Cotten… (spelled incorrectly on purpose)
The boiling Texas sun led my mother and I as we made our way down the quiet, two-lane dirt road. We
were showered by the rising dust, and greeted with a chorus of cows mooing and chewing, chickens
clucking, sheeps baaaing…we drove on… coming slowly upon an ocean of fields as white as Norwegian
winter. The blossoms were flowering…their mouths gaping wide open as the milk colored matter that
murdered millions, bled a continent and made my grandparents seek something more came poofing out. We
stopped and I held it in my hands… Dawn to dusk, everyday but Sunday, string em up cuz it’s pic-a-nigga
day, backs lashed, wombs torn, sometimes wishing they had never been born—but somehow managed to
dance and sing and hold onto the warmth of God… all sitting in the palms of my hands. Something so
small… something so simple… I was kind of hypnotized… while simultaneously guilt trippin cuz of my
100% cotton T-shirt, straight out of Pakistan probably made by some 7 year old boy with 13 brothers and
sisters, getting paid 17 cents a week… a kid that 80 years ago, could’ve been my grandfather.
I don’t remember much about him. A small, beautiful, sun of a man wrapped in chocolate skin. I remember
his arms because he was the last person, outside of my mother, to really hold me from the inside out—I was
10. I remember his eyes because he had those rare kind that when you looked into them…you knew that he
was born awake and if the world were falling to pieces, everything was going to be okay as long as you
didn’t look away. He had that good southern cooking…make your mood melt away…sunshine on a plate
on a winter’s day type cookin. Sometimes I find my tongue searching the corners of mouth for it…it was
that good. But somehow by some flaw of nature, some imperfect equation in the whole of things, kindness
attracts meanness…cuz people were mean.
My grandfather taught himself to read… cooling himself under those sad, sagging willow trees that lined
his family’s farm. He used to wake up at dawn to pick cotton. That worked out fine till at about age 7 he
realized that we deserved more… he’d fill the bags with rocks and put a few bushels of cotton on the top so
that he could lose himself in a world of letters and lovers and similes and numbers and proverbs and
pictures that might as well have been life in another galaxy to a small boy who’d never left his town of
about 300 people. I can almost hear my relatives laughing at their little “Columbus” …with stories of life
and treasure far beyond the borders of their one block downtown, post office, courthouse, jail house and
city hall all in the same building… life past the farmlands that outstretched their grasp for miles around
them. I’m sure they laughed at him as most people do when innovators, who see the tangible as temporary
and the imaginary as possible, when he told them of his kingdom that lay beyond the outskirts of his family
farm. Something in him said very loudly, crystal clearly, that despite his family’s words, despite his
unworldly hands, that when crossed the borders of his family farm…of everything he’d ever known… that
he would not fall off…and he didn’t…he flew…
We drove and I saw the world through his eyes. The courthouse, jailhouse, post office that were in a block
about the size of a supermarket. The cutting eyes of the whyte sheriff as my mother and I
accidentally drove through the “wrong” side of town. I’ll never forget her face… her smile so forced and
her politeness so clenching that it seemed like her face was going to break and her real self was going to
come growling out. Their eyes are mean. They watch my mother and I as we walk down the two block
downtown area into the city hall.
I saw the falling in shacks, the people who reminded me of Elephants in a circus…fully capable of running
free but not moving because they’d been trained that they couldn’t.
I never met my grandmother, but I know her. Occasionally, we meet up while I’m sleeping in a field of
sunflowers. It’s about sunset every time and I run to her. She cradles me deeply in her bosom and I feel
forgiven for everything I have done or said that has disappointed her.
The Ross’ were poor but they were loved. They weren’t formally educated but possessed a wisdom that
was born ages before the cages of the English language. I knew it when I drove passed the outhouses of the
sunken-in, weather-stripped houses, looked into the longing, sunken in eyes of the people and learned that
all of my relatives had moved away—they’d escaped….