Sunday, November 22, 2020


 Toni Morrison. SONG OF SOLOMON. Knopf, 1977.

After Hagar’s funeral, Pilate and Milkman drive to Virginia to bury the bones she has treasured for years. The last scene is a Pieta, on and off Solomon’s Leap. I close the covers, the yellow jacket, reverently. I am propelled to walk. To stand outside the banquet hall and waylay revellers as they leave. To put my hand on their sleeve and say: Wait. There’s something I have to tell.

It is forty-three years old, published in 1977. It uses the n word. There is violence and death. Deaths. Vigilantism. Murders. Attempted murders. Attempted abortions. Suicides. Off the top of Mercy Hospital. Somewhere in Michigan, with Lake Superior visible. Gitchie Guma. The name is important. Names are important.

Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon is a story about the importance of names and naming. About divination. About the children’s rhyming verses and games which keep stories alive. Until Milkman can tease out the secrets. The names of the places and what happened there. The parents and grandparents who fled, and the great grandparents who flew. The women who caught and cached and cherished the stories and the coincidences which brought the generations home, to catch the stories before they died with the tellers.  

It’s a story about the importance of place. It’s a story about the importance of place to name, and place to person. About knowing who you are and who you come from and where you come from and why you’re here. And it’s about the intergenerational effects of trauma. About what happens to children who see their father blasted in two, shot off a fence, by neighbours who wanted his land. Children who have to pick up the pieces and bury them. Children to are visited by the ghosts of the dead, with riddles, with names, with pleas. Mysterious pleas.

It’s a story about what is not passed down to the son by the father who knows only death. The father who cannot love. The father who competes for the son’s loyalty, without offering any affection in return.

I imagine myself out walking, masked, alone, like the Ancient Mariner, stopping passersby to tell them the tale. How Hagar was dumped. Used and then abandoned. How it made her mad. But her mother calls for Mercy at the funeral and asserts to the nervous congregation: She was loved. How….

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