Bywater

A manbo I know visited a plantation along the Mississippi with her hounfor and as they stood looking out towards the river, they saw spirits rise up over the levee. The spirits of the enslaved people who labored on that land were still there, because the past is not an arc of progress so much as a layering of time, and the layers spill into each other like eddies in the wake of a slow boat.

Kids ride their BMX bikes across the tracks of the Norfolk Southern line. Sometimes they climb over the couplings, leaping just as the train jerks away down the track on whining steel. Homer Plessy’s ghost paces the overgrown grass on the other side. On a late June day in 1872, he’d waited there to board the Covington-bound train. He took a seat in the Whites Only car. Perhaps he nodded at a passenger across the aisle, who nodded back. Perhaps his palms were sweating, knowing he would soon be arrested. Somebody was about to point out to the conductor that he was a black man, and therefore breaking the law.

Passenger cars don’t run along these tracks anymore, just the Norfolk Southern taking its cargo up from the warehouses on the levee. The bitter smell of roasting coffee
still floats over the river, and the bus with DESIRE blazoned across it lumbers its way through the Bywater.

Nothing lasts forever. Everyone knows that. But so many impossible things had already happened. So many impossible things.

About the author

After living ten years on a sailboat, Jessica Adams joined the English Department at the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras Campus. Her short…

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Issue 24 · September 2021

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