Try a Different Diet

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The last knight he’d eaten gave Dragos indigestion. He spent treasure for cures that didn’t work and when he ate the charlatans who’d bamboozled him, the pain was pronounced. Poor moral fiber was the cause of his woes. He’d been eating junk food.

He pondered long and hard, reluctant to give up his old ways. Getting advice was difficult. Out of necessity, he’d eaten all the nice people he knew. Desperate, he sought advice from a wicked witch who turned him into a brontosaurus. She said the vegetarian diet was better for him. Unfortunately, sudden extinction was a side effect.

Freedom Fighters

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Here’s a story my grandpa told about a friend he had from Birmingham. He’d gather us kids around and we’d listen, the big ones shushing the little ones and holding them on our laps. Must’a been near a hundred when he died, but what he told us lives on.

I knew it was over when Jesse told me his people could fly. We were down at the creek and when he said it I had a feeling that the Old South was destined to collapse like a circus tent after the last performance. Not that I’d ever say that to my daddy. He was sympathetic to old Dixie. Figured things had to change some after the North won the war. But he couldn’t see it changing that much.

“Come on,” Jesse said. “I’ll show you.”

Instead of digging crawdads for supper, we spent the afternoon leaping from boulders, arms spread, rolling into the water. We confessed to Jesse’s mama in the kitchen at the big house. Thanks to her being from a long line of Gullah storytellers, she forgave us. That tale of magic, passed down by word of mouth from one generation to the next, saved our hides.

Me and Jesse, we stayed in touch even when I went up to Boston for school. When I come back six years later to practice law at my daddy’s firm, Jesse was the first one I hired. He was whip smart; did my research. I wished he’d had a law degree. He fled north when vigilantes carried out their coup against some of our duly elected aldermen, 1898 I believe, in Wilmington. I gave him a password so he could get through the cordon the Klan set up the night before all the bloodshed. In the dark, he could pass. The way that damned mob went through destroying the businesses in the colored section of town was enough to make you think the whole thing was over, the whole Emancipation. But it wasn’t. Like so many of the survivors, the wish for justice went into hiding but it never died.

Jesse was lucky. He settled in DC, where he got another law job with a friend of mine from school. I tried to get him to come back to Wilmington, but he found his calling in the capitol. I sat in the front row at his law school graduation. Turned out he was good at organizing and that city was ripe for protest. Much of the segregation in Washington was enforced by custom, not law. They had more marches there than a centipede has legs. I visited him, but he never come down to North Carolina. Not until 1965 when he stopped on his way to Alabama for what he said might be his last protest, but maybe his best.

Me and Jessie were ninety years old, riding in that caravan our kids started to Montgomery to hear Dr. King speak. It was six carloads all told. Seniors at the wheel, a passel of squirming grandchildren in the back while them could walk marched across the Pettus Bridge. Jesse and I looked at each other when Dr. King said the words, “…the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

Afterwards, Jesse said, “That moral arc Dr. King talked about must be a rainbow. You need faith to believe there’s an end to it.”

“And do you? Have faith?” I thought I knew the answer to that, but I didn’t expect him to say what he did.

“If anybody’s going to find justice at the end of a rainbow, it’s the people who fly?” He picked up his two year old great-granddaughter. “You remember that story, don’t you?”

I nodded.

Then he passed that child, arms spread, to her mother and said. “This one’s in training.”

So that’s the story. That little girl was my play cousin Sarah. You’ve met her. A tiny woman. Strong as an eagle, wise like an owl. She’s flying with a slew of others across the land. They’re darkening the sky for justice, a righteous swarm of freedom fighters. They carry the message that we are a nation of laws, not custom; that faith is not enough. In the spots where the sun shines through the clouds of flapping wings, both ends of the rainbow are within reach of anyone with the will and the courage to fly.

The Tide Waits for No One

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Surf pulled at mother and daughter holding tight a last goodbye. “Take care of your brother. And your father.”

“Yes, mam. You’ll be back?”

“Your grandmam’s recipes, they’re yours.”

The girl held her mother’s hand. “Tell my ocean folk grandmam, ‘Happy Birthday.’ ”

Her mam nodded, winced as the tight skin she’d found in the attic fused land legs into a powerful swimming fin. “I will, love.”

“Your eyes are the same.” The girl touched the selkie’s soft fur. “You’ll be gone a day?”

The mother strained for breath. “Days linger undersea.” She wanted to stay. But she had to go.

The Kiss

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Cupid and Psyche lay feeding each other chocolate hearts. “You haven’t changed.”

“Nor you,” Psyche said, nibbling his ear.

Cupid stroked Psyche’s bronzed thigh. “It wasn’t meant to be.”

“Your mother hated me.”

Cupid’s lips bowed into a smile. “You bested her by surviving all those quests.”

“She underestimated how much I cared for you. Sorting poppy seeds from lentils. Fearing dragons on the Styx. I had my helpers.” Psyche looked smug.

“But it was Zeus who gave us each other. He couldn’t resist my offer.”

“I can’t resist you. Though the spell wore off long ago, I simply adore you.”

The Kitchen God’s Insight

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“Welcome, friend.” The Kitchen God greeted the Tiger, a pussy cat beside his massive bulk. They ate nian gao and fresh cut fruits, presented on a red lacquered tray in the Kitchen God’s study.

They exchanged pleasantries, the Tiger looking for a way to say what was on his mind. He plucked up his courage. “So many have suffered through the years of Rat and Ox. They worked hard for change, barely rewarded for their labor. Prosperity gave way to isolation. Isolation gave way to steady resolve. What of my year?”

“Be strong, Tiger. Be strong,” said the Kitchen God.

Use Your Head, John.

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Little John put down his bible. That story, David and Goliath, ‘minded him of his own troubles with Big John who’d killed LJ’s horse and his grandmother; woulda killed LJ except LJ told a sleight of hand story that BJ took hook, line, and sinker. It was the sinker that killed BJ. That man was so greedy, he pleaded to be tied up in a sack and dumped in the deepest part of the ocean. LJ’d convinced BJ there was a herd of cows underwater for the taking. BJ deserved the lie. LJ deserved the peace that came from it.

Inspired by a black Portuguese folktale in Virginia Hamilton’s, The People Could Fly.

Tower of the Moon

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An impossible quest. To marry the Moon Tower princess, Anton earns the help of four animal spirits- Eagle, Ant, Lion, and Dove. As an Eagle, the African prince persuades the Wind Witch, to help. Treacherous mother, she pries the location of the Tower from her Wind son’s lips. Becoming a dove, then an ant, then himself Anton enters the Princess’s bedroom.

But Papa refuses to negotiate. Becoming a Lion, Anton disembowels the fierce guardian pig who hides the father’s life inside an eggshell. And when Papa’s gone, good and gone, the hero rules the land, his princess wife as queen.

Condensed from an African folktale in Virginia Hamilton’s, The People Could Fly.

Br’er Rabbit Wins

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I knowed it were all over when that smart ass, Br’er Rabbit, fooled me ag’in. Boss gonna think to hire that rabbit. What am I saying? “Don’t nobody hire no rabbit when they’s a fox to do the job.”

Then that sly trickster pops out the bushes . “Well, Br’er Fox, you wrong ag’in.” Br’er Rabbit swung his fine cane in a circle, its fine brass knob shining in the sun. “No, times they be a changin’ and the world be too, though it be slow as molasses in January.”

“You know somethin’ I don’t?”

“More than you’d guess. Way more.”

The People Could Fly

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When Jesse said his people could fly, we spent the afternoon leaping from boulders, arms spread, rolling into the water instead of digging crawdads for supper. Though he fled to D.C. after the Klan burned Wilmington in 1898, we kept in touch. *

In 1965, both ninety-five years old, we rode to Montgomery to hear Dr. King speak. Afterwards, Jesse said, “The moral arc of the universe must be a rainbow. Takes faith to find the end of it.”

“Helps to fly, doesn’t it.”

He nodded, picked up his two-year old great-granddaughter, who spread her arms, laughing and flapping. “This one’s in training.”

*Go to: https://revealnews.org/podcast/remembering-a-white-supremacist-coup/ to listen to the podcast.

It Was All Set

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The door swings open. Your roommate pumps his fist and plops on the bed. “Winter break, here I come. Hey, wanna go skiing.” He’s always after you to relax.

You want to go, but you count every penny since your dad went bust in real estate. “La Jolla’s warmer. Mom would love to meet you.”

He agrees. Mom agrees. Everything is set. You’ve registered for classes next term, it’s dead week and you’re confident about finals. Then you get e-mail from the bursar. The autopay from your bank failed. Calling Mom, you hope your Dad hasn’t hacked the account again.