“The First” (Prose)

by Alexis Pauline Gumbs

excerpt from forthcoming book M: Archive After the End.

if you treat it like a small and fragile light, vulnerable to wind and whatever, easily extinguished by the weight of our steps, then every thing becomes a dance. you have to release the heaviness in your body and get gentle with darkness on the move.

those were her second instructions to the candle calisthenics class. the first instruction was hush.

they met in the woods at first, and later in basements. and no one knew they were walking around all day with their mantras. breathing is burning and burning is beautiful. they were learning to move as if the world was hot and melting. which it was. but this was no hot yoga trend. they recruited each other silently, new initiates following students to meetings of their own free will. not knowing that a cinnamon could only be perceived when she wanted to be perceived. and so each initiate chose and was chosen.

they were using candles to train with, but their real object was air, life, light, they were learning what heat and impermanence had been trying to teach our species since the first woman made friction into light to watch her sleeping selves.

they remembered each other through burns and breath training and no one left, so the contingent only grew. and they grew to know each other so silently that the partial movement of an eyelid, less than a blink could lead them all in changing directions. they grew so quiet and so gentle they could hear each other’s ancestors saying left here baby not right. whole groups of them could move undetected.

and so the second and third goals were achieved. both in service to the first.

2. develop the capacity to live underground, as close to the core of the earth as necessary

3. learn to move above ground and return undetectedi

icandlelight as a symbol and request to see our footprints and to know the direction in which they were heading.
M. Jacqui Alexander. Pedagogies of Crossing, 178

Alexis Pauline Gumbs is a queer black feminist scholar, poet and educator of Anguillian and Jamaican heritage based in Durham, NC.  Alexis is the author of Spill: Scenes of Black Feminist Fugitivity and a co-editor of Revolutionary Mothering: Love on the Front Lines.  She is the founder of Eternal Summer of the Black Feminist Mind community school and the co-creator of the Mobile Homecoming project, and experiential archive of Black LGBTQ brilliance.  “The First” is an excerpt of her forthcoming book M: Archive After the End.