Where I Go: Afropalonia

Writer and Poet Rashaad Thomas Imagines ‘a Planet Only for Black People’

Where I Go: Afropalonia | Zocalo Public Square • Arizona State University • Smithsonian

Death sits next to me, hip bones touching mine on a twin bed in the center of a revolving room in Arizona that’s progressively increasing in speed. Frequency numbers, lifeless Black bodies, and protest signs spread across the ceiling, mixing with red, white, and blue pills and two inches of 40-ounce malt liquor poured out on the floor for my dead homies.

White, black, brown, and red wires and transparent tubes stretch from the middle of my sternum to a heart monitor and oxygen tank implanted in my spine.

The walls’ eyes and mouths mumble, recounting February 18, 2002, when family and friends held hands around my pops’ rubberlike body in a hospital bed.

Two Months Earlier

In December 2001, we have a wild argument. He ends the phone call saying, “I love you.” I slam the phone receiver into the handset hook.

That January, a nightmare about my pops dying shakes me awake.

Now, February is here, and my nightmare is moving closer to the truth. A phone call sends me on an Amtrak to a hospital intensive care unit in Minot, North Dakota.

The ICU smells of latex gloves and death. I approach a set of frosted glass doors that protects a wooden chair with blue tweed cushions and hospital machines. I don’t see my pops. The person lying in the Origami bed doesn’t look like him. My pops has dark brown skin and toned muscles. The man submerged in the mattress has white sheets that look thicker than the pale brown skin that dresses his limp body.

At approximately 3:33 p.m. the nurse says, “I am going to detach the tube now.” The oxygen pump slows to a stop. Wires run from his body to the heart monitor, screaming. The nurse pauses, then says, “I am sorry for your loss.” My shame and guilt balance losing pops and emptiness on the bottom of the cervical segment of the spine.

Pops’ arms extend to the ceiling and his legs shake. My mother moans, “He’s still alive.”

He passes away at 3:37 p.m., and John Coltrane sings:

Where I Go<span class="colon">:</span> Afropalonia | Zocalo Public Square • Arizona State University • Smithsonian

God used to live in my head. Neuroscientists say heaven occupies the brain’s right parietal lobe. After my pops dies, my demons torch heaven into black and gray ash. Pieces of me disappear. Women and I negotiate sex transactions on bar dance floors. They compensate me with a roof and a proper night’s sleep. My demons and I use women until they break psychologically. They demand a refund.

Return Policy: All sales are final.

I become a mad buffalo with 900 shades of eggshell stretched across the walls, floor, and ceiling. Chinese Crested dogs’ shadows circle, repeating: welfare state, raggedy neighborhoods, schools are part of the penal justice system, meager jobs, poor lives.

The demons, refusing to leave, become tenants. Slowly, whiteness covers my face down to the middle of my pubis bone. I remember thinking being white would be easier …

All Praises to the Black Woman

I first encounter Black consciousness by reading the world through the eyes of Black authors. It is they who first give me hope that there is a Black Planet that exists beyond Earth.

While listening to the divine sounds during meditation, I learn that I am seeking Afropalonia. It is located in the constellation Pegasus. Its Right Ascension is 22.1h 2 m 10.85 s and the Declination is 18° 53′ 3.99″. It is composed of three layers, the outer layer of serosa, then the myometrium, and lastly the endometrium, which moves inward.

It is a planet only for Black people.

I am fighting nausea the day I finally catch a glimpse of Afropalonia. I’d closed my eyes to settle myself when a large white noise flushes the darkness in my ears. Eclectic color streams behind my eyelids, and through this I can make out the planet, which is faintly hovering above South Phoenix where the heat disappears with the sun.

I hear Alice Coltrane comfort Afropalonia, saying:

Where I Go<span class="colon">:</span> Afropalonia | Zocalo Public Square • Arizona State University • Smithsonian

Still the silence overwhelms. Ever since I lost my pops, I’ve been haunted by the silence because it carries whispers of the dead. Often, it escapes into my room through the crack in the floor. But this time, when its whispers toss and turn, I am reminded of my own birth. With this thought, a strong electric current rocks my bedroom, taking me on a white liquid raft through an opening in the shape of Our Lady of Guadalupe. From there, Afropalonia reaches for my body, which is swaddled in stardust.

The next thing I know, I am standing in a warm orange soundscape. A “New Thing” Madagascar cockroach jazz band advances to the housing projects in the distance. The cockroaches wear brass uniforms, high stepping with their hind legs. The saxophones lead, then the trumpets, trombones, and percussion trail with the coda.

Max Roach pontificates:
“For Big Sid”

Where I Go<span class="colon">:</span> Afropalonia | Zocalo Public Square • Arizona State University • Smithsonian

Max Roach and Abbey Lincoln in sync yell:
“Driva’ Man”

Where I Go<span class="colon">:</span> Afropalonia | Zocalo Public Square • Arizona State University • Smithsonian

The Fly Nest housing projects vibrate by the quantum sound waves that crack apartment windows made of soap film. Serosa is a multi-stakeholder cooperative using sustainable junk within its complex. The 10-floor building protecting its atrium reveals John Coltrane’s Circle of Tones.

John Coltrane’s Meditations sweeps a tide of lavender stardust with me upward. I don’t know how much time passes to reach the myometrium level because time does not exist.

John Coltrane mentions:
Where I Go<span class="colon">:</span> Afropalonia | Zocalo Public Square • Arizona State University • Smithsonian

Sun Ra silently responds:
“Space is the Place”
Where I Go<span class="colon">:</span> Afropalonia | Zocalo Public Square • Arizona State University • Smithsonian

The vibrations are different here. Loneliness kills on Earth, but here, the silence keeps me company. The pigeons coo and roaches hiss to communicate. I let myself ride the meadow’s purple frequencies and think about the scene in The Color Purple where Shug Avery recites, “I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it. People think pleasing God is all God cares about.”

The smell of grape Kool-Aid skims over the field. Near the edge, a strong smell of watermelon attacks my nose.

Yesterday, a charcoal silhouette sunbathed in half notes. Today once was tomorrow—the past once stole a few minutes. God’s hem bib pocket carries revelations folded into a pocket square. Knowledge of self is light from Allah. I am reborn. Whiteness doesn’t define Blackness.

The griot pigeons and prophets live on myometrium level. Their chests open to make supplication with pigeon coos. I meet a new prophet each revolution around the aluminum mountain. It takes several visits to understand that the messenger pigeons speak in Coo.

Pigeon 1:

Cooooo coo. Coo, coo coo, coo.

                                                       Pigeon 2:

…………………………………………………Coooo. Cooooo.

Malcolm X (Black Plain Head pigeon):

“By any means necessary.”

Bob Marley (Frillback pigeon):

“Life and Jah are one in the same. Jah is the gift of existence. I am in some way eternal, I will never be duplicated. The singularity of every man and woman is Jah’s gift. What we struggle to make of it is our sole gift to Jah. The process of what that struggle becomes, in time, the Truth.”

Tupac Shakur is a Genuine Homer pigeon representing Thug Life (The Hate You Gave Little Infants Will Damn Everyone):

“The seed must grow regardless of the fact that it’s planted in stone.”

James Baldwin, a Helmet MFCR pigeon, writes a message on the mountain stating:

“Love takes off masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within.”

Imamu Amiri Baraka, an African Owl pigeon, hangs on the stoop of unopened Amazon boxes:

“The attempt to divide art and politics is bourgeois philosophy which says good poetry, art, cannot be political, but since everything is [political] …, even an artist or work that claims not to have any politics is making a political statement by that act.”

Hattie McDaniel (Jacobin pigeon):

“Faith is the Black person’s federal reserve system.”

Erykah Badu (Nicobar Pigeon):

“Get your lesson. You shall have everything that is for you. Now breathe like it.”

Nina Simone, a Hana Pouter pigeon, gifts the world with the message below:

“To me, we are the most beautiful creatures in the world—Black people. So, my job is to make them more curious about where they came from and their own identity and pride in that identity.”

Lauryn Hill is a Brunner White Champion pigeon. She shares the following message:

“I’m not afraid to be the person I am.”

Lincoln Theodore Monroe Andrew Perry (Bronzewing pigeon):

“I represent the Negro who is supposed to be stupid. But I put so much innocence into my roles, I am actually making the Negro ‘white.’”

Gwendolyn Brooks is an English Trumpeter pigeon:

“Accept the challenge of being human and to assert humanness with urgency.”

Mahalia Jackson (Nun pigeon):

“You know my soul looks back in wonder / How did I make it over?”

John Henrik Clarke:

“To be Black and beautiful means nothing in this world unless we are Black and powerful.”

One day, the Prophet, a Pink Necked Green pigeon with a blurred face, tells me, “Time does not exist. The past is today. The future is today. Therefore, today is always Now.” Then he announces the Afropalonia Declaration of Liberation:

Afropalonia claims …

I. this declaration, manifestation and development of Black awareness

II. self-knowledge, politically, consciously, socially, and economically among the Black community

III. the belief that Black people maintain a spirit of a nation free from oppression

IV. Black spirituality, culture, history, economics, politics, and art specific to Black ancestors, Black stories, Black elders, and Black legacy

V. our art and education will further the preservation and promotion of our culture and our experience

With that, puzzle pieces unite to reveal a 20-foot-tall pigeon. I place my right foot on the tip of their angelic wing, and the pigeon, vibrating each feather, shifts me toward the center of their back. As we fly, high-low colored frequencies trail behind us. Multicolored catfish follow, their mental, mandibulary, and maxillary barbel screams resonating through space. We crash through a crystal ceiling into the endometrium level. Faint tenor saxophones moans and screeches meander in the distance.

The Free Jazz Gods

I land in front of an open gate made of grape vines. Six-foot-tall Quantum bats welcome me to an extraterrestrial labyrinth. A wide onyx diamond path and Osteospermum on the walls cradle ancestors’ photographs. Each flower extends a petal with a diverse exhibition of framed photographs. One reveals a portrait of Fannie Lou Hamer toward us, then returns it to the wall. Others share more portraits: Audre Lorde, Eldridge Knight, Patrice Lumumba, and others who are honored for their contribution to our survival on Earth, the belly of the beast.

I follow the path to the Free Jazz gods. Their frequencies are administered through quantum cellular molecules flowing in purple streams full of fish that swim above my head. Large Osteospermum hang from the corners of turns like convex mirrors. Knowing the knowledge of self, at each corner I see the answer of the truth. I eavesdrop on Charles Mingus talking to Albert Ayler.

Albert Ayler:
“Truth is Marching In”

Where I Go<span class="colon">:</span> Afropalonia | Zocalo Public Square • Arizona State University • Smithsonian


Where I Go<span class="colon">:</span> Afropalonia | Zocalo Public Square • Arizona State University • Smithsonian

I feel John Coltrane rapping with Thelonious Monk:
“Off Minor”

Where I Go<span class="colon">:</span> Afropalonia | Zocalo Public Square • Arizona State University • Smithsonian

Charles Mingus adds in:
“Black Saint and Sinner Lady”

Where I Go<span class="colon">:</span> Afropalonia | Zocalo Public Square • Arizona State University • Smithsonian

The more I walk, the closer I get to Alice Coltrane’s angelic voice, elevated by John Coltrane’s transition into a Jazz god.

Only when I have successfully completed life’s tests that lead to absolute liberation can I live in Afropalonia for eternity.

During the times I must return to Earth, I see white limbs in police sleeves and legs and torsos and hearts of colonialism hanging in space. These are failed attempts to infiltrate Afropalonia. They will never be able to enter. Madness, guns, and violence formed Earth. Sodom. Capitol Hill. Babylon. White people are trapped in a history they do not understand.

I blink suddenly with this realization, and then begin to spin, slowing down until I am back in the middle of my room in South Phoenix. The room is completely Black, and I meditate on the message an unknown prophet taught to me on that first visit to Afropalonia: “I am.” I am alive. Blackness is hope.

I visit Afropalonia when white people become too heavy, and I am overwhelmed with doubt.

Why me? What if? How did I end up here? Where is the end? Pops? If you can hear me. My soul carries your legacy.

For now, I walk alongside the shadows in the valley without fear because I know Afropalonia is home, and one day we will reunite with a Love Supreme.

Rashaad Thomas is a father, husband, and U.S. Air Force veteran who resides in South Phoenix, Arizona. He is an award-winning poet and freelance writer.
*Illustration by Be Boggs.
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