The Wake and Other Ghost Stories

Image courtesy Amirio Freeman. [Two seagulls against a blue sky, an assumed body of water below.]

This piece was originally published in the 2024 Annual, available for purchase here.


I’ve gestated in and am made of waters that have baptized, bathed, flooded, frozen, gurgled, killed, leaked, scalded, and swamped for millennia. All the water shapeshifting throughout the planet, meandering through the water cycle, embodies the past, present, and future. My origins, therefore, can be traced to three tenses, rendering me palimpsestic: an always-already ghost and a prefigurative life form. I can perhaps determine the source of my hereness by following the watery bodies I’ve encountered throughout my life: amniotic fluid, blood, breast milk, ejaculate, mucus, sweat, tears. Then there’s the Chesapeake Bay, the largest estuary in the United States, which I’ve come to know through its proximity to Buckroe Beach—a coastal destination fringing my hometown of Hampton, Virginia.

Both milieus, the bay and the beach, are generative of my existence. With humanity’s “fishy beginnings” as evidence, I intuit being a variation of the Chesapeake.1 Buckroe holds the remains of my memories—of barefoot walks, covetous seagulls, runny frozen treats. The Chesapeake and Buckroe have made me, but the haunts of history they shelter also trouble my positionality as a Black, queer person.

In her book In the Wake: On Blackness and Being, author and scholar Christina Sharpe writes, “Slavery’s violences emerge within the contemporary conditions of spatial, legal, psychic, material, and other dimensions of Black non/being as well as in Black modes of resistance.”2 Sharpe repositions the residue of chattel slavery—the “wake”—as ever present for Black folks, an afterlife that’s never not with and within us. While Black people invoke methods of making untenable realities more livable—tending to inchoate tomatoes, reveling in the celestiality of solitude, foraging for sweaty contact on viscous dance floors—the not-quite-past interrupts. At Buckroe, I trip on vestiges of anti-Black horrors as easily as I collect crustaceous refuse. When enveloped by the Chesapeake, I’m both enamored by its capacity to make me boundless and infinitesimal and unnerved by the bay sharing DNA with the Atlantic, that crucible of white trouble. On the beach, in the bay, I recognize that haunted people, with haunted origins of land, water, and sky, are the only people we can be. I grasp that “haunted places are the only ones people can live in.”3 I see now that everything on earth—even the planet itself—is a “container for the terror of the past and the beauty that it can’t in the end negate.”4

An index of ghost stories is the most practical form for saying more.


The Chesapeake Bay is an elder, forged over ten thousand years ago as thawing glaciers drowned the Susquehanna River Valley; entombed beneath the bay is one of the world’s largest known impact craters—the aftermath of a speedball meteor that dictated the Chesapeake’s eventual location. The bay is also a master “prepositionist,” always self-choreographing to be across, against, among, around, behind, beside, inside of, toward, and underneath.5 In the bay’s waters, I surrender all knowledge of where my body is and when my body is. Despite the invention of clepsydras, water clocks, I’m suspicious of water’s ability to sufficiently mark the passage of time. Given its innumerous iterations, I can’t help but designate water as “chrono-fragmented,” or even entirely outside of time’s logic.6 That refusal of linearity is another salve: Who has ever effectively kept track of time while floating in water, smiling at the refracted light glittering like mica or wet reptiles? But water’s paucity of timekeeping poses its own risks: unspeakable histories greet me when swept up in the Chesapeake’s currents.

Bordering the bay in Hampton is Fort Monroe, no longer a site of military might but forever the site of the arrival of the first enslaved Africans in English-captured North America. (On agreeable days, Fort Monroe is also my mom’s favorite place to walk: a ruin-as-gymnasium.) There, twenty to thirty of my kin were situated in the swell of a vicious, founding violence that set into motion a vision of modernity—our inheritance to make do with today. The traces of that rupturing find residence in my blood memory and that of the Chesapeake. The landing’s fracture is unsuturable, making me yearn to know how to say yes to moving toward futurity amid the continuance of world-making cruelty. How, too, can I learn to sit in the distance between grace and graveyard, between freedom and unfreedom, as deftly as the bay?


Permeating a sea of Black folks grilling out, saturating the atmosphere with Luther Vandross and Anita Baker, and assuming a different kind of “beach body”: a stance of leisure, stillness, and temporary redress vis-à-vis a morass of crises. Softly teasing my first boyfriend for the endearing ways his face betrayed a distaste for Virginian heat (my entrée into the domain of queer love); softly devastating my first boyfriend after ending our affair (my entrée into the domain of queer melodrama). Exchanging family gossip with my younger brother, intermittently excavating the mundane anxieties of young adulthood. I have acted out these and many more scenes of my life on Buckroe Beach.

Image courtesy Amirio Freeman. [A sign that reads WELCOME TO BUCKROE BEACH PARK in blue, atop another sign that says CURRENT DOG ORDINANCE in red.]

A part of my affinity for the beach is buoyed by its status as a cut. Buckroe is an interstitial space splitting land and water that lovingly mirrors my cut-ness as a Black, queer person—an otherness piercing through normative manners of being, an errant body splicing timelines (theorist José Esteban Muñoz reorients queer peoples as temporally wayward inhabitants of a future state). My affinity is also indebted to the lineage of Black communities that transformed many waterside locales. Once considered non-utile after the collapse of the nation’s slavocracy and devalued by “mosquitoes, predatory animals, dense forests, and sandy, nonarable soil,” coastal communities became fugitive grounds where Black individuals could gather, swim, play, eat, and engender short-term upheavals of the dominant social order.7 Black “misuse” of beaches tested the durability and borders of a racist regime, establishing a blueprint for briefly living otherwise.

Flyer for Bay Shore, Buckroe Beach, VA. [An old, faded black and white flyer that lists all of the things one could do at Buckroe Beach: surf bathing!, rides, games, teen age dance, modern jazz programs, etc.]

While itself a cut, Buckroe has also been cut by white supremacy’s lacerating maw. Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the brute force of racial hierarchy and the laughable power of a “fence consisting of wood pilings” bifurcated Buckroe into a pair of beachfronts: Buckroe for white patrons, Bay Shore for Black visitors.8 An account of Bay Shore Beach deserves several volumes to adequately catalog the ways Black folks of the past rehearsed for an exuberant, all-Black counter-world: the beach included a dancehall, Ferris wheel, and bumper cars; it was a stop along Black America’s Chitlin’ Circuit, drawing the talents of Ella Fitzgerald, James Brown, and Louis Armstrong; businesses flourished. I cite these histories to inform my experiments in propagating life amid a continuing death drive. David Velasco, editor: “When you’re born cut, you’re also born, I think, with a special knowledge of repair.”9


In my first act of hydromancy, I discern that we’re only witnessing the beginning of what empire’s spectral atmosphere has sowed. In Hampton, the telltale signs overflow. Climate change is a top concern for military forces that call the city home. Buckroe is eroding, partly due to an epidemic of quarters of the beach being parceled off for elite pleasure. Flooding occurs like clockwork. My mother’s cancer has been in remission for many years; she’s adopted pescetarianism to try to evade the “carcinogenosphere” that’s acutely injurious where I’m from.10 Astrida Neimanis, cultural theorist: “Colonialism is carried by currents in a weather-and-water world of planetary circulation.”11

In my second act of hydromancy, I foresee Virginia underwater—a climax in the unspooling happening inaugurated by that critical landing at Fort Monroe. I also see the emergence of technologies for survival: the growth of gills, the engineering of floating cities, the dissemination of new schemes of care that chew through necrophiliac structures like mealworms munching on polystyrene.

In my third act of hydromancy, I deduce that death-defying acts can only go so far in ensuring the undead past doesn’t hold us captive.

[1] Astrida Neimanis, Bodies of Water: Posthuman Feminist Phenomenology (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2019), 109.

[2] Christina Sharpe, In the Wake: On Blackness and Being (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2016), 14; emphasis added.

[3] Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, vol. 1, trans. Steven Rendall (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988), 108. [4] Billy-Ray Belcourt, A History of My Brief Body (Columbus, OH: Two Dollar Radio, 2020), 11.

[5] Anne Boyer, A Handbook of Disappointed Fate (Brooklyn: Ugly Duckling Presse, 2018), 69.

[6] Anastasia (A) Khodyreva and Hannah Rowan, “(Very) Slippery Theories of Togetherness: An Ice Diary-Dialogue,” Ecoes #5 (2023).

[7] Andrew Kahrl, The Land Was Ours: African American Beaches from Jim Crow to the Sunbelt South (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012), 7.

[8] Kahrl, Land Was Ours, 182.

[9]  Kia LaBeija et al., Kia LaBeija & Julie Tolentino in Conversation (New York: Visual AIDS, 2018), 13.

[10] Anne Boyer, The Undying (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2019), 78.

[11] Astrida Neimanis, Bodies of Water: Posthuman Feminist Phenomenology (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2019), 118.

Amirio Freeman is a writer, interviewer, and Scorpio based in Washington, DC, exploring the relationship between humans and our more-than-human kin.