Time and Reflection: Behind Her Gaze


Background-mapping draws the large and slim, the regarded and unfamiliar past to the present. In the course of my residency at the Aminah Robinson house, I examined the impulses powering my prose poem “Blood on a Blackberry” and discovered a kinship with the textile artist and author who designed her dwelling a creative protected room. I crafted narratives through a combined media software of vintage buttons, antique laces and materials, and textual content on cloth-like paper. The starting point for “Blood on a Blackberry” and the crafting through this undertaking was a photograph taken far more than a century ago that I discovered in a spouse and children album. 3 generations of ancestral mothers held their bodies nevertheless exterior of what appeared like a improperly-created cabin. What struck me was their gaze.

Three generations of girls in Virginia. Photograph from the writer’s family members album. Museum artwork talk “Time and Reflection: Behind Her Gaze.”

What feelings hid guiding their deep penetrating appears to be? Their bodies prompt a permanence in the Virginia landscape around them. I realized the names of the ancestor moms, but I understood minor of their life. What ended up their techniques? What songs did they sing? What wishes sat in their hearts? Stirred their hearts? What ended up the evening appears and working day appears they read? I preferred to know their thoughts about the earth close to them. What frightened them? How did they communicate when sitting with friends? What did they confess? How did they discuss to strangers? What did they conceal? What was girlhood like? Womanhood? These concerns led me to crafting that explored how they ought to have felt.

Investigate was not adequate to carry them to me. Recorded general public heritage often distorted or omitted the stories of these ladies, so my background-mapping relied on memories associated with emotions. Toni Morrison identified as memory “the deliberate act of remembering, a variety of willed generation – to dwell on the way it appeared and why it appeared in a distinct way.” The act of remembering by way of poetic language and collage helped me to much better recognize these ancestor moms and give them their say.

Images of the artist and visible texts of ancestor mothers hanging in studio at Aminah Robinson dwelling.

Doing work in Aminah Robinson’s studio, I traveled the line that carries my spouse and children historical past and my innovative writing crossed new boundaries. The texts I developed reimagined “Blood on a Blackberry” in hand-slice styles drawn from traditions of Black women’s stitchwork. As I reduce excerpts from my prose and poetry in sheets of mulberry paper, I assembled fragmented memories and reframed unrecorded historical past into visible narratives. Coloration and texture marked childhood innocence, feminine vulnerability, and bits of memories.

The blackberry in my storytelling turned a metaphor for Black lifestyle created from the poetry of my mother’s speech, a southern poetics as she recalled the ingredients of a recipe. As she reminisced about baking, I recalled weekends collecting berries in patches together region roadways, the labor of small children amassing berries, inserting them in buckets, strolling along streets fearful of snakes, listening to what may well be forward or concealed in the bushes and bramble. Individuals reminiscences of blackberry cobbler advised the handwork, craftwork, and lovework Black people lean on to survive struggle and rejoice everyday living.

In a museum chat on July 24, 2022, I similar my innovative ordeals throughout the residency and shared how questions about ancestors infused my storytelling. The Blood on a Blackberry selection exhibited at the museum expressed the expansion of my creating into multidisciplinary type. The levels of collage, silhouette, and stitched patterns in “Blood on a Blackberry,” “Blackberry Cobbler,” “Braids,” “Can’t See the Highway Forward,” “Sit Side Me,” “Behind Her Gaze,” “Fannie,” “1870 Census,” and “1880 Census” confronted the previous and imagined recollections. The final panels in the exhibit introduced my tribute to Fannie, born in 1840, a probable enslaved foremother. Whilst her lifetime rooted my maternal line in Caroline County, Virginia, exploration discovered sparse traces of biography. I faced a missing web page in historical past.

Photograph of artist’s gallery talk and discussion of “Fannie,” “1870 Census,” and “1880 Census.”

Aminah Robinson understood the toil of reconstructing what she referred to as the “missing web pages of American background.” Using stitchwork, drawing, and painting she re-membered the previous, preserved marginalized voices, and documented record. She marked historic moments relating lifetime moments of the Black community she lived in and loved. Her get the job done talked back again to the erasures of background. Consequently, the property at 791 Sunbury Street, its contents, and Robinson’s visible storytelling held specific this means as I worked there.

I wrote “Sit Aspect Me” for the duration of silent hrs of reflection. The days immediately after the incidents in “Blood on a Blackberry” needed the grandmother and Sweet Youngster to sit and collect their energy. The get started of their conversation came to me as poetry and collage. Their story has not finished there is far more to know and claim and think about.

Photograph of artist cutting “Sit Side Me” in studio.


Photograph of “Sit Side Me” in the museum gallery. Impression courtesy of Steve Harrison.

Sit Facet Me
By Darlene Taylor

Tasting the purple-black spoon from a bowl mouth,
oven heat perspiring sweet nutmeg black,
she halts her kitchen baking.

Sit aspect me, she suggests.

I want to sit in her lap, my chin on her shoulder.
Her heat, darkish eyes cloud. She leans forward
near plenty of that I can abide by her gaze.

There’s considerably to do, she claims,
inserting paper and pencil on the table.
Compose this.

Somewhere out the window a chook whistles.
She catches its voice and styles the large and very low
into text to clarify the wrongness and lostness
that took me from school. A woman was snatched.

She don’t forget the ruined slip, torn e book pages,
and the flattened patch.
The words in my arms scratch.
The paper is too short, and I can’t publish.
The thick bramble and thorns make my hands nevertheless.

She requires the memory and it belong to her.
Her eyes my eyes, her pores and skin my pores and skin.
She know the ache as it handed from me to her,
she know it like sin staining generations,
repeating, remembering, repeating, remembering.
Remembering like she know what it come to feel like to be a woman,
her fingers slide throughout the vinyl desk surface area to the paper.
Why quit producing? But I don’t reply.
And she never make me. Instead, she prospects me
down her memory of currently being a woman.

When she was a female, there was no university,
no publications, no letter writing.
Just thick patches of inexperienced and dusty purple clay road.

We get to the only street. She appears to be like a great deal taller
with her hair braided against the sky.
Consider my hand, sweet boy or girl.
Jointly we make this stroll, hold this previous street.

A milky sky flattens and eats steam. Clouds spittle and bend very long the highway.

Photographs of cut and collage on banners as they cling in the studio at the Aminah Robinson property.

Blood on a Blackberry
By Darlene Taylor

The road bends. In a location wherever a girl was snatched, no a person states her title. They converse about the
bloody slip, not the misplaced lady. The blacktop highway curves there and drops. Simply cannot see what’s in advance
so, I listen. Bugs scratch their legs and wind their wings higher than their backs. The road appears
safe and sound.

Each day I walk alone on the schoolhouse highway, keeping my eyes on wherever I’m heading,
not in which I been. Bruises on my shoulder from carrying guides and notebooks, pencils and

Pebbles crunch. An engine grinds, brakes screech. I stage into a cloud of pink dust and weeds.
The sandy style of street dust dries my tongue. Older boys, necessarily mean boys, cursing beer-drunk boys
chuckle and bluster—“Rusty Woman.” They drive speedy. Their laughs fade. Feathers of a bent bluebird impale the highway. Sun beats the crushed hen.

Reducing by means of the tall, tall grass, I pick up a adhere to warn. Tunes and sticks have ability more than
snakes. Bramble snaps. Wild berries squish below my feet. The ripe scent makes my tummy
grumble. Briar thorns prick my pores and skin, making my fingertips bleed. Plucking handfuls, I eat.
Blood on a blackberry ruins the style.

Guides spill. Backwards I drop. Internet pages tear. Classes 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 signify boy. Berry black stains my
gown. I run. Household.

The solar burns by kitchen windows, warming, baking. I roll my purple-tipped fingers into
my palms.

Sweet little one, grandmother will say. Wise lady.

Tomorrow. On the schoolhouse street.

Photographs of artist reducing textual content and discussing multidisciplinary crafting.


Darlene Taylor on the steps of the Aminah Robinson dwelling photographed by Steve Harrison.

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