For western scientists the ideal blackbody absorbs everything that shines on it, reflecting nothing, remaining the blackest, seemingly unchanged, invisible.

I live in Long Beach California by Compton College with my big brother, my baby sister, and my mom and dad. I get into trouble by going out and not coming back all day, doing stupid stuff with my brother and my friends. I be leaving because it’s hard in my house, my dad is strict. He’s strict because he’s from Guyana, and mom said he had a hard life, so he be beating us for stupid stuff. So I just try to get away from him. We do stuff like going to the liquor store and one of us talks to the lady, and the rest of us just take the Mexican candy and put it in our pockets. When we get suspended we catch fishes in the LA river instead of staying home, but you got to walk a long long way to do that. In school they say don’t walk in the river cause if it rains you’ll get washed away, then they show you all these videos of people drowning in the river when it’s raining. But sometimes the police catch us and they bring me back home all the time, and that’s how you get a beating in my house, when the police bring you home.  I’m not afraid of getting put away cause I went before to a residential after they found me at the riots taking Nintendo games from the game store up the block. It wasn’t nothing though, and we still got the games.

Sometimes my brother won’t have time for me so I go down by the car wash to make some money. I use the money to buy corn on the cob covered in cheese and chili and all this candy and sometimes I save the money to buy sneakers cause my dad won’t get me new stuff like that, and I get clowned at school because of all the old stuff I be wearing. Three times though I went down to the car wash and the dude who’s always there wasn’t there, and this other old dude was there and he gave me 20 dollars to touch his thing. The second time he gave me 20 dollars again to touch my thing.  But the last time was bad, and I told my dad about it and he just beat me. He said I didn’t have no business by the car wash anyway, so why am I telling him all this. He poured some rice on the ground in the kitchen. He told me to kneel on it and the rice was all in my skin when it was done, and there was blood coming out my knees. That’s why I be riding the bus up and down Long Beach Blvd by myself sometimes, cause I’m not tryna be home like that. That’s why I be by the baseball fields so I can watch the kids play, cause my dad won’t let me play. He wants me to play the damn violin, and I’m like nah, I can’t do that. I want to play baseball, that’s what I really want to do.

They’re gonna put me away when I’m 12, because I’m too much trouble and I keep running away and I be drinking and smoking like my brother. And my therapist’s gonna be this white dude Dr. Ferguson. He tells me all that’s wrong with me, and he tells my mom and dad all that’s wrong with me. I got attention deficit disorder, and I got oppositional defiance disorder, and I got this and I got that, man all I got is a dad who beats me and my mom, she don’t do nothing to help me. So I’ma just stay in this “facility” and try to be good til they let me out and then when I get out I’ma get into some money get away for real. When I get out I’ll find out they moved out of Long Beach to somewhere safer called Paramount. They forgot a lot of my stuff, and when I get out I feel fucking lost.

My big brother’s gonna die when I’m 13, and we find out in the middle of the night. Some gang bangers shot him in front of our old apartment complex on Orange Avenue. Dad says I’m old enough to come with him to the morgue and he tells my sister only the men of the house can go, but he doesn’t tell her where. And I go and I see him dead there and my dad tells the guy yeah that’s him. They shot him in the side, and the bullet broke his artery. Now my big brother’s dead and all I got is a sister, who’s just a baby. After the funeral me and my sister get together and sing ‘We Are the World’ for our family in the living room. And something’s wrong with mom. After the funeral something happens to her, like she can’t see the real world no more. All she talk about is seeing him in front of her bed, seeing his spirit with blood pouring out his side. And I hear her talking to him from her bed. She tells him ‘You asked for a brother, you got a brother. You asked for a sister, you got a sister,’ and then she’s crying. That’s another reason I don’t be in the house.

The police tell dad they can’t find the killers. Mom says my brother was only on the news for one night, but when these white kids get killed you know their names for months and months and sometimes years. I hold a gun when I go over my brother’s best friend’s house to smoke some weed and calm down. My brother’s best friend says he got something for them cholos. I guess at least that’s some kind of justice, right or wrong? Better than nothing, everyone forgetting he got murdered. I hold the gun for a long time and I see all its parts.

We’re gonna move away from Paramount to somewhere safer called Norwalk. I run the streets with my Korean homies Danny and Mark here. Sometimes we get jumped by the Mexicans, and sometimes we jump the Mexicans. We throw glass bottles in the alley behind our apartment complex. I fuck Danny’s cousin Julie. I fuck Chris’s sister Monica. We fuck all these girls. I feel like I can’t stop sometimes. We smoke wet. We huff paint. We choke each other out to get high. We talk shit when we can’t think and that’s how I like it.

I’m gonna get in trouble at school for fighting this fat girl with a bald spot. The school cops put me in a hold and bend my fucking wrist, and when the teacher tried to stop him the cop was like ‘I will spray this shit down your fucking throat, who’s your supervisor?!’ And I’m like damn Miss, be careful, these cops don’t play. But yeah they fucked my hand up, but I went to the police station, not the hospital.

I’m gonna get in trouble at school for sexual harassment cause this white girl said I touched her butt. So they kick me out, and I gotta go to this rehab program for teenagers over in Cerritos behind the Home Depot. But I don’t mind it there really. They’re cool. But I’m still gonna keep running.

The police are gonna kick me in the head cause I stole a Walkman from Circuit City. The put the dogs on me and put me away again, except not in a residential, in juvenile hall. My dad hates me because they all gotta come up and visit me and he says it’s too far but it’s not that far, only in Downey. It’s called Los Padrinos. This kid name Marcos tells me it means ‘godparents.’ And where the fuck are mine now? Marcos keeps the other boys off me cause he’s my roommate. Marcos says he loyal to all his roommates, no matter what, cause we don’t got anyone else in this place but each other. And I believe that.

When they let me out my dad’s not gonna have me back, so I stay over Mark and Danny’s house across the way from our townhouse. I see my sister, and she be wanting to play and follow me around. It’s fucked up I can’t live in that house no more but I guess I brought it on myself. Mark and Danny’s mom let us smoke in the garage while she mixes kimchi and she don’t care. How come my parents can’t be like that? My sister tells me mom is worse and worse every day but she don’t say how exactly. When I see my mom she happy, but she don’t tell me to come back or nothing like that. Maybe this a good thing.

I’m gonna be fucking this white girl, but her dad gonna walk in on us and she gonna start screaming like I’m raping her. And they say I was raping her, so I hide out so they don’t find me for a while, til my homie Greg mom snitches on me. Which, whatever, maybe I would too cause I’m a fucking criminal already. Nobody wants a criminal in their home, not even your own parents. In court, the white girl there crying and they talk about her vagina and semen and penetration and force, and my mom not there cause they had to put her ass away too. But my dad here, and he had to bring my sister cause he don’t have childcare. Dad interrupts court when they’re talking about all the sex stuff, and he asks if my sister can go in the back room and they say okay. But she don’t even know what they was talking about, so it don’t even matter.

They make me stay at Los Padrinos for six months. That shit really fucked me up cause I don’t sleep no more because I have to fight all the time. My dad don’t really visit like that, and they bout to send me up to the mountains, some place called Chatsworth. That’s where they put juvenile sex offenders like me. I’m like who gives a shit. Maybe somebody’ll kill me before I get up there. Some boy hung himself in the next room over. That’s how I be feeling.

They’re gonna leave me up here in the mountains by myself to rot. All these other kids got their family coming up for groups and therapy and activity time and shit, and my dad stopped coming after like three months. The doctor banned me from seeing my little sister, so my dad stopped bringing her. I know she gonna forget about me, cause I’ma be up here for 3 more years. I try not to worry about it, but the doctor make me write letters to my dad to tell him how I feel. I sent one, but he never calls so I don’t know if he got it. In the letter I was like, ‘How come you stopped seeing me and stopped calling me? How come you don’t love me like a son? Why do y’all always put me somewhere? What do you want me to be like?’ All these questions. They keep me awake all night.

I’m gonna have a worker who cares about me though. She tells me my strengths, and she puts me in this program with computers, where I learn to fix them and take them apart. She tells me that I can make a new family when I’m out if I want. And that I got some chosen family already, like Dave and Anthony who I knew since I was like six. And I’m about to get out too, soon. They gonna move me to semi-independent living back in Paramount. It’s like a group home. But I’ma just keep to myself and try to get in school or something like that.

I’m gonna go down Lakewood Blvd to my dad new apartment. It’s gonna be nice and gated with a swimming pool and trees and shit. Like a good place to raise a kid. My sister is all the way in sixth grade now. I like to help her out like buy her shoes or give her a ride to school or something. Dad is very old, like he might die soon, or get sick. I don’t know if he remembers me even though it’s only been four years or so. But he had remarried while I was gone, and now Mom’s in Newark, New Jersey where her sister takes care of her. I try to give them what little bit I have from financial aid and the shipping place. I try to buy some groceries and keep them having internet.

I’m gonna live in a garage behind this one lady’s house in Carson, and there’s gonna be a pitbull in the backyard guarding everything. The police raid all the houses on this block, so I can’t keep the weed around like I really need to. I just keep it on Lakewood Blvd with my sister. I take her to see my girl in San Diego so she can chill with us and my girl’s niece, Aubrey. It’s nice cause it’s a long drive and it’s like the fall, and you can see the beach all along the side of the car and the wind feel good as shit. On the way back it’s dark and late and I know my sister had a good time cause she sleep in the passenger seat with all this In-n-Out burger stuff all over her.

I’m gonna move back in with my dad cause he had like two major strokes. He don’t even leave the hospital bed no more and I gotta help him piss in a plastic bottle. Lynette is his wife and that bitch is suspect. She probably thinks my family comes from the devil, but my thing is, why you marry into this shit? Just to judge us? Sometimes I hear her call my sister a heathen and a lesbian, and I gotta tell them both to shut the fuck up with that arguing. My sister, I worry about her. She don’t talk to me like that no more since she started high school, maybe cause she was like a daddy’s girl and he’s like all laid up in the living room looking dead. I could see how that’s depressing. She just be in her room all the time. I ask her what she gonna be when she grow up, and she don’t even turn around from her Playstation. She says “I’m gonna be a blackbody, just like daddy is a blackbody, just like you are.” I think she’s doing drugs.

When dad dies, he’s gonna be covered in bedsores in a nursing home up La Mirada way. When my stepmom kicks my sister out, I pay for her to get on a plane and go to Newark to live with my aunt. I can’t keep my priorities straight no more after that, after I have to drive her to LAX with all her shit in a trash bag. She don’t talk to me the whole way, and don’t say bye when she gets through security. I spend a lot of time with my dad’s old homie from church, try to see what he can tell me about my dad, like what did he believe in. It’s all I feel like doing is this digging, and drinking forties. Like I need quiet, so I go on long drives on the Pacific Coast Highway and try to create a plan for myself. I can’t though, like the lines are broken up and I can’t get from here to there.

I’m gonna leave California to help take care of my mom in South Carolina, cause my aunt said she can’t handle her no more. Like she won’t stop tripping and won’t take the medication. Sometimes I call my sister to talk to my mom because she got more experience dealing with this bipolar shit than I do. And I haven’t spent more than a week at a time with my mom since I was 14 years old. My sister dropped out of her freshman year of college and she blames me for it. She’s mad that she worked so hard to not be like me and look where that gets her. And I can’t help her with nothing. I can barely help myself.

Mom’s gonna fall into a diabetic coma, and I’m gonna find her face down in the yard. They ask me all these questions about what she’s been eating like I’m raising her. I try to call my sister to let her know, but her dude is like she’s in the hospital cause she tried hang herself in the closet and he gives me the number to the place. When I call her I have to wait for her to come to the phone. ‘Yo,’ she says and I ask her what she’s doing in there and she’s like ‘What do you think?’ And I forget what I called to tell her cause I’m mad she’s fucking up like me and mom. And I tell her that, and she hangs up the phone on me. She stops answering our phone calls for years.

I’m gonna be fishing one day on the Edisto River on my day off from the group home. My cell phone’s gonna ring and it’ll be a 267 number. My sister is calling me from Philadelphia and it’s a lot of noise on her end. I haven’t heard her voice in four years but I can recognize it, even though she’s older, even though I can barely hear her over the shit in the background. Shit sound like bombs, honestly. I try to ask her how she doing but she’s screaming over sirens and static ‘Can you hear me?’ I try to tell her yeah, a little bit I can hear you. I ask her where she is. It’s like chaos over there. ‘Before they write the headlines,’ she says, ‘You were a life.’ I look out over the black water confused. Like, I think, I still am, and what is she talking about? I tell her I’m not dead, which is a fucked up thing to say out loud in a boat in the middle of the swamp. ‘I’m not dead,’ I say again and the call is dropped.

I’m gonna have dreams that night where my body’s broken in pieces, there’s bits of my jaw and wet bullets in my mouth, and the skin on my back is cracked open, on fire. I’m gonna wake up feeling for blood, inhaling a cloud of mosquitoes flying over my face. I’m gonna walk over to my window and look outside, and the sun will be rising over the houses as tanks roll down the block, AIKEN POLICE painted on the sides. Something will tell me to stay inside with my mom, who’s sleep. Something will tell me they’re coming for me. And that none of this mattered.


Ras Mashramani is a founding member of Metropolarity. This piece debuted in the FUTURE NOW episode of Metropolarity Journal of Speculative Fiction & Critical Liberation Technologies. You can pick up her zine here.

Image on this post by the formidable @RecTheDirector.

The following is reproduced from APIARY Magazine‘s CROSSPOLLINATE series with permission.

The first in a series of features documenting literary friendships in Philadelphia. One writer shares a story or poem, then invites a friend to comment. This month: “and now, I am the loveliest” from Ras. Mashramani and response by Maggie Eighteen. Scroll to the bottom to read as a PDF.

Story: and now, I am the loveliest

A specimen, They wanted me. Epitome of a human being, They flattered me with distinction and display. A map for the universe, my little body. ‘Take me’ I might have and most likely did say. Abduction was a compliment for a lonely little stick girl like me. I don’t remember my face but most probably I was radiant with pride. I was willing, I know, and I was asking for it my whole life walking with my eyes on the ground, wanting so badly for someone to choose me special.

You cannot make me say that They hurt me. Curiosity and power are not sins. It’s not wrong to be discerning—to know what one wants and to take it. I see it like that. I see the horror on your faces and I see envy streaked all through.

Those with common fates who’ve never felt special before, they love to knock you down to where they stand, common together on common ground.

I’m flying, though. They’ve given me wings. So abandon your euphemisms. ‘What They did’ during ‘The Incident’ was love me. They scooped me up with strong arms, my angels. I bared my belly to Them and They called me perfect. I am a puzzle piece! Mission accomplished They’ve made me the missing link. I have given Them a gift. What They did was make me a vessel of salvation.

I remember my legs cocked to receive the beast. I was grateful and I was courageous and I was giving. I do not remember my face but I that my upper lip stayed stiff and I impressed Them with my bravery. One day I will paint the scene in grays and peaches, and I will be the centerpiece, and I will be plump with spawn and pride.

Upon my return I became a household name. The other girls, the pretty ones, they came back blithering and idiotic, and you doted on them and you called their cargo monsters. But my back stayed straight and I told you I was committed. I am the bearer of a new and brighter being. I’ve become a soldier of Creation. ‘What They did’ to me was show every common sack of blood that I was one exception among you—strong enough to carry the seed of the realest Gods.

As a young girl I walked with my eyes on the ground. My hair fell over my face and I was called a nobody and made to squat in a field while the girls laughed at my naked back and my pissed on shoes. You are a cruel lot, even your youngest. You are a proud species, on top of the world ruling and ruling doling naming She is the loveliest, and He is most charming, and I what was I was an insect to you and I didn’t matter.

Now I sit near bursting with a strange and novel fruit. I am creating your downfall, and they have promised me the kingdom. You should thank me. Your thumbs and your lungs may live on after They crush you and your darling daughters.

And I will be the loveliest and I will live forever and my smile will be burned into your taxonomy as you dwindle in the void

begging forgiveness.

Response: “A cosmic nod”

by M Eighteen Téllez

I met Ras very suddenly at Spiral Q Theater’s Peoplehood event at Clark Park a couple months ago. Ras was holding an Occupy Philly banner along with my friend, Colin, and I ran over to help hold it, having forgotten that the West Philly OP contingent was making a show at the event. We watched Peoplehood for a while, handing out buttons and flyers, and afterwards my friend emailed me saying, ‘you should connect with that person Ras. They write sci-fi sex positive stuff too. I told them about your work and their eyes lit up, and they’re reading at an Afro-futurist ball on Halloween!!!’ I emailed Ras after that; said, hey I like writing dystopian cyborg smut, here’s a link to my stuff. And since then we’ve maintained contact through Gmail.

I’m used to connecting to people through electronic channels, but it’s exciting that Ras lives in my physical community. I sense this powerful opportunity to collaborate, that we aren’t ready to really take full advantage of just yet. It’s very promising. Because I’ve been somewhat baffled by the lack of current queer SF writers in queer-packed Philly, or even folks that have active interest in queer/post-binary narratives as explored through speculative fiction. Our culture is screaming for it! So to know Ras is down the street resonating is like a cosmic nod to keep doing what I’m doing and later we’ll unite forces. Or some other giant fighting robots-style assemblage.

Reading “and now, I am the loveliest,” I was first reminded of that French comic Sky Doll (which I’ve only seen pictures of), and other ‘alien specimen’ futuresex kinds of stories that float around in the ether. I was also listening to Missy Elliot’s Beep Me 911, after a night spent with my closest homie collecting 1990s R&B videos (mostly directed by Hype Williams) that have these running themes of dystopian voyeuristic surveillance society and darkly opulent pleasure palace/remotely controlled sex objects (people). Reading and now, it seemed like yet another facet of this entrancing premonition of the dehumanized future.

The first time through the opening paragraph, I was intrigued by what kind of creatures They might be, and what kind of power they wield. Why do they need or desire a human specimen? The universe of this story was trying to unfold itself to me. The second time reading the opening, though, I found myself more focused on the voice of the Specimen. It was drawn in, closed off to a harsh world that would violently oppress given the chance. And it reminded me of myself at 14, a vulnerable girl looking for someone to make me special through the institution of heteronormative romance. It’s how I ended up in a six-year-long abusive relationship, you know? Hearing the Specimen echo my same young desires had me worried.

But the universe where They rule is unknown to me. The Specimen may, in fact, not be oppressed by society-wide misogyny and patriarchal institutions that endlessly seek to control female sexuality (and other deeply ingrained social injustices). The Specimen could indeed be coming up, finally. Yet the willingness for her to be the Specimen, is curious, to say the least. She has willingly sacrificed. She is enduring. The Specimen sounds like she is justifying her outwardly perceived delusional sense of grandeur in the interim before her rise to power, when she’ll show them and they’ll be sorry after. She sounds like an abused girl that has been robbed of agency. She sounds like the outcast that small society has had no problem othering. She sounds like she will be ruthless.

So what about the thumbs and lungs that will live on after her rise to prominence and the birth of this new god? I would definitely enjoy reading an expanded saga of the rise and fall of the Specimen and her spawn. It’s the stuff of which the best SF comics and well-produced anime series are made. But common folks and literary types have always had this baffling disdain for science fiction, despite the fact that it predicts the future.