Almeyda rests, recovering. The wounds she sustained to her chest are severe. Almeyda was discovered by a medicine woman, unconscious and disfigured. Now, the medicine woman carefully tends to her injuries. With trust well earned, Almeyda confides to this woman, Zibrata. She reveals to her the story of her life; how she came to be so horribly struck down. It is a story rooted in slavery, set in colonial Brazil. It is in this setting that Almeyda was taught by her grandmother (an African slave) to always recognize the truth of this world:” She said that cruelty was indestructible. / Men are destructible, but cruelty goes on.” Almeyda identifies this cruelty in its many forms. In the behavior of her master and his wife. In the brutality of the Portuguese forces towards fugitive runaways. And in the extreme actions taken by fellow slaves. As an example of the latter, Almeyda recounts the story of a woman from her village: “ There was a woman…who mutilated herself, / So she wouldn’t have to have any man at all. / She had done it, because she didn’t want / any man at all, not the black ones or the white ones.” But in a time and place of racial and gender inequality and the subjugation of human beings, love and hope can also flourish. Almeyda experiences it, for a time, with Anninho. He helps her escape bondage. And with the enslavers on their heels, the couple runs together in search of freedom. They are eventually overtaken and separated. Almeyda is maimed, and Anninho’s fate is unknown. Distraught, Almeyda measures the loss. Anninho is a man of Almeyda’s choosing, which is significant. In the world of enslavement, the master dictates matters of mating; often setting aside female slaves for his own (ab)use. But Almeyda has chosen her partner, and she will hold onto him with a steely grip:” Who made the earth so that his blood / and mine could not continue together?” As Almeyda heals from her physical wounds, her resolve to be reunited with Anninho strengthens in equal measure. But can a love like theirs survive the harsh terrain; the inhospitable climes?
Song For Anninho (written in free-verse) is a mesmerizing work that exhibits both the beauty and brutality of the character’s circumstances. Almeyda’s desperation and longing, as well as the searing imagery creates a jarring effect. The repetitive speech, indicative of a convalescent drifting in and out of consciousness, illustrates Almeyda’s need to be heard and understood. Endlessly evocative, one can feel in Almeyda’s descriptions the power rendered in disparate moments. The rush of wind as a soldier violently bears down his sword. The gentle airy weight of a lover’s kiss. The story flows, dream-like, between the past and the present. A future is envisioned as well. In this time and place, Almeyda manifests an existence free of shackles, enveloped in love and stalwart commitment.
Song For Anninho confirms my belief that Gayl Jones is one of the most underrated and underappreciated writers in the sphere of American Literature. I hope that won’t always be the case.