Condtions for a Sothern Gothic: A Closer Look
“Therefore, my head was kingless.”
Not crownless, kingless. This line of “Conditions for a Southern Gothic” by Rickey Laurentiis spoke to me, and if I’m honest, it hit a little too close to home. The poem is a collection of phrases, but they come together in a beautiful narrative. To be ‘kingless’ can mean to be without a leader, but within the context of this poem, it seems to mean directionless. And to be directionless can feel like you lack purpose.
This line establishes one’s struggle to find an identity unique to our individuality. In the African American community, we enjoy being different and unique in our styles, but I have found that it is hard to stray from the guidelines of what and how a Black person is supposed to do and act. It can be hard to find our own unique paths when we also feel the pressure of our community to be ‘Black’ in the ‘traditional’ sense.
“I was like any of those deserter slaves”
I will be honest. I wanted to be upset with this line, but it’s true. When breaking free of the social norms of your community it is scary. At the moment that you abandon all that you know to be you in your own way, not the way people tell you to be, it is hard. However, it is necessary.
When you break free of those tethers and find yourself ‘kingless’ you feel just like a ‘deserter slave’ and it is scary. You fear that you have become someone who tried to escape only to receive death for your efforts. You don’t feel any different than someone who tried and failed. You are afraid that you will fail and be another name lost to time and circumstance.
“All night I whistled at a sky that mocked me”
Not so much a sky, in reality, but others who have broken down the barriers successfully – people who have found their way, their ‘king.’ We all want to be the person who has it figured out. We all want to know our purpose.
“My freedom is possible, it said”
The fact that others have figured themselves out is always a beacon of hope. Our freedom from whatever ‘generational curses’ our families suffer from is possible. My family’s curse was alcoholism. I very proudly say ‘was’ because I am not an alcoholic – one of the first in my family to not suffer from the crippling disease. Freedom is possible.
“As if my torn-off head in that bed swamped and whelming
then with water had one wish, and it did: to think stranger stuff,”
I love this verse. The African American community has to start encouraging our children to ‘think stranger stuff.’ I think we are definitely starting to. I think we have come a long way. Being different on top of being black in America has been almost a death sentence.
We have had to hide for so long that hiding became a part of our culture. We don’t have to hide anymore. It’s time for us to ‘think strange.’ It’s time to violate the sacred.
Laurentiis goes on to list the qualities of a Southern Gothic with vivid imagery, and he gives us permission to break with the old ways. We as a people need to give ourselves permission to break our rules. It is okay to be different. We are allowed to be heard. Let the world finally see who we are and who we can be.
“If God made us in his image, it was the first failure of the imagination”
I see this as less of a diss to God and more of a diss to us. If God made us in his image, why do we limit ourselves? If we are made in His image, then we are limitless. If the boundaries we place on ourselves are the best we have to offer, then that is truly a failure of imagination.
We are more than we give ourselves credit for. Not just as Black people, but as humans. I feel he is saying that we owe God more credit than to think we should only live within the confines of such a limited view of what we are capable of.
This poem put me through a gamut of emotions. I was angry, sad, and then hopeful. I will continue to search for my ‘king’ and I encourage you to find yours. If you need permission, you have mine in full. ‘Think stranger stuff.’ I can’t wait to see who we become.
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