When you are writing in the intimate voice of a character, what do you feel the most acutely?
This is a hard question to answer because I really just leave my mind blank, my emotions empty, and become whatever voice seems to echo the loudest. I understand this question to be an inquiry into what emotions or thoughts surface in order to become the face of the character.
This piece provoked an intense emotional experience for me as a reader. It makes sense that it isn’t necessarily the most prominent thing on your mind while writing (the emotional impact on the reader). Can you talk a bit more about your process in writing this short piece and how you managed to put so much intensity into such a compressed form?
With this story, I was P, speaking to some distant listener, or to some otherworld observer, as his life in that moment seemed to become more than destiny, an ever-changing navigation. How could someone, in such an instance in time, not feel the weight of it? I take this approach with all of my characters, even the ones who are just part of the main character’s world. In a way I allow multiple personalities and ideas to exist at once.
Whose work have you been drawing life from lately?
I have been reading mostly non-fiction lately, but the last two books of fiction I have read were “Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison and “Destructive Source” by Michael McThune. Ellison was a revisit that I shared with the author of “Destructive Source,” who has become a friend of mine. There is this interesting merging of minds that is seen in my short, which is in Ellison’s and McThune’s main characters. But, truthfully, much of my influence is drawn from the everyday I experience as an African American man in such a time.
The gun spoke in the voice of God. It trembled and groaned like the sky covered by the grayest clouds of a storm. I could feel every bit of the fear that gripped the soul behind the eyes of who stared into the barrel of this 9mm; a gun so common that one could forget the pain it brings with every awakening from its slumber. I didn’t forget though. I always remembered what it felt like, in my left thigh remained a bullet that ran from her mouth like air released in relief, except it was not relief that followed it. I remember facing fate, smiling as if I knew something it didn’t, and, at the last moment, before the finger squeezed the trigger, I turned and bolted towards a window, crashing through it as one shot…. two shots…. three shots fired after me like blood hounds. It was the third one that caught me, the third bullet that would leave a lasting impression. I forced myself to run when I hit the pavement, there was no time for pain, or for the acknowledgement that I had been hit, there was only time for an escape. Curses filled the night, wishing me death, emasculation, and half joyful promises of “I’ll get you nigga! You hear me!” But there was no time for that. So I ran, ran as if death had been driving behind me the whole time, waiting for me to stumble or grow tired of living, tired of running.
Now, now here I am, behind the word of God and the word say’s “beg muthafucker, beg.” So he begged, he pleaded for his life of drug dealing and back stabbing to be spared while on his now sore knees. He had been on them for 15 solid minutes as I held this ruler of men to his face. I planned to kill him, planned to execute him right here, in this abandoned building just blocks away from the housing tenements I grew up in, where our fates first met.
“Yo! P! Pull the fucking trigger already! It’s getting too busy out here.”
I wasn’t alone. This abandoned place is a way station for those who sail on the heroine and slip into the crack of fantasies, those who find their peace and escape in the tunnels of needles and pipes. Outside stood my boys, watching out for police or the passing fiend being too nosey. Nobody else would come in here or walk in this direction unless they were the walking dead or the killer of zombies. Mindless creatures that only seek to feed off the will of others, but too once lived. Once had will of their own pushing them to move into dreams and aspirations, love and friendships, but something took that away and placed upon them a spell that would bind them to only destruction and a dying soul. So, what am I in this moment? In this way station? Why does it matter?
My palms begin to sweat as I tighten my grip on the handle; I’m determined to do what I have to, but who says I have to? Who has decided my part in what will be one of countless renditions of the same scene, like a play that never leaves the stage. His pleas become melodic, an interwoven background to all of these questions and thoughts, so intertwined that I can’t tell the difference between my inner voice and his. They dance to some tune of truth and righteousness, almost as if the Pastor at my mothers church was calling me from a distance, from some past Sunday spent with my mother praying for my soul as so many black mothers have for their sons, her tears blanketing her whispers to God, faintly.
This gun, what does it represent in this moment? It is the angel of despair, the spirit of an end so absolute that thinking it to oneself is a summoning. Why do I give a fuck right now!? Why am I stuck in some loop of thought that must be a trap? I have this motherfucker staring down this cold tunnel, reliving every moment of his life as if he is watching a video of his existence.
“P! What the fuck man!?”, “Look, if you too pussy to pull the trigger then I’ll do it, but man we can’t be fucking chilling here like we relaxing.”
He was right, I know, shit, I know. But…the sweat now beading on my forehead is making me feel human again, like just a man. The drying of my lips bring me back to here…. to this right now of choices because one choice always leads to others to be made in consequence. The power this gun is giving me, the way it begs to be freed of its destructive calling. But, it is just a machine, a mechanism of man’s imagination, the creator of his nightmares, or the defender of his nightmares. It doesn’t breathe but when it exhales the heat is inescapable and the pain is deeper than the longing for life in this mans belly. It is a beast, mindless, emotionless, and only living through the palm that holds it.
“Please man, look, man, I’m sorry. You can have it man. You can have it. My girl is having a little one man. I’m done with this shit…for real my nigga. I’m done with this shit, with this street shit.”
“Shut the fuck up! Nobody gives a damn about your bitch or the little bastard she’s about to have. This is how shit is. You fucked up!”
That voice came from somewhere I couldn’t find. Whose voice was that? I turned and saw that my boy in his frustration had stepped to the entrance to check that all was still good outside for us. So who else could have spoken? Was that me? I looked down into the face of the man pleading for his life and the future of his child’s and saw the incredulous look of sorrowful disbelief that the life he sought to change would be the inheritance of his unborn.
The weight of the gun became almost unbearable, but once awakened it has to eat. It has to be used. It has to be satisfied. Satisfied, like the many guns that have killed so many of us; that have killed so many of my niggas. My niggas, now, the taste of that word lingers longer and seems bitter. My mind is in a loop of questions and curiosities about how I am here, weighing this mans life in my soul like the scales of the Libra, but what right do I have? What will this reverberate from here until some time down my lifeline? What worlds will this cannon destroy with one pull of the trigger? BOOM!!!
I turned in a sudden awakening, “What the fuck is wrong with you?!”
“P, you were taking too fucking long man. Letting that nigga touch your heart and shit. That’s some bitch shit man, he knew what it was.”
I was relieved. My boy had taken the scale and executed the verdict…. but, I felt as dead as the man on the floor of this abandoned building laid, slowly releasing the essence of what we believe it means to be alive. My beast did not consume him and it did not consume me, but in the eyes of my boy I could see the burning lust that this man-made god brings with every release. Did I have a chance to write a different story?
Michael Powell is a Boston-born New Yorker working across multiple creative platforms: hip-hop, film production, screenplay writing, painting, photography, fiction and poetry. He is the Co-Editor of SWIPE Magazine, has released a hip-hop album and has had numerous poems and shorts published. When he is not writing he is working on his podcast, A.W.O.L. Radio Show. Michael is the Associate Producer for a creative non-profit organization based in NYC.