We’re sailin up the Limpopo River from Fool’s Tide to Pope’s Eye. In some places we can reach out and touch the dried old balls of priests hanging from the trees way out over the river. We slash off the hair of electric witch-looking spiral glows just under the surface of the water and have electric ringworm pie for breakfast. Me and the colored slave, Big Jim. And me, I’m taking skin treatments to turn myself black like him, blacker and blacker each day with the sun and the electric burn-worms and all. Some places the river turns to bog and swamp and we got to jump out and slog through mud to pull the barge through. Only thing keeps us going then is little hydra-heads nipping at our legs and making us howl like motherfuckers.
Some kind of birds bite our skin sometimes too. Big Jim calls em ghost-peckers. He believes in spirits. Whenever the birds show up he yell and scream at em, he beg em to pick little holes in us and carry our skin away to Sweet Jesus. He says Jesus is one of the spirits.
Sometimes we talk nigger talk, he teach me how, or sometimes we sing loud black bad-ass music, scratching up the sky with our soul voices. We been singing so hard we carved long streaks and scars and tattoos all over our faces, so now we pretend we’re family to the things that are all the time falling from the sky. When we see those streaks Jim says the stars are pissing.
We collect it all up, that stuff that falls. I know it ain’t exactly rain, it’s more like grease, some kind of snakey oil, and it’s so slippery we can slide around the deck on it, or sometimes cook our meals with it. Only thing is, if we save it, if we keep it around, it’s got a REAL strong stench, like maybe what snakes fuck in, and when it gets real strong, some fat crumpled-up snakes jump out of those trees drooping with the strands of those old balls that look just like em and disguise em till the last minute, they all of a sudden jump down around our necks like they were niggers’ nooses or something until we got em face to face and got no choice but to feed em our fingers and private parts to keep em satisfied.
So I don’t want to be crude but in some places now we got stumps, it cut down a lot on our pleasure but not a hair on our strength. Yeah now we got real tough bony mounds too bony and hard for the snakes and anyway once they eat their fill they slide down and try to slither away but we cut em up in little sections to replace the things they bit away, we nail em to our stumps and get ready for the next tree-jumping snakes. And that’s the story of how we’re breeding swamps full of cannibal snakes, eatin themselves over and over, and like as not if we could look close enough we’d see some white man zoo keeper crawlin through these mean overgrown swamps looking for the species that we are right now creating.
Once in a while I like to read to pass the time, so I throw my eyes heavenward and scan the signs of the Lord plastered there up against the sky, course it ain’t easy to sneak a look up there what with all this stuff like rain that keeps falling, but sometimes the stars come out fresh as the nigger children’s army’s horsemen and dance like centaurs before the morning. In between their dance tracks and their singing and pissing the planets show porno movies to stupid eyes that don’t know any better, like us, usually — long sexy shows with a lot of shooting off and sucking sounds that always surprise niggers like us.
We niggers to the end, Jim and me both. Jim was always one. And I’m going black for good even though my mama made me white, I’m going black for good and never coming back because I’m a fool, I know I’m a fool, and I don’t want anyone ever to think any different. Big Jim and me, we ran away from my old parents, we stole underwear from my mama’s drawers and sold em to astronomers right before we got away.
And me and Big Jim, maybe we even killed a few people, just for food, maybe we even lassoed a few nigger babies that strayed too close to shore and ate em on holidays, they ain’t boneless you know but they been raised on sweet soul music so they got a sweet tang to their taste and they make me more and more like em every day.
And it ain’t so bad actually starving. Every so often we lift leather boots from old dead sleeping niggers fishing on the river banks that were sleeping so deep we slipped those boots right off their feet. But sometimes when we get em we don’t even eat em, even when we’re sick from hunger, just so we can cry in em and then guzzle each other’s sobs like salty beer.
Salty beer, so sweet, Big Jim’s tears. “Make Me a River” is what we sing, and Big Jim’s tears are just like that, as smooth and sweet as the stars drizzling down their hot white grease. Big Jim’s old and he’s dumb but he’s a nigger like me and he actually ain’t just a man at all but a Bi-sex, a two-way human, one who got the qualities of both human races, man and woman, and who tells me stories of his mama, a fat old Black lady with big red eyes and giant feet with only three toes as big as fists on each foot who made a fortune in the circus until someone found out she shot herself full of silicon, and how his mama was violated by a animal of no known origin, a animal as big as a whale with flippers to match and in no way sexed like us. Made her lie down inside the circus tent early one morning while he grabbed the big top and came not like any normal man but kind of by seepage, a slow creeping gas of a come that kind of snuck into his mama’s pores like sweat going backwards and made her pregnant in her eyes and tits and stomach all at once. Now this man, Jim says, was no man, no way like us, a face like a fish but with smoking and bubbling see-through skin that smelt like that oily snake piss, and this so close to the swamp where Big Jim was later born gave everybody the suspicion that the government people were right when they called the mystery landings there by the name of swamp gas — swamp gas, like a big buzz of fireflies through the woods, they said, the ones who saw, as big as a whale but as light as a balloon.
They, his mama’s relatives, made Big Jim a hero and a goat. They kept changing their minds. Sometimes they’d hook up a big plough to his hunched shoulders and make him furrow the ground like a work animal, or else squeeze his baby boop breasts for milk. Then other times they’d turn around and fill him full of strange green stalks of food and real quick look for gas from his anus, like as if they expected yellow firefly clouds to pop right out and show em what his father looked like. They’d stroke his sexes, both of em at once, and all of em would come and enjoy him two at a time, shushing their youngsters and shooing jealous neighbors away. They clipped his hair in horns and bruised his eyeballs yellow, sometimes punched him green and veiny in the stomach till he hollered and admitted he came from his mama’s eye and was only as big as a green pea when he first came out. His mama left the earth the day he was born, Big Jim told me once, and he never knew what else came out that day.
Those electrical worms we grab out of the river — sometimes we whirl em around our heads and get em hot and glowing and pretend we’re on a space ship jumping through the sky. Sure, we’ve seen plenty of stars pissing, we seen whale-size men sailing through the sky, sometimes Big Jim will get a fat tear in the corner of his eye like as if the whale men reminded him of his lost father and I kiss it away cause with Big Jim I got no pride and no special sex.
Our voices sail like milky strings between the stars. Someday they’ll fall back down. But right now we got a home no white-meat singer could ever guess, we got tunes to carry us to eternity, we got songs only niggers can sing.