here is my latest ‘Book Bucket List’:

A Prayer for Owen Meany (Irving)
This is one of the few classic novels my humanities-focused high school did not require us to read. I will use that as an excuse for how I somehow missed out on reading this gem. I’m intrigued by this novel because of its themes of faith and acceptance of fate.  A Prayer for Owen Meany also makes my list because my baby brother, a fellow avid reader, lists it as his favorite book of all time. This novel has quite a heavy expectation to live up to!

The Sound and the Fury (Faulkner)
I actually was required to read this one in high school but after suffering through reading As I Lay Dying, I was NOT interested in hearing another word from Faulkner.  I used Cliffnotes and Sparknotes to fudge my way through class discussions on The Sound and the Fury so I owe it to myself (and my humanities teachers) to finish this behemoth as an adult.

The Grapes of Wrath (Steinbeck)
I’ve read snippets of John Steinbeck’s novels and have to say that I am in love with his writing style. The Grapes of Wrath is another one of those critically acclaimed novels that no one wants to admit (publicly) they haven’t read. But the Afro-library is a safe space so…”Hi, my name is ____and I have never read Steinbeck”.

Jane Erye (Bronte)
Speaking of books that are near and dear to the hearts of many readers, I have never read Jane Erye. There, I said it.  I have to admit, this novel has never intrigued me. But countless friends, readers and fellow bloggers tell me that I MUST read this book and so it makes the list. Lit lovers, I hear you! It’s on my list…

The Spyglass Tree (Murray)
Albert Murray is one of the most underrated African American authors of the 20th Century in spite of the fact that he writes beautifully and brilliantly. He is the favorite author of one of our Afro-Librarians.  Also, The Spyglass Tree happens to be my husband’s favorite novel. This one had to make the list.

Dandelion Wine (Bradbury)
Speaking of men in my life whom I love and respect, I consider my dad to be a pretty cool dude as well . . . just don’t tell him I said that. He has often said that as a teenager, Dandelion Wine, a coming of age tale loosely mirroring Ray Bradbury’s life, was his favorite book. For that reason alone, it’s on my must-read list.

11/22/63 (King)
Growing up, I was a HUGE fan of Stephen King.  I had a mild obsession with his writing until I read one of his earlier works — It. After reading It, King’s most famous horror novel, I was left disturbed, rocking in fetal position and unable to read anything scarier than R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps. I’ve had several years to get over this trauma and am now ready to rekindle my love affair with King. The first novel of my choosing will be his epic politico-thriller titled 11/22/63.

Infinite Jest (Wallace)
I get it, he’s some sort of genius. David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest is one of the most acclaimed (and lengthiest) American novels of the 21st Century and I have yet to read a word of it. I plan to correct this problem (and find out what all the fuss is about) before the end of this year. Stay tuned for my reactions of either high praise or bitter disappointment…

The Lord of the Rings (Tolkien)
Any book snob worth a grain of salt would never admit to seeing the movie version before reading the novel. But I admit that I overlooked the magic and beauty of Tolkien’s ‘Middle Earth’ until the films were released in the early 2000’s. I now own the films, prequels, and over 16 hours of extended footage. Suffice it to say, I am somewhat of a fan. But, I’ll never reach true LOTR fandom until I read this novel in its entirety. This sounds like a summer project….

The Handmaiden’s Tale (Atwood)
I saved this entry for last because I could not think of an interesting reason as to why this novel has been on my ‘Book Bucket List’ for so many years. The primary reason is simply that the plot sounds really cool: “a ‘dystopian’ novel . . .  set in the near future, in a totalitarian Christian theocracy which has overthrown the United States government . . . explores themes of women in subjugation and the various means by which they gain agency.” I’ve been drawn to this book for years so it’s time to verify whether my instincts about it are correct.

Tell us which books are at the top of your reading ‘bucket list’…


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