Modern Griots Review: Kiini Ibura Salaam’s “Ancient Ancient”

The ancient mysteries of life hold in their grasp the power of seduction. We find seduction, being led away, in a sexual experience, a sensual touch, the coming of a new life or death, the physical movement of bodies in a dance, the allure of magic, the call of nature, the possibility of a new truth or that a truth was a lie, or to experience the life of another. There is a freedom and danger, a pleasure and pain in seduction, and Kiini Ibura Salaam compellingly explores them in her collection of speculative short fiction stories, Ancient Ancient.

The collection, which is comprised of 10 reprints of older stories and three original stories, pulls the reader onto a journeys through a range of speculative fictions stories that almost seem to blend time, bend time and make vanish altogether. Opening with Nisi Shawl’s “Annunciation,” she introduces the scope of the collection: “Be not afraid. Angels of longing arise from these pages, tugging at your heart, your tongue, testing your nerves, teasing your nerves. Bravery is the best way to meet them (iii). And tug it did; I could not put the book down for the entire day I read it. Through her visual and visceral descriptions, Salaam allows the reader to imagine and feel the story as if in the skin of the characters.

“Desire,” the first story in the book, is a modern myth of two gods of desire, Faru and Quashe, who unintentionally reignite the passions between a wife and husband, Sene and Na. The story has within it several of the characteristics in Salaam’s work, like her poetic use of repetition, her breaking up of formal sentences and paragraphs into poetic prose, and the blending and alternation of reality and fantasy as well as point of view. The themes and techniques in the book continue in the sequence of related stories, “Of Wings, Nectar & Ancestors,” “MalKai’s Last Seduction,” and “At Life’s Limits,” where alien moth-like beings who speak mainly through body movement and feed of the human nectar of sexual energy.

Two stories that brought me to tears were “Rosamoja” and “Pod Rendezvous.” “Rosamoja” is in a similar vein as the film Eve’s Bayou, which took place in Louisiana, Salaam’s home state; a young girl enacts revenge on her father after an almost unforgivable incident through the use of some sort of magical process and then, regrets her actions after. “Pod Rendezvous” is a futuristic tale that speaks to the ancient work of initiation. A woman named “Laki” is worried about her “maturation” and entering into the “mother-unit” since it will be the end of her freedom of youthful days, requiring her to grow up both physically, mentally and spiritually. It is the end where she leaves like a shining star in the night as her sister watches that is a mixture of both lonely sadness and joyful pride, like a parent letting go of their child.

Speaking of Louisiana, another story I enjoyed, “Marie,” evokes Salaam’s own story of being from New Orleans and now living in New York City, but does so in a horror-styled tale, bringing in the guardian of the crossroads. If you know the legend of Robert Johnson or have studied about Eshu-Elegbara in Orisha, Yoruba, or Vodun, Salaam’s story will take you for a ride that will be heartbreaking. The story “Debris” ends with “we are more — so much more — than elegant skeletal spectacles…there is something else beneath the bone. Something indestructible. Something nothing, not even debris, can destroy” (84). That is a great way to describe this book; there is something ancient, yet living and breathing, embedded in it and is still there even after it is finished.

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