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.