Kara Walker painting An Unpeopled Land in Uncharted Waters
Kara Walker

Ghosts in Schools

With lines from In the Wake, by Christina Sharpe

By Joy Priest
Painting by Kara Walker

  

… a human body would not make it
           to the seafloor intact

*

               NO LOITERING  
               IN THE WATER

They whisper like fish. The police  
                           in schools like fish

the atoms of the people who were thrown overboard—

*

Sometimes my lungs feel like stones  
in the hypnagogic hour—that watery room  
between wakefulness & sleep

*

The faint formation of land in the distance—

that’s when horror struck

in the mind of the African

*

abovedeck—the moment just before

our African       became               -American

*

… out there in the ocean even today.
Hidden in the language

in the pelagic tunnels. Narrow corridor  
           of attention. Fish whisper

*

They avoid our shadows  
like fish. Ghosts in schools  
like fish. Police in schools—

             NO LOITERING  
            IN OUR HISTORY

“. . . we talk like fossils  
                            in this country . . .”

*

The amount of time it takes  
for a substance to enter  
the ocean and then leave  
the ocean is called residence
time

*

those who took the ocean

as their home, murmurous

as my footsteps

*

Standing midnight at the Atlantic harbor  
I hear the fishermen  
yelling to one another out on the water

where they’ve just noticed                     the sea beginning to part

a corridor of murdered         Africans     million-ghost-marching

to Wall Street

*

We were always white folks’ white whale.

Ain’t that some shit?


Next: Read Anna Deavere Smith on being one of the first Black students at a small women’s college.