A moon blots out a sun.
Darkening silence comes between us.
In place of my house,
stands a tower of stone.
At its crown —
the lightning catcher,
she who writes on the blank rune.
Below, my departing selves
wait with their boats.
I mark in sand
the sign of migration.
My eyes sting.
At my wingbones
four winds rise.
– Harriet Ann Ellenberger, 1985-2011
Acutely Personal, Eerily Collective
In early autumn of 1985, I had been living for four months in A Studio of One’s Own, a beautifully airy structure built by women for women artists on Ann Stokes’ land, a low wooded mountaintop in New Hampshire. (For photos of the land, see Welcome Hill Studios.) It was the first time I’d lived alone and the first time I’d lived in the woods.
I was there to write a serious book of prose and to chart a new direction for my life. Instead, I’d been getting up at the crack of dawn to write in my journal, walking the trails all over the old mountain, and skidding wildly from ecstatic vision to paralyzing despair. My journal entry for 1 October 1985 reads: “11 a.m. I am EXHAUSTED. 11:30 a.m. Well, shit, I just wrote a poem.”
It was, astonishingly, a real poem, one of the first I’d written since childhood. But in the second stanza there was a tongue-tangle, marking a conceptual muddle, that I couldn’t for the life of me untangle. Eventually, I put the poem away and half-forgot I’d written it. Twenty-six years later, in the midst of an e-mail to a friend about something else altogether, the lines as they were meant to be surfaced in my mind.
In the mid-1980s, it was clear to any witness of my life that I personally was in trouble, my past gone and my future unknown. But I couldn’t altogether articulate what that felt like. By the summer of 2011, though, human beings were clearly and collectively in the same kind of trouble: past gone, future unknown. And suddenly, with so much company, I could say how that feels.
Photograph courtesy of AP Photo / Tourism Queensland