After an Election
by Tiffany Austin
Photo: Tiffany Austin
The ocean swallows, then vomits upon itself while looking out the airplane on my return home. The plane back to the States is nearly empty. And I hope people are voting. I pass by the early
counting on screens, on the radio, in the ride to a town in Indiana. Before entering the hotel room, I walk to a Chinese restaurant—it’s near midnight, but they let me in, not telling me about results. Once in the bed, I finally call my mother to hear the news. She keeps saying, I love you.
I think about when I visit and I lie next to her. When you’re that close, I’ve always felt you must reveal. She once told me, I think people are punished by the children they bear. I am her child and I wonder what she is being punished for. Having her palms read? I say this to her because I’m angry. I say this because I almost believe her. She can’t believe the election results. I’m half
asleep, so I can. The next day, I’m before students near tears, not there, near anger, and I talk about Melvin Tolson, and labor, and my grandmother. In the middle of it all, a young man eagerly says we need to talk afterwards. He’s the one that his professor tells me asks if she painted the work before he says something of Basquiat in an art gallery. I smile at him. He reminds me of my nephew—in earnest about coalition rather than girls once. My sister needs me
to explain to my nephew that a white girl can’t bring him breakfast at five in the morning. You can’t stand and wait for her. He tells my sister, I’ve never watched so many race movies until she (his aunt) came here. I hear it over the grill. I’m barbecuing for him and his friends. They beat me and the older ones in volleyball, towering over the net. One with a Muslim name says after
a spike, I can’t help it, I’m an athlete. He can’t help it...I want to tell him how right he is, but
still I want my nephew to be as perfect as the bursting skin of the sausage on the grill swallowing sweat. No. I don’t get to speak to the young man afterwards. I hug young women instead. They are braver than I am and give me something of myself. But I’m on the plane back to an island. And I’m trying to hold on to what Toni Morrison says—to think about work. I keep going back
to her. She brings up Absalom! Absalom! in a journal article—better to commit incest than have a drop of black blood. I remember saying something similar to my father and asking him about it because he knew the bible. He couldn’t talk about it. He had finished using his voice. He was tired. I’m tired. We’re still afraid of the dark continents. Women. Africa. I admit I don’t have hope or I have hope in the names of my students who talk about not being a woman, being a gachapon, never about race, and a professor asking them to write about a lovesome thing. My sister is named Toni and she has three sons. The last email I sent her said, “You know Zora was controversial. Her life—she cut and was cut.” “And, Nina, that freedom costs.” They stop my
heart, these students, again, before me. I have hope—in names like Jarrod, Ide, and Tisunne.
Tiffany Austin currently teaches rhetorical and creative writing at the University of The Bahamas. She has published poetry in African American Review, Callaloo, Obsidian, pluck!, Valley Voices, and Sycorax’s Daughters, a speculative literature anthology. Her photo essay “A South in Sound” was also recently published in TriQuarterly.