Prose poem by the author of Getting Our Breath Back (2002) depicts a haunted paradise.
Led out of slavery by Eliza, a woman of magical powers, a ragtag group of 12 travels by night for untold weeks and comes to a grassy clearing well hidden by the surrounding woods. Safe at last, they settle in the place they name Eden and flourish away from their former masters, happy to be forgotten by the outside world and living supposedly without sin in their secret idyll. But one dark day, white people show up, greedy for the fertile land and prepared to take it by law or by force. They set the houses of Eden on fire and then are hacked to bits in a night of blood and thunder, watched by Eliza’s daughter (also named Eliza). The dead are buried in a mass grave, but their unquiet spirits hold the people of Eden in thrall for decades to come. Time marches on, given solemn meaning by biblical quotations and the soul-stirring cadences of black speech. Progress encroaches upon the hidden town. Its sons and daughters leave for work in Cleveland, but the pull of home is strong. Several generations of folks live, love, and die into the present day with still more Elizas, as well as Hawk Eye, Red Cap, Aspasia, and little Lula just to vary the nomenclature. Jeremiah, a ladies’ man, contracts a fatal illness while livin’ large in New York City and comes home to die—tended, of course, by the last Eliza. Yes, Eden is a refuge and also, in some unspecified way, a prison for its descendants.
Unstructured and undisciplined.