She Is Still Burning 14

It’s easy to introduce this 2002 instalment: everything in it is still perfectly relevant.

SHE IS STILL BURNING
An Expanding Reader To Encourage Life Lovers
Installment #14
12 July 2002

“‘From death to life’ I seem to hear my crows say as they fly high above me and perch in the towering white pines, and I believe them.”   –Sara Wright

Dear Friends,

This installment has been delayed, owing to a recently developed addiction: reading through mountains of web-site news and analysis in an attempt to discern, through the fog of disinformation, what is being decided in Washington. They run the world, or try to; I want to know what they’re planning to hit us with next. A simple-enough desire, but you need your own intelligence agency to satisfy it …

In short, I have been ruining my eyesight in the pursuit of phantoms. I don’t know who they’re going to bomb next, and I’m not even clear who “they” are. The only certainty is that “they”—whoever the rotating cast of “they” is at the moment—will do whatever it takes to retain supremacy.

They may, however, have already bitten off more than they can chew. The U.S. currently has military personnel in 177 countries, and Bush is financing his “titanic war on terror” by signing IOUs and printing money. This is like using a credit card to pay the interest due on your other credit-card accounts. Not a sustainable maneuver.

I keep thinking about the fantasies of those in power and how fantasies lead to imperial over-reach and how over-reach can end in sudden collapse. More specifically, I think about how quickly the Soviet Union came apart when its economic machine could no longer support its military machine. One day the Soviet empire was a geopolitical fact, and the next day …

The U.S. government’s war machine may be a high-flying force straight out of science fiction, but it still sucks up resources like a giant vacuum cleaner. What happens when the American economy can no longer sustain the American military?

Nobody knows but the old black crows, she said mysteriously. (For more on crows, see below, an installment of SISB published in honour of black birds, the growing number of Women in Black with their peace vigils, and other perceptive and prescient beings.)

Bon courage and happy reading,
Harriet Ellenberger
Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada


IN THIS INSTALLMENT

•”Crowmothers, Come Home” by Sara Wright
•”The Crowmother Thread” by Sara Wright
•”Crossing Over” by Harriet Ellenberger
•”Crow” by Lynn Martin
• letter and “A Conversation with Fear” by ilit rosenblum


Crowmothers, Come Home

Quorking,
Steel black crows
Hop sideways
Dancing blue light.
Quorking,
Swirling shadows
Arching dipped wings
Feathered to bow.
Quorking,
Beady eyes shift with ease
Peruse rough bark and twig
Circle smooth stones.
Quorking,
Old Woman keening at the well
I listen with fierce attention
Thirsting for threefold vision
Of black winged women
Poised in flight.
Mend the silken silvery thread
Broken so long ago,
Ancient Mothers, rise up —
Shapeshifters! You —
Sing new flesh onto white bone
Craft sharpened beaks out of fish hooks from the deep
Carve all seeing sight
Out of the still nights
Of my imagining
Crow Mothers, please come home.

– Sara Wright


THE CROWMOTHER THREAD

by Sara Wright

Every morning I put out chunks of dry dog food and bits of dried bread for my crows, and then sit with coffee and a pair of binoculars, watching the wily corvids commune with each other, display crow antics and engage in elaborate courtship rituals. A couple of days ago I was rewarded by seeing one crow strip the bark off a half-dead oak branch and fly back over the knoll to its chosen nest site in the woods. Later this same bird, or perhaps the mate, gathered so much deer hair in its beak that the crow looked as if it had grown whiskers! These birds fascinate me. When I found a dead squirrel, I placed it where I leave the other food and noticed that it was two days before any of the crows would get near the carcass. When the first one did, s/he hopped sideways, approaching the dead body from four directions before pecking at it. When I focus on their bead-like eyes, I am astonished. Is it an optical illusion that they seem to peer in all directions almost simultaneously? It feels good that these crows have befriended me. Usually they maintain a healthy distance from humans—with good reason, for they are much maligned.

Often as I watch crows, I think about how they expose the underlying bones of things, not just because they eat carrion, but because they uncover what’s normally hidden in the forest by creating, for example, a frenzy in the air as they circle an intruder, voicing their displeasure with loud raucous cries. Sometimes they mob a tired owl, and I follow their screeching to find the harassed day-sleeping raptor perched precariously on a limb and blinking its eyes in distress. More frequently, I see owls soaring low on silent wings through the trees to escape the crow taunting.

Although my grandmother died in 1974, I can still see her with a pea-green scarf wrapped around her head, walking out to the field with a pailful of scraps as a raucous black cloud hovered above her. Here she comes, the crows would screech with enthusiasm. I have no doubt that my grandmother’s crows were the best-fed corvids around. Although she was often teased about her fondness for crows, she fed them until she died, and I suspect there was more to that relationship than she ever let on.

Whenever I see crows, I also think about my mother because now she feeds her crows as my grandmother did before her. Sadly, my mother has a life history of keeping herself physically and emotionally distanced from me, which has left me filled with a peculiar longing. Perhaps that’s why I think of our crow connection as a kind of cosmic link—one that stretches across time, space, and my mother’s real need to remain separate from her daughter.

When I was in my thirties and early forties, my mother would sometimes refuse to talk to me because of an imagined slight or because I displeased her in some way. When she finally broke her silence, I would discover to my amazement that we had been growing exactly the same herbs or tomatoes or flowers, or that we had both discovered clay as a medium, in the two years since we had last had a conversation. I never spoke to anyone about this bizarre twist to our unstable relationship, but I always wondered what it meant.

Three years ago last winter, I developed a pain in my right breast, and I dreamed that my distressed and tearful mother came to me, and then refused to tell me what was wrong. I remember most from this period the baffling, mindless grief that washed over me repeatedly like an incoming tide. One night during a body meditation, I distinctly heard a French lullaby that my mother loved, being sung somewhere in the air around me. Soon afterwards my son called to tell me that my mother had been diagnosed and operated on for breast cancer during my three-month depression. I experienced her tight-lipped silence as a crushing betrayal. Breast cancer, as I told her later in a letter, is a woman’s disease. I was only vaguely aware at the time that my body had somehow known about the cancer, and had been carrying the burden of my mother’s grief and probably my own. The day my son called with the news, my birdfeeders were suddenly flooded with crows. Both Nature and my body (itself part of Nature) seem able to channel information in unusual ways.

My personal experience supports the ecofeminist idea that women and Nature are inextricably bound together. It also supports my own idea that Nature carries a kind of consciousness enabling living things to communicate with one another across species. All warm-blooded creatures share patterns of instinctual behavior, of course, and this instinctual connection between species is, I believe, the pathway that links us—bird to woman.

Although the crows themselves initiated the possibility of dialogue with me by appearing here last spring to munch on cracked corn that I had left for the wild turkeys, I was the one who encouraged them to stay. They did stay for a while and then drifted off after my brief absence. Now, though, they are taking up housekeeping in the lowland woods behind the house. Each morning when I feed them, I do so with a consciousness of the invisible but genuine connection between this daughter and her mother, a link the crows may be mediating. My intention this time is to keep the lines open and see what happens. I am trusting that the crows know something I don’t because they approached me first. I’ve also learned that it’s useless to turn my back on a Nature connection. Regardless of my personal views on the creature in question, if any animal attempts to enter into some kind of relationship with me, I know something is up!

I also believe that a live crow can be an incarnation of the archetype of the Great Mother in her crone aspect. If I’m right and crows can be Nature’s choice to express the archetypal reality of the venerable crone, then it makes perfect sense to me that crows can help keep the psychic lines open between my mother and me, because, like my mother, I too have become a crone. But what are these winsome corvids trying to tell me?

I believe that on one level my crows are reminding me of the ancient relationship between women and crows, one that has recently been hidden behind the veil of patriarchy. I think that if we develop our connection to them, the crows can help us reclaim our lost woman ground. Barbara Walker confirms this intuition when she says that crows represent the third form of the Triple Goddess (Great Mother), her death aspect. But why the death aspect? I think the answer can be found in crow behavior. This third aspect of the Triple Goddess is about seeing what’s hidden, and getting down to the bones of things, literally picking the bones clean, and preparing for new life. Crows have remarkable sight—a ground way of seeing; they peer beyond the obvious, just as old crones see what others miss. Crows ingest decaying matter and, by doing so, create space for the new; crones not only prepare for death, but assist others during the transition from death to new life. Crones have knowledge of the future, and crows prophesy. Both crows and crones inhabit the edge places: crows hang out at the edge of forests, and crones live on the boundaries of the known and unknown. Perhaps mediating this crow connection can help us as women to reweave the original powers of the Great Goddess, especially the powers of death, back into our Woman Psyche once and for all. To reclaim death is to reclaim the crone in ourselves and to reclaim our own woman ground. Can’t you almost see those three old women who not only spin and weave, but know when it is time to cut the threads?

On a more personal level, I believe that my crows may be trying to mend the broken link between my mother and me. Perhaps the crows are letting me know that underneath the apparent physical separation and emotional distance between this mother and her daughter, there exists an unbroken and ancient connection … and that by listening to my crows, I am able to reach through the veil to pick up that lost thread. My mother sent me a crow feather for my last birthday—maybe her crows have been talking to her too.

Crows are also said to be messengers of the gods, and this oracular or prophetic quality is another of my personal associations with the crow. In fact, I was wary of crows for years because it often happened that crows (or other black birds) appeared during times of painful transition, as they did the day I was told about my mother’s cancer. It doesn’t surprise me that the first stage in alchemical transformation—the nigredo—is often represented by the crow, since one of the bird’s trickster/creator-like characteristics is shapeshifting, and this nigredo is the first stage of change. “From death to life” I seem to hear my crows say as they fly high above me and perch in the towering white pines, and I believe them.

For the Pacific Coast Tlingit Indians, Crow is a central divinity figure, and in other Native American traditions Crow is a sky god associated with the winds (of change?). Jamie Sams, who created the Animal Medicine Cards, sees the crow as the shadow side of reality. For me, Crow embodies both light and dark, life and death aspects of the crone/Nature. In fact, it seems to me that Nature displays genius when she personifies herself in crow form to spin and mend the threads, to prophesy, or to expose the bones of things! Crows are also seen as soul guides, and my favorite crone, the Greek goddess Hecate, is sometimes depicted with a crow. Thinking of Hecate returns me to wondering about the hidden meaning of my own personal crow connection, which I suspect has a lot to do with learning surrender to the wisdom of the archetypal crone and her instinctual ways of knowing.

Today I continue feeding my crows to participate in the wonder that is Nature. I feed them because I feel psychically and physically linked through crows to my mother and to my grandmother, and because something about this woman connection goes beyond the veil that separates life and death. When I feed my crows, I am consciously putting my life in Her hands. It’s at this point that I let go, enter the “Great Mysteries,” pick the bones clean, create new beginnings, and cackle with those wily Crowmothers who are older than time.


CROSSING OVER

When I was little,
my mother bought me a Golden Book,
and each night we read the story
that repeated the words,
“Nobody knows
but the old black crows.”

Crows know everything
because they eat everything.

Crows bring good luck,
especially in travel.

I ask it be a world-wise crow
who calls me
to the other way.

– Harriet Ellenberger


CROW

carries on her back
all we don’t know.

Heavy winged
she cleaves the sky
into rough edged nuggets
even our blind palms can read.

Have you noticed
she feeds by the side of roads
in between arriving and departure,
her tongue harsh
as if the message she carries
has traveled from one soul to another?

Despite the infinite winds
of separation
she is our third eye
of connection.

She insists
on calling
until we look up
and listen.

– Lynn Martin


LETTER FROM ILIT ROSENBLUM, 9 MARCH 2002, NEW YORK CITY

Dear Harriet,

I found your letter and package of writing as I returned from a trip to Jerusalem & India in mid February. Finally I attempt to send a response.

I am completely mortified at the events storming around. Mostly I feel a stunned silence inside me. Fear.

I hear the news today and bow to my guardian angel. I was sitting in that same café in Jerusalem many times during my visits there. Just a few steps from where I stay. A contested square in Jerusalem by the Prime Minister’s walled residence. Where many hundreds of right-wing demonstrators arrive weekly by busloads to urge the minister to escalate his already unrestrained violence. And where several dozen women in black stand vigil every Friday afternoon, after which we would go to that same café and hang out.

How am I to conduct my life as these storm clouds are gathering? I think about us in the ’80s, knowing of the storm coming. Now here it is. I see Talibans everywhere. I saw them crash-land in New York, I saw news of them in India, and I see them all over Jerusalem. Always violently demanding more violence. Always cloaked in God and righteousness. Always welcomed!

Aside of this, I have my life here, a pretty monastic life. I teach yoga in my small apartment to about a dozen people, up to four persons at a time. I study and practice and go out dancing.

In Jerusalem my mother is slipping rapidly, and whenever I can, I go there to sit with her & witness the gradual dismantling of her life.

There is so much more, of course. Maybe we’ll get to meet and catch up.

Thank you for “She Is Still Burning.” I’ll send you something I wrote for my students during the months after 9/11 …

A CONVERSATION WITH FEAR

by ilit rosenblum

Then the young warrior said, “How can I defeat you?”
Fear replied, “My weapons are that I talk fast, and I get very close to your face, then you get completely unnerved, and you do whatever I say. If you don’t do what I tell you, I have no power. You can listen to me, and you can have respect for me. You can even be convinced by me, but if you don’t do what I say, I have no power.”
– Pema Chödrön

Today we are all challenged by fear. Instead of escalating fear with speculations about the next strikes, we can stop and take a deep look at what is. How we feel. What we do. Our assumptions about our own safety in a world overrun with aggression and injustice. Looking into our collusion with this world-order by our actions and inaction.

As I look inside myself, I see my own response to fear. I see how I make a grab for some ground. I give in to old patterns that feel good only by their virtue of being old, familiar and unsuccessful. Even in that same old defeat I feel comforted that something does endure—old habits endure!

As these patterns operate inside me, I see around me the same debilitating cycle of fear and habitual responses. Nations are flexing their muscles, inflicting greater violence in response to violence, heaping suffering upon suffering. Everywhere aggression is raised a notch, fanning fires of hate, aggression and violence.

To soothe my spirit I take myself out to the beach. Even there fear follows me. On the horizon battleships and overhead planes landing and taking off every few minutes. Each time I see a plane overhead I fear it will fall out of the sky. And right away I think of those for whom the roar overhead brings inevitable explosions, fires, death and suffering, daily for weeks on end. Our suffering will not end by bringing suffering to others.

Fear stops me in my tracks, again, and I plummet, and the ground is shifting.

The good news is delivered by Pema Chödrön in her book When Things Fall Apart (Shambahala 1997). “The only time we ever know what’s really going on is when the rug’s been pulled out and we can’t find anywhere to land” (p. 8). “Consider it a remarkable stroke of luck. We have no ground to stand on and at the same time it could soften us and inspire us. Finally, after all these years, we could truly grow up” (p. 117).

To have the rug pulled out from under our feet is a classic Buddhist call to mindfullness, to be present and to look deeply into what is. Where we encounter fear is where courage is found. The trick, says Pema Chödrön, “is to keep exploring and not bail out” (p. 5). This is a crucial and fruitful time when we can choose “to open up further to whatever we feel … rather than to shut down more” (p. 84).

Pema Chödrön’s advice is clear and practical: “the very instant of groundlessness … is the seed of taking care of those who need our care and of discovering our goodness” (p. 9). We do not set out to save the world; we set out to wonder how other people are doing and to reflect on how our actions affect other people’s hearts.

“What truly heals is gratitude and tenderness” (p. 100).

I thank my teachers and their teachers and my students and their students.

Editor’s note: Ilit Rosenblum is an artist/writer with a background in environmental research and community work. She has been teaching yoga since 1997. After receiving her letter, I reread an essay she’d written on Rosa Luxemburg’s life and writings (I. Rose, “A Passion for Revolution: Rosa Luxemburg, 1871–1919,” Trivia: A Journal of Ideas 10, Spring 1987) and discovered that, in it, she had been as prophetic as the woman she was writing about.

 

 

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She Is Still Burning 7 (April 2001)

Note, 16 May 2017 BE: The April 2001 instalment of “She Is Still Burning” below focuses on France and the work of Michèle Causse. I was just getting ready to post it when France held their presidential election, the results of which led me to imagine Jeanne d’Arc saying to her disembodied self: “Well, old girl, only a fool walks into a fire, and I  had been wondering why we thought it was such a brilliant idea to liberate France. But now it’s May 2017, and the French just threw a massive monkey-wrench into the onrushing wheels of fascism. Not bad. Not bad at all. Vive la République! Vive la France!

A few days later, South Korea did France one better, electing in a landslide a new president who was born the child of refugee parents from the North, grew up in poverty, and became a human-rights lawyer. Vive la South Korea! For showing how to do democracy under conditions of extreme duress.

And now back to the past …


SHE IS STILL BURNING
An Expanding Reader To Encourage Life Lovers
Installment #7
29 April 2001

“Put on your old jacket. We’ll fill our pockets with sugar drops, set off wherever the heart desires, without any plan at all, through quarters overgrown with camomile … ”
– Irina Ratushinskaya

Dear Friends,

After a winter onslaught that lasted until mid-April (there’s still snow in the New Brunswick woods), purple and yellow crocuses are now blooming; the robins are singing “cheer up, chérie.” Every time life renews itself, it catches me by surprise. What! You mean there’s hope at the bottom of that box?

Some day I’m going to learn not to let world events, as well as the weather, drag me into the slough of despond. But that day hasn’t come yet. And so I just have to say with regard to His Junior Bushness … my god, how reckless is this goofball front for the fundamentalists. First he gives the thumbs-up, green-light, go-right-ahead sign to Ariel Sharon (and speaking of Sharon, how did a child with a name that sounds like roses and true-love grow up to become the architect of a new “Final Solution”?). Then — after scraping through the international incident resulting from a Chinese fighter pilot’s urge to play chicken with a US spy plane — Bush intimates that he will not hesitate to re-arm Taiwan. Oh brilliant. A rerun of the Cold War together with a sure-fire recipe for hot war in the Mideast.

In mid-April, however, along with warmer weather, came the people’s summit in Quebec City and the 30,000-strong peaceful protest march (against the kind of “free trade” that has so far been governed by rules chiefly benefitting corporate investors), along with some cheering news from the south of France that you will likely not have found in your local newspaper. Read all about it in this installment of She Is Still Burning!

You may notice that, though this installment ranges over two continents and mixes together two languages, it’s still uni-voiced: I wrote almost everything in it. To remedy this lack of variety in authorship, why not send me something to publish in the next installment? The form can be anything you wish: letters, reflections on personal experience, poetry, stories, essays, reviews or a hybrid-sort-of-thing you invent. I publish excerpts from the letters I receive only if the writer explicitly gives me permission, so please let me know if I’m free to share the comments you send me.

Bon courage (and happy reading),
Harriet Ellenberger
Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada


IN THIS INSTALLMENT

•”Glimpses of Lesbian Politics and Culture, Stage II, in France” (text and translations by Harriet Ellenberger)
•”To the Beautiful Contradictions of Ariane” (a bilingual poem written for the birthday of a bilingual friend) by Harriet Ellenberger
•”Thunderer, Perfect Mind” (a poem with a title stolen from the Gnostic Gospels) by Harriet Ellenberger


GLIMPSES OF LESBIAN POLITICS AND CULTURE, STAGE II, IN FRANCE

text and translations by Harriet Ellenberger

“In French everything sounds like a poem,
in English it sounds like the bus doors opening above a sewer
and yet
one must go where these things meet.”
— Suzanne Cox

In 1993, shortly after her political fable Voyages de la Grande Naine en Androssie was published, Michèle Causse wrote to two friends, saying she was so stressed by the rise of fundamentalist movements that, if her health had allowed it, she would have begun a crusade and given to every woman she found a new “dictionary/bible.” That brief remark in a personal letter evidently signalled the beginning of a furious creative process because she did go ahead, despite medical crises, to write a new “dictionary/bible.” Originally titled “Bréviare de Gorgones” [“Book of the Gorgons”], it was published last spring in France under the title Contre le sexage [“Against Sexdom”] (Paris: Éditions Balland, 2000).

Taped to the wall above my writing desk is the announcement for the April 2000 book launching in Paris. It shows a colour photo of Afghani women after the Taliban takeover, sitting in a group. They’re shrouded in orange or white or grey fabric, with no opening for the eyes. Through a small piece of loosely woven material inset into the more tightly woven fabric draped over them, they look at each other or stare into space. Below the photo are Michèle’s words, “Et même Kaboul, la malheureuse, s’efforce parfois de rêver que les interdits s’assoupliront”… [“And even Kabul, the wretched, dares sometimes to dream that the prohibitions will be eased”].

The Shroud of Language

“It is hardly surprising that those who hold power should
attempt to control the words and language people use.”
— John Ralston Saul

“dictionary: summary of the production, development and
classification of ideological monstrosities”
— Michèle Causse (from the glossary of Contre le sexage)

You might (and I would) call Contre le sexage the closing argument for the prosecution in the case of Life vs. the Global Sex-Class System. The book is a tour de force, and the philosophical culmination of Michèle’s lifework as novelist, essayist, translator, editor and teacher/activist. Its argument hinges on the political nature of language, making clear the distinction between the “androlect” (a word created by Michèle to name languages in which the sex-class hierarchy is both embedded and concealed) and “alpha language” (a name invented by her last-minute collaborator Éliane Pons, to signify languages freed from their sex-class straitjacket).

Anyone who has tried to think, speak or write clearly about overcoming oppression knows that when you start using words like “man,” “woman,” “heterosexual,” “homosexual” — words everyone supposedly understands — you sooner or later tumble into a conceptual pit and the fog rolls in. Why? It’s that ol’ devil androlect again — you’ve been trying to use a primary instrument of sexdom to demolish sexdom, an effort which has certain inherent limitations. But, given that the androlect is also our common tongue, what are we to do?

What Michèle has done is to create “radical-lesbian” theory [“lesbienne radicale” is a political term used primarily in Quebec and in France; probably the nearest relative to Michèle’s book available in English is Monique Wittig’s The Straight Mind], and she does this entirely without reliance on the words “woman,” “lesbian” or, for that matter, “human.” Instead, she invents a plethora of words to name states of embodied consciousness in varying degrees of submission to or revolt against the sex-class hierarchy. Below are a few examples from the glossary, to give you a sense of the direction she’s headed in:

a) Diviseur [the dominant who arrogates to himself the power to classify those similar to him, arranging them in a hierarchy according to the sole criterion he judges pertinent — their sexual organs]

b) dividue [she who who has been divided — that is, appropriated, named and spoken for]

c) dividuelle [dividue in the process of evolving towards individuality]

d) Individue [one who, having recognized the confiscation of the symbolic order by the Diviseur, does not allow the division to be exercised on her, and annuls the effects of it by making appear in and through language her own naming and her own representation]

e) Gorgones [Individues originating the Sapiens conception of the human world. Having denounced the unilateral point of view that organizes the rapport between beings, Gorgones have withdrawn their bodies from the exchanges dictated by the Diviseurs, and found in their face-to-face relationships the necessary and sufficient condition for the elaboration of an unprecedented symbolic order.]

f) Sapiens [reorganization of the human species, taking into account the totality of speaking beings, whatever the reality of their bodies, without arbitrarily privileging a discriminatory criterion].

Exodus from the Androlect:
Conversation, Friendship and Love in the Alpha Tongue

While Part I of Contre le sexage — abstract, dense, constructed almost like a legal brief — may prove slow going even for readers whose first language is French, it lays a solid foundation for the more lyrical and example-filled Part II, which centers on conversation, friendship and love in the alpha tongue: that is, the creation of egalitarian culture by conscious female rebels against the sex-class system. Rebels who, in fact, have constituted a transnational group-in-the-process-of-becoming since the 1970s, emerging in a few countries with the beginning of feminism’s “second wave,” flourishing briefly, dying back, re-emerging in new forms, and continually spreading across every sort of boundary. The reality of their intertwined lives and culture-making brings us to our second and very brief (but hopefully instructive) glimpse of lesbian politics and culture in France.

The 6th Lesbian Spring in the South of France

In the same year (2000) that Contre le sexage was published by Éditions Balland in Paris, Espace lesbien [“Lesbian Space”] was published in Toulouse by Bagdam Espace lesbien (an association whose name was originally inspired by the film “Baghdad Café”). Mid-April 2001 marked this group’s sixth year of organizing a 3-1/2 day spring celebration of lesbian politics and culture. The 2001 programme included, not only films, book-signings, concerts, dinners and parties, even a guided tour of the city, but also a European symposium on lesbian studies titled “La grande Dissidence et le grand Effroi” [“The Great Dissidence and the Great Dread”]. Among the speakers listed were activists, writers and scholars from France, Belgium, Quebec, Algeria, Italy, Germany and Spain: Marian Lens, Chantal Bigot, Michèle Causse, Danièle Charest, Éliane Pons, Dominique Bourque, Anne Legal, Groupe du 6 novembre, Giovanna Olivieri, Valeria Santini, Daniela Danna, Fefa Vila Nuñez, Traude Bürhrmann, and others.

What is the significance of Toulouse? It seems to me, judging solely from descriptions in the pre-conference publicity, that the breadth, depth, seriousness and sophistication of the presentations constitute clear and startling evidence that a freedom-and-justice movement which many have been strenuously attempting to consign to the dustbin of history did not die at the hands of the backlash, but rather came of age. And that is what I call good news. Since the fate of one liberation movement is inevitably linked to the fate of the others, April in Toulouse 2001 marks a hopeful sign of spring for us all.


POÈME SPONTANÉ AUX BELLES CONTRADICTIONS
D’ARIANE,
 POUR FÊTER L’ANNIVERSAIRE DE SA NAISSANCE

Elle est tendre pooh-bear
with impressive teeth,
home-body and visionnaire …
Who can comprehend her in a single phrase?
She doubles the image.

You can only follow her eccentric progress
across the night sky —
late-rising, inevitable star,
paradoxically dreaming roots in the soft brown earth,
I wash my hands of this, she says,
but the imprint of destiny remains.

A friend advises her to be glad
she is not like the one-dimensional others.

— Harriet Ellenberger


THUNDERER, PERFECT MIND

Purple clouds mass along the horizon,
Sheet lightning crackles.
Black winds cut,
keen as obsidian knife.

Out of the dark west she rides.
From the yellowing east she comes.
Her white flags fly to the north.
In the south her red fires are lit.

She speaks.
The rock peaks split.

She speaks
and the past is laid open.

She speaks.
A light rain falls.

She speaks
and the future rises,
vapor on her breath.

She speaks.
Death is real.

She speaks again
and death is not an end.

— Harriet Ellenberger

 

She Is Still Burning 4 (Jan 2001)

And the history continues … you may find a few parallels with the present …

SHE IS STILL BURNING
An Expanding Reader To Encourage Life Lovers
Installment #4
6 January 2001

Dear Friends,

Responses to She Is Still Burning continue to flow in; they not only keep me writing, they are a form of life sustenance. For which, many thanks. You bring me joy. Not an exaggeration.

So far this winter the weather has been near-apocalyptic (and the newly non-elected US president believes that global warming, with its drastic alteration of weather patterns, is a hoax perpetrated by environmentalists intent on destroying the Texas oil industry, uh huh). The storms just before Christmas were the worst on record—nothing like them according to the native tribes’ oral histories either. The winds broke telephone poles in half. And in the bay two gargantuan oil tankers were ripped from their anchors, crashing into each other. The tanker most damaged had two hulls; the outer hull broke, but the inner hull didn’t, which is why there isn’t oil all over the Bay of Fundy.

Quite a few things seem to be hanging from a very narrow thread, and it is not, at least in the northern hemisphere, a time of high energy. Hence, I would like to urge all of us, especially where it is deadly cold, to remember the “winter sleepers” who showed up on a card Ann Stokes sent me in December: the raccoon, the black bear, the jumping mouse and the chipmunk. All these little and not-so-little darlings are curled up in safe places, hibernating. Ahh … role models. Stay safe; stay warm; take naps; dream of renewal.

But there is one Bear I would like now to bring out of obscurity, for a round of applause. My partner, Albert E.B. O’Brien, helps me keep body and soul together, but he also helps keep She Is Still Burning alive, by steady encouragement of its editor and steady maintenance of its technological base. For which, many thanks.

Bon courage,
Harriet Ellenberger
Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada


IN THIS INSTALLMENT

•”Lucile and the Power of Persistence” (a tribute to my aunt Lucile)
•”What Remains” (a collage-poem by Jane Picard)
•”To Cultivate Laziness” (winter advice I have trouble following)
•”Thick and Black” by Ann Stokes (a poem full of energy to revive flagging winter spirits)
•”Winter Dreaming” (a poem written in its original version about ten years ago)


LUCILE AND THE POWER OF PERSISTENCE

by Harriet Ellenberger

My brother called the morning after Christmas to say that Aunt Lucile had just died. I’d gone back to Iowa to see her the year before because my mother had said that she wouldn’t last long. Lucile was weak then, in a wheelchair when she wasn’t in bed, but still with her wits about her. We had a subdued but affectionate last visit, and I thought I was doing fine, not at all wild with grief, until I arrived back at my parents’ apartment minus my backpack, which contained travel cash, return plane ticket and my entire paper trail (passport, credit card, medical insurance card, Canadian citizenship card, driver’s license). A call to the nursing home confirmed that I’d left the backpack beside Lucile’s bed; a quick-thinking nurse had found it and locked it up with the medicines.

Lucile is one of my mother’s older sisters, and she worked as the principal of two elementary schools in Des Moines when I was growing up. She fought for the children in her schools; to me, that was her defining characteristic. She had a low opinion of most of the men who took over the system’s top administrative jobs from women, once those jobs had begun to pay well and acquire social prestige. And she had an even lower opinion of parents who neglected their children or tyrannized over them. But administrators and parents had power over her as well as over the children, so she fought them in a wily manner.

Her wiliness was at the crux of our differences. When I was a small girl, I relied on Lucile for a mutual exchange of truth-telling. She was independent, she was smart, and she didn’t mince words. At least with me. I could give her honest reports on my furious alienation at school, and she listened. She even agreed with my teacher evaluations, which were disrespectful in the extreme. I was so entranced with the effect her listening had on me (it made me feel sane) that I wanted more: more telling truth, more listening to truth, truth everywhere, truth at all times! Revolutionary truth! Truth to turn the world upside down! But Lucile would always add the proviso: Now, Harriet, you and I can know these things, but we can’t say these things.

What she meant was that the world is a cruel and unjust place, and she didn’t want to see me destroyed by it. I knew there was caring behind her caution, but the caution itself was a barricade set between me and a life I could not imagine in detail, but desperately longed for. I wanted more than anything in the world to say what I saw and felt and knew. I wanted to speak freely the way people crossing a desert want water.

Lucile had arrived at her stance of cautious resistance through personal encounters with cruelty and injustice. The story she told which most outraged me goes as follows: It’s the Depression. She’s one of the lucky few with a job, teaching children in Bloomfield, Iowa, for $900 a year, a salary which remains the same for ten years. On this salary, she supports herself, her mother and her grandmother. She also continues her quest for a college degree (it will take her more than twenty years to graduate). In the summers, she and a girlfriend go to Cedar Falls teachers’ college to take courses. But she does not have money enough to pay for the tuition and the meals, so she eats very little. One day she faints in class. The Dean of Women calls her in and grills her. Finally, Lucile admits she has no money for food. Does the Dean of Women ask her to supper, take up a collection, admire her for her persistence and courage and arrange a scholarship? No. The Dean of Women, mindful that the other students’ delicate sensibilities not be upset by the presence of the hungry among them, expells my aunt.

That Depression-era functionary and the societal values she represented (now once again in the ascendance) wounded Lucile’s pride and slowed her progress, but they didn’t stop her. After years of teaching on nothing but a high-school certificate, with a salary to match, she earned her bachelor’s degree. And then she travelled to Columbia teachers’ college in New York City every summer for ten years to earn her master’s degree. In her fifties and handling a job that was in fact two jobs, she was still going to school. But she found friends during her New York City summers, discovered the city, entered a new world. And she continued to be a life-giving, life-altering presence in the schools where she worked, according to the testimony of a legion of former students on Des Moines’ south side.

One Saturday morning when I was about thirteen, I helped Lucile prepare a brunch at her house (by then, she had a home of her own) for her friends, a group of single women, all in their fifties, all holding jobs as elementary-school principals. They called themselves “The Old Bags,” but they were the most sophisticated and irreverent women I’d ever run into. They were a revelation. And they treated me as if I were one of them. We drank champagne with orange juice. In the morning! Together!

Dear readers, will you do me a personal favour? Sometime soon, with friends, please lift your glass (it can be Perrier, peu n’importe) and propose a toast to Dorothy Lucile Truitt, as strong-minded a woman as ever walked the face of earth.


WHAT REMAINS

He was afraid to die.
Il avait peur de mourir
He yearned to eat
He yearned to speak
He yearned to drink
Crever to burst, to split, to die
as in I would die to be a singer.
Je crève de manger, je crève de boire
Je crève de dire.

Il crevait de danser. Il crevait de dire.
He was dying to eat.
He was dying to speak.
He was dying to dance.
He was dying to drink. —

“like light behind film strip, a ticking mutability in everything
left behind on the nightstand, and it was so little and it was
nothing in the way of effects
for he had nothing to leave us —

… when the scent of his shirts began to degrade
I could do nothing to stop it
though I must have thought I could follow it as if it were

a thread, a shining new umbilicus
leading to the other side of matter
where the problem of matter is repaired.”

“The snow lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.”

— a collage by Jane Picard (stanzas 1-2, Jane Picard; stanzas 3-5, from a poem by Camille Norton for her late father; stanza 6, from James Joyce’s “The Dead” in The Dubliners)


TO CULTIVATE LAZINESS

by Harriet Ellenberger

Eat when you’re hungry, lie down when you’re tired, sleep all you want to.

Designate one day of the week as your “day of rest.” “Rest” may include lollygagging around the apartment in your pajamas, not answering the phone, not brushing your teeth.

When you’re not sure what to do, do nothing.

Try not to read anything for five whole days.

Remember water. It follows the path of least resistance, thereby eroding mountains.


THICK AND BLACK

Into the alley she swooped her skirts
a flowing through the sun the
set the roses were yellow and
green touched white she was tight
lipped and her tears flew into the sky
to shape the rim of a cloud all blue and
grey the beak of the heron hit her
knee she was all aglow
she wore a red sweater there was
no forgetting her voice
the night was thick she was black she
yelled fell through and swept
into bed.

— Ann Stokes


WINTER DREAMING

I am still forming,
I am not yet myself,
but I dream a lover to come —
someone who will know me
from the left side,
someone who will remember my eyes
from a place where people spoke differently,
someone who will call me
white moon and lotus,
the one who dances in my heart.

People now say what I do is dreaming,
and useless.
But I say winter dreaming keeps me on earth.

We ourselves are a dream of the earth.
She filled us with her mind.
And I am dreaming a life to come
as she once dreamt mine.

— Harriet Ellenberger

 

The Arctic Dome

pair-of-wild-turkeys-photo-by-mr-bear-dec-2016
pair of wild turkeys, photo by Bear & Co.

 

If you were within the polar vortex,
high above earth,
the breath in your lungs would freeze.

Winds swirl counterclockwise,
moving the cold southward
to a country
where no one wants to be a loser.

Arctic wind chills the blood.

But in a land of so much noise,
so many killings,
so much heated speculation,
too many carnival barkers,
no one notices the bloodstream
and how it flows.

The body politic is distracted,
and cannot surrender
to a new Ice Age.

 

Harriet Ann Ellenberger
16 December 2016

 

note: “The Arctic Dome” was first published in “Return to Mago E-magazine” on 30 December 2016.

 

Whales Who Come to Tadoussac, Quebec

I remember you,
erotic poets of the sea,
surrounding the whale-watch boats,
singing.

Wind-burned,
in fog and in pain,
I sent up my silent calls to you:
O come,
O live,
O let me caress your mind.

Humans, who poisoned the waters
and set earth on fire,
you approach with song.

Teach me to do the same.

 

– Harriet Ann Ellenberger
30 July 1989, revised 4 February 2016

note: The earlier version of this poem was published in L’Évidente lesbienne, no. 17, février 1990, and in Ms. Magazine, July/August 1993.

 

War Babies

War babies are babies
who make war
without knowing what war is.

War babies make war
on nature,
on drugs,
on anyone who crosses them,
on each other.

War babies have guns
that are big and mean.
War babies have money
that won’t buy them more time.

War babies hit a telephone pole
at 100 miles an hour,
and expect to walk away.

War babies stay babies
because they don’t learn.

Oh look, they’re doing it again.

 

–Harriet Ann Ellenberger, 11 February 2016

 

Winter Dreaming

Dec 2005 backyard
photo by Mr. Bear, December 2005

WINTER DREAMING

I am still forming,
I am not yet myself,
but I dream a lover to come—
someone who will know me
from the left side,
someone who will remember my eyes
from a place where people spoke differently,
someone who will call me
white moon and lotus,
the one who dances in my heart.

People now say what I do is dreaming,
and useless.
But I say winter dreaming keeps me on earth.

We ourselves are a dream of the earth.
She filled us with her mind.
And I am dreaming a life to come
as she once dreamt mine.

—Harriet Ann Ellenberger, 1990