Alexis Pauline Gumbs, from M Archive: After the End of the World

On Friday, February 3, the University of Washington hosts “Affect and Audience: Activist Poetics,” a symposium featuring writers Dawn Lundy Martin, Davida Ingram, Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Layli Long Soldier, Carmen Gimenez Smith, and Kai Green. Later that evening, there will be a community discussion at the Seattle Public Library. Below, one of the symposium’s participants, Alexis Pauline Gumbs, introduces an excerpt from her prose project M Archive: After the End of the World. 


I am a self-identified queer Black troublemaker. M. Jacqui Alexander is something more than that. She is an Afro-Trinidadian feminist theorist, she is a force of nature. For more than a year I wrote prompted by phrases from Alexander’s collection of essays Pedagogies of Crossing in order to get across some oceans in my own life. But what happened with the writing was unexpected for me. It took me to a future, far, or not so far, after the end of the world as we know it. I call it speculative documentary. An imagined archive that troubles the systems of knowledge I am involved in (especially the social and anti-social sciences).

This piece in particular was sparked (yes! sparked!) by a moment that Alexander describes in her essay “Anatomy of a Mobilization,” which is an account of a time the Alexander inspired a movement of students, faculty, administrative staff, security guards, and maintenance workers at the New School who chose to creatively and intersectionally challenge the very old exclusive workings of the university. They challenged, rather beautifully the resilience of the university in reproducing an intersectionally oppressive status quo. I was inspired to ask a broader question. What would the training space look like, be like, feel like for the creation of a significantly different world? I don’t have a title for this excerpt. But you can call it “Candle Calisthenics.”

from M Archive: After the End of the World 

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.

  1. develop the capacity to live underground, as close to the core of the earth as necessary
  2. learn to move above ground and return undetected

Alexis Pauline Gumbs is a queer Black feminist love evangelist who lives in Durham, North Carolina. She is the author of Spill: Scenes of Black Feminist Fugitivity and the co-editor of Revolutionary Mothering: Love on the Front Lines. 

Image: detail from “Message received. A collage in honor of Audre Lorde by Alexis Pauline Gumbs”