“Listening is not only about the normative ability to hear, it is a transformative and revolutionary resource that requires quieting down and tuning in.” -Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Undrowned: Black Feminist Lessons from Marine Mammals
Tonight I’m curling up with Gumbs’ book, and I already love it. I’ve thought before about my sight-focused culture, about how I choose what to see and what to look away from. I’ve wondered (following Ursula Le Guin, I think?) about cultures that focus on touch, that felt insistence on closeness that’s hard to ignore, or that focus on hearing. The blurred murmurs of so much that’s inside me, stomach gurgling. Close to me, neighbors walking. Far away, a car that must have a steering wheel held in someone’s hands. I don’t wonder who they are. I sit with them a moment. Before, when I’ve thought about this, I’ve thought about power. I’ve thought about direction and choice. Reading Gumbs, I think about transformation and the “revolutionary resource” of listening.
Today I wrote a poem with a friend, both of us muted on Zoom. I listened to the silence of her face turned down to her page on my screen. I listened to her read her lines out loud through the slight delay of our computers. I listened to her wondering and playing and circling back. Walking on campus, I listened to strangers laughing. A friend saying hello. A bike whirring past me. A squirrel in the fallen leaves, rustling. Quieting down. I listen to the keystrokes, the quiet after them. Hannah Rule writes about how writing brings us to the edge of silence and unknowing. I should write in response to that, sometime, but for now I’m with Gumbs. I’m with the marine mammals her book title brings close. Heavy shapes in deep ocean currents in the darkness outside my window. When I was a kid it was hard to leave the day’s fears behind, hard (or impossible?) to stop seeing the nightmares TV imagined for me, but now that darkness seems close. Woven. Like vines grown all through a wooden lattice. I’m glad for it, and for Gumbs.
“Once upon a time there was a giant sea mammal,” the next page starts, and listening, I feel these words open into the sea.