“Homegoing, AD” by Kima Jones Summary
The prose poem’s unnamed narrator begins speaking to an unknown listener, recounting a “down south story” in the first-person plural, telling her audience that they have never been told this particular story. In a car with her uncle and a relative named Jack, possibly the narrator’s sister, the narrator is heading down I-95 to Charleston, South Carolina, to attend their grandfather’s funeral. When making this same trip in the days before GPS, they used to get lost in North Carolina; the narrator recalls how the humid, tobacco-thick air felt like it was “choking us.” They are driving the sixteen hours nonstop because Jack refuses to fly, and with their uncle falling asleep at the wheel and Jack’s feet going numb, the narrator feels like they are coming closer to death with each mile.
Once they see the familiar palmetto trees, they know they are close to their grandparents’ home. They arrive to find the body of their grandfather, Granddaddy, laid out in the living room “like a piece of furniture.” There’s so much going on in the house, what the narrator calls “the business of departing”—icing the tea and icing the cake, tuning the organ and laying out the children’s mourning outfits—that she’s able to freely mingle with her family and observe. A relative named Leroy is at the barbecue grill, bemoaning that the younger generation have stopped eating pork and all seem to have Muslim-sounding names.
At this point, the narrator sneaks into the woods with her cousin Toya and an unnamed male cousin to drink whiskey and smoke cigars. The cousins were both born and raised in the area, unlike the narrator, and are familiar with the sweltering, mosquito-filled dark. Sweating from the heat, the narrator drinks “more and more” and blows smoke into her unnamed cousin’s mouth. This cousin tells the narrator and Toya that Granddaddy was fine up until the morning he was found dead in his bed, smacking his hands together to emphasize the suddenness of Grandaddy’s death. As they become intoxicated, the narrator’s and her unnamed cousin’s inhibitions loosen, and they begin kissing. Toya cautions them to look out for copperhead snakes, but what they’re all really watching for are alligators.
Here, the prose shifts to a series of single lines arranged in such a way as to represent the cousins’ conversation and actions. One of them spots an alligator in the dark and warns the others that, even if they can’t see it, it can see them. The cousins run for their lives, knowing that they, unlike the alligator, belong on the land.
As the first work of the “Legacy” section of the book, Jones’s poem introduces the themes of Southern roots, Black diaspora, and the ubiquitous presence of death that appear frequently throughout the collection. This first section of the collection is intended to represent the idea of the Black past, and Jones compresses the broad, complex narratives of African American history into this...
(The entire section is 768 words.)