Conjuring: A Lesson in Words and Ghosts
Our desks are in a circle in our classroom & it just so happens I’m sitting next to my white professor & all my black girl hair is flung over one shoulder & I can see everyone’s face & my professor, we’re talking about the 1920s & my professor, he says nigger & before that we were talking about Ralph Ellison & before that we were talking about Claude McKay & we skipped over Nella Larson & made fun of Gwendolyn a bit, but c’est la vie & my professor, he runs right through nigger like it’s not a wall my whole history is pinned up against & nigger sits in the middle of all of our desks & it’s like I’m the only one who can see it & everyone else in the room turns white even though they’re not; they’re pink & pale & sandy & tree-colored but still, everyone I mean everything turns white & I’m just a dot & I’m just a black girl with black girl hair & my black girl hips balanced in this dark red chair & we all know nigger is tree-colored & I can’t remember my face & my tongue bleeds right into my teeth & my mouth is full of spit & he didn’t mean it that way & this is academia & here comes the whole train of them, right? & don’t tell me I can’t say that word but you can & be mature / professional / quiet / good & freedom of speech & here they come & here’s the list of their freedoms they fight for (but not mine) & I’m being honest, he really didn’t mean it that way & it’s just a word & my tongue & my teeth & language is such a complicated series of ropes and ladders & black folk be climbing and hanging at the same time & he only read it in context & it’s in the context of the reading & it’s in the reading & we all know nigger is tree-colored, which is to say, we all know nigger has black people hanging off the g’s, which is to say, some words carry ghosts no matter what because context & context is everything & my professor is talking about & is talking about & is talking about & is talking about & is talking about & is talking about & is talking about & just like that, the whole room is haunted.
by Jacqui Germain
Jacqui Germain is a student, writer and organizer currently living in St. Louis, MO. She has represented Washington University in St. Louis on the national poetry stage on 5 separate occasions and was the 2014 Katherine Dunham Fellow with the St. Louis Regional Arts Commission. Jacqui has work published in Word Riot and Anti- and is currently working on her first book of poetry. She enjoys studying the histories of people of color, fighting oppressive political structures and generally having little to no chill