Joyland

Canada |

The Origin of the Lullaby

by Canisia Lubrin

edited by Kathryn Mockler

we were troubled

some of us, before you read this, will be missing in the old ways and in some ways new

we bring news of the hours before you come to realize some of us no longer speak

the long, antagonizing winter of our mid-lives was through with us, one that could easily remind you of that maternal uncle your whole family knew not to trust, the same one you knew well enough to pretend to respect

in the spring, we walked down our street together and stood facing that old bus shelter bench with the foolish lumbar-high backrest looking at the poster just above it

Sara’s Haiti relief trip announced itself like something too-late weeping, a band of head-wrapped women behind her squint in the foreground of sharp bursts of too much sunlight, their expressions more questioning than warning,

they’re all with relaxed shoulders, like this is life as they’ve always known it: party to a stretched cityscape half-buried in mud and broken concrete and a wholeness in spite of the terrors that should have left them permanently a haunt

their smiles are mostly a mess of rusty and broken, shape-shifting one mouth to the other—but you’d have to be a collector of hellish things to not take these women with you into all of your life’s randomness after encountering them, knowingly or not

Sara is photoshopped into the frame
the photoshoppedness is not the most noticeable thing about her aura
what lodges in you is the way her eyes burn into you, hair flaring from the roots, refusing any niceties in spite of the perm, the wary look to her coming-apartness in that faked-for-her heat, yet, at the same time she’s content

this is the way of life’s collapsed anatomy
I could tell a meaning wound deep in this attention to a shared life, something that meant longing, something close to belonging

once when we were eight, when the three of us took turns sleeping over, once when my mother tickled us—Andre and I in the forefront—Sara, remained hesitant, laughing silently on the couch behind us, we knew more then about sharing body heat than what kind of strength we might need to face growing transparent with age


*

one night in early June, Andre gets up and walks in the half-dark to the other side of the room, she takes a pen off Sara’s dresser

Andre has a way of saying too much with the way she moves

now she is moving through this bedroom as though she has just discovered gold or something like it

I follow the sway of her hip as it touches the corner of the closet door, her elbow resting on the top of the drawer, a few angles too high and you know by those actions that she has just about made up her mind
for an entire year we’d been waiting

she’s a road, she understands, a way through
she’d pay extra to be sure that none of us made any fuss that she would make the trip

when Andre gets back to the bed,

she brings her legs up beneath her, the way of a yogi, she finds her chequebook in her duffle bag


*

we’d been in Haiti for a week and five thousand dollars deep in donations before Andre said she’d had enough of the rain-sun-sun-rain, that she hated the needy heat, the boring crickets making the same sounds for the full length of every dark hour

“a drink,” she said, “no, I need plenty a-drinks right now”

to oblige, Sara asked one of the local men who was our translator to find us a good time

he was a soaring man from Port-Au-Prince with a book-wide face and muscles on every inch of his Albino body, even his red hair, Sara had agreed he’d offered to be our chaperone and we’d agreed

the road we drove down was dark and never-ending, and the world was a narrow pitch between shrubs and immense trees all the way to Mirebalais

“mes dames, you are going to the nightlife hotspot of our Haiti,” The Translator said

once there, we entered through a massive entryway whose door, The Translator had said, was made from the reclaimed beams of L’église Catolique St. Joachim et St. Anne that had come down nearly to dust during the 2010 quake

the strobe light in the corner of the room hurt my eyes with its manic flashing

Andre and I did most of the drinking, and while it seemed that Sara was mostly people watching, we danced in turns with The Translator
he moved like honey or something equally smooth and half-way through Who Let The Dogs Out Sara loud-whispered in my ear that we shouldn’t make this man feel so much like a demigod; and where are the other people on the dance floor worthy of our gyrating, then she pressed her lips to Andre’s ears, so I assumed she passed on the same caution

two hours into the night, my vision turned against whoever I thought was me, I couldn’t understand my own speech, just as the DJ played some jazz finally, I thought, something civilized

I asked The Translator who the artist was, and he replied full of jaunt that it was Complainte Paysanne and something about Raoul Guillaume and that Coltrane had used that Haitian Jazz structure to open his masterpiece Kulu Sé Mama

I had already expected to get too much information from The Translator, but I did not expect the posse around me to turn into a kaleidoscopic desperation then the strobe lights stopped and the place went hell dark, which a tepid moon beyond the doorway mocked during our dance break at the bar,
The Translator leaned in, caressed his beard and with his mouth wide open he let his tongue loose as though to prove something we should like then he asked if we’d like to take this party to a hotel room

Andre said what the heck, I said what the heck, too, but Sara interlaced her fingers and gave Andre the evil eye, then Andre passed it on to me and I to The Translator

he reached his arm around Sara and swiped her up against him, and I think I heard him say to Sara,

“oh, let me sex you, sex you, I sex you,”

then he brought me up against his side with his free arm

“sak passé?” he said

I was frightened

frightened that his third arm or tentacle already had Andre by the neck
I was frightened or I passed out or the rest of the night might have been rolled up and puffed out of existence because there’s nothing else to remember, not a whole thing more about it, or it would seem that only Sara knows what happened next

each time I’d brought it up, she either froze or tormented me with nondisclosure

or she’d correct me that The Translator had said I hex you not I sex you,
and sometimes, for the heck of it, I’d say:

“in almost every culture in the world sexing is hexing”


*

one Saturday we’re at the pet store

the caramel-furred dog in the biggest cage lifts the hemmed, tapered skin of its black mouth

it backs up in what looks like slow motion, the kind you see in the movies while the screen blurs

it keeps its eyes on us for the while and says i was going to bite but i’ve changed my mind, for you, only for you

or whatever other dogged phrase it speaks wisely as Sara pulls me back from the cage

we walk off as she explains that she believed that hex had finally caught up
with her and that I should be careful next,
as though the curse had taken a year to walk from Mirebalais

Andre would have objected here to any strange logic,
burned her disapproving eyes deep into our foreheads

she did not return with us,
for nearly a year, Andre has been missing

Sara had lost her job when we returned because she had claimed short-term disability to chase that dream of saving Haiti with some planks of wood and nails enough to keep a few orphans off their corners of their mounds of doubtful earth for a moment

she had worked for two years to get Andre to commit to doing her part and how could anyone else not want to save the world, as much of it as they could

and so here we were now window shopping for dogs, neither of us believe our true bedfellows nor our kin, like we believed Andre

it was another haptic dream to chase for a while yet again as the questions
about Andre’s disappearance turned into more questions about disappearance and whatever is anything worth

did that dog turn away and deny us the small dignity of its stare on our backs
who cares for those things that may or may not lie in waiting
maybe, like us, the dog wants more than anything to be soothed

because sometimes nothing else is possible
because suddenly Sara runs back into the pet store and starts beating down
cage after cage

I see the security guard running no quicker than lava on flat land
I see Sara throwing plastic bones at him

because I stand back and let her have her downpour

because the moment you become filled with something, anything, and even more, under spotlight—that buzzing in your head is swallowed up, without warning, porous and full of the world’s human voices, the lullaby is born, is shot out to cushion your fall