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PRINT February 2019

CLOSE-UP: HELD STILL

Jordan Casteel, Mom Hand, 2014, oil on canvas, 32 × 26".

AFTER EIGHTEEN YEARS, Sethe and Paul D, characters in Toni Morrison’s 1987 novel Beloved, are reunited in a house that is haunted by the ghost of Sethe’s infant child. The two of them had been enslaved on a plantation they call Sweet Home, the sort of ironic name that plagued those years. (My great-great-great grandfather, born enslaved in 1836, was named Pleasant.) Paul D has been wandering since he ran away, while Sethe, in the wake of emancipation, has found a home for herself and her only surviving daughter, Denver, though the ghost keeps them isolated. Sethe has invited Paul D, who was always sweet on her, to stay for dinner, which she is making as the two catch up on the events of the past eighteen years. Sethe, in a tense moment, rather offhandedly mentions the “tree” on her back, and a curious Paul D wants to know more. As she tells the story, Sethe starts on her biscuits.

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