swim underearth / above sky
Hello Earth Dancers,
My name is Maybell Hamilton. You can call me Granny Maybell, but don’t let me catch you slippin’ with “May” or “Ms. Hamilton”. Ms. Hamilton is my stepmother’s name. You don’t want to call upon her.
I’m here because I need to ask a favour. My great-grandchild Lilian is learning how to call into the spirit world, but this has put them under great vulnerability. I am one of the last Hamiltons to hold our remedies and magic. I kept it in me until I died. Now my great-grandchild walks the in-between without the guidance of our lineage.
To those who hold onto the sacred, call upon your ancestors and allies. We must heal now, what was conceived over 500 years ago. Spirits of the colonizers, Colonivores, must not be ended, but healed. With much gratitude, I ask you to do as we do in the spirit world, and become one. The ocean is made up of billions of water particles. That’s how it flows.
The Colonivores were never born per se. They were the spirits of the first colonizers, trapped in the between, working tirelessly for the kingdom of capitalism. Their sole purpose was to keep power in the hands of their kin and uphold the infrastructure of oppression, with their invisible, contorting limbs.
Most of the city was built on top of mudflats, bogs and river beds. The colonizers wanted to build a matrix of highways and highrises so that money could travel straight from concrete to ocean. They sealed up every creek and pond with cement and called it theirs. The earth didn’t breathe there. That’s why they called it the Choke.
It was an unstable place to live. When the faultlines slipped and the city started to shake, the Colonivores’ arms and legs balanced buildings, holding up bridges and viaducts. The Colonivores were most vulnerable when the earth struck, attempting to hold up oppression and a collapsing city all at once.
A newborn baby cried from the suite below as Lilian lay on the dusty hardwood, hosting a candlelight party for their ancestors. Above, hologram Granny Maybell swing danced with cuz’ Zed. Great-Grandma Eileen smiled in delight, as Great-Grandpa Don and Grandpa Vibert shared a chuckle on the dance floor. They’d been crossing paths for twenty-five years, and it wasn’t always that joyful.
Uncle Andy watched his family, sipping his beer from a distance. In his past life he believed that within the Black body held an unredeemable darkness. With Lilian being both a descendant of himself, a white settler, and of Afro-Guyanese ancestry, Andy experienced inner turmoil. Lilian was kin.
Lilian also felt this polarity, but they knew it was wrong to hold the same shame around their whiteness. That would reproduce the same system of oppression that put Black, Brown and marginalized bodies in shackles, stolen away from their families, assimilated and exploited. There were already too many sick spirits.
The scent of burnt lavender and thyme lingered in the seams of the old curtains, made from the skirts of Great-Grandma Eileen. A sweet prayer plant gifted from Cen sat on the window pane peering out at the dark alleyway. On their twenty-fifth birthday, Lilian felt a sense of peace in the warring of their mixed-race identity.
It was Lilian’s friend Cen who inspired them to reconnect with their ancestors. Cen was a healer in the community, holding both earth and fire, life and death. At a beach fire at the peak of winter, Cen shared some of their medicine. They prayed under a swirl of lilac and silver sky, offering cedar to the fire and cleansing their bodies in the ocean’s sharp release.
As Lilian watched the ceremonies held in the community, they started to notice the vital presence of the elements. With fire, water, earth, life, wind and song, prayers were sent to the ancestors. They believed that the only way forward was through listening to the protectors of the land and the leaders of the host nations.
Lilian felt as though something was protecting them. It called them to water. Every week, Lilian would bike the arduous unpaved path outside of the city to a small cove her Grandma used to take her to. Under the overhang of cedar and hemlock, Lilian washed the symptoms of the city off their body and spirit.
Very few stories were passed down to Lilian that spoke about how their ancestors connected to spirit. However, there was one story that Grandma Giselle was hesitant to tell that held vital information about Obeah: a system of spirituality used in Guyana and other Caribbean countries.
The systems of Obeah were carried across the Atlantic during the slave trade, and strongly condemned by the colonizers of the new world. It evolved and adapted as Indigenous groups shared their medicine and knowledge with the enslaved. Obeah was a way of survival.
Just a little bit of Obeah was brought over with the Hamiltons when they moved to the country formerly known as KKKanada. They assimilated into western culture and became devoted Catholics. After the family abandoned Obeah, a murky tide rolled in.
Lilian was three years old when their Dad, Jo, became addicted to rubble magic, a highly addictive, defective drug. When Jo was found lying unconscious in an alley, cold and still like the cement and brick surrounding him, Granny Giselle summoned him home. His eyes hung down his face like deflated balloons. He was empty. Granny Giselle remembered eyes like these back home in Guyana.
The Hamilton family held a few remedies for Jo’s condition. Grandma Giselle and her mother-in-law, Great-Granny Maybell, boiled down a recipe of flowers, herbs and roots for a blue bath. They offered prayer and they waited. One day after football practice, Lilian’s Dad arrived home, heading straight to the shower. The next thing he knew, he was being rebaptized by his mother and grandmother with a dutchie pot potion.
“They told me to repeat this prayer, facing east, and all of a sudden, I felt something jump out of me,” recalled Jo.
After that day, his life changed. He found a job, started a garden and didn’t talk much about the rubble days again. That is, until Lilian became curious, became concerned about their friends who were still under the helm of rubble magic.
Any opportunity Lilian had to learn about cultural rituals, they received with gratitude, knowing what a privilege it was to be invited in. Yet, they struggled to understand what role they played as a body both settler and forcefully displaced on stolen land. When Cen brought Lilian into these sacred gatherings, they were assured that all parts of them were being invited.
On the summer solstice. Cen had invited Lilian to a beach ceremony. Of course, most of the beaches across the Choke were either in the wealthier orbs or were turned into ports during the rise of industrialism. There was one beach between Rubbleville and the Port of Dread where Elders and youth shared knowledge and gave thanks to the creator.
Cen and Lilian sat on a sun-bleached log in a small circle of others, facing a well-fed fire. The sky was a milky grey and orange from the forest fires blazing in the south. Beautiful, but apocalyptic. On the longest day of the year, night took its time swallowing the heat and fluster of the day.
“When we ask for something, we must offer something back,” said Cen.
They added a log to the fire that grew and flickered. When Cen was a child, they were taken away from their family and put into foster care, a system designed to drain the spirit. Cen survived because something beyond the human world stayed with them. For many years, this spirit was a nuisance, showing up when they needed it. It was a reminder that they couldn’t do life, alone. It wasn’t until they were introduced to an Elder, who reminded them that no one ever survived in isolation.
Lilian grew up outside of the Choke in a residential orb, beside a sovereign nation of coastal peoples that had its own schools and community. In Lilian’s school, they didn’t learn anything about the neighbouring orb. All that they knew was that the nation had something their community didn’t. As one of three Black or mixed-race people in their neighborhood, Lilian could only dream of a sense of belonging.
What could I offer back to the creator? thought Lilian, staring into the slivers of moonlight that reflected off the water’s ripples.
Would the same creator Cen speaks of hear Lilian’s prayers and receive their offerings?
“What if I can’t give anything, Cen? I want to do things right, but I want to do it from a place that’s right for me,” admitted Lilian.
Cen stared into the fire that lit their cheeks shades of rum and amber. The silence made Lilian anxious, but they waited.
“You might not be from here, but this land remembers you,” said Cen, whose eyes were held by the dancing flames. “It might take time for you to figure out what you can offer, and at times it might feel inauthentic.” Cen’s face was soft. “Is your heart good? Are you willing to learn from a place of respect? Can you honor when something is not yours, and never will be?”
“Yeah, I mean … that’s what I aspire to be like,” said Lilian. “But I also want to honor my own ancestors, too. And find a way to offer that healing to you and the rest of the community. I just don’t know where to start.” said Lilian.
“Try offering something with intention. Then listen,” said Cen, placing tobacco into flames. “They’ll speak to you when you’re ready.”
Each orb border was designed to push, hold, and impair bodies that didn’t belong. It was a Colonivore invention. The unseen force made movement heavy, and interactions glitched, warping one’s perception and coordination. Sometimes, when beings that “didn’t belong” were found struggling in an unfamiliar orb, they were detained by the urban orb protectors, injected with tranquilizers and confined until exhaustion.
It had happened to Lilian’s father many times. Being a Black man with an addiction to rubble magic meant he was the ideal target for the urban orb protectors. For everybody detained, these “protectors” were rewarded, returning stronger and hungrier.
When summer flees the city, it offers a gentle kiss goodbye before the grieving starts.
The transition into fall was unkind to the people on the east edge of the Choke. Too many Black and Brown youth were taken, led into Rubbleville due to the lack of support and safe, affordable housing. Too many deflated beings walked amongst the city, barely surviving.
On the back of her bike, Lilian had strapped wood, kindling and her purple paisley medicine bag. They were one of many people grieving the loss of another community member to rubble magic, but Lilian chose to grieve alone.
They rode outside of the east edge, past the Port of Dread, through Rubbleville and right into the west side. There was a beach there that looked out into a world of the unknown. A view made for those who were allowed to see more for themselves. Lilian wanted to see something more for their community.
They locked up their bike and walked to the far edge of the beach, beyond the herds of people soaking up the season’s last rays of sunshine. Near a large cluster of boulders, Lilian placed their bag and set up a small fire. By the time the fire was alive, they were exhausted from the radiating pressures of the unfamiliar orb, their vision blurring slightly. They sat at its edge, offered lavender and the tobacco given to them from Cen and prayed.
Stepping off of the boardwalk, two massive beings walked towards Lilian, appearing as if from nowhere. Fires weren’t allowed on the beach unless sanctioned by an urban orb commander. Before Lilian could open their eyes, they heard an unsettling chuckle, closer than expected.
“What have we got here?” said the Orb protectors, as they destroyed the fire, stamping out each piece of burning wood. One of them grabbed Lilian’s medicine bag, throwing it far out into the ocean, sending tobacco and lavender across the rippling waves.
“Stop!” yelled Lilian.
The orb symptoms overtook them, and they became dizzy, their stomach roiling. As the words came out of Lilian’s mouth, a smile crept over the orb protector’s face. His skin was ice white and his lips dry and cracking.
“You’d better get back to your own orb where you belong. Half-breeds like you don’t ever seem to know their place, do they?” he said.
Lilian glared in silence, swallowing all the words bubbling within them. Sometimes it was better to say nothing. Yet, it still didn’t feel right.
The orb protectors left Lilian on the beach in a state of delusion. The fire was gone, and they felt cold. Lilian wept into the sunset, the air strong and scented.
As the salt water washed onto the shore, a spirit sang softly.
“You don’t have to do this alone, my child.”
A familiar but distant voice.
When the tide came in and touched their toes, it was time to go.
When Lilian got home, they were welcomed by the pulse of a drum and the smudge of Cen’s tobacco coming from their rooms. They remembered the words that came to them at the beach. They did not have to face this sick city alone.
Lilian went straight to their altar to make an offering. Fire and saltwater. Cleared with lavender and chamomile. Protected by angelica root. Prayer.
Lilian stood in front of their altar, still dizzied from their first spiritual encounter of the day. A warm wind circled them like an embrace as the room slowly filled with smoke. They took a deep breath, and they spoke.
“I want to say thank you,” whispered Lilian. “For today, and for every day that you guide me through this earth dance.”
The candle flickered.
“I want to ask for your help. Our community is under threat. Pressure is building up, and our people are breaking down under the hold of some very sick spirits.”
The candle flickered again, in truth and affirmation.
“I don’t know whose spirits they are, but I can’t remember a time I didn’t feel them. They’re protecting something, but it smells of stale air and sacrifice. Can you help me heal these sick spirits?”
Suddenly, rain crashed down on Lilian’s window. Outside, a rushing stream formed in the alleyway beside their home. The small bowl of saltwater on the altar started to whirlpool, singing once more.
“When you roll like the river, do not resist. From swamp to lake, from lake to stream, from stream to ocean. Call upon the others. We will meet you at the place where highway was built over waterway. Where bridges cross over streets where there were once inlets.”
“Bring your community and your medicine,” spoke the spirit of Lilian’s Great-Grandma Maybell.
All of a sudden, both wind and water stilled. Looking around their room, just recently buzzing with spirit, Lilian noticed their prayer plant gifted to them by Cen had opened up, with its roots breaking through the confines of it’s stoneware planter.
Lilian texted Cen. “Are you free to talk tonight? I have a project for us. One that requires breaking concrete with our roots.”
“I’m intrigued,” replied Cen. “Meet in the kitchen at 7?”
Hello Earth Dancers,
It’s me again, Granny Maybell.
It’s time to send a message to your friends and kin. Offer support. Ask for support. Meditate on your divine powers. Plant seeds, light a candle, and make a prayer. It’s going to rain. Come together to heal: yourself, your community, the seven generations before and after you.
Water what you wish to grow.
Lexi Mellish Mingo is a multi-disciplinary artist living and creating on the unceded and unsurrendered territories of the Tsleil-Waututh, Squamish and Musqueam Nations. Her work is inspired by the complexity of diasporic experiences, and the process of decolonizing identity through artistic practice. With movement as a muse and motif, Mellish-Mingoi challenges the stagnancy of traditional narratives by centreing activism to facilitate dialogue on a decolonial future. More: Twitter @LexiMingo