A grief remembered

Jamaica Cole’s memoir explores memory, loss and the death of her brother, musician Broughty Cole

Jamaica Cole first wrote The Endlessly Forking Snake Tongue to process the memory of her brother, who died in 2014.

Jamaica Cole first wrote The Endlessly Forking Snake Tongue to process the memory of her brother, who died in 2014.

Photo courtesy of Jamaica Cole

Catch Jamaica Cole at the book release party 7 p.m. Saturday, June 15 at the Red Museum, 212 15th Street. No cover; Order a copy of the book ($20) at cuneiformpress.com. For more about the author, visit jamaicacole.com.

In 2014 Jamaica Cole’s brother, local musician Broughty Cole, disappeared en route to a gig. A week later he was found, drowned in the Sacramento River.

Jamaica Cole, a writer, clothing designer and artist, immediately jotted down her experiences, but it would be years before she shared them with anyone.

Now, she has published a memoir, The Endlessly Forking Snake Tongue (Cuneiform Press, $20). She’ll read from it Saturday, June 15 at the Red Museum for the book’s launch event.

“I didn’t intend for it to be a book at the beginning, I was writing for myself as a way of processing,” Cole told SN&R on the phone from her car, several miles from her home in Lockhart, Texas.

At first it served as a way to understand her feelings, then to preserve memories.

“It felt like an important thing to remember. It was a really strange time,” she says.

The 28-year-old drummer was last heard from the night of March 3, 2014, on his way to a show in Nevada City with his band Lasher Keen. He never showed up for the show, nor to another one the next night in San Francisco.

Initially, friends and family weren’t too worried. Broughty was something of a free spirit, after all, so maybe something came up or his car broke down somewhere. Eventually, however, the family filed a missing persons report and took to social media for help. Cole remembers driving around town with her family: It was awful, but in some small way magical for the way the search united friends and strangers.

“Even though it was a such a tumultuous and tragic time in our lives, we felt so completely supported by our community,” she says.

Broughty Cole’s car was found March 8. When his body was recovered a few days later, police said there didn’t appear to be signs of foul play.

The Endlessly Forking Snake Tongue captures the writer’s take on this surreal intersection of mystery, love and grief. The title refers to a drawing Broughty once sketched for his sister; the writing is frank and spare, never overly sentimental.

In one passage, Cole recounts how hearing a song in a cafe brought back memories of the first time she’d heard the tune, on a childhood car ride with her two brothers, Kalan and Broughty. Years later, she questions the reliability of memory.

“Though you remember this objectively unremarkable country drive from 24 years ago, you are likely the only one who does. If there’s no one to corroborate the account, maybe you’ve recalled it wrong,” she writes. “Through either death or forgetfulness, one by one, everyone else in the car vanishes, until you are alone in the backseat staring out the window in silence.”

After her brother’s death, Cole decided it was time to leave California. Her best friend, who lived in Lockhart, suggested Texas. “California felt so lonely to me,” she says. “[In Texas], I felt such a weight off my shoulders with new things in front of me.”

There, she fell in with a group of writers and eventually met Cuneiform Press publisher Kyle Schlesinger, who helped sculpt her various writings into the book.

With her return to Sacramento this week, Cole says she wants the reading, which will include sets she’s built, to connect others.

“I hope that [it helps] people who have trouble talking about how they feel or thinking that they’re the only person in the world feeling a certain way,” she says. “I don’t want people to feel alone in that.”