Live Virtual Group Session: 6pm EDT June 15th 2020

Our Narrative Medicine Live Virtual Zoom session tonight brought together 27 people from across the country – and the world – to watch and listen to a video of Joshua Bennett perform “Tamara’s Opus” years ago at the White House. We listened to the artist’s words and watched his movements enhance a lament and an apology to his sister who is Deaf. He tells of the time, as a 5-year-old, he was shocked to hear his father say that there is nothing wrong with his Tamara. She is different, his father says. Viewers feel the long-ago shattering of Joshua’s innocence. How strong must have been their sibling-bond before he felt the nine letters of the word “d-i-f-f-e-r-e-n-t” as hammers shattering his “stained-glass innocence.” His lyrics bring sounds (of rain and crickets), which he realizes Tamara never heard and evoke images of his sister and others dancing not to sound but to the vibrations of music coming from loudspeakers cranked to the max.

His narrative takes him from before either the sister or brother was born “all those conversations we must have had in Heaven ” to the present moment when he laments “no poem…can make up for all the time that we have lost” and offers an apology by dancing his digits in Sign Language that he has learned. In so doing, Bennett shows us the power not only of opening our ears (like lotus petals) to deeply listen but also the power of learning an other’s language. Participants commented on the abyss they perceived between the two characters, and the efforts Joshua puts in to overcome it. In enjoying this beautiful performance and piece, we reflected on the ways to overcome such an abyss: by learning a new language, apologizing, or simply being present.   

In response to the prompt, “Write about shattering the silence” participants echoed back to Joshua Bennet strong visuals, sense perceptions, a list poem, the physicality of breaking cups and platters and marching in the street to shatter unjustly imposed silences. The prompt took us in many different directions in asking us to think of a silence shattered, whether it meant the novelty of introducing a new sound into a space or the tragedy of removing an ongoing sound from a scene of daily life.

Participants are warmly encouraged to share what you wrote below (“Leave a Reply”), to keep the conversation going here, bearing in mind that the blog of course is a public space where confidentiality is not assured.

Please join us for our next session Wednesday, June 17th at 12pm EDT, with more times listed on our Live Virtual Group Sessions page.

We look forward to seeing you again soon!

“Tamara’s Opus”
by Joshua Bennett
Tamara has never listened
to hip-hop
Never danced
to the rhythm of raindrops
or fallen asleep to a chorus of chirping crickets
she has been Deaf
for as long as I have been alive
and ever since the day that I turned five
My father has said:
"Joshua. Nothing is wrong with Tamara.
God just makes
some people different."
And at that moment
those nine letters felt like hammers
swung gracefully by unholy hands
to shatter my stained-glass innocence
into shards that could never be pieced back together
or do anything more
than sever the ties between my sister and I.

I waited
was patient numberless years
anticipating the second
her ears would open like lotuses
and allow my sunlight sentences to seep
into her insides
make her remember all those conversations
we must have had in Heaven
back when God hand-picked us
to be sibling souls centuries ago

I still remember her 20th birthday
readily recall my awestruck eleven-year old eyes
as I watched Deaf men and women of all ages
dance in unison to the vibrations
of speakers booming so loud
that I imagined angels chastising us
for disturbing their worship
with such beautiful blasphemy
until you have seen
a Deaf girl dance
you know nothing of passion.
There was a barricade between us
that I never took the time to destroy
never for even a moment
thought to pick up a book and look up
the signs for sister
for family
for goodbye, I will see you again some day
remember the face of your little brother.
It is only now I see
that I was never willing
to put in the extra effort to love her properly
So as the only person in my family
who is not fluent in sign language
I have decided to take this time
to apologize
Tamara, I am sorry
for my silence.

But true love knows no frequency
So I will use these hands
to speak volumes
that could never be contained
within the boundaries of sound waves
I will shout at the top of my fingertips
until digits dance and relay these messages
directly to your soul
I know
that there is no poem
that can make up for all the time that we have lost
but please, if you can
just listen
as I play you a symphony
on the strings of my heart
made for no other ears on this Earth
but yours.

Brave New Voices slam champion Joshua Bennett performs "Tamaraʼs Opus
at the White House Evening of Poetry, Music, and the Spoken Word 
on May 12, 2009.