It’s Gonna Rain, An Essay

Christine Hume Issue 17 • Spring 2016

For three generations of black girls and women killed in domestic spaces in SE Michigan, by white vigilantes and cops:  AURA ROSSER, RENISHA MCBRIDE, AIYANA STANLEY JONES

The largest porch in the world wraps around the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island in Michigan. From this porch and its hundreds of rocking chairs, as you look out over the great Lake Huron, and say it looks like the ocean, a sense that anything is possible deepens the sun spreading on blue water.

For a long time black workers had their own hotel, and weren’t otherwise allowed on the island after dark, when the workday was over.

You probably know that Detroit is the most segregated city in America. Within city limits, it’s also the least diverse. White people live in a wrap around porch called the suburbs. Read: no solicitors, wet paint, guard dog. A porch cannot completely hide what is on the inside.

About forty minutes outside Detroit, my neighborhood listserv instructs us: please lock your doors and keep your porch lights on. Call the police for even minor incidents. A girl might be walking around lost in the dark, or on your porch, knocking on your door.

Which side of the porch are you on? Come in or you’ll catch your death.

RENISHA MCBRIDE, Dearborn Heights, 2013

What does a porch sound like in the rainy, early morning hours when you need help?

You were driving home in the dark and got into an accident. You hit your head and you need help. You need a porch light. A porch is thank you, slow and open. A light would not exist if hospitality did not need it. I mean if hostility did not. Survival borrows form from the past, which is not even past, not even forgotten, not even past. [1]

A white man is inside, calling 911: Ah yes, I just shot somebody on my front porch.

The weak point is the one who speaks even if the main point is the one on the porch. What’s your point? What do you imagine pointing at you? To be on point is a military term meaning to be the first one in with a gun. The point is not to cross the line. A porch is a line, a breaking point. Case in point. On a porch you have two directions. Point blank. On point. On the line. In line. In the line of.

I jus I jus I jus I jus I jus I jus I adjust I jus I jus shot somebody on my front porch. With a shotgun. Banging on my door.[2]

Jus is a legal term meaning power or right. A porch raises but cannot settle questions of belonging. A porch is never yours alone. Whose porch do you mean? I mean the porch within the porch. Porch time, porch swing, porch kiss, wet towels, muddy shoes, porch talk, pot shot. The porch you are standing on, the largest porch in the world, turn on the light, pull the cord, pull the. What city are you in?

The first porches in America were on the front of shotgun houses; it’s where Milkman finds Pilate in Detroit, in a black dress peeling an orange.[3]

You, too, are standing on a soft threshold, wind stirring the bushes, stirring up a feeling of overlooking:  being overlooked or on an overlook. Your double-vision means seeing things.

When you are on a porch, memory collects and swarms. Its blood stain is a memorial you step over daily. Step into the sensation of safety, as if everything you know could be gently suspended. You are calm here, you panic here. Gravitationally, a porch pulls you in and into a time to hear things and talk. Sitters have been tongueless, earless, eyeless conveniences all day. Mules and other brutes have occupied their skins. But now, the sun and the bossman are gone, so their skins feel powerful and human. They become lords of sounds and lesser things. They pass nations through their mouths. They sit in judgment.[4]

What happened to the shooter? The judge cried, she cried to convict him.  It’s not about race, she said through tears so white they are raining. A porch clings to its house.

AIYANA STANLEY JONES, Detroit, 2010

You read the news in a porch state:  being at home and not being at home. The temperature swings: quoted pillars, a throw. Even when you are at home, covered with a blanket in the dark room, asleep, you are not home. You are on a white porch, temporarily permitted, or not.

In the middle of the night, can you imagine? A knock on the door. Even if you can’t imagine it, the story ends the same.

A porch used to be where you told stories, now it is a stage that screens have trained us to watch. The opening shot captures a quiet home at midnight. From the porch, look inside the groundfloor apartment, where TV emits the only light. A grandmother watches a show as her granddaughter sleeps, both on the sofa, their legs touching. They do not realize TV is looking back at them, they are being filmed for a future show. You look through the window along with the film crew, a half-dozen masked SWAT team officers, the imaginary everyone tunes into the A&E reality show, The First 48.

The conceit of the show is that homicide detectives have 48 hours to crack a murder case before the trail goes cold. Will watching keep everyone alive?

No one checks to see if the door is locked. Instead the officers use a battering ram to smash through it; then they throw a flash-bang grenade through the window, a diversionary device in a time of war.

An explosion of light and blinding noise breaks into the girl’s dreaming. The grenade lands so close to her that her blanket ignites. She wakes up just as the officer on point bursts into the room. What? Her blanket is burning. What’s that look on her face? What are you looking at? The show’s star fires a single shot, the bullet strikes the burning girl in the neck. The cameras catch it.

The police do not realize yet that they have thrown the grenade into the wrong apartment. They do not realize the murderer they were trying to find is in the upstairs unit. Just the day before, the best friend of the murdered man took a bullet in the head while clipping a friend’s hair on his front porch. His hair, half cut. The episode of theFirst 48 never aired. The film footage became evidence in a series of mistrials that led the officer—the detective on the show and off—back to his job.  Come onto the porch. White tears are raining.

AURA ROSSER, Ann Arbor, 2014

A porch is, and a porch isn’t where you are standing when a system is moving in. Something is coming, you see it coming, and you aren’t even visible until the officer breaks into your apartment.

You mean you can’t see it…you’re surprised…in this liberal town…when it comes…you wanted to say something…the hallway was dark…you mean you strained to hear and the words embarrassed you…you corrected yourself …you just…you mean…injust…you took it in stride on the wrong side of the…you were scared to appear, to seem….

What did you do? You mean, that is not you pointing a gun at the woman in her kitchen…cooking to cool down…with a knife…crazy…with a history…with that look on her…angry and insane…with a knife for cutting fish…you don’t know what that must have looked like…you’re not, you mean…you just don’t know what to say…you mean you can’t imagine…you’re waiting to hear all the facts…just listening…it takes…you need time…after a while, you just….

Are you sure? Is how you keep saying it…you have no problem… you mean the arc of justice….you believe in equality, freedom…you believe…what did you say?

You were watching the temperature swing, on the step waiting…you imagine shadows on the porch…someone leaning into a kitchen light… your upbringing did not prepare you to think about…what you mean is…you’re so… shocked…you mean you don’t…you just don’t mean what to know anymore…you mean … you just can’t think about it anymore…you just made this world you mean come into the rain is and the rain isn’t…you mean, a system is moving in.

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[1] William Faulkner, Requiem for a Nun Act 1, sc 3: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

[2] Transcript of the 911 call made by Theodore Wafer on November 2, 2013. Stutter is my editorial addition.

[3] Reference is to Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon.

[4] Slight paraphrase of the opening of Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God.