Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann

Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann

Killers of the Flower Moon is a strange read. I walked into it hoping to learn about a time and incident in history I knew nothing about. I hoped to learn about the Osage Nation, the people, their culture. And to some extent, I did. I met Mollie Burkhart and her family early in the book’s pages. David Grann mentioned other Osage individuals who had were killed during the Reign of Terror. Somewhere along the line, however, it felt as if we were leaving the Osage Nation, its members and its culture, behind.

A little less than half of this book is about the birth of the FBI and its investigation into the Osage murders. Mollie Burkhart, her family, and other members of the Osage Nation take a backseat to Tom White, his familial background and his fearless pursuit of what Grann believes is only one perpetrator of the Osage murders. Yet, we discover at the end that while there were twenty-four murders accounted for there were, in fact, “countless other killings”—and likely many other perpetrators—that were never investigated. As a reader, this felt like more of a shocking afterthought than the reality of the Osage people.

I’m well aware that this book’s flaws are likely a result of the miscarriage of justice during the Reign of Terror. It’s hard for me, however, to ignore the quieting of the Osage people’s voices in this narrative. This wasn’t just a few strange deaths. It wasn’t just an FBI investigation. For the members of the Osage Nation, it seemed death became their reality and is a pain they have yet to recover from:

The town and the street were empty, and beyond them the prairie, too. “This land is saturated with blood,” Webb said. For a moment, she fell silent, and we could hear the leaves of the blackjacks rattling restlessly in the wind. Then she repeated what God told Cain after he killed Abel: “The blood cries out from the ground.”

They Don’t Know

He don’t know how hard it is to be black. He can’t even imagine somethin’ harder than what he doin’. I could tell him but he wouldn’t believe it.

~ From Little Scarlet, Walter Mosley

Every once in a while I lay down my armor for a moment and wonder what peace would look like. Sometimes it’s a glancing thought. Other times it’s an extended conversation with a friend. It’s hard, when you finally realize what this world is, to step back and visualize what the world could be. But you try.

The problem is simple: there’s no desire for understanding. Every human has their own struggles, their own pain, their own stories. It takes an open, patient human being to hear of another’s pain, listen and believe it.

Sara Bareilles’ Armor

Let it begin, let Adam in
Step one: original sin
Underneath the leaves, Adam found Eve
Both of them found something sweet under the apple tree
Then it was over, roads divide
Step two: learning how to lie
Let me ask a question to present day
How the hell did Eve end up with all the damn blame?
All the damn blame

Black women are different. Indian women are different. Hispanic women are different. Native American women are different. Palestinian women are different. Muslim women are different. Biracial women are different. The armor is different. The source is complicated. The mode of survival twisted and more confusing with each cultural intrusion.

Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo”

Like a relic pulled up from the bottom of the ocean floor, Barracoon speaks to us of survival and persistence. It recalls the disremembered and gives and account for the unaccounted.

Barracoon is an experience. It is brief introductions from Zora Neale Hurston followed by pages of dialogue from a former slave who remembers what it means to be African. He tells of the time before his capture, his 5 years and 6 months in slavery, and the whirlwind that was life as a free man. It is mostly uninterrupted, somewhat sporadic storytelling written in a language laden with a severed culture and unmatched resilience.

But it’s really only a glimpse. While Oluale Kossola tells of his village being raided in detail, there are notable holes in other parts of his story. At times it feels like racing through decades of a life, just trying to hang on. There’s no real detailed discussion of life in slavery, just brief mentions of sorrow:

In night time we cry, we say we born and raised to be free people and now we slave. We doan know why we be bring ‘way from our country to work lak dis. It strange to us.

The weight of his children’s deaths barely sink in. They come so quickly, shockingly, one behind the other. His story twists and turns. It feels like I assume it felt to sit, listening to Kossola tell his story, his way.

What’s most intriguing about reading Kossola’s story is the inextricable tie he still had to his African home:

Kossola’s nineteen years of life in Africa were more real to him than a declaration of independence in America. His narrative does not recount a journey forward into the American Dream. It is a kind of slave narrative in reverse, journeying backward to barracoons, betrayal, and barbarity. And then even further back, to a period of tranquility, a time of freedom, and a sense of belonging.

He talked of creating Africatown, of giving his children African and American names. While he and his family accepted their new Christian ideals, the African rituals he learned during his nineteen years on the continent were ever-present memories.

We call our village Affican Town. We say dat ’cause we want to go back in de Africa soil and we see we cain go. Derefo’ we makee de Affica where dey fetch us.

It was a new and thoughtful experience to read of a once enslaved man who still remembered his African home and customs even as he was forced to make a new home in a strange land.

The Musicophilia Hole

I love music. It’s been part of my daily life and identity for as long as I can remember. I have noticed, however, that my ideas about music and even the ways I engage music have changed over time. Now, this is certainly not surprising. I’m older. Let’s hope I’m a little wiser. My life has changed in some wonderful ways. It makes sense that my ideas about music would change. I do often wonder, however, if there’s a little more too it.

I read parts of Oliver Sacks’ Musicophilia years ago. Lately, I’ve had a strong desire to dig in again. Sometimes a book comes to me long before I’m truly ready to receive it and I definitely think Musicophilia was one of those books. Now, I don’t expect to uncover the secrets to my current level of musical engagement necessarily, but I’m more and more curious about the ways the brain and music interact.

Before I had a chance to open the book, however, I fell down a musicophilia hole. I spent way too much time looking up articles, interviews and talks and I’m pretty sure I’ll be reaching for Musicophilia today. Scouring the internet I found theories about earworms, discussions of the correlation between blindness and perfect pitch, some brief thoughts about music as a cultural construct, and a woman who can’t recognize music:

Don’t mind me. I’ll likely be in this hole for some time.

Moses Sumney’s Aromanticism

A wonderfully talented friend of mine told me about Moses Sumney over tea a few days ago. I’m not sure what rock I’ve been under, but I’ve clearly been hibernating because I had no clue this creative human existed. So, I decided to go down a Moses Sumney hole starting with his debut album Aromanticism.

To begin, I learned a new word—aromantic. An aromantic is someone who experiences little to no romantic attraction. In a New York Times article, Moses Sumney explains that he has never experienced romantic love and wanted to challenge a culture that values romantic love so highly:

I was just bored with the love song, the idea of the love song as the archetype, and also the culture that suggests romantic love is the end-all and be-all of human existence. I wanted to question and challenge that on a personal level and on the social level — the personal is the social. I think I just felt alienated by the idea of pursuing romantic love. And I never fully saw myself in love songs, although I enjoy them. But I was wondering, what else is there?

I am certainly intrigued by the choice to tackle this idea and while I don’t have a solid opinion about this album—I can’t after only a few listens—I am content to sit in this Moses Sumney hole for a while and discover more.

Here’s a video of him performing my current favorite from Aromanticism, “Plastic”:

I know what it is to be broken and be bold
Tell you that my silver is gold
Though we’re much too old for make believe
And I know what it’s like to behold and not be held
Funny how a stomach unfed
Seems satisfied ’cause it’s swell and swollen
And you caught me
Shootin’ cross the sky like a star
But nobody told me
To never let it get too far
You see my silhouette, so you’re standing scared of me
Can I tell you a secret?