November 20th, 2014
A number of us were invited to share our work. The subject was Memphis and everybody was given six minutes and promised a cupcake at the end.
There was more promise than that.
As published in The Daily News, November 21, 2014, and in The Memphis News, November 22-28, 2014
(photo: Marissa Corleone)
Last week, the Church of the Holy Communion inaugurated a reading group called Words3, and enticed an eclectic baker’s dozen of participants with Muddy’s cupcakes. I can’t speak for the rest, but I’ve worked for much less. We were writers and poets and historians, young, old, black, white, experienced and not – an assortment of flavors.
And one very fresh St. George’s junior named Marissa Corleone. Her piece, not read but performed, was called “Finding Memphis” and here are her words, edited to fit here, but every word hers:
“‘No, I said I lived in Collierville,’ I would reiterate.
“Am I resident of Memphis? My head would shake back and forth rhythmically as if in some ritual to ward off the possibility that I’d ever have to live in that terrifying city. Because, to my nine-year-old brain, Memphis was the older, more rambunctious sister to Collierville. She smoke and she drank and she partied and danced all night because she never slept. She donned leather, wild loose uneven curls, and red lipstick so deep and lush it was unparalleled to any MAC palette I had ever seen. She was rebellious. Restless.
“And I was terrified.
“Collierville was less interesting in comparison to his older sister, dubbed ‘the city where you sleep’ because he went to bed at the appropriate time each night. Under his watchful gaze, I was raised properly. I put on both straps to my backpack to equally distribute the weight of my 60 pounds of honors textbooks and took the long route down my school’s hallways in order to follow the path created in order for me to reach success.
“And I felt lonely.
“That loneliness continued to increase and increase as I got older. Despite having traveled the same route in the hallways each day since kindergarten, I started to cut corners. And, although I knew the exact path to take, I found my gaze starting to drift towards Memphis. Until I found at the bottom of my closet a red cap of individualism I didn’t know I had, and I dusted it off and put it on as if I was Holden Caulfield and ran head-on towards the object of my fear.
“And Memphis welcomed me with open arms.
“Underneath the violent exterior painted for her was a beautiful mixture of art, love, and diversity. She was a birthplace for free thought and experience. A place where I could chisel my own life path in the back alleys of her heart, much like her lovers chiseled statues in her honor. She was a harbor for all that dared to be different.
“Am I a resident of Memphis? No matter where I find myself when I am older, whether it is here or some place among the stars that I did not know I could reach – I will still answer no.
“Because I am Memphis.”
I certainly hope so, Marissa. I certainly do.
I’m a Memphian, and right now, I’m feeling a little better about that.
If you don’t read it, I’ll read it to you. The book is available in print online and all over town and now in audio online at Amazon, Audible and iTunes, read by the author – columns, comments and character references for a city filled with it and often absolutely full of it. Take a look or a listen.