Quiet is inevitable

In humanity, quiet is inevitable, essential. It is a simple beautiful part of what it means to be alive. It is already there, if one is looking to understand it. — Kevin Quashie[1]

Since moving back to Philadelphia after the hustle and bustle (and burnout) of New York, I have begun taking long walks. I mostly amble with no care or intention in my destination. Sometimes, I miss the bus. Sometimes, I am carrying huge brown paper bags of groceries with the handle partially ripped. Sometimes, I am carrying library books home. Sometimes, I leave a date or a friend. Often, I walk too fast and huff and get tired and stop and sit to get up and walk some more. I make a point to not listen to music or podcasts or talk on the phone. It has become a practice of familiarizing, a wandering that has helped reacquaint myself to the city I once knew. I began walking to understand it once again, creating an ecosystem of routes and streets that have become new homes for me. Some favorite routes include: 

      • 9th and Mifflin into Center City, generally 10th and Walnut, cutting through Washington Avenue and the Italian Market.

      • 46th and Sansom to further west, walking through Malcolm X Park into the 50s and Cedar Avenue.

      • Chinatown to a friend’s home on 23rd and Lombard, one of the most fruitful

      • 8th and Broad to City Hall to my home in West Philadelphia, a tiring journey, but my mind was racing, and I didn’t know how else to funnel it.

      • 15th and Walnut to 5th and South with a quick pit stop in novelty stores and thrift shops.

Walking has been enlightening, an activity of discovery. No matter where I go or how often I walk, I am lost within myself and my own mind. It provides new perspectives on how I operate within this city and within my body, simply through the inspiration, thoughts, and imagination that have culminated from this activity. I see small moments — a family walking back home, packs of kids getting out of school, dishing on street corners, runners, cute dogs, an occasional fight, someone walking aimlessly too (or so I assume). It is quiet, rooted in the mundane and ordinary, a witnessing of the life and lives surrounding me. It has become a study of interiority.

In his book, The Sovereignty of Quiet, scholar Kevin Quashie revels in this concept of quiet, specifically interiority — the possibilities of imagining as a way to resist the faced adversity of what it means to be black in America. How imagining, thinking, and collectively engaging in the ordinary subverts the very notion or perception of what it means to be black in the eyes of a white supremacist society. Expression and liveliness are quintessential tools many have utilized to uphold black identity, but Quashie makes a case for quiet as a different expressiveness that fully and wholly shows the humanity of black life and culture. He writes:  

Oneness is the interior as a place capable of discovery, of wandering, the risk and freedom to be had in being lost in one’s self. … Concepts like postcolonial, diaspora, transitional, and cosmopolitanism have highlighted how movement across national boundaries produces identities that are more fluid and complicated than commonly thought. Still, discussions of these ideas privilege literal movement, the crossing of state borders or some other engagement of social or political institutions; what is often missing is a consideration of the mobility that is part of interiority, the inevitable human capacity to wander without ever taking a step. [2]

When I think of the last line of Quashie’s quote, “the inevitable human capacity to wander without ever taking a step,” I think of the work of Lucille Clifton, specifically “September Suite,” a short manuscript of seven poems sent to the Academy of American Poets, one for each day of the week after September 11th. In her poem “Sunday Morning 9/16/01,” Clifton exemplifies the everyday nature of violence, pain, and the imagination that spins from these circumstances. While at Saint Mary’s College of Maryland, Clifton witnesses the devastation of the Twin Towers and begins to think about her new granddaughter, who was born five days prior. She writes about the polarity of bringing new life into a world that also takes lives. In the midst of this commentary, she notes how life must continue on as well, both the ecology of the natural world (the river), but she, herself. She repeats the line “as if nothing has happened” twice in regard to this notion — despite the mourning and sadness of this violent event, Clifton drinks her coffee while viewing the St. Mary’s River flowing, a life seemingly normal. Clifton continues her routine, continues her thinking and imagining. Ultimately, the consuming belief is love for all that’s contained within life. In essence, it’s a love poem for her granddaughter in all its pondering and reflection.  

for bailey

the st. marys river flows
as if nothing has happened

i watch it with my coffee
afraid and sad as are we all

 so many ones to hate and i
cursed with long memory

cursed with the desire to understand
have never been good at hating

now this new granddaughter
born into a violent world

as if nothing has happened

and I am consumed with love
for all of it

the everydayness of bravery
of hate of fear of tragedy

of death and birth and hope
true as this river

and especially with love
bailey fredrica clifton goin

for you

The more I walk and explore and take this time to imagine, I think about the encompassing nature of oneness. What it means to explore and engage with my walk, the city, the people I bump into, my body against and in collaboration with these spaces. I, then, think about my blackness and the methods I can encompass this engagement against thresholds of adversity, both intense and micro. When walking, I not only recognize and consider my headspace, but I recognize that I, myself, am a mark, a study in the sense of surveillance. “Walking while black” is a test in the greater sense of racial hierarchy and perception. When I walk, similar to Clifton gazing upon the river, I notice other mundane everyday sentiments: pain, violence, fear, love, appreciation, et cetera, in all its fullness. Which greater poses the question I am curious to edge to or answer in my series: what is a black life if quiet?

1. Kevin Quashie, The Sovereignty of Quiet: Beyond Resistance in Black Culture (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2012), 9.

2. Quashie, The Sovereignty of Quiet, 125–26.