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Dawn Lundy Martin

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Dawn Lundy Martin

Photo by Max Freeman

(2018 - Prose)

Excerpt from “When a Person Goes Missing”

What happens when a person goes missing?

My brother goes missing for almost two days in February 2017.

I find out on the Megabus en route from Pittsburgh, where I teach, to New York State, where I mostly live. It’s a regular Megabus night, the cab darkened and quiet and most of us staring into the glow of our phones or watching something on our larger screens. I don’t want to talk too loudly, so my voice is low, but since my mother is going deaf it’s difficult for her to hear me. Mostly, I listen.

My mother tells me the story of him being gone all night and her worrying. She says she thought maybe his car broke down on the side of the highway and since he can’t afford a cell phone he couldn’t call. She also speculates that my brother’s sudden disappearance is in some way connected to his owing past-due child support from a time when he was not working. There was a hearing, but where? She does not know. He could be dead by some sleight of hand, aggression, or accident. He could be in the hospital. Last year he became disoriented and dizzy at the wheel of his car, his hand tingling, which I revealed to him was likely a mini stroke. My mother does not call the police. What would the police do? And anyway, as most black people understand, it is our work to stay clear of the police, as far from their notice as possible. My mother calls me. Absorbed by my busyness I didn’t, as is my habit, bother to answer or check my messages. I didn’t answer until the next day, when the calls became more frequent, blowing up my phone.

To account for my brother’s missingness is to put ideas together that in our United States don’t ordinarily belong together. If we follow conventional knowledge, we follow a path that suggests that the missing black body is its very condition: the overt presence of the black body is an imposition. Any indication of “difference,” particularly that which marks the black body as black, is an offense punishable by a range of containments, from regulation and imprisonment to death and genocide.

("When a Person Goes Missing" first appeared in N+1 Magazine, Issue 30)

Dawn Lundy Martin is a poet and essayist. Her essays can be found in the New Yorker, Harper's, n+1 magazine, boundary 2, and Book Forum. She is the author of four books of poems: Good Stock Strange Blood; Life in a Box is a Pretty Life, which won the Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Poetry; DISCIPLINE; A Gathering of Matter / A Matter of Gathering; and, three limited-edition chapbooks. Co-edited with Erica Hunt, Letters to the Future: BLACK WOMEN / Radical WRITING was published in 2018 by Kore Press. Martin is Professor of English in the writing program at the University of Pittsburgh.

She is currently at work on a memoir.

I was born in Hartford, Connecticut, a place nobody knows unless they know it. If they know it, they know of its radically segregated demographic along race and class lines. The essays I’ve been writing and the memoir these essays feed into begin in this rather blank location (the site of my formation)—one that fills my imagination but is a poverty for others. Poverty is an emerging thread through the work, as is debt and the shame associated with it. To be an NEA literature fellow and to be awarded the accompanying grant helps me hedge of fear of poverty, however irrational at this point, and invest more deeply in the writing work with a sense of freedom and lightness. I’m grateful to be a part of such an esteemed legacy.