Favorite Sentences: Underneath the Sun and Above Time

Favorite Sentences: Underneath the Sun and Above Time

By Jessica Harris

Mattie rocked her out of that bed, out of that room, into a blue vastness just underneath the sun and above time. She rocked her over Aegean seas so clean they shone like crystal, so clear the fresh blood of sacrificed babies torn from their mother’s arms and given to Neptune could be seen like pink froth on the water. She rocked her on and on past Dachau, where soul-gutted Jewish mothers swept their children’s entrails off laboratory floors. They flew past the spilled brains of Senegalese infants whose mothers had dashed them on the wooden sides of slave ships. And she rocked on. She rocked her into her childhood and let her see murdered dreams. And she rocked her back, back into the womb, to the nadir of her hurt, and they found it—a slight silver splinter, embedded just below the surface of her skin.

This passage comes from the late Gloria Naylor’s 1982 novel, The Women of Brewster Place, which won the National Book Award.

What I appreciate about this passage is the specificity in which Naylor captures the grief of one of the main characters. She delicately crafted a fine pearl that has its own shine. When I first read this novel, I was blown away and honored. I milled over the pages of these characters and had come to know them as if I stood on the stoop of their apartments, hung on the window seal to hear the shouting across the building. This tremendous ability to draw people into a world was certainly a skill worth acquiring. I was honored to have read such great literature knowing that Naylor passed away just last year.

Admittedly, I never thought I could feel such a grief about grief. But Mattie rocking reminds me of laying in the folds of my mother’s arms, sobbing as a child. As terrible as the situation could have been a rock changed something. It was a though the rocking itself shook loose that stinging desire, the tears that blind you and stream down your face.

This passage reminded me of what it means to be a writer—the witnessing that comes along with crafting words, portraying the world and people in it. I believe Naylor poured out a special place in her spirit for The Women of Brewster Place. This passage forces me to dig deeper, to set aside my intentions, or plan I may have for my own writing. Writers are the givers of our world. We give hope in hard times. We give a moment for others to fill themselves into. We give a reason to believe.

So, when I don’t think I have anything to write about—I give.


Image: Biography.com

Jessica Harris is staff editor at  Café MFA and a second-year candidate in American University’s Creative Writing MFA program.This text was inspired by an assignment for Seminar on Translation (David Keplinger).

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