Alexis Pauline Gumbs: Dub: Finding Ceremony
[Duke University Press; Feb. 14]
Check your phone. Not because you actually need to, but because it’s a habit. Then put it down and open Dub: Finding Ceremony, the final book in a trilogy by Durham-based poet and scholar Alexis Pauline Gumbs, who is also a columnist for the INDY. Read the opening quote from Sylvia Wynter. Realize that it feels over your head, and you don’t know who Sylvia Wynter is. Feel dumb.
Check your phone again to distract yourself from feeling dumb. Then put it down, because you want to be a literate, learned person. At first, you’re scrolling through the book like you scroll Instagram. Then you stop at “request,” which says, “we would like it if you drank water. we would love it if you would turn off your phone. we would sincerely appreciate it if you stopped pretending to be alone.”
Get a glass of water. Grab that candle you’ve been waiting to burn just cuz it feels right. Check your phone one more time. No one called or texted or DMed the last two times you checked, which makes you feel, well, alone. So you put it on silent, face down.
Turn the page. Read “commitment,” which says, “we promise to think of you more often than you think of us.” Wonder about that “we.” Think of your grandma. Think you should call your grandma. Remember that your grandma is gone. Gone like dead. Start to think about thinking about death, but don’t.
Drink some water.
Read “instructions.” When it tells you to breathe, you breathe. You didn’t mean to. You just did. At this point you have a choice.
You can: Go back to “a note” and decipher it to learn more about both the author and Sylvia Wynter. Gumbs writes that Wynter is “a world-historical Caribbean theorist who is about my grandmother’s age.” Remember that you have a grandma (or grandma-like figure) who is alive. Call her.
Or: Say to yourself that you don’t have time. That you have to do the dishes or the laundry; make the bed, make the call, or call the doctor; attend the meeting, meet the maker, or make the meal. You don’t, actually. That’s OK. But whatever you choose, promise to return, and keep your promise this time.
When you continue reading, turn to “opening,” because that’s where you left off, and books are meant to be read in a linear fashion. You learned that in school. Read the first poem, which begins, “if you gathered them they would be everyone,” and ends, “they will unfound you and surround you unfind you and unwind you travel to you unravel through your own needle. gather the thread. collect your dead.”
Start to feel feelings. Feel a way about feeling feelings. Reach for your phone. Put it down. Drink the water instead.
All the while think about your people. Feel unprepared to gather all of them. The slaves and the slave owners, the humans and the animals, the colonized and the colonizers, the heralded and the forgotten. Take a deep breath. Drink some water. Release the need for the linear and turn the pages.
Stop on a poem about mothers. Say “unh unh! Not today!” But it’s too late. The poem is short and potent and somehow, in your refusal, you’ve already read it. Take a deep breath. Drink some water. Turn the pages. Find a poem that is a blessing. When was the last time you felt blessed?
Take a deep breath. Drink some water. Turn the pages.
Read a poem about Black women that says, “between you and me, we knew it would never work. just because the singing of the whales had caused bumper stickers and rallies and international bans on their murder and the criminalization of the exploding harpoon (you know, that thing that got under their skin and destroyed them from the inside) didn’t mean it would work for us. i mean how long had we, black women, been singing.”
You feel shame. No matter who you are.
This one is about water. But your cup is empty. You go to refill it, and for some reason this mundane task feels like a miracle. You whisper “thank you,” hoping no one actually hears you. But the right ones did. They always do.
Sneak a peek at your phone. To check the time, you know. Shoot! You really do need to go walk the dog, dog the man, or man the store; store the notes, note the change, and change the diaper.
Sit and read one more. Turn to page 13, which says, “there are very few things you must do. this is one. this will show you the others. there is a difference between assignment and need.” Damn.
You check your phone and life is calling, but you promise to return. You keep your promise this time. You return with tea. You return with others. You return with your favorite pen. You return with your newfound respect for Wynter and Gumbs. You return at the river. You return at the beach. You return with tears. You return with questions. You return with anger.
But you return and return and return, because deep down you know that our separateness is a lie. Because you have seen your uncle’s eyes in a face that they keep saying looks nothing like yours, and yet. Because the whales sing a song that vibrates in you like memory. Because these words remind you of all the whos, whats, whens, wheres, and whys we have been, and this record of inevitable transformation means there is hope for us yet. Turn the pages. Drink the water. Breathe.
Comment on this story at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Support independent local journalism. Join the INDY Press Club to help us keep fearless watchdog reporting and essential arts and culture coverage viable in the Triangle.