Bodily Marks
by Lester Allyson Knibbs
(Hakeem Muhammad)
When I was a boy, somewhere between six and nine, Hulan Jack came to our neighborhood.  Hulan Jack was not only the borough president of Manhattan, but he was a Black Man, and his coming to our Harlem neighborhood was cause for excitement.  I got so excited I ran into a pole.

That’s how I busted my knee.  Not really busted – just badly bruised.  And dirty, very dirty.  There was dirt all over that wound and deep in it, because the pole was in the basement of this big church on the corner of Convent Avenue and 149th Street.  An unfinished basement full of grime.  Somehow, I managed to slam into the pole, bounce off and grind my knee into the grimy floor.  I was so excited I just got up and kept running.  “Hulan Jack is coming!  Hulan Jack is coming!”  I wasn’t sure who he was, but I was excited anyway.

What amazes me is that the knee healed up, the scabs fell away and the skin eventually returned to its natural warm brown color.  I look at my knees today, and I am not really even sure which knee it was.

In contrast, I have a small scar on my right thumb which has never healed.  And how did I get it?  Washing the dishes.  I just stuck my hand into the dirty dish water and came up with a thumb bathed in blood.  It must have been a knife.  I just went into the bathroom, rinsed it off, rubbed some mercurochrome or iodine or whatever on it, bandaged it, and went back to washing the dishes.  I was nine.  And forty-six years later the scar is still there.

I showed it to a cop once, and he got mad. About twenty-eight years ago, I was visiting San Francisco and had gotten arrested (on “Hippy Hill” in Golden Gate Park, which is a hint as to what I was arrested for) and I was being booked.

Now, I am not the “arrested and booked” kind of guy, if you know what I mean, so when one cop asked me if I had ever been fingerprinted, I just said, “Yes.”  He said, “When?”  I said, “When I worked a civil service job in New York.”  He got mad.

When another cop asked me if I had any bodily marks, I said, “Yes.”  He said, “Where?”  I said, “A small scar on my right thumb,” and I showed it to him.  He got mad.  “Roll up your sleeves.”  He got even madder when he saw my arms looking smoother than a baby’s bottom.

My naďve cooperativeness was not entirely innocent.  When they conducted the strip search, they neglected to close the door to the lobby.  The young fellow who had gotten arrested with me got all embarrassed and angry.  I saw what they were doing and deliberately slowed down.  So what if some strangers see me naked?  Not my fault.

So the cops got angry.  “Hurry up!  Hurry up!”  Yeah, sure.  After they had dilly-dallied all afternoon so that I couldn’t get released on my own recognizance.  Cost me a hundred bucks and ten minutes in jail – and, in effect, violated a citizen’s rights.  But they were angry.  They were even angrier when the charges were dropped.

It was a year-to-life, in those days.  I’d still be locked up.  I wonder if under Willie-what’s-his-name, the new Black mayor (these things don’t excite me any more), they still trap up all the Black men they can every Friday afternoon, so that San Francisco can be clean for the tourists on the weekends.

Interesting what memories a little bodily mark can conjure up.

Lester Allyson Knibbs
June 14, 2001
Essays, Poems and Short Fiction Home Page

Lester Allyson Knibbs Home Page