THE VOICE IN MY HEAD
The stories we tell ourselves about ourselves, why we are how we are; ripples of effect that spread out so far from their origins that initial causes can no longer be glimpsed.
An origin? Yes, a cause: a photograph in my possession, taken (according to an inscription written in ink on its reverse) in 1890. Great-great-uncle George. Family legend says he had one blue and one brown eye, tetragametic chimerism, which implies a twin has been absorbed in the womb. George contains the eye of his incorporated sibling, a string of alien deoxyribonucleic acid. (Perhaps a sister; a brown-eyed girl?).
The structure of DNA is persistent, and given he brought this photograph home with him, his biological code is in the very matter of the image. I rub my fingers over the whole surface, conjoining us.
Both of us are haunted by a ghost – his in an eye and mine through a lens.
So this, this printed yellowing photograph, is the earliest visible ripple of my inheritance. The image of one hundred and ten men on a wooden ship off the shores of Zanzibar. He stands in the centre, a gazelle in the arms of a bare-footed man beneath him. I want to feel what it was to be that boy/man uncle who ran away to sea to forsake his work as a nail-maker. He pulled slaves from Arabian dhows and died young. I sit in a boat in a tin tabernacle, pretending.
Women went to sea disguised as men.
When I opened a ledger in the National Archive, I found George’s record. He and I were born 100 years apart to the day, to the very day (27th of September 1866/1966). I found myself travelling then to Zanzibar, an unaddressed compulsion, like a somnambulist who does not question their situation. On a sacred island in the archipelago (closed to women) I found his ship’s name carved on a baobab tree and the initials GE. Those are his initials but I cannot say it was him who carved them.
So much is in us, in the material that makes us, that we cannot comprehend – echoes and waves, chemicals and processes that fold back on themselves.