I was just about to head upstairs to post about tonight’s new moon/year when I heard of Michael K. Williams’ death. Now I am writing this on my stoop–in the same neighborhood where he lived and died– with huge tears running down my face.
I saw the brilliant actor, activist, dancer, and choreographer around a lot–sometimes at film events, sometimes just drinking coffee in the park–and he was always unwaveringly gracious and kind. That such a radiant light only got 54 years is beyond painful. As Roy Wood Jr tweeted today: “All I want is for black entertainers to be able to grow old.”
This is the second and final installment of an essay that I began earlier this spring. It is a window into my book, to which I’ve been slowly returning as the world is too rapidly opening back up.
NYC has opened back up, and the smell of fresh paint suffuses every block, a top note to the concentration of garbage piling up on sidewalks, weed clouding every corner. For every person fleeing their Covid cave for fresher air and wider horizons, another is claiming a new base for big-city dreams, 16 months delayed.
It all involves an awful lot of fresh paint.
Some associate this scent with toxicity—chemicals, ill health, colonization. For me, it’s a gateway to an autumn four decades ago, when Audre resurfaced and the world first opened up.
Really, it was simple. One day Audre called up, and the following Friday, without disclosing any of the long-awaited details of their conversation, my mother whisked Jennie and me into Cambridge, where Audre had rented a long apartment on a tree-lined block between Central and Inman Square. It didn’t occur to any of us to bring my father because he never strayed from his Friday routine: popcorn, tea, computer manuals, sports radio, and bed at 8:30. Of course now substitute poetry for manuals and 70s film for sports radio and my routine is not that far off, but back then his diurnal rhythms seemed the ultimate in passive domination.