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Narrative of the Life of the Brown Boy and the White Man

Narrative of the Life of the Brown Boy and the White Man

Ronaldo V. Wilson
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt6wr9tk
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  • Book Info
    Narrative of the Life of the Brown Boy and the White Man
    Book Description:

    WINNER OF THE 2007 CAVE CANEM POETRY PRIZESelected by Claudia RankineProse poems that profile the interrelationship of the two central characters, looking deeply into their psyches and thoughts of race, class, and identity.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-7824-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. I. NARRATIVE OF THE LIFE OF THE BROWN BOY AND THE WHITE MAN

    • NARRATIVE OF THE LIFE OF THE BROWN BOY AND THE WHITE MAN
      (pp. 3-5)

      One house is red, up on a red mountain. The house is windowless and cold. In the garage of the red house is a car and in that car is a red button. This button does nothing. The car is silver and has four black wheels with silver rims, one covered in dirt. The dirt is not from the mountain.

      In the red house are a brown boy and a white man. They hate each other. It smells clean. Love is the smell of their hate. The brown boy in the red house imagines murdering the white man. Cutting up...

    • THE BROWN BOY DREAMS HIS FATHER IS WHITE AND THIN
      (pp. 6-7)

      The brown boyʹs mother is light, almost the color of milk that has been lit with sun and boiled. Since she was proud of her body, the brown boyʹs mother rarely wore clothing in her house, and he often saw her naked. Since she ran marathons, played tennis, and made ceramic sculptures, she was often tired.

      When he was a child, the brown boy, at his motherʹs request, would step on her legs, walking up and back down the thighs and calves. Sometimes his brother would walk with him, pacing up to the thigh where they looked down at her....

    • IRRATIONAL DESIRE
      (pp. 8-10)

      The white man is in Boston. The brown boy is at his gym, in Manhattan, below the street in the locker room. The pool just beyond the heavy steel door is an expanse of salty water with bits of floating skin, mucus, and a string of hair that wraps around his goggles and clings to his mouth.

      The brown boy, who has had enough of eating hair and swimming, leaves the pool. On the way to the locker room, he spots a white man with grey hair and a hard clayish face, floating in the twelve-foot section, wading near the...

    • BRAD PITT, KEVIN BACON, AND THE BROWN BOY'S MOTHER
      (pp. 11-14)

      When he wakes up out of sleep, the brown boy remembers two things: his white man calls and breaks the groans of Kevin Bacon, naked and writhing in pain on a hard and wet black street. Bacon has been beaten with broken bottles and has had his chest smashed in with a large flaming couch section. A mob of whites poured gasoline all over his chiseled stomach and then lit him afire. Brad Pitt lay next to him, his stomach breathless and glistening in the flameʹs light.

      The brown boy knows this is somewhere between movie and dream, staring at...

  2. II. THE BROWN BOY'S FAMILY

    • THE BROWN BOY'S BLACK FATHER LOSES IT
      (pp. 17-19)

      In the dream, the brown boyʹs father is crazy. He is naked and has come out into a kitchen scattered with open boxes, his cock shiny, hard, and sticking straight into the room. The brown boy knows he must get his father to a mirror so he can get him to look at his own eyes. If he can only drag him out of the kitchen and down the hallway where he sees a mirror against a wall, he thinks, maybe, he can save him.

      The brown boy is not fearful. He feels the presence of his entire family in...

    • THE BROWN BOY'S MOTHER IS WEARING GREEN
      (pp. 20-22)

      As she slipped the army green turtleneck, ribbed and freshly bought from Ross, from over her shoulders, she told the brown boy about the senior citizensʹ discount the saleslady almost failed to give her. The brown boyʹs mother told him that she asked the girl,Do I look 17?

      The brown boy often hisses with the same meanness that ensured his motherʹs 10 percent discount off the sweater, which would look perfect under a forest green vest, oversized, and would flatter her pants, an almost fluorescent green, straight legged—perfect for her shift at the convalescent home.

      To the home,...

    • THE BROWN BOY, THE WHITE MAN, AND THE SNOW
      (pp. 23-23)

      The brown boy, looking out into the snow, did not think of his own depression. He only thought of the white manʹs as he washed away the leftover layers of rice that had soaked in the water and oil from the eveningʹs Garlic Chicken and Pad Thai. As he finished the dishes, the brown boyʹs interpretation of the white manʹs sadness in winter was fueled by his focus on the bluebird that bounced on the snow outside his window, flitting around for food on the covered trash cans.

      Instead of thinking something like,What a beautiful bird, the brown boy...

    • THE BROWN BOY IMAGINES THE WHITE MAN'S DEATH
      (pp. 24-25)

      How sad it will be the moment, one day, when the white man dies.

      Though since the white man is good, he will grow old cheerily, not greedily with cankers loading up in his ass or on his balls from years of hate and selfishness.

      But even though he lives right, his stomach boils like a dead sea and hurts.

      The white man has even taken to acupuncture and herbs, which may be working, but the brown boy can never get the answer that he wants. Itʹs the same story of pain—my stomach’s fucked up—that recycles and pushes...

    • KOI AND EEL DREAM
      (pp. 26-26)

      The brown boy is with his father in a living room watching an eel in a tank. The eel is also a koi that has a wire and paper twist-tie pierced into the back of its orange tail. The koi is also fat and white. The eel is large and black, with the face of a cat. It stares out at the brown boy and his black father from inside the tank, hissing and showing its teeth.

      The brown boy remembers seeing his fatherʹs hands and arms covered past his elbows with white surgeonʹs gloves, and that he is about...

    • SERENA WILLIAMS, WHITENESS, AND THE ACT OF WRITING
      (pp. 27-30)

      The brown boy is afraid, because he canʹt tell, exactly, what his work is. He identifies with Serena Williams, the gorgeous, black tennis star who was booed at Indian Wells. The rumor is that her father, Richard, fixed an earlier match in the tournament where she was to play her sister, Venus, who pulled out with tendinitis in her knees seconds before they were about to begin. The theory is that he rigged this meeting, just as he did their first All-Williams Wimbledon Semifinal, where Serena is rumored to have thrown the contest.

      In his apartment in Brooklyn, the brown...

  3. III. THE BROWN BOY'S FLESH

    • A CRUISE
      (pp. 33-34)

      The brown boy is dreaming about being on the open deck of the Orient Point Ferry, which travels between Long Island and New London. His head leans against the stomach of a thin, white man with no money, who has a rust-colored beard and cheap, amber sunglasses. Though he does not know the brown boy, the white man with a rust-colored beard and amber shades is letting the brown boy lean into his stomach. The thin, white man’s small gut is the slight excess that the brown boy needs, his head pushing into the soft mat of it while staring...

    • THE BROWN BOY REMEMBERS MR. MOREAU
      (pp. 35-36)

      Mr. Moreau is big and white and sits on a high stool. From the brown boyʹs desk, which is lower than the counter, he can look up at the great bulge between his teacherʹs legs. Even though, in physics, he would stare up at Mr. Moreau and think at night about being fucked by him—like a dog—on the counters of his classroom, he knew this would never occur.

      But still, he would imagine it: sometimes he would see the Bunsen burners on, the shooting blue flames and translucent heat. Other times, when he, himself, would sit at a...

    • THE BROWN BOY PLAYS A GAME
      (pp. 37-39)

      Once, when the brown boy was a child, he played like his mother was one too. He ran and ran around the field they shared with dozens of other houses on the military base. In that field, the brown boy burned a red wagon to black by loading it withhay—grass that had turned brown from the Tennessee sun. He burned the wagon while other boys, some white, some brown, some black, looked on. Once the wagon was charred to uselessness, he was satisfied.

      In the field, the brown boy was running, ran: he ran and ran in circles...

    • THE BROWN BOY AND THE BABY
      (pp. 40-42)

      The baby could speak. The brown boy remembers lifting the baby up on his shoulders and carrying him up a ramp into a room where there were dozens of fish tanks next to one another. It was not a pet store, because in front of the aquariums there were vats of cooked seafood, each of which matched the fish in the tanks: crab cakes next to crabs, butterfly shrimp next to shrimp, ginger-steamed cod next to cod. The baby was fascinated, and it asked all the appropriate questions:What’s that? What’s this?

      The brown boy and the baby left the...

  4. IV. THE BROWN BOY'S TRAVELS

    • THE BROWN BOY OPENS HIS MOUTH UNDERWATER
      (pp. 45-49)

      Three thousand and twenty-one miles away from the red house and his white man, the brown boy has become an endless hole, his mouth flooded with the water from the pool at 24 Hour Fitness, where he dazzles yellow and squat pool-sitters who gawk in awe, his butterflying arms hurling out to break the waterʹs surface. When he is tired, the brown boy floats just under it, holding his mouth open like a whale shark, taking in the liquid to the back of his mouth, where his throat begins.

      What he is trying to both remember and abandon is the...

    • JOEY, THE BROWN BOY, AND RICKY
      (pp. 50-56)

      In Kenya, there is a white man with cotton-white hair standing against a backdrop of shields that look like hardened zebra hides matted onto wood. What excites the brown boy is the blue, button-down shirt that cloaks the traveler who has found himself in front of a row of shields, posing for a picture.

      Joey, the white manʹs travel partner, has given him a pair of wraparound black shades that give the poseur what the brown boy interprets asdrive. This force cuts from the photo out to the brown boy who says:Now this photo is hot. I’d fuck...

    • THE ACCIDENT
      (pp. 57-60)

      In front of a black limousine, a white man with layers of winter khaki and Shetland tweed lies on the street, his face kissing the ground, arms folded back and hands pushing against the ground where he tried to catch himself. The left side of his face is soft and milk fed. His glasses are oval and gold. He has been struck by the car that is blocking traffic in front of him. Seeing the man prone, stopped mid-step, and now stuck on his face like a rat who has been snapped in a trap, is why the brown boy...

  5. V. THE BROWN BOY'S FINAL KILLING

    • INCIDENT AND EPISODE IN THE RED HOUSE
      (pp. 63-65)

      The white man in his bed is cast in a low, red light. Grey hair coats his skin-rubbery torso. The brown boy is wearing blue G-Star raw denim jeans, a black Donna Karan slim tight top with green cashmere socks, and olive-toned clogs that hang over the side of the white manʹs waterbed. How the brown boy arcs and extends his legs over the white man and off the bed makes him think of two knives piercing through his own hard, smart skull.

      The brown boy said, before he lay in bed, while on the toilet shitting:I felt good...

    • THE BROWN BOY'S FLESH
      (pp. 66-66)

      While being driven home in the silver car, toward the clear house down route 25A, the white man told the brown boy about a dessert he had at Paceʹs. When he said the flavor,chocolate coffee bean gelato, the possibility of its taste had only a second to register before the shock of its sight.

      It was as black as your shirt. When the white man says this, the brown boy thought he was going to say:it was as black as you. The brown boy skips his skin and looks down at his shirt, the fabric a deep black,...

    • THE BROWN BOY'S SILENCE
      (pp. 67-68)

      All I do is eat chocolate, get fat and feel depressed. The brown boy—feeling sorry for himself—thought that this was something he meant as he thought it. But because the white man has made an omelet for the brown boy and is now cleaning the windows, the house smells thick with egg, butter, and Windex.

      Even though he does it all for him, the brown boy resents that the white man has time to cook and to clean the windows, and thinks this, as his breath becomes more and more shallow, breathing in butter and the drops of...

    • THE BROWN BOY'S FINAL KILLING
      (pp. 69-70)

      After a barbecue, the brown boy is floating in a millionaireʹs pool with a gunite base. The sky is black above him, muddled. His body sinks just below the water, where he looks up into the black, where there is not a star to be seen. His hands lift through the water to cup a moth that floats on the surface.

      If the others were not around, would he let it go, free it from the water to fly up in the black sky? At what point did he think to kill the insect? At what point did he decide...

  6. VI. THE BROWN BOY'S CLARITY

    • THE BROWN BOY IS LOOKING AND LISTENING
      (pp. 73-74)

      There are two places where the brown boy feels long. In the mirror, he stares first at his stomach, which is perfect, framed by two small lines that cut into him and point to his feet, which hurt from running. In the mirror, he cannot see his feet, but peers around to his muscular calves, turns his left leg in and thinks there could be a point to this action, an endless motion driving him down further as his body slips out of the mirrorʹs frame. His left arm follows his leg. He is dancing. His hand curves with his...

    • THE BROWN BOY LOVES THE WHITE MAN
      (pp. 75-78)

      When the brown boy remembers the white man applying Cliniqueʹs All About the Eyes to the bags beneath his own, he also remembers the fluid is pink. The brown boy does not need Clinique, but he feels that the ritual of a wash, then Clarifying Lotion, Multi-Vitamin Acne Treatment (precautionary), Total Turnaround Cream, Moisture in Control, and maybe All About the Eyes is more than enough to keep his face cinematic.

      But beyond product, the brown boy remains beautiful because he gets plenty of rest in the white manʹs house. One weekend, while napping, he thought about the wordcomfort...