And these are Cleota’s words.  Her raised eyebrow to her daughter-in-law’s past.  To her station in life.  A mother’s view on two families becoming as one.  Her origins coming from New Orleans as well, her mother—Amelie—a Creole…  And you can see it before it happens, in a child’s origins mirrored in their parents, their education, their economic condition, the environment in which a child is raised—the supposed cleanliness which leads to godliness—how clean a child’s house is.  New Orleans has a reputation for being a dirty city.  And so does East St. Louis.  Children raised there in poverty—black—fit a certain idea we still see today.  That life on the streets typified.  A father perhaps absent.  A struggling single-mother.  Fighting to pay the bills.  Fighting eviction from slum lord tenements.  Children raised in filth.  Not even given the chance, the opportunity, for a good life, and they know it.  In the nice cars that go by from better neighborhoods, better streets.  School systems in these low income districts destined to fail.  And the people, the people that live in such conditions know—they know what the price of milk is.  They know the price of getting the money to pay for it.  The hustle that starts every morning.  The looks and judgments they get for it.  No air of culture.  No books being read at bedtime with fantastic stories where children can come up with happy endings before they go to sleep.  Crime their teacher.  Just the sound of gunshots through the night and the sirens of police cars and ambulances.  Condemned buildings where in the moist decay of stagnant basements drug dealers and whores do it standing up, for small change in the need of a fix, and knife blades threatening no escape.  The churches, the churches there—well, if not marked with the graffiti of gang territories, the hard-working blue collar families trying to keep their jobs congregate on Sundays to sing, to forget the gutted automobiles on jacks abandoned outside, and when they come outside they must walk on sidewalks glittered with the broken glass from beer bottles, the refuse of trash, past lots with broken fences, the cracked pavement of tall weeds growing up…  This the inner cities.  This a portrait of a 9th Ward in New Orleans we see today, devastated by a hurricane, where of course they didn’t have insurance, insurance against the canals built just for them.  This is East St. Louis as you go down Bond Street…  And the country, the country outside these cities—well, they too are really no better, no different.  The small towns just smaller versions of what you see of this.  So many on food stamps.  On disability.  On Medicaid and TANF.  Outside the fancy subdivisions,  the new realty lots of constructed all alike big houses with back decks and gas grills, the trailer parks, the poor side of town, huddled apartment complexes with bad roofs—the homes of white trash and black folks alike looking for a better life bringing down the equity of corporate property.  And if you go inside, if you go in to see where the children live, you see kitchens stacked with dirty dishes, infested with ants, windowsills lined with old fountain soda cups from gas stations, seen from the outside of curtain-less smeared windowpanes, the filthy smell and hair left behind from neglected pets, dirty clothes strewn everywhere, the ruined carpet floor unseen in the hoard, the stained upholstery on sunk-in furniture hidden by the mess.  Even the bathrooms, the bath tubs (no showers in most of them) stacked with dirty plates, the trash never taken out…  And this, this is where the children live.  Their rooms, their beds, covered with scraggly stuffed animals from Good Will, hand-me-down clothes and toys.  This is what they grow up in.  With drunken fathers and mothers sitting at kitchen tables in front of overflowing ashtrays, the pupils of their eyes showing the juice of snorted diet pills and energy drinks.  Their parents just replicas of their parents.  A college education a joke.  A good job a joke… And they are supposed to understand.  To respect their betters.  And those on the outside looking in are never supposed to engage this, engage this stupidity, never once questioning who made this, this outside, this inside—the stupidity in not understanding understanding… Two black families became one when David Threnody and Bethany Lebeau wed.  Duke and Cleota tried to live a respectable life above their pawn shop in East St. Louis.  Robert and Valerie Lebeau struggled to make a good life in the country outside of Hemphill, Texas.  And they really weren’t that different—the two families.  Perhaps education separated them.  Their environment.  But their history, what they came from, this a distinction not made in love, that subtle raise of an eyebrow to what we see different than us, to what we judge.  The rift truly seen when Bethany wanted a divorce.  A story only a mother can tell.  And you’ve heard Cleota’s words, and now maybe you should hear Bridgette’s, echoing her daughter Valerie and what she would say wins beauty contests—what Bridgette would say after waking up from her dreams, that night Bethany and David’s twins were born, the night her first husband Frenchie was beaten and jailed, the night David returned from New Orleans after selling his copyright, crossing the Sabine where his and Bethany’s past sins lay buried.  Maybe you should hear her interpretation, the interpretation of the dream where perhaps she remembered hearing that rooster crow again, where perhaps she had her own hero to that parade of Momus.  That dream that maybe we all have that urges us to go tell it, go tell it on the mountain.  When we see ourselves as the underdog—the story (and perhaps ending) to Benjamin Threnody’s birth…

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