By Camille U. Adams
Writing isn’t salvation. It doesn’t console. Writing isn’t alleviation. It doesn’t cajole trauma into being meaning. It isn’t healing. Writing isn’t freeing. Putting words on the page doesn’t seal the escaped-from yesterday. Not from pain that lingers, flares, and that chronically plagues. Penning words doesn’t rescue from trauma’s effects. Macbook on lap tap-tapping doesn’t spare from what comes next. Inscribing it doesn’t wrap up experience in a tidy bow.
Writing just shows what I’ve come to know. My memoir bears witness. That’s it. That’s all it produces. Just this.
Okay, yes, reading memoir helps me temporarily feel less alone. Because that memoirist’s pages are bestowed with their personal terror Fate has also condoned. Fine, I will concede when I read memoir from someone else who knows hardship I get to perceive, I get to be relieved that somebody else has also been dealt the same shipwreck of which I’m still in the throes. The way my shameful existence goes, that I don’t want anyone to fully apprehend. My life’s abnormalities I don’t want to be revealed and have to defend.
My privacy that is ripped away when personal essays insist on trotting themselves down my pen.
But I maintain, writing isn’t communion. I don’t gain loving relationships when I turn myself inside out. With my seams on display, with interiority I never spout through my mouth. With vulnerability I wish to withhold from the page, from my computer, from submission queues. Telling all my business is never what I did ever intend to do. Iz why I used to write poems about the sea and the moon.
But this exposing speech, this divulging prose, my splaying poetry? It has its own agency.
These words that my spine sends up nerve bundles to my mind at 2am, woken from nightmare again, of my father, of my mother hunting me in this new life, do not need me as guide. Not to write. These words find the bedside table’s pen. These words don’t let me close my eyes when Northern Cardinals trill sweet shrill conjurings from their tree outside my window they attend. Singing their symphony that apparate pink-hued Dawn.
These cardinals’ scarlet beaked whistles and all done surmise that my notebooks won’t let themselves be shorn. Not from the left-hand side of my bed. At 2am, there are no lies. Yuh done up. Now, put it down, night after night is said. Advice. Coming as snaking mist exhalate from these cardinals’ little tufted caramel and crimson heads. Through my windows. Up my clenching toes. Coming. Up my sciatic nerve, from where the curve of my back is bent. From this kundalini poetry’s ascent. From my deep calming breaths that distend my diaphragm and usher nightmare fear out my nose. From this 2am roused prose. That appears
not to console
not to free you from the chokehold of remembered past,
Time has come
the truth at last.
And you will tell. Oh, Camille, you will. Because I — Writing — require it.
I – Writing – surviving. I – Writing – recording all those times you were not killed. All those times you did not die at the hands of those evil parents against whom I instill your victory. You escaped them, sisters three. But you alone do not now return. And that’s me, Writing. Keeping you free.
You alone, lonely, but spurning your family’s narrative. The one that condones wife-beating. Their narrative that encourages with children sleeping. Your uncles in their mother’s yard to you speaking, ‘after 12 is lunch’. Your lascivious uncles laughing, saying this with licking lips and slurping tongue like they just done munch.
Your uncles with extended forearm imitating ram-ram. Forearm stretch out replicating steering, speeding, no brakes they willing to slam. You alone of that pumpkin vine family critiquing and putting your feet in where your thoughts lay. To walk out that yard, to close the gate, to run, to fly, to stay away
from your uncles swarming in a Beulah-predatory-offspring bunch. On the prowl, in a pack, to stalk, to hunt. To lure in young girls. The oldest uncle, their alpha, coming back from foreign to flash Yankee dollars and promises to show them the world. These girls who these uncles plied with pacts and possibilities of a magic ride outside their secondary school and their needful poverty.
These uncles boasting of their conquests, look how many fresh girls and their sisters they collect. Proud to be uncircumspect to you, their niece. Their head in a book, history-quoting, disgusted by their showboating niece. You, the primary school, the high school daughter of their brother who joined his tribe of trackers on their skulking nights on the promenade to pick up a lil something sweet.
You, the niece they let…nay, you the niece they set the tableau for. Waiting till you was deep in Arabian Nights thousand and one stories at granny dining table to make you their succour. Their help. Their guest, gowned, and orchestra box seated on cushions of felt. Every performer needs an audience before whom to exhibit well. These uncles staging their prowess to tell of itself. Clearly. Through their bedroom adjoining dining room walls. Loudly. Down Beulah rabbit warren household halls.
These uncles seeking to illicit, to elicit a response to their copulating calls. To their gasps, to their groans. To the spring squeaks, the pants and cries of the young girls meek and a long way from home. These young girls lured by KFC, by cable tv, by a packed fridge negating the empty cupboards of their own. Broken-in fillies sending out signals of self-survival to these uncles when they roam.
These uncles good at picking out unparented juveniles when the streets of Port of Spain they comb. And under their mother’s roof, their slavering teeth yet un-content to not somehow try to reach the little girl child keeping her head in a tome.
All the while Beulah pile split peas and golden ray. And stir her soup-brewing pot night and day. And hum her church hymns. And brag about the good sons she got from her jesus, her jehovah, her elohim. Sons striving to groom her granddaughters while she sing.
But you do not now go back. And it is I – Writing – ensuring that. Not therapy, not sociology and psychology textbook page. It is I – Writing – who awakens your truth, your clarity, your memory, your rage. No venturing again to them people an dem place.
Not like your sisters. Who will take anything that family doles out to smile in they face. Not like your many cousins, inheriting, participating, exhibiting every trace of their mothers enabling of those uncles. These cousins also excusing every act depraved. I – Writing – encouraged then and enforce now that you do not stay. And there is my victory. Tell me again how I do not set you free.
I – Writing – not allowing you to succumb to your history. Not for appearance of normalcy. Not for family gathering holiday festivities. I proclaim you estranged. I give you my name. My clarification. In the narration you chart that makes you alone withstand the cult of that family from which you stand apart, I wield my art. Tell me again how I do not mend your heart.
I – Writing – earning your degrees, your job wherein you teach, your workshop prestige, your independence, your adhering to your common sense. My obliging you to reflect disabling your tendency to neglect your intuition for inferior connection with this family that will always be the wrong selection. Tell me again how I do not grant relationships. When I demand fidelity to the principal one that you were born with.
Writing, dear heart, is consolation. Every drop of ink released bleeding out that family’s infliction. Staunching and cleansing the wound. Resetting the bone given space to regrow in our remove. You save yourself in spilling their ugly truth.
I – Writing – is who you are and what you will always, always do.
And so the next restless night, when I call upon you to write, and the cute crimson and caramel crests serenade you from round feathered chests with melodic birdsong from their perched nest in their tree outside? Soothing your rioting strife? Remember they’re a bonded pair. Northern Cardinals mate for life.
Camille U. Adams
Camille U. Adams is a writer from Trinidad and Tobago. She earned her MFA in Poetry from CUNY and is a current Ph.D. Candidate in Creative Nonfiction at FSU where she has been awarded a McKnight Doctoral Fellowship and nominated for a teaching award. Camille is a Tin House alum and a Tin House reader for the 2023 summer workshop applications. She is also a Kenyon Writers Workshop alum. Additionally, Camille has received scholarships and fellowships for attendance at writing conferences from Roots Wounds Words, Community of Writers, Kweli Literary Festival, Grubstreet, VONA, etc. Her writing has been long-listed in the Graywolf Creative Nonfiction Prize 2022 and selected as a finalist for The 2021 Orison Anthology Award in Nonfiction. Camille’s memoir writing is featured in Passages North, Citron Review, Hippocampus Magazine, XRAY Literary Magazine, Variant Literature, The Forge Literary Magazine, Wasafiri, Kweli Magazine, The Caribbean Writer, and elsewhere. Camille is also a nonfiction editor at Variant Literature, a memoir reader for Split Lip Magazine, and a fiction reader for X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine. Camille has just begun querying her first memoir and is at work on her second. When she isn’t writing and teaching, Camille can be found on Twitter at @Camille_U_Adams where she spends way too much time.