Past Present Future

A series in which Black women writers use the headings of “Past, Present, and Future” as a way to talk about where we’ve been, where we are now, and where we might be going with our writing lives. Each writer will respond in whatever way suits them, which might also include resisting the headings of “Past, Present, and Future”.

Alexis Pauline Gumbs: My experience of past present future right now is characterized by multigenerational rage.

So You Know/Spell for Your Rage Filled Presence

a.) So You Know

there was the face she made when she pretended to be listening
there was the face she made out of papier-mâché
there was the face she drew on with pencils and painted with brushes to keep the compliments coming and the questions away
there was the expectant three year old face she avoided
there was the fountain face she anointed unceasingly with tears
there was the face made from pushing her mouth closed and biting her tongue
there was the face bruised from falling down the ladder and hitting every rung
there was the face that looked too much like her father and too much like her
mother and too much like her fear
there were the faces that went in and out of fashion every year
there was the face that faced itself and screamed and screamed
there was the face she thought was hers when she saw it in her dreams
there was the face she felt for each morning when she rose
there was the exact same face but with a much longer nose

each face had its own neck
its own long flexibility for avoiding sun
hydrahuge and hiding

and there was the sword
in her hand[i]

b.)Spell for your Rage-Filled Presence in Seven Generational Movements


stomp until it become dance
stomp until it be
come dance
wake us with your feet
we live in your hips
wake us with your hips
we live in the ground
keep dancing
with the wake in your waist
and follow
we will tell you
where to go


your sweat an offering
your salt a memory
your return to water
wash like no ones watching
wash like everyone’s waiting
wade like you know trouble
where it waits and how it watches

drink from upstream


stack them
stack your sisters
stack your sayings
stack the stolen stuffy days
stack the secrets
stack the staying
and stand back

look at the cost
long for the lost
scream as loud as you want
and curse like a prayer
braid it into your hair
let it cut through the air
and your fingertips
put your hands to your lips
to remember the blood
okay good,

now scream as loud as you should


put your hands on your belly and breathe
keep your hands on your belly and grieve
with both hands on your belly leave
all your best things
leave all
your blessed things
your hands
put your hands on your belly
let it grow
and let go
and know


burn it out
bleach it out
leach it out onto the counter
cook it into cake
make more than you can take
and more than you can keep
refuse to weep
forget to sleep
wake up to pray
clean out the day
with rum and rose water
grow hibiscus and daughter
where it is said
they should not grow
and know


help until you can’t help it
help until you hurt
hurt until you can’t heal any more
then work
work until you can’t worry
work until you can’t wait
work until you get weary with wisdom and hate
hate until you can’t hear it
hate until you can’t not
hate until you hear whispers
listen until you get caught
catch until you catch feelings
catch until you catch up
lift until you find feelers under the muck
muck until you make meaning
mean until you make more
move until you can’t mean it
then sit down at the door


sit and the singing surrounds you
sit in the steady screams
stay and listen behind it all
for the stars and the whales and the dreams
stay for the songs that find you
stay for the smallest sound
stay your behind right here
and sit directly on the ground
open your mouth

now give us what you found.

Brought to you by the Black Feminist Pragmatic Intergenerational Sphere in the form of _______________, Georgianna, Rebecca, Eugenia, Joyce, Pauline and Alexis Pauline.

[i]hydra-headed quality of violence   M. Jacqui Alexander, Pedagogies of Crossing introduction, 3. This moment of context is an excerpt from M Archive: After the End of the World, by Alexis Pauline Gumbs. Forthcoming from Duke University Press.


Alexis Pauline Gumbs is the daughter of Pauline, Joyce, Eugenia, Rebecca, Georgianna, Lydia, Edith and the other named and nameless stars that still burn.  She is the author of Spill: Scenes of Black Feminist Fugitivity and the co-editor of Revolutionary Mothering: Love on the Front Lines.  Her next book M Archive: After the End of the World is forthcoming from Duke University Press.

4 comments on “Past Present Future

  1. Romaine says:

    Beautiful and powerful. Thank you. Congratulations on your new book. I look forward to reading it.

  2. bethology says:

    You’re so amazing I can’t even!

  3. This is very powerful. Thank you. 😊

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