As part of our effort to profile more authors within the LGBT community, we present Tenea D. Johnson.
Tenea was born in Kentucky and fled at the first opportunity. She took with her, the calm of the Ohio River and the swell of honesty (sometimes refreshing, sometimes catastrophic) that afflicts the folks born along its banks. Adoring of ideas, she graduated from the New College of Florida (enroll there now and thank her later) and NYU’s Gallatin School, as well as attending Clarion. Writing sustains her; music saves her. As often as possible, she straddles their borders to create compositions/fusions/hyphenated watchamacallit better heard than described.
So far the Knitting Factory, Dixon Place, The Public Theater, and others have opened their doors to the form.
Tenea’s work has appeared in African Voices, Arise, Humanities in the South, Infinite Matrix, Contemporary American Women Poets, Whispers in the Night: Dark Dreams III and Necrologue, among others. She is the author of a poetry/short prose collection, Starting Friction as well as the novels, Smoketown and R/evolution.
The following is an excerpt from her book R/evolution, available from Amazon.
For all of the construction committee’s planning, some details couldn’t be replicated exactly. So the barracoons that housed the senatorial sons and daughters had approximately two more square feet of space than those historically built for transatlantic slaves. As more hooded figures were shoved into the cage, Kristen Burke, ignorant of the inaccuracy, felt no gratitude for this small luxury.
She had been the first. First to be stripped down to her thin cotton shirt and silk leggings. First to be branded with ND just below her anklebone. First to have the tape and hood ripped off before they pushed her into the cage.
That was last night or maybe this morning. There were no clocks or natural light in the warehouse. She knew it hadn’t been more than a day since the agent – or what she thought was an agent – led her into the idling car that was supposed to take her to her father. When she woke up, cotton-mouthed and head pounding, Senator Burke was not among the men dressed in military black who hustled her through the cold and into the warehouse door. She’d screamed through the tape over her mouth, but by then she was here with grim-faced people who seemed to expect her screams.
Now three women shared the cage with her, shivering and bleary-eyed. She recognized Margaret Eastland from her parents’ dinner parties and Bridget Hardy from her mother’s campaign commercials. Kristen couldn’t place the young blonde girl who leaned on her ankle where they had burned her. Though tears slid down her face, Kristen paid the pain no mind.
The warehouse was loud. Gates slid open and closed. Men yelled a language she couldn’t understand. Margaret Eastland kept screaming every few minutes, words garbled behind the tape still on her mouth. Somewhere out of sight, metal scraped against metal. Boxes hit floors, and behind all this more voices rose. Kristen couldn’t see where they came from, but they never stopped or even paused in their monotonous roar. More than once she thought her ears had started bleeding from all the noise. She would wipe at them spastically, only for her hand to come back clean, save for the sheen of sweat.
She wished Eastland would shut up. Or that Bridget Hardy would speak again. They’d shared a few words when Bridget first arrived. As soon as they dumped her in, she started asking questions. Her blue eyes boring into Kristen’s, she’d asked who she was, where had she come from, how long had she been there? Kristen Burke. Manhattan. She didn’t know. Two men had scooped Bridget off the street in front of her Upper East Side apartment with the same story that got Kristen off the NYU campus and into a dark sedan. Everyone who was anyone knew Eastland kept a place in Murray Hill, so they’d probably taken her from there. Kristen would bet on the blonde girl too. All Manhattan, all in the last day or two. All senators’ daughters.
And sons: Five men filled the second cage.
Kristen didn’t wonder who’d taken them. It was plain as the brand on her skin: “ND,” New Dawn. Rumors about the group ricocheted from the news reports to the Senate Floor to conversation over martinis at Saul’s Bistro. Of all the groups demanding reparations for slavery, none was more feared than New Dawn. They didn’t want educational vouchers or free medical care like the other groups, they wanted everything – land redistribution, financial compensation, and stock in every conglom that had benefited from slavery. And even by 2024, that was all the conglomerations. Worse, New Dawn didn’t believe in legislation or picketing or economic sanctions. They believed in results. The one and only press statement New Dawn ever issued said just that: “We believe in results.” Those words perplexed people outside of political circles. It worried her father’s camp. Like Kristen, they knew what it took to get results.
A man in a black mask sat on a low stool outside of Kristen’s cage. He’d been staring at Margaret Eastland for the last few hours, the hours she’d spent screaming. Now he looked in Kristen’s direction. He turned his eyes slowly, as if measuring each inch between them. Kristen’s lip quivered, shivers turned to jolts as he turned his full attention on her. Like the dozen other men outside the cages, he was dressed in all black, a mesh mask obscuring his features. It was hard to tell his height, but he seemed big holding a long stun stick. He tapped it on the floor every few minutes, sending blue sparks dancing along the concrete. Kristen tried to look him in the eye, but the mask stopped her. It had an opalescent sheen, making it seem to float in front of his face. The Mask looked her up and down, stopping at her stomach, her breasts, her bent shoulders and sweaty face. The longer he looked, the more her throat tightened, the harder it became to breathe. She tried to distract herself, craning her neck to look into the men’s cage, but her skin prickled with the weight of his stare. Kristen turned back, looked down at the scratches on her hands, the dirt under her fingernails. After thirty minutes, she began to understand why Eastland screamed.
Somewhere inside the building a door slammed. Kristen jumped, jabbing her elbow into one of the bars. The Mask laughed at her, then fell silent, staring up at the landing behind the cages. For a moment, she could see the man beneath the mask, the reverence that smoothed out the tight lines around his mouth. She followed his gaze.
Phillip Tailor, New Dawn’s leader, wore no mask; instead he donned a smile.