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The Epigenetics of Joy

You know, months before the pandemic hit. 

Pandemics, “hit” right? 

This is going to leave a bruise, right?

Months ago, during a routine doctor’s visit,

My doctor asked, “Does diabetes run in your family?

Remembering my mama and my grand mama’s high and low sugar, 

I answered, “Yes.”

My doctor asked, “Does hypertension run in your family?

Remembering all the times my mama accused me of getting her “Pressure Up,” 

I answered, “Yes.”

My doctor asked, finally, “Does Heart Disease run in your family?”

Remembering the little “Water Pills” in the generational pill drawer, I answered, “Yes.”

My doctor said, quite calmly, “You must begin taking these medicines.”

Being all about better living through pharmaceuticals, I asked, “How long do I have to take them?”

He said, “Forever.”

That word went on…well…forever.

I’m now my mama Margaret, I thought.

I’m now my grandmother Bessie.

Pretty sure I’m now my great-grandmother Dorcas.

I know I’m my uncle Leroy.

I know I’m aunt Lavada.

I know I’m my dad Joe.

Pretty sure I’m my brother Michael.

“Does diabetes, hypertension and heart disease run in your family?”

Something about, “Predisposed, forever, preventative, forever, higher rates, forever, African-Americans, forever.”

Pandemics, “Hit” and diseases “Run.”

Bruised and out of breath, I prayed over the pills, 

“God, who is all of the elements, compound yourself into pill form for the good of my condition. Make yourself elemental. Crush the probabilities, and make it all easy to swallow. Amen.”

And I started taking them. 

Damn. Black folks always got to run, or be ran.

Damn. Women always got to run, or be ran.

Damn, Poor people always got to run, or be ran.

Damn, Gay people always got to run, or be ran

Guess this my leg of the race.

Guess I’ll run on.

I know what you’re thinking…In this race…

“Death is the finish line.

Death is the tape to break through.

Death is the pedestal.

Death is the bent neck.

Death is the weight of gold ribboned around your neck.”

But death does not win.

The finish line was the institution of the health insurance.

The finish line was the institution of the medicine for my condition. 

The finish line was the institution of the Eucharist, 

That I do in remembrance of my ancestors:

And all my relations, took the pill bottle, broke the seal, opened it, took out the cotton, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to me, and saved it for me, saying, “This is our body given to you, you are what became of us, everybody is what became of them; do this in remembrance of us.”

Likewise all of relations, after the fish fry, also took the Tupperware cup, filled it with faucet water, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in our blood, which runs to you and through you.”

Take your medicines Marvin.

Be immunocompromised in a pandemic.

Keep your ass at home.

Pray over your pill box.

Pray not, a pill against,

But for, a begging Corona Virus.

Viruses beg.

Look like tantrum.

But it’s begging for attention.

Pray in a pandemic. 

Pray that you experience love as deeply as your ancestors.

Pray that you get a chance to be open and broken, 

Pray that you get a chance to take it to heart.

Pray that you experience sweetness as deeply as your ancestors,

Pray that your body knows it so intimately that it shudders and shakes,

Both from the drop and rise of it.

Pray that the continuous physical force exerted on or against your body,

That you finally take all this world has done to you, 

And all that you have taken from this world,

Pounds like talking drums in your chest, neck, or ears

Telling you, you can’t take no more.

There is a communion happening now beloved,

A pandemic is a communion.

Brings us all to the fellowship table.

Makes everything feel like a last supper.

“Do this in remembrance of me,”

Feels like “We had this coming.”

Feels like, “We asked for it” from 

Dancing like that,

Eating like that,

Loving like that,

Living like that,

Feels like pandemics is what is passed down,

In this here Passover.

Feels like the epigenetics of trauma,

So let me geek out for a second,

Epigenetics is the study of changes in organisms caused by modification of gene expression rather than alteration of the genetic code itself.

It posits that certain fears can be inherited through the generations, over many generations. “There are a lot of anecdotes to suggest that there’s intergenerational transfer of risk, and that it’s hard to break that cycle,” he says.

We’re talking about heritable traits

Scientists Ressler and Dias studied epigenetic inheritance in laboratory mice trained to fear the smell of assa-dough-fa-known (acetophenone), a chemical the scent of which has been compared to those of cherries and almonds. He and Dias wafted the scent around a small chamber, while giving small electric shocks to male mice. The animals eventually learned to associate the scent with pain, shuddering in the presence of acetophenone even without a shock.

This reaction was passed on to their pups, Despite never having encountered acetophenone in their lives, the offspring exhibited increased sensitivity when introduced to its smell, shuddering more markedly in its presence compared with the descendants of mice that had been conditioned to be startled by a different smell or that had gone through no such conditioning.

A third generation of mice — the ‘grandchildren’ — also inherited this reaction, as did mice conceived through in vitro fertilization with sperm from males sensitized to acetophenone. Similar experiments showed that the response can also be transmitted down from the mother.

We have to understand what spiritual, what Christian epigenetics are at work in our construction of faith and god,

So we can finally stop thinking 

That we gotta die to prove something to god.

We gotta know our reactions to pandemics is in our DNA.

We gotta know that something else gets passed down,

That there is another ticking time bomb,

The flowering of which threatens to destroy everything,

That we worked for.


The Epigenetics of Joy.

The Epigenetics of Joy,

Says that my grandmother, in the premature birth of my aunts daughter,

Looked at that child,

Scrunched her face,

Laughed and said,

“You can always tell when a baby got a old daddy,

The baby come out looking old.”

The Epigenetics of Joy,

Says my grandmother laughed and said,

“Imma take pride in this one collard tree,

In this square foot of dirt.”

The Epigenetics of Joy,

Says that my mama laughed and said, 

“All my children got jokes,

But that Marvin is funny acting.”

The Epigenetics of Joy,

Is your wryness,

And your twinkle,

And your finding humor,

Different from making fun of,


The Epigenetics of Joy,

Is making light of a thing.

The Epigenetics of Joy,

Is making light of a thing.

The Epigenetics of Joy,

Is making light of a thing,

And all my relations, 

Took the diabetes, hypertensed, and heart diseased body,

To the mortuary to be embalmed,

They opened the casket,

“Sharp as a rat’s turd” my grandmother said,

“Casket ready,” my aunt said,

“Oooh he look just like his self,” my mama said,

Gave thanks and broke out laughing,

Saying, 

“This is the world, 

With all of the air taken out of the seriousness of the day,

Given to you, 

So that you can take a deep breath,

So that you can make light of this pandemic,

Again, different from making fun of,

Do this in remembrance of us

Because we didn’t just pass down trauma to you

And joy is resistance.”

Likewise all of relations, after the funeral, 

Went to my grandmother’s house,

Ate and drank everything they wasn’t supposed to,

My grandmother took the jelly jar glass, 

Filled it with Crown Royal and milk, saying, 

“Funny how we always seem to make it through.

Funny how the loving cup of us is the new covenant in our blood, 

Funny how they try to get you to forget,

Where you come from,

And what we taught you,

That was taught to us,

That joy,

And good times,

And memories,

And tall tales

And funny acting,

Is how we survive a plague.”

Amen.