archives of soil & stars
Grandma’s rosebush reminiscent of a Vice Lord’s do-rag. the unfamiliar bloom in Mrs. Bradley’s yard banging a Gangster Disciple style blue. the dandelions all over the park putting on Latin King gold like the Chicano cats over east before they turn into a puff of smoke like all us colored boys. from "picking flowers" by Nate Marshall
It has been a strange and glimmering month, garden visitors. Preoccupied with books blooming, celebrations, chapters closing, end of the year projects and a much needed nap, I’m reemerging to continue on the jubilee. The flowers and all their many colors are blooming and so am I.
I’m inclined to think about the many (r)evolutions, adaptations we organisms make, either by desire or by force, as I enter this next chapter of my life. Though I have yet to find a single gray hair (much to my dismay, I had been hoping to go the way of my pops who had a distinguishable salt and pepper fro by his mid twenties), I feel my body and my mind aging during an ongoing pandemic with seemingly no end in sight. But among the stress there is gratitude. Around this time last year I had comfortably decided to take leave from my graduate program, began final edits on my first book, received word that I was awarded a fellowship with Just Buffalo Literary Center. Now here I am, a little over a month after Heirloom’s release anticipating more well-earned lessons, eager to see what rays will shine through this solar return.
My impetus has always been to overestimate my ability, and when the universe says “kid you’re doing too much” it usually falls on willful ears. And despite my better judgment, I need a big visual display to knock some sense into my head. Because so often it’s hard to see what’s brewing underneath the surface.
Y’all, it has been a tough growing season. Our seedlings failed multiple times due to a curious combination of unforeseen freezes and predation, too many of our plants fell victim to root rot, but we were still able to salvage some hearty greens, our potatoes came out tiny but in abundance, and some of our strawberries are fruiting! The garden is a knowledgeable teacher. The land teaches resilience, but it also does not believe in unequal sacrifice. The more we try to fight against it, the more intense it works to heal itself, usually at our expense. In many ways the garden has taught me not to rush, but to honor multiple clocks, to savor the time spent amongst the weeds and the blooming trees alike. A garden is a portal to new life.
Reading Destiny Hemphill’s motherworld: a devotional for the alter-life, has been a salve for wounds greater than a singular human lifespan: wounds of the body yes, but also wounds of the soul, of the land, of our communities. Simultaneously an invocation and a prophecy, motherworld displays the constant work of creating new worlds. Earth does not equal the world; earth is larger, more expansive than the limitations of capitalism and pillage. Through remediation we can birth new life, new worlds into existence. We can undertake the multigenerational spirit of making this world obsolete. Remediation, recycling, renewal, resistance. Return. Return. Return.
In the garden, our larger project has been to remediate the soil and water in order to build resilience against climate catastrophe. We mainly do this using bioremediators (the use of biological agents such as bacteria or plants to clean up contaminants such as petroleum and/or heavy metals). My students have chosen to focus on mycoremediation, the use of fungi to remediate polluted soil. The mushroom is merely the visible “fruit” of a larger fungal body that thrives in the soil. It is a reminder that most of the good work happens where you can’t immediately see it.
When I first began cultivating Heirloom I dove deep into family archives, reminding myself of the survivals that were enshrined in soil and notebooks alike, but nevertheless gave way to new life. I wanted to mourn and rage at the injustices my family and other Black folks had experienced, but I also wanted to celebrate the joy that transcends generations. I wanted to give myself a reminder that there are good things waiting to bloom.
As an eco-griot and rudimentary historian I have immersed myself in both historical archives and the archives of the soil, replanting hidden histories of Black and Indigenous land stewardship and survival. Navigating this borderland between resistance and redefinition means reliving erasure, expulsion, and environmental injustices, but it also means celebrating community care, roots that extend far below the surface, deep into the capaciousness of time and space. Every step a prayer, every breath an honorific.
“Black people used to live here” and they are still living here. And will live again.
My writing is filled with this “constant interrogation” that as colonized peoples we are forever enduring – to make sense of the reality of this world is to in some ways, reject it, despite the painful act of divorcing ourselves from its caverns. Our mere presence disrupts any false assumption of natural order, and we are pursuing richer worlds beyond this one.
In the interest of return, I think of all the various things you could do with my book (after you are done reading it of course): you could roll its paper into a joint (though it may taste of ink and bleach), soften the pages into a paper mache project, it makes a half-way decent paperweight, contributes a pop of green to any bookshelf, may finally break down enough to become food for a garden bed bursting with nutrient rich produce in a food apartheid area. Most importantly, it may show you a desire for a world beyond this one, which of course, is the first place to start.
You can order Heirloom directly from me on my website.
I will be reading & in conversation with Destiny Hemphill at Open Mouth Literary Center June 11th at 7 pm CST. Check out links and updates on my social media pages (@ashiainbloom).