Territories on our Bodies

*This post was original written for the Alternate ROOTS blog, reflecting on ROOTS Week 2014. The original post can be found here: http://alternateroots.org/territories-on-our-bodies/

this map creeps over my body

I feel hills roll
and rivers
rushing to carve out space
the highway carries the songs and stories of peoples
my side
I feel a favorite coffee shop on my hip
My childhood hideout is in my toes
dark scars marks places I do not want to return.

a valley
and borders are like grooves in my shoulders
they graze and kiss each other.
the friction of movement


Last week at Alternate ROOTS we spent time discussing the possibilities of “Rootslandia,” a physical home for Alternate ROOTS. During this session, Nick Slie offered his thoughtful insights, and amid them stated, “I understand the South as a ‘territory of experience.’”

Amidst a fertile conversation about the intersection of Alternate ROOTS’ mission and the complex history and relationship between land and ownership in the the South, this phrase “territory of experience” jumped out at me. It has become a helpful touchstone as I work to create and imagine possibilities in a world shaped by displacement and migration, and my own multi-geographic experience.

After the session I asked Nick about this phrase and he told me he first encountered it through the author John Berger and then kindly sent along the article “Ten Dispatches About Place.”


Pop-up solo performance of twohundredthirtyfourtwohundredthirtyfourtwohundredthirtyfour by Ebony Noelle Golden. August 9, 2014. Photo: Alison Kibbe

Berger’s article is rich — full of things to juice, wrestle, and play with. For now, I’m meditating on the interaction between geographies and bodies. Maps are a rich source of inspiration for me, and much of my recent thought, process, and practice has been about how geographies work on us. It seems that conversation is often about placing people on maps, talking about how humans and politics shape land and the perception of place through cartography. This is very true, illustrated by the fact that many of us, especially in new locations, engage with movement through space by looking at avatars of ourselves as little blue dots moving on top of muted yellow streets on GoogleMaps.

But what if we flip that script? How do maps work on us? How do we carry them on our bodies? Do maps stick, mold and slide down our bodies carving us like glaciers? Or perhaps like rivers, sometimes wearing us down like the trickle of a creek, and at other times the rush of overflowing rapids and floods. How do we take geographies with us? Especially when we cannot stay? And how do the textures of the territories and landscapes we live in shape how we travel?

Leaving ROOTS Week, I have an even stronger sense of how the “territory of experience” that is the South shapes me. How this landscape pushes me off center, rides the lines of my curves, carves my valleys and peaks. And ROOTS Week offered a beautiful glimpse into how the geography of the South has worked on others and what happens when personal and individual geographies and cartographies interact and come together.

As a first-time “ROOTer” it was inspiring to meet, learn, and celebrate with folks who are tapped into their magic and unapologetically letting it flow out in ways that are as diverse, changing, and idiosyncratic as the the landscape of the South. From Piedmont, Appalachia, Bayou, tidewater, low country, urban, rural, and beyond, ROOTS is a chance to come home to the familiar and to cross and bridge borders. Instead of drawing rigid boundaries of the South, ROOTers brilliantly illustrated the multiple truths that shape our multi-textured and layered territories of experience. We get to touch, taste, hear and smell them through the experiences that our fellow ROOTers bring.

In the midst of historic and current violent restricting and limiting bodies and identities, it was particularly powerful to see ROOTers burst out of borders with their juiciness and a commitment to move forward by honoring memory, history, and place. Through song, performance, visual art, healing, movement, service, and conversation, ROOTS Week was a time to intentionally witness, reflect on, and shape our territories of experience, offering a chance to collectively imagine future landscapes and re-member those from our past.

To end I offer two songs that entered my life en route to/from ROOTS Week via the wonderful Rasha Abdulhadi — “Flow Throo” and “Diaspora” by Gabriel Teodros. I’ve been playing them on repeat as I meditate on these questions of place, history, and letting our history and magic flow.

2nd and 1/2 Generation

Today I cut mangoes 
Soft and overripe, bought on sale 3 for $1 
I let the juice run down my hands and thought of my grandmother 
As the bright orange fragrance filled the room memories wafted around me
Not of an island homeland – verdant, filled with breezes and ‘ya mons’ 
But of cool linoleum and A.C. 
Concrete rivers leading to pavement stripmalls 
A South Florida retirement community 
And my grandparents house 
On a canal haunted by alligators 
4 mango trees anchor the house 
one for each side 
 Julie, Hayden, Number 11, Bombay 
Each type a character – a personality, quality, flavor and character I know well
My friends during long, hot summers 
Picked each morning and stored in the bottom door of the refrigerator 
Cold and sweet 
I fumble from bed, sleep still heavy in my eyes, to choose the perfect one 
Sliced with a knife, scooped with a spoon 
A sweet, sticky connection to an island I barely know,

but love 


(Copyright Alison Kibbe 2013)



(For Grandma Daphne)


Sweet and chewy plantain (pronounced plant-IN, not plan-tane)

Spicy, curry goat

Savory, rich oxtail

Dark, dense rum cake

Dumplings floating in ham bone soup, so good and chewy you fish them out all out of the pot, hoping your cousins don’t notice

A cuisine crafted in the collision and combination of West Africa, the Spice Islands, and British rule

All on one small island

Formed from the resilience and creativity of a people

who could create with the scraps what the master wouldn’t eat

Making the tail of an ox delicious

But I’m going to tell you about my grandma’s rice and peas

Prepared by a woman who moved from Christiana, Jamaica to Jamaica, Queens, New York


2 year old daughter in tow, 4 more on the way

This full-time nurse, found coconuts in a city where palm trees could not grow,

hand grinding them to make the coconut milk

to make the rice smooth and sweet

Gathering the crowd around steaming pots

Passed it down to me as

I stood on a stool mimicking her motions

Later calling her,

North Carolina direct to Tamarac, Florida,

so her words could guide me like her hands once did

Always adapting,

keeping the flavors true while modifying the recipes to for my grandfather’s body,

Papa Zoom was plagued by heart disease and diabetes,

from a life of too much sugar,

as in too many long hot days in sugar cane fields,

sweat not sweet

the harvest of which he saw

in the lives of his children and grandchildren


My grandma’s rice and peas,

Is the staple that sustains our people

We may be a small island,

but like the pigeon peas scattered throughout the rice,

you can find us everywhere

And like the scotch bonnet pepper you stick in the pot,

our culture has permeated and infused the world

with a complex, spicy, fruity flavor and

a rhythm of resistance that reverberates across the globe

The sweet, sweet songs of subversion that propel me to


Stir it up,

Little darling,

Stir it up


And well nourished I will do just that

(Copyright Alison Kibbe 2011)

Copyright Alison Hall Kibbe 2014