The road bends. In a place where a girl was snatched, no one says her name. They talk about the
bloody slip, not the lost girl. The blacktop road curves there and drops. Can’t see what’s ahead
so, I listen. Insects scratch their legs and wind their wings above their backs. The road sounds
Every day I walk alone on the schoolhouse road, keeping my eyes on where I’m going, not where I have been. Bruises on my shoulder from carrying books and notebooks, pencils, and crayons.
Pebbles crunch. An engine grinds, brakes screech. I step into a cloud of pink dust and weeds.
The sandy taste of road dust dries my tongue. Older boys, mean boys, cursing beer-drunk boys
laugh and bluster—“Rusty Girl.” They drive fast. Their laughs fade. Feathers of a bent bluebird impale the road. Sun beats the crushed bird.
Cutting through the tall, tall grass, I pick up a stick to warn. Songs and sticks have power over snakes. Bramble snaps. Wild berries squish under my feet. The ripe scent makes my belly grumble. Briar thorns prick my skin, making my fingertips bleed. Plucking handfuls, I eat. Blood on a blackberry ruins the taste.
Books spill. Backwards I fall. Pages tear. Lessons brown like sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg. Blackberry stain. Thistles and nettles grate my legs and thighs. Coarse laughter, not from inside me. A boy, a laughing boy, a mean boy. Berry black stains my dress.
The sun burns through kitchen windows, warming, baking. I roll my purple-tipped fingers into
Sweet child, grandmother will say. Smart girl.
Tomorrow. On the schoolhouse road.
"Blood on a Blackberry" represents land, the stain and sweat of labor, and the vulnerability and strength of bodies. The verses are tales from blackberry patches. The images are a collage of memories snapped, cut, torn, and shared as stories.
Photograph by Blair Mushala
"Blood on a Blackberry Verse to Image" is supported by the DC Commission on Arts & the Humanities.