October 30, 2010
Dryope bore to Hermes in their house a dear son, a marvel to behold right from his birth, a goat-footed, two-horned baby who loved music and laughter. But his mother was startled and fled, and she abandoned the child, for she was frightened when she saw his course features and full beard… All the immortals were delighted in their hearts, and especially Bacchic Dionysus; and they called him Pan because he delighted the hearts of them all.
MMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM-Homeric Hymn to Pan
Behind you a towering cyclist is moving backward, gracefully then hesitantly maneuvering the pedals of an enormous, ancient bike. You are the man in the costume who speaks in rhymes and walks up to people who have yet to join the crowd. Some would call it street art. Others call it fringe. “If you’re too shy to have a ride in the day, have a ride in the night,” you announce, singing without melody. The day is young and the water is squinting beyond the pier. A man of around forty, your posture is immaculate, your head shaved bald. Your brown skin is smooth behind white paint.
“But you’ve got to go slow because you’re on a slope.” The woman you have stopped looks amused and furious at the same time. Her eyes want to push you away. This has only, ever, egged you on. You curtsy around as she tries to walk forward. “You’ve got to go slow, don’t listen to your ego.” She stares you in the eyes. You rip yourself away and scamper after a little boy. “If you go fast your life won’t last. You’ll end up in a pine or mahogany cast. Yes?” Your father is black and Mexican, an American. Your mother is British and white. When you aren’t taking part in fringe theatre in your spare time, you are a marketing consultant.
I imagine you in a moment of quiet: sitting with a towel around your neck after you’ve showered. The warm, light wood of your flat makes the room feel like it’s glowing. A leather jacket hangs on a hanger on a closet. An upstairs neighbor closes a door and you rise to your feet. Your mother had a career to follow so she left you in a convent school in Brighton when you were just a boy. They had boxing every Friday, so every week you had your head beaten in.
I sit near you at the vegetarian buffet on Russell Street in Bloomsbury and we get to talking. You are a heartful man and a braggart. You shout in Japanese after Japanese tourists and I ask, “What languages do you speak?” “English and rubbish.” Your laugh takes up all the room on the sidewalk, booming like an elephant into the street. “No.” You say. “French, Japanese, Finnish and Spanish.”
At the end of one film about a woman whose family sells her to the circus, the strong man who once bought her cries. Your father doesn’t know you. There is no booming Anthony Quinn breaking his fist with anguish over the loss of you against the wet sand of an Italian beach. The tide of the town where your mother left you dances along the ankles of thin tourists. Most clowns know early on of this aloneness, of the empty seats in the audience of their lives, and swear to themselves, for sanity’s sake: there is only to make light of things. Even just for the empty room.
Throughout the course of our conversation you recite a poem about a man who tricks a woman into having sex with him on the bus by saying that the world is about to end. Everyone on the bus, including the driver, decides to follow suit. The poem goes, “it’s a pity the world didn’t end every lunchtime.” You pull out a camera and begin to take my picture, and when I flinch you say, “You can’t pull that on me. I didn’t do that to you! You’ve got to relax.” I can hear in the recording of our conversation that I do not trust you, because I say “OK” a lot, trying to redirect us, trying to take back control. Your careful manner of enunciating gives you a kind of femininity.
You say, “I think it’s very good to be of mixed race because you get the best of both worlds. Yes. They won’t do run of the mill jobs. They’ll do something unique. Because they are a unique people. I don’t fit this category, I don’t fit that category. I’ll make my own.”
The other poem you recite is also about a man and a woman and many men and a cat. There is something of an orgy in your selection of poems, and in your celebration of life. Although I sense an edge as well. As if your duty in life is to get the world to join in on your parade.
When a man comes asking for one pound and 80 pence, you say, “that’s a bit greedy.”
“There aren’t many people of color begging,” I say.
“That’s cuz we’ve got style. I think here they’ve got more pride. They’d rather rob a bank than ask for money.”
There was only one other person of color in the town where you grew up. “Off white” is what you call yourself. “What do people think you are?” I ask. Pan was part man, part goat. “These Italian women say I look like these men from the North of Italy, ‘cause I’ve got these green eyes.” You let your green eyes surge, like an electric trick. “I think you could be a lot of things,” I tell you. “Thank you very much!” You say. Then, soon after, “Is this enough?”
Aisha Sloan graduated from the University of Arizona with an MFA in Nonfiction. Her essays have been featured on identitytheory.com, terrain.org and in the Michigan Quarterly Review, and will be published in upcoming issues of Ninth Letter and Callaloo. She is a co-founder of the project, Detroit Ho!, and teaches writing in Tucson.