2017: A prayer for us all
“Hello,” I say.
“Your oven’s a mess.”
“I know, I—”
“Don’t bother with excuses, I’ve heard them all.” She takes a carrot out of her pocket and holds it up to the light. “By the way, where are your pearls?”
“Go get them.”
She’s munching the carrot as I climb the stairs.
Upstairs, I open my dresser drawer, lift the lid of my jewelry box. Nothing. I search the whole room. Nada. Empty handed, I return to the kitchen.
“Of course you can’t find your pearls,” she says. “You hid them.”
“Where?” I ask. “I don’t remember.”
She sighs. “Last time, you pawned them for a television. I had to go all the way to 59th Street to get them back for you. Time before that, you gave them away to the Venetian blind salesman ringing your doorbell. I had to visit with his mama to get them back for you.
“You know, girl, those pearls didn’t come cheap. They didn’t come from the dollar store or out of a mail-order catalog. Your mama gave you those pearls.” I wince, she nods. “Yes, your mama gave them to you when you were born. They were her mother’s, and her mother’s mother’s before that, going all the way back to when they were mine, when I was Ocean Woman, deep-sea diver, at home in the African tides.
“Now you’ve hidden your pearls and you don’t remember where. Can’t say I’m surprised. You hid them in a place you’re too ashamed to look.”
She puts her hands on her hips. “Would you believe me if I told you?”
I take a glass down from the cabinet and pour myself a drink of water from the pitcher on the counter. When I turn back to reply, she’s gone.
I eat my dinner in front of the television, wash the dishes, go upstairs to get ready for bed. And there she is, the Black Madonna, rifling through my drawers.
“What are you doing?” I ask.
“Look at this!” She’s waving my newest item of shapewear, a slenderizing spandex panty I wear to flatten my stomach. She holds it up, one edge between her thumb and index finger as if any more contact would contaminate her. “Can you breathe in this thing?”
“Not very well. But at least my belly doesn’t pooch out of my clothes.”
“Well, that’s convenient, I suppose. When you don’t breathe deeply, you don’t feel. When you don’t allow yourself to feel, you cut yourself off from what you know, your instincts, your soul-power. Put this tight band around your belly and you abandon yourself. The place where you’ve hidden your pearls? You wipe it off the map.”
I gasp. “I can’t let people see me with my belly poking out. Look at the fashion magazines! The movie stars! The diet plans and fitness equipment! Barbie! Women aren’t supposed to let our stomachs show. It’s embarrassing.”
“Honey, take it from me, your belly isn’t shameful. It’s where I live.
“You sign yourself over to several multi-million dollar industries every time you look in the mirror and try to suck your belly in, wishing it would go away. Your ‘shapewear’? It’s an instrument of social control. Wear it and you’re cooperating with your own oppression. If you want to find your pearls again, you’ll ungirdle yourself and give yourself room to breathe.”
I lay myself down to sleep. The Black Madonna comes to my bedside, places her right hand on my belly. Her hand feels warm, radiates relief. Tension melts away. Breath goes deep into my body. My belly rises and falls like an ocean wave.
Now I feel her left hand resting on my heart; golden light circles through my body in the orbit between her hands. I feel at peace, at home. I dream of deep-sea diving, finding treasure.
• • •
People who see Denise’s paintings frequently ask her two questions:
Q. Are you aware that most of your magdalenes are black?
Q. Do you know why you are painting black people?
Mexico’s Virgin of Guadalupe, Kali of India, Isis of Egypt, Yemaya of Africa, the Black Madonna: The Dark Goddess is an image of the Power of Being—the force creating, sustaining, and regenerating the world. An icon of the Sacred Feminine, she’s Mother of the Universe, Star of the Sea. She elbows her way into our awareness these days through story, image, dream.
Who is she? She’s matter infused with spirit, the holy immersed in and shining through the everyday. She’s the nourishment our souls are craving. She’s the satisfaction we spend our whole lives seeking. She is the force of nature who we essentially are.
My prayer for us all: May we know ourselves as sacred beings.