Time and Reflection: Behind Her Gaze

Background-mapping draws the large and slender, the regarded and mysterious earlier to the present. For the duration of my residency at the Aminah Robinson household, I examined the impulses guiding my prose poem “Blood on a Blackberry” and located a kinship with the textile artist and author who created her property a innovative secure area. I crafted narratives by a mixed media software of vintage buttons, antique laces and materials, and textual content on cloth-like paper. The setting up level for “Blood on a Blackberry” and the producing in the course of this venture was a photograph taken extra than a century ago that I discovered in a relatives album. A few generations of ancestral moms held their bodies nevertheless exterior of what seemed like a badly-crafted cabin. What struck me was their gaze.

3 generations of gals in Virginia. Photograph from the writer’s loved ones album. Museum artwork chat “Time and Reflection: Guiding Her Gaze.”

What thoughts hid behind their deep penetrating seems? Their bodies suggested a permanence in the Virginia landscape around them. I understood the names of the ancestor moms, but I realized small of their lives. What have been their secrets and techniques? What songs did they sing? What needs sat in their hearts? Stirred their hearts? What ended up the night seems and working day seems they heard? I wished to know their thoughts about the globe close to them. What frightened them? How did they talk when sitting with good friends? What did they confess? How did they converse to strangers? What did they conceal? What was girlhood like? Womanhood? These queries led me to composing that explored how they ought to have felt.

Analysis was not more than enough to bring them to me. Recorded general public heritage frequently distorted or omitted the stories of these gals, so my background-mapping relied on recollections associated with emotions. Toni Morrison identified as memory “the deliberate act of remembering, a type of willed creation – to dwell on the way it appeared and why it appeared in a unique way.” The act of remembering by means of poetic language and collage served me to greater realize these ancestor moms and give them their say.

Images of the artist and visual texts of ancestor mothers hanging in studio at Aminah Robinson house.

Performing in Aminah Robinson’s studio, I traveled the line that carries my spouse and children background and my innovative crafting crossed new boundaries. The texts I developed reimagined “Blood on a Blackberry” in hand-slice shapes drawn from traditions of Black women’s stitchwork. As I lower excerpts from my prose and poetry in sheets of mulberry paper, I assembled fragmented memories and reframed unrecorded history into visible narratives. Color and texture marked childhood innocence, feminine vulnerability, and bits of memories.

The blackberry in my storytelling turned a metaphor for Black daily life built from the poetry of my mother’s speech, a southern poetics as she recalled the ingredients of a recipe. As she reminisced about baking, I recalled weekends accumulating berries in patches together country roadways, the labor of youngsters collecting berries, placing them in buckets, walking along streets fearful of snakes, listening to what could possibly be in advance or hidden in the bushes and bramble. These reminiscences of blackberry cobbler instructed the handwork, craftwork, and lovework Black people lean on to endure battle and celebrate lifetime.

In a museum talk on July 24, 2022, I related my innovative experiences for the duration of the residency and shared how thoughts about ancestors infused my storytelling. The Blood on a Blackberry selection exhibited at the museum expressed the growth of my composing into multidisciplinary form. The levels of collage, silhouette, and stitched designs in “Blood on a Blackberry,” “Blackberry Cobbler,” “Braids,” “Can’t See the Highway Ahead,” “Sit Side Me,” “Behind Her Gaze,” “Fannie,” “1870 Census,” and “1880 Census” confronted the earlier and imagined reminiscences. The remaining panels in the exhibit introduced my tribute to Fannie, born in 1840, a possible enslaved foremother. Although her life span rooted my maternal line in Caroline County, Virginia, investigation exposed sparse lines of biography. I faced a missing website page in historical past.

Photograph of artist’s gallery converse and dialogue of “Fannie,” “1870 Census,” and “1880 Census.”

Aminah Robinson understood the toil of reconstructing what she termed the “missing pages of American record.” Making use of stitchwork, drawing, and painting she re-membered the earlier, preserved marginalized voices, and documented historical past. She marked historic times relating lifestyle times of the Black group she lived in and loved. Her get the job done talked back again to the erasures of heritage. So, the residence at 791 Sunbury Street, its contents, and Robinson’s visible storytelling held unique that means as I worked there.

I wrote “Sit Side Me” for the duration of tranquil hrs of reflection. The days soon after the incidents in “Blood on a Blackberry” demanded the grandmother and Sweet Child to sit and collect their power. The start off of their conversation came to me as poetry and collage. Their tale has not finished there is additional to know and claim and consider.

Photograph of artist chopping “Sit Side Me” in studio.


Photograph of “Sit Side Me” in the museum gallery. Picture courtesy of Steve Harrison.

Sit Facet Me
By Darlene Taylor

Tasting the purple-black spoon versus a bowl mouth,
oven heat perspiring sweet nutmeg black,
she halts her kitchen baking.

Sit aspect me, she says.

I want to sit in her lap, my chin on her shoulder.
Her heat, darkish eyes cloud. She leans ahead
shut adequate that I can adhere to her gaze.

There’s a lot to do, she states,
positioning paper and pencil on the desk.
Compose this.

Someplace out the window a fowl whistles.
She catches its voice and shapes the substantial and reduced
into phrases to explain the wrongness and lostness
that took me from faculty. A girl was snatched.

She try to remember the ruined slip, torn reserve webpages,
and the flattened patch.
The words and phrases in my hands scratch.
The paper is far too quick, and I just can’t write.
The thick bramble and thorns make my palms nonetheless.

She can take the memory and it belong to her.
Her eyes my eyes, her pores and skin my pores and skin.
She know the ache as it passed from me to her,
she know it like sin staining generations,
repeating, remembering, repeating, remembering.
Remembering like she know what it feel like to be a girl,
her fingers slide throughout the vinyl table floor to the paper.
Why halt producing? But I really do not respond to.
And she don’t make me. Instead, she qualified prospects me
down her memory of remaining a girl.

When she was a girl, there was no college,
no guides, no letter composing.
Just thick patches of eco-friendly and dusty red clay street.

We take to the only street. She seems to be substantially taller
with her hair braided from the sky.
Get my hand, sweet boy or girl.
Collectively we make this walk, keep this aged highway.

A milky sky flattens and eats steam. Clouds spittle and bend extensive the street.

Photos of reduce and collage on banners as they hold in the studio at the Aminah Robinson household.

Blood on a Blackberry
By Darlene Taylor

The road bends. In a position where by a lady was snatched, no a single suggests her title. They communicate about the
bloody slip, not the lost female. The blacktop road curves there and drops. Just cannot see what is ahead
so, I hear. Bugs scratch their legs and wind their wings over their backs. The road appears

Each and every day I wander alone on the schoolhouse street, preserving my eyes on in which I’m going,
not wherever I been. Bruises on my shoulder from carrying publications and notebooks, pencils and

Pebbles crunch. An engine grinds, brakes screech. I move into a cloud of pink dust and weeds.
The sandy taste of highway dust dries my tongue. Older boys, imply boys, cursing beer-drunk boys
chortle and bluster—“Rusty Woman.” They generate speedy. Their laughs fade. Feathers of a bent bluebird impale the highway. Sunshine beats the crushed chicken.

Reducing via the tall, tall grass, I select up a adhere to alert. Tracks and sticks have ability in excess of
snakes. Bramble snaps. Wild berries squish below my toes. The ripe scent makes my stomach
grumble. Briar thorns prick my pores and skin, generating my fingertips bleed. Plucking handfuls, I eat.
Blood on a blackberry ruins the style.

Publications spill. Backwards I drop. Web pages tear. Classes brown like sugar, cinnamon,
nutmeg. Blackberry stain. Thistles and nettles grate my legs and thighs. Coarse
laughter, not from within me. A boy, a laughing boy, a necessarily mean boy. Berry black stains my
dress. I operate. Residence.

The sun burns via kitchen windows, warming, baking. I roll my purple-tipped fingers into
my palms.

Sweet youngster, grandmother will say. Intelligent woman.

Tomorrow. On the schoolhouse highway.

Pictures of artist chopping text and speaking about multidisciplinary writing.


Darlene Taylor on the measures of the Aminah Robinson dwelling photographed by Steve Harrison.

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