April 25, 2018

Draft for an epic #4: For Love and Land

Dear _______,

It is almost summer where you are, and I imagine you are preparing for your first beach trip of the season. The moment when the water is warm enough to not scare you away as you submerge your body in the oncoming waves. A season for picking shells from the sand, for fishing on the docks, for that uneasy heat.

Isn’t this the sweetest time of the year? I can see your smile now: wide, toothy, full of a light that always reminds me of summer, of the water, of the coast. I can see us as little ones, legs dangling from the pier as we stare into the salt water. I dare you to jump. No, I dare you! We would never jump. We were always too afraid. And you know I can’t swim.

It will be hurricane season soon, too. Remember the year we missed nine days of school because of Hurricane Isabel? Our families had their batteries and bottles of water and the food that was quickly spoiling. We would stay out each night trying to catch fireflies, playing football in the open field near the house. We were relentless in our play. I tried to spend a day inside reading (maybe it was Hamlet) and you told me to let it go, it’s like we’re on summer vacation all over again. I was born in the fall, but summer has my heart.

Have you heard that the land is sinking?

You are busy these days with a new love and a different life but you are still there. So, I thought you would be concerned like me. In this article, the reporter speaks with the parishioner of a church in our city who says that he is not worried about rising sea levels or climate change. I think what’s meant to be is meant to be, the parishioner says. Here is a portrait according to Michael Schulson, the journalist: Built largely on drained swampland and filled-in creek beds, the cities of the Hampton Roads region sit just a few feet above sea level. The Atlantic Ocean is slowly reclaiming them. I read this and thought of you because this place holds who we are and it is sinking.

I am thinking about safety and sacredness and the memorials we offer to the land.

I wish you could have been with me when I went to see Beverly Buchanan’s work at the Brooklyn Museum a couple years ago. It stopped me in my tracks. I thought about us and dangling legs and our Southern spirits and the water and my father’s Georgia and our people and our people’s people, and Igbo Landing and the Chickahominy Nation and our summer waves and fishing rods.

Buchanan’s Marsh Ruins are groupings of earthworks that reside in the marshes of Brunswick, Georgia. When I sat to watch the video documentation of them I thought: here is a record. And we desperately need (new) records. I thought about the physicality of her making process. The way her hands mixed the paint that would cover the stones. Her thoughts watching them bask in the sun as the mixture dried. How the forms have weathered over time. I think Buchanan knew how to see us. I mean, I think she knew that when we talk about a  “we” or an “us” we also speak of place.

What will they know of this place if we do not speak? The Chesapeake Bay and our crab cake sandwiches. Yorktown’s battlefields and the evenings we would spend watching deer graze. Fort Monroe and our many ghost stories. 

Buchanan has given us public memorials in honor of the many places she once lived. Especially the South. I think this is part of Karen Till’s memory work. I will spare you the theoretical minutia in this letter. I mean, I hope this will be a reason to see one another again, soon, to retrace our steps. I mean, there is so much more I want to say to you. I mean, we loved one another and I am sure it was our love for this place that taught us how to love one another.

I do not know if we will save the land, but perhaps we can create a marker, if only to acknowledge what it has given to us, to one another for a moment in time, if only to demonstrate how we have cared for one another. These memorials would weather and then, speak something new back to us or perhaps if the land is saved, they will remind someone, in some time, that we were here.

— Jessica

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