By W. RALPH EUBANKS
All thinking Southerners, at some point, find their minds at war with their hearts, a battle that often ends with the heart claiming victory. It is this triumph of the heart that landed me, a black expatriate Mississippian, back in my home state again. Yet returning to Mississippi after nearly forty years, albeit temporarily, as a visiting professor, has left me torn somewhere between acceptance and separateness. In some ways, the longer I am in the South, the less I try to maintain my distance from the place.
When the radiators overheat we try to turn the knobs wearing oven mitts. At night it’s too hot to sleep, and we open the windows to the cold December air. My nose bleeds intermittently, suddenly, all winter long. I wake in the night to the hot rushing smell of iron, or, elbow-deep in dishwater suds, feel the blood coming too quick to stop.
I first went to London as an undergrad, on a yearlong study abroad program in University College London’s intimidating English department. When I returned very reluctantly to the US, I often dreamed about London, but in those dreams I would find familiar places moved, distorted, and the people I missed not where I looked for them. After graduation, I moved again to the UK for a master’s program, but mainly to get back to London. I had discovered, after a few panicky weeks of foreign disorientation, that the city suited me—and also that my quiet home in Massachusetts no longer did. At 22, one seemed to preclude the other; London felt strange and exotic in a way that had become a daily necessity.
There exists a certain splendor in the protestations of the electorate on the grounds of the Elected. Here, in the southern wing of the Nebraska State Capitol, roughly 75 farmers, ranchers, environmentalists, Native Americans and other dissidents have gathered to oppose construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, and more specifically, the Governor’s authority to approve the pipeline’s path through Nebraska. They’ve come wearing belt buckles and Wrangler jeans, bolo ties and t-shirts that scream “Pipeline Fighter” and “#NOKXL.” But it’s difficult, in these marbled and dimly lit halls, not to feel awed by the stature of it all, the history cast in bronze and embossed beneath your feet. Even the atheist may be overcome by the grandeur of a cathedral.
When I was growing up, my family was in Long Beach regularly visiting my aunt Carol and uncle Rocco, friends of my parents who lived blocks from the ocean. My memory insists that it was always summer when we were there: barbecues, somebody’s birthday. And the Fourth of July parties, all-day affairs the adults would spend on the stoop eating burgers and macaroni salad while us kids—myself, my older brother, Carol and Rocco’s son, Matt, some neighborhood kids—played basketball in the street.
Jillian Weise is the author of the novel The Colony (2010) and the poetry collections The Amputee’s Guide to Sex (2007) and The Book of Goodbyes (2013), the latter of which won the James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets. Her writing appears in The New York Times, The Atlantic Monthly, Granta, The New Republic, Tin House, and elsewhere. She teaches creative writing at Clemson University in South Carolina.
Isabel MeyersMaking Space for the Common Cyborg: an Interview with Jillian Weise