by Alexis Pauline Gumbs



they crossed their hands in front of them, held each to the other and pulled back, exposing and lengthening muscles, tugging at the tension they needed in order to be able to grow.

no rings. every finger was for learning touch, learning how to be a hand, for palm reading each other’s faces for selves, pasts, futures, and fuck-ups. and their feet were planted, each toe conscripted, pushing down as their heads reached diagonally up.

there were places the sun kissed them that they didn’t know about. angles and star patterns ancients had built of stone. their bodies were repeating, not like reproduction, like the rhythm of a poem.

they could feel they were growing. biceps singing pulling in triceps teasing pulling out abs engaged. engaged the whole time.

if someone had told them that people used to buy each other down, strip each other into skeletons for the purpose of contracts and fear, they would have laughed.

and they were strong enough to laugh loud and for a very long time. without dropping each other on the ground.

and the ground shook, like the soil was trying to till itself when they looked into each other’s open eyes 1.



they looked each other in the eyes every time, and did not leave each other without singing a prayer of the name or the wish. they learned to add touching hands into the ritual, a tradition newly sacred after the memory of the epidemic.

and of course none of that would have been possible if they didn’t remember to look themselves in the eye every morning. or to chant the name of the prayer. or to track their dreams for keeping and sharing.

there is a sacredness to every day. every time.

it means again and again. it means all of us. it means this moment. this time. you and me.  we’re here.

which was something they would never again take for granted2.

1. how will you be engaged in the struggle? “Anatomy of a Mobilization,” 178.
2. disciplined freedom capable of renovating the collective terms of our engagement Pedagogies of the Sacred, 329

3. once we ceased being mindlesss spiritless bodies  Anatomy of a Mobilization, 130



then we cleared out the shelf space in our lungs. we dusted our convenient ribs. we trusted our muscular hearts. we tied ribbons all around inside. we laced them through our organs with no function but love. then we noticed that the only function of our organs was love. and we let them breathe again.

we took off our leaden clothes and we skipped out of our concrete shoes and we went barefoot enough to bear the rubble we had created just before. we let the sun touch us and felt what we had done to the ozone in our daze. we noticed that skin was just as thin as it should have been and all that we had been calling skin before were layers of accumulated scars.

we touched each other’s hands and found them warm and ridged with remembering. we traced the lines and found home again and again. home was like a pulse. home was where the hurt was. we lunged and pressed towards each other’s chests. we let longing lead long-past our labored lack. we held each other’s hands. they did not break.

we painted the walls with breathing. we painted the walls with breathing. we painted the walls with breathing and found they were not walls at all. they were the forests of our forgetting, beautiful and dark with medicine. we marvelled. at the patience of the trees3.

“as one, two, three,” is an excerpt from a longer work entitled M Archive: After the End of the World. All references are to Pedagogies of Crossings: Meditations on Feminism, Sexual Politics, Memory and the Sacred, Duke University Press, 2006.

Alexis Pauline Gumbos

Alexis Pauline Gumbos

Alexis Pauline Gumbs is the author of Spill: Scenes of Black Feminist Fugitivity and the forthcoming M Archive: After the End of the World. She is also a co-editor of Revolutionary Mothering: Love on the Front Lines. She lives in Durham, North Carolina.