She Is Still Burning 15

This October 2002 She Is Still Burning passes on a lot of deep knowledge that might come in handy at some point …

SHE IS STILL BURNING
An Expanding Reader To Encourage Life Lovers
Installment #15
01 October 2002

One doctor reached on a crackly line inside Iraq said: ‘I can cope with anything now, patients who die for want of simple treatment, operating without anesthetics. What I cannot cope with is the children’s fear. When the bombing starts I swear that I can hear the cries of every child, in every house in every street in the entire neighborhood.’

– Felicity Arbuthnot, “Slide from the Impossible to the Apocalyptic,” Sunday Herald (Scotland), 1 September 2002

Dear Friends,

Some fifteen years ago, I turned on the radio late at night for no particular reason and heard Madeleine L’Engle explain to an interviewer that she wrote for children because children are the serious thinkers. The interviewer seemed a little offended by this statement, but I thought Madeleine L’Engle was right-on.

When power is being wielded by utterly irresponsible adults, it may be time to check out children’s literature for inspiration and insight. And so I’ve had my nose stuck in the Harry Potter books all summer, figuring that the young readers who transformed J.K. Rowling from a single mother on welfare into a wildly successful international author were probably exercising good sense.

Harry Potter and schoolmates Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley are up against the most powerful wizard-gone-bad of all time, Voldemort (break up Voldemort’s name into syllables, as Bert points out to me, and it spells “Flight of Death” in French). Voldemort wastes no emotion on those he kills, and his philosophy is simple: there is only power, and those too weak to seek it. (For a geopolitical application of the Voldemort philosophy, see the new U.S. National Security Strategy Policy.)

Through a combination of bravery, brains (supplied in great part by the studious Hermione) and true friendship, the children, along with their adult allies, keep Voldemort at bay throughout the first four volumes of the series. But by the end of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Voldemort is reuniting his followers and preparing a major offensive. Hagrid, the half-giant/half-human Care-of-Magical-Creatures instructor at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, says to his three young friends, “No good sittin’ worryin’ abou’ it. What’s comin’ will come, an’ we’ll meet it when it does.” Sensible advice for the times, I’d say.

This past summer I’ve also been reading e-mail messages from “the psychic children” (real-world children this time, not fictional). These are children who are particularly gifted in thought transference, some of whom are acquainted with musician James Twyman, who passes on their messages by e-mail. And what are they saying to the world of adults? The children say that the problem is not in the air or earth or water; the problem is in our minds. The children say that we already have everything we need to be happy and to create a world of peace, but the time we must act is now. And they offer themselves, along with the whales and dolphins and “our friends from beyond this solar system,” as helpers and allies.

To my way of thinking, adults who want to stop war need all the friends we can get. And if that circle of friends now includes telepathic children, telepathic ocean mammals and telepathic extra-terrestrials, well … imagine the possibilities.

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


IN THIS ISSUE
1)  Letters from Jack Dempsey, Lynn Martin and Kathryn T. Ellenberger
2) “Firebird’s Song” by Sara Wright
2) “Memories of Age” by Mary Meigs


12 May 2002

Dear Ms. Ellenberger,

Hello — My name is Jack Dempsey, I’m a long-time friend of Barbara Mor (who referred me to your terrific website), and I wanted to applaud your work(s) there, as in reading from it I had that rare experience of feeling as though someone were perfectly expressing where “we” are and what I feel/think about it. We are indeed ruled by a monster called patriarchy and despite all the dispiritedness I do find myself daring to imagine that there is hope, after this “system” for extinction has run its course and found
nothing but a total-bankruptcy statement in its bloody hands.

Barbara’s works have always looked our realities straight in the eye, found language for them; and more, they’ve returned to us places and times whose rigorous refreshment in our knowledge can provide reference-points for recovery from this “mere” 4000 years of mental illness. I would like to offer your readers these well-researched and well-reviewed reference-points too, wanting as a writer myself to do the same. Given that patriarchy must deny almost everything that really is, my approach is to “outflank” it with rigorous facts whose beauty and healing qualities “refer us back” to that larger reality that, I believe, most people really are starving for. Over the decades I’ve searched for the crucial turning-points when choices were made, so that they can be un-made. I do believe Barbara would well agree with what follows. So, if you’ll consider listing them, here’s some basic info:

Ariadne’s Brother: A Novel on the Fall of Bronze Age Crete (Athens, Greece: Kalendis 1996, ISBN 9602190620, 679 pp.; Greek trans. by Vicky Chatzopoulou 1998, available and reviewed at Amazon.com and via Cosmos Publishing, NJ).

This is the “answer” to Mary Renault’s patriarchal portrait of “Minoan” Crete, based in 15 years’ research and 2 years’ residence there, and it tells of the Minoan (woman-centered) world from “its own point of view.” Ariadne, new young queen of that world, struggles to guide her people(s) through the natural disasters and foreign invasions that, in archaeological fact, changed “The West” from a cosmopolitan garden to the desert we inhabit today.

New English Canaan by Thomas Morton of ‘Merrymount’: Text, Notes, Biography and Criticism (Scituate MA: Digital Scanning Inc. 2000, ISBN 1582181519; 700 pp., 50 Illustrations; available/reviewed at Amazon.com, available also in separate editions of Canaan [i58218206X] and biography ‘Thomas Morton’ [1582182094]).

Morton was an English West Country gentleman who came to New England at the same 1620s time as “The Pilgrims”; but Morton, a trained outdoorsman, attorney and Renaissance man of letters, actually liked the American “wilderness,” admired Native American cultures, and launched a multicultural and very successful trading-post on Mass. Bay until arrested and exiled by the Puritans (who instantly moved to establish programmatic racism and other “necessities” by law). But Morton, whose infamous 1627 May Day Revels with Native and other peoples made him America’s First Poet in English (by his poetic addresses to his Indian hosts and friends), won the day at last with his outrageously honest and funny book about the needless fear and violence that marked the beginnings of Christian colonization. (Canaan is three books, on the Indians, the living continent, and on the foolish arrogance of Puritan/Christian colonists.) Meticulously footnoted and documented, this is the definitive Canaan and Morton biography; and if you want to see where, how and why the worst aspects of “American culture” came to control this continent’s fundamental assumptions, this is the place to begin.

Good News from New England and Other Writings on the Killings at Weymouth Colony (Scituate MA: Digital Scanning Inc., ISBN 1582187061, 245 pp., Illustrations; available/reviewed at Amazon.com).

England’s “Pilgrims” arrived in America in 1620. They survived only with Native New Englanders’ help; and yet by March 1623, their and other offenses against the Indians resulted in Plimoth’s launching a “preemptive strike” at Wessagusset/Weymouth that killed up to 12 Native people including a woman and baby born of transatlantic- English contact; and in honor of their own violence, the Plimothers then decorated their church and fortress with a sheet soaked in the slain Indians’ blood—America’s first flag. Why did this happen? What did “The Pilgrims” have to say about it, what do we know today, and is there a way out of America’s constant repetitions of this violently-monological scenario? This is a new edition of Plimother Edward Winslow’s “Good News” (1624) and includes other accounts by other colonists as well as later historians. The collection’s Introduction helps readers find their way toward understanding the monological departures from fact that still dominate the writing of American history.

Please let me know if I can perhaps do/write etc. anything to be part of the efforts you represent. (I’ve also produced two documentary films on Native/Colonial subjects and hope to see Morton’s story a feature film, there’s been some interest that way; give lots of public talks and produce educational events much like the above written works; and meanwhile am writing a sequel to Ariadne based in the true migrations of “Minoan” peoples into the Middle East; whence began the Israelite conquests of yet another magnificent world of woman-valuing cultures.)

Most of all, again, I truly want to praise the courageous clarity of your Website and to contribute toward spreading the knowledge that all is not lost if, as you say so well, we refuse to be extinguished but fight instead with love, with facts, with memory …

Wishing you (and us!) all success—
Jack Dempsey


“Maybe SISB could have a column where people dialogue on what feminism means to them, what it has been, what is happening now” (suggestion from Lynn Martin, 25 June 2002, a suggestion seconded by the editor—you write it, I’ll publish it).


15 July 2002

Dear Harriet:

She Is Still Burning #14 arrived. Interesting and well written. How I wish I had kept some of those Golden Books. I purchased them at the grocery store for twenty-five cents each. I am not ignoring the worrisome situation we are in. It leaves me feeling helpless and not knowing what to do. Nobody knows but the old black crows.

Love,
Dad and Mom


FIREBIRD’S SONG

She came on the wings of the Owl
Flew out of the crack of our imagining
Swooped low over the underground forest
hooing, hooing, hooing

screeching and clacking
Haunting the night with her song.

I almost didn’t recognize her
Inside the feathery brown cape with bars.

On Starry nights while the white moon sleeps
the cloak falls away and behold!
She steps out
in all her Firebird splendor.
Burning, crimson, gold, she crackles — turns blue
white light torching
the fire turned star.
Beaming second sight
she rises out of Earthen ashes

and soars …

To the edge
of the Universe

to the crack between worlds.

– Sara Wright


MEMORIES OF AGE

by Mary Meigs

The original version of this essay was a paper I wrote for the International Feminist Book Fair in Montreal [June 1988] on memory and age and what I call “memorycide.” After the Fair I began working in a Canadian National Film Board semi-documentary, “The Company of Strangers,” in which eight old women, ranging in age from 68 to 88, are stranded together in deep country with a young (female) bus driver. What is comically evident in this film is that the day-to-day process of bonding off-camera has affected us on-camera. “You’re too nice!” says the director despairingly. “Can’t you think of anything to quarrel about?” No, we can’t, or rather we wouldn’t. It seems to me that this state of harmony, and the delight we feel in each other’s presence, has everything to do with my original thoughts about memory—its fragility and its power.

As a woman of seventy-one, I have lived the slow process of deprivation which has spread over our earth, the gradual reduction of all the elements essential to life: arable land, forests, hundreds of species of animals and birds, pure water, and, slowly but surely, the air we breathe. At the same time, I have seen us slowly deprived of hope—which is reduced, until we gasp for hope, as we gasp in our polluted air. As women, though, I believe we have to recognize that our power does not lie in hope (we can learn to live without it), but in our invincible power to remember and to warn.

I remember, for instance, how Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring was greeted with derision and scepticism by male scientists who said it was unscientific and unduly alarmist. The agents of destruction, those I call the “enemies of life,” have seen the danger to them both of women’s memories and of our clear vision of the future—and they are perfecting methods of altering and destroying them (memorycide). But they cannot slow women’s awakening to the sickness of the earth and the causes of it. This global sickness, says Dr. Rosalie Bertell in No Immediate Danger, Prognosis for a Radioactive Earth [Toronto: The Women’s Press, 1985] (a book which I recommend to every human being who can read), is violence. “It thrives on feats of extraordinary power, mega-projects and other technological ego-trips and requires the passive cooperation of the weak and ignorant. It is unable to survive in the face of truth, human solidarity, compassion and non-violent action” [p. 313].

Dr. Bertell looks without flinching at what she calls “the brutalization of the world.” All of us, I believe, must hold in our memories the details of this brutalization in order to act against it. The enemies of life have practised genocide on a global scale; they have wiped out entire races and countries, set fire to the earth and its vegetation and forced whole populations into exile. They are all those human beings who make inhuman decisions—sometimes in the name of conquest, sometimes in the name of “development,” that word with its cruel irony. Their victims are other human beings, the animals, fish, birds, forests that stand in their way. Also cities and temples, ancient traditions and myths, music and dance and theatre.

The byproduct of genocide is memorycide. The enemy of life, if he does not kill, tortures memories out of shape and replaces them with false memories; he takes children, teaches them contempt for their own culture and admiration for his, turns them against their people and sends them home where they now themselves become enemies of life. Children who carry their own and their parents’ and grandparents’ memories in their heads are kidnapped, imprisoned, beaten, tortured. Sometimes the enemy carries out his plans deliberately, burning crops, killing livestock, sometimes inadvertently as at Chernobyl or Three Mile Island and other nuclear disaster ares where cities and farmland have become uninhabitable.

U.S. government scientists are now working to find ways of ridding Bikini—site of early U.S. nuclear testing—of the radioactive cesium which poisoned Bikinians who had been told in 1968 that it was safe to return. The most dramatic method would entail removing the top 16 to 20 inches of soil from the entire island of Bikini. … What would be done with the 16 to 20 inches of topsoil removed from an entire island? Where would it be dumped to release its deadly cesium for 80 years? The memory of the poisoning of an island is stored in the soil, in the minds and bodies of the islanders, in the shapeless forms of their “jelly-babies,” born without brains or limbs, and it cannot be silenced. In the same way, memories of other nuclear disasters still speak in contaminated milk and vegetables, in the aborted fetuses of livestock, and the cancers growing in the human survivors.

Who remains to piece together the mutilated memories of the countries that have been and still are being destroyed?

Memory is the secret power of old women; we are living years when our accumulated memories can resonate like a prolonged “Ommmm.” I hear this sound, deep and melodious, whenever Alice Diabo speaks the Mohawk language. Alice, in her late 70’s, is one of the cast of nine women in “The Company of Strangers” and lives on the Kanawake reserve near Montreal. The music of her language is beautiful and when she speaks or sings, I think “This is the real Alice, and the Alice who speaks English is reduced by an imposed language that thwarts her spirit.” The intention (whether they knew it or not) of white men who forced native Americans to speak only English was to destroy the memories that can only live fully in the mother-tongue.

Memory is an ecosystem. It is much like the ecosystem of the rainforests and the oceans on which the lives of all species depend. In the Amazon Valley experiments are being made to determine how many acres of forest land are needed to preserve the thousands of forms of life they support. This predetermined acreage will be left as an island; the rest will be (or already has been) logged. Already, the resident creatures have fled from islands that were too small, and the deserts around them created by logging are eating away at their boundaries. Already hundreds of species have been lost and can never be recovered, and hundreds of life-giving plants have been destroyed forever. It is lobotomy on a huge scale, the cutting away of millions of genetic memories.

Speaking of her mother’s shock treatments, the daughter in Daphne Marlatt’s Ana Historic says, “They erased whole parts of you, shocked them out, overloaded the circuits so you couldn’t bear to remember, re-member … It wasn’t just your memory they took. They took your imagination, your will to create things differently.” The process of breaking in a female human child begins so quietly that she is scarcely aware of constraints. In an amazingly short time she has learned to trot around at the end of a long rein and to stand quietly while a bridle is slipped over her head and a bit placed over her tongue. A rebellious young woman, or one who is perceived as mentally unstable, has always been subjected to severe punishment: confinement, shock treatments, lobotomy, clitoridectomy. In every case, the object of the treatment is to destroy every obstacle to the breaking-in process, and particularly all memory of creative life and of sexuality.

Almost all the cast in “The Company of Strangers,” including Alice Diabo, have been and still are loyal members of the patriarchal order, that is, most have married, had children and grandchildren, and go to church. Alice is a Roman Catholic; Catherine is a Roman Catholic nun. Those who are no longer married have lost their husbands, and some of them have a wistful dream of finding a man to share the rest of their lives with. I, a lesbian artist, am the only “disloyal” member of the cast. But in that strange situation, suspended in film-time, removed from every familiar activity except eating, and isolated from the preoccupations of “normal” family life, each woman’s power is concentrated in herself—above all, in her memories. They are the memories of women who, in their own lives, sometimes feel invisible. “My grandchildren talk as if I weren’t there,” says Constance, 88, “and if I say something, they look at me with surprise and then go right on talking.” To me, each old woman in that state of magical isolation is a unique source of knowledge. When I listen I feel lifetimes of memories caged inside, ready at last to spring free, alternating with the conviction of having done nothing that matters. By nothing, they mean nothing creative; they are comparing themselves to me (“you’ve written books and painted pictures”) and this is odd because in the patriarchal context they have done everything that counts and have been honored for it. But I’ve noticed this before in mothers and grandmothers—a surprising envy (“you’ve done something with your life”) and regret for the use they could have made of the creative energy that stirred in them long ago and was buried or forgotten or abandoned.

I’d like to tell them about all the ways in which women, in the last twenty-five years, have been excavating our memories, how we have taken the fragments that remain and breathed life into them—passionate, angry life. Out of silence and ruined lives women novelists like Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Sarah E. Wright, Leslie Marmon Silko and many others have recreated not only herstory but also theirstory, that of peoples and races deformed by history. It has never occurred to any of the women of “The Company of Strangers” that their life-experiences have enough value to be written down. That they might be their own scribes as Tillie Olsen was her own scribe in Tell Me a Riddle, or Charlotte Perkins Gilman in The Yellow Wallpaper. Olsen turned a woman’s “normal” life, of marriage, children and hard labor against the odds of poverty, into a rich source of creative power. In Tell Me a Riddle, Eva, an old woman dying of cancer, remembers and bears witness, and releases a flood of memories, her own and those of her family. “He [her husband] remembered that she had not always been isolated, had not always wanted to be alone (as he knew there had been a voice before this gossamer one; before the hoarse voice that broke from silence to lash, make incidents, shame him—a girl’s voice of eloquence that spoke their holiest dreams).” Eva’s silence and isolation have been in protest against the stunting of her growth. She mourns for herself and for humankind. “So strong for what? To rot not grow?”

We have, in the past two decades, been recovering the memories of those who have always been silenced by history: pioneer women, women of color, lesbians, old women, those who have been beaten and sexually abused, or shut up in mental institutions. It is as though the spark of Rosa Parks’ refusal had ignited acts of disobedience in millions of women all over the world. For it is clear that the breaking-in process is not necessarily permanent, that it can be reversed or defied. Was it not las abuelas in Argentina who started the movement to find their “disappeared,” whose power as grandmothers gave them leverage against the patriarchy? Was it not the women on one of the Marshall Islands who voted against selling their island to the U.S. government as a permanent underground testing ground? Marshallese women have long memories. The people of Bikini have a new flag with twenty-three stars, “one for each coral island in the Central Pacific atoll, and a symbolic gap for three missing stars, representing the three islands vaporized by nuclear blasts” [New York Times, April 10, 1988].

“They work to see how much can be lost, how much can be forgotten,” says Leslie Marmon Silko in Ceremony. “They” are those she calls “the destroyers.” Sometimes they are plundering the land and its resources; sometimes they are waging never-ending wars; often they are well-meaning planners in offices as remote from the damage they do as the commander of a submarine who orders the release of nuclear missiles. How simple it is by remote control to decimate groups that together shared memories of their life as a community, to scatter and dilute this life in places that never become home. The Canadian International Development Agency and the World Bank are financing huge dam projects worldwide which will flood millions of acres of land and drive thousands of people off their farmland and out of their flooded cities. The success of these projects depends on the fact that people driven off their ancestral land, out of their forests, away from their coasts, squeezed into barren “homelands” or fortified villages or refugee camps or shanty-towns will be too dazed and miserable to complain.

But displaced people cannot be prevented from remembering, and memories burn in their minds until they explode in violence. Governments are good at handling violence; it gives them a chance to test their latest hardware and torture devices and to place orders for more. What they cannot handle is the concerted non-violent action of threatened people before they are dispossessed. For ironically, the mass culture beamed by satellite into remote places, which homogenizes the people of the world and destroys traditional culture, has also had the effect of bringing isolated communities in touch with each other. These communities have learned that they share the same danger of being dispossessed without any consultation and that they can make their voices heard. “They learn they can sound the alarm worldwide when the surveyors arrive,” says Probe International. “As a result, we in Canada now sometimes get early warning signals from tribal groups in Malaysia, peasant farmers in Haiti, and refugees from Ethiopia, and a world-wide movement of citizens’ groups has emerged that is able to compare notes.”

Comparing notes. In India, Ethiopia, Jamaica, Ghana, Kenya, women have started environmental movements that attempt to combat the widespread damage caused in their countries by development projects that ignored their welfare. In India, for example, a grass-roots revolution to save the forests was begun by a group of village women who threw themselves between the woodsmen and the trees. “Chipko-Andolan”—literally, “the movement to embrace the trees”—has played a decisive role in shaping India’s conservation policies (International Wildlife, Jan-Feb 1984). Grass-roots movements like these in the Third World form a vital part of the feminist ecosystem, which is nurtured by the memories of women of every race who are either refusing to give up their land or trying to recover it.

Women in exile embody the history which has ignored herstory and invaded herland, which has tried to tame the darkness in her and to weaken her instinctive certainties about what is life-giving. Exile from creative life, or from the surreal mental state of “madness,” with its fantastic memories and febrile energy so close to an artist’s, has been exhaustively explored by white EuroAmerican writers: Gilman, Olsen, Jean Rhys, Doris Lessing among them. In Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys recreates the madwoman in Jane Eyre, shows how as a young woman she was exploited by her husband (the Rochester of Jane Eyre), driven to despair and, finally, wrenched from herland, Jamaica, and transported to England, the place of cold hearts. Jean Rhys had herself lived the same uprooting. All of them write of the shrinking, the deformation and the trembling cold they feel when they have been exiled from a place that throbs with life, or exiled from the life of their imagination.

Women who are write from exile are particularly alive to the remembered vision of how it was, and how it should be. They are survivors who grow old with a knowledge of how it is to have had their minds and bodies twisted into unnatural shapes and unnatural compromises. Their memories of crimes against them stretch back for centuries, and they recognize that memory can be an invincible power, and also a great danger to those who are brutalizing the world, to the enemies of life.

It would not occur to the women of “The Company of Strangers” to use the phrase “enemy of life,” much less to agree with me that the enemies of life are in the process of destroying our world. They would be instantly defensive of men (their men). “Why are you always fussing about men?” asked Michelle, the black singer, aged 28, who plays the part of bus driver. I had made the point that a poem she had circulated called “How do you know you’re old?” (one item: “You stop whistling at pretty girls”) was sexist. I try to talk about women’s place in the realm of male power and something clicks. She begins to muse on her life, her husband’s jealousy, the importance of his music and the lesser importance of hers. She adores men and sex (when we played the alphabet game, her double word for G was “gorgeous guy”) but her mind has started the process of breaking free, which is really the dispassionate examination of one’s memories.

Another time, Alice speaks of how the St. Lawrence Seaway was cut through the Kanawake reserve and how it changed the Mohawk way of life. Her people had fished, swum, done their washing in the river and now the river has become inaccessible. It had been a friend; now the Seaway, cold and deep and lifeless, polluted by the ships that pass through, is a dangerous enemy. It is an impersonal servant of power, like the huge dams, the pipelines, or the low-flying bombers that continuously break the sound barrier over Goose Bay, Labrador, causing Cree mothers to cower, children to burst into tears, caribou to stampede. Alice describes the damage by the Seaway to the Mohawk way of life without anger. Her way of life is intact deep inside her, like her voice in the Mohawk language. Perhaps the absence of anger is due to the parts of herself she has yielded to the enemy without letting herself be destroyed—the bit over the tongue.

As a young woman, I went through the same breaking-in process as my straight friends in “The Company of Strangers,” and became a tame lesbian without a voice. It took me a long time to understand to what extent lesbians had been forbidden by society to have memories, much less to honor them, that we were expected either to remain silent or to translate our memories into acceptable lies. In the last twenty years I have become part of the movement which has made us audible and legible and I have known the joy of writing about and living my life openly. But the forces of reaction are closing in again, as they always do, along with a determination to silence us once and for all. …

In “The Company of Strangers” I came out again—on-camera this time—to Cissy, who is small and bent, with a child’s candid smile and round blue eyes. (She is one of three Englishwomen in the cast who lived through the blitz in World War II.) “Live and let live is the way I feel,” she said cheerily. She lets me live. But letting live also means suspending judgment about men. It was Cissy who laughed when (also on-camera) one of us was demonstrating the use of a black cast-iron bootjack in the form of a buxom woman with her legs spread (supposedly found on the set). “You put one muddy boot on her face and jam the heel of the other one between her legs,” I said furiously. “Ow!” said Cissy, “That looks like fun!” She was delighted because the shoe had slipped off cleanly; the meaning of a foot on a woman’s face hadn’t registered.

She laughed and we laughed with her. Why not? What good is a lecture on the abuse of women to a woman who has seen the city of Manchester in flames, who has heard the buzzbombs pass overhead, with a terrible puttering sound that would suddenly stop just before a bomb found its target. Cissy has witnessed firsthand the abuse of women, of children, of human life, and still laughs as merrily as a child. As she recalls these things she rummages in her mind for more and more memories; we are listening! Perhaps no one has ever before listened as attentively as we do.

We are living what Christina Thürmer-Rohr calls “uncontaminated moments,” moments which are living organisms in the feminist ecosystem. They can exist in this space where eight old women have met in the eternity of film-time. “We ought now to hold on to what is certain,” writes Thürmer-Rohr [“From Deception to Un-Deception: On the Complicity of Women,” Trivia 12, Spring 1988]. What is certain here is the strange joy we feel in each others’ company, unconstrained by patriarchal presence and interference. Even this temporary separation from the patriarchy has given us the freedom to see each other with “uncontaminated” vision. We throw the artificial dignity of age to the wind; we laugh, sing and dance. With the power of our listening, we call forth each others’ remembering.

note: “Memories of Age” was first published in Trivia: A Journal of Ideas 13 (Fall 1988). This version has been shortened slightly.

Mary Meigs was born in Philadelphia in 1917. A painter and writer, she has had one-woman shows in Boston, New York, Paris and Montreal. When she was 60, she published her first book, Lily Briscoe: A Self-Portrait (1981), followed by The Medusa Head (1983), The Box Closet (1987), In the Company of Strangers (1991) and The Time Being (1997). Her book about the making of the film was translated into French as Femmes dans un paysage (Ville Laval, Québec: Trois) by Marie-Josée Thériault, the daughter of Michelle Thériault, who was her translator for Lily Briscoe. The film itself is available on DVD or video as part of the “Modern Day Classics” series, under the title “Strangers in Good Company.”
Mary Meigs lives in Montreal, on the same street as Cynthia Scott, the creator of the film.

 

 

 

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She Is Still Burning 13 (May 2002)

The May 2002 instalment below shows its age mostly in the letter to readers, where you can see me attempting to dredge up a bit of hope where there wasn’t much (the invasion of Iraq hadn’t happened yet, but the attempts to stop it would fail). The two following pieces do last, and both are meant to be read aloud (Barbara Mor’s “Suicidal Girls” would’ve made a great podcast, with sound effects, and my piece is a speech, to be delivered to a conference I never got to).

SHE IS STILL BURNING
An Expanding Reader To Encourage Life Lovers
Installment #13
10 May 2002 

We are against war and the sources of war.
We are for poetry and the sources of poetry.
(Muriel Rukeyser, 1949)

All humanity today lives under one global god: the God of War, who is continuously empowered and enlarged by the religion of money.
(Barbara Mor, 1987)

Peace is a place where no war is held.
(line from children’s poems circulating the internet, 2002)

Dear Friends,

I’ve begun this letter three times in the past six weeks, and then gotten submerged in translation contracts, while events raced ahead, outstripping my attempts to understand them. My first try began like this: “It’s March 31st as I begin writing this, and two old, ruthless and cynical men who despise each other (a description of Ariel Sharon and Yassar Arafat stolen from Robert Fisk, Mideast correspondent par excellence) head towards their final confrontation in the Land of the Patriarchs. … I hate it when men play chess with human pawns, particularly when they’re playing on a board that’s already soaked in blood. I hate it even more when nobody stops them.”

Six weeks later, the civilian infrastructure of the Palestinian Authority is wrecked and Arafat sidelined, and now it’s Sharon and his Likud party versus Hamas and Hezbollah. But these players are also mirror images of each other: both want the same land, all of it; both think they can take it by force; both believe their god backs them in this endeavour.

Personally, I think the opposing sides in all the battles spreading over the earth are serving the same god, the one Starhawk calls “The God of Force” (secular types worship him too, under names like “full-spectrum dominance”). This god may have ruled the earth for the last 4000-odd years, but these are strange times and I suspect that he might have finally shot himself in the foot.

Force doesn’t work anymore—it may be as simple as that. Here we have, for instance, George W. Bush, the most powerful man in the world and the least free, with his heart set on bringing down Saddam Hussein. Can he do it? Only if he’s willing to lose 10-30,000 troops, use low-yield nukes and crash the U.S. economy.

Checkmate.

I’m thinking, in other words, that there’s something resembling hope at the bottom of this wastebasket. And if you’ll grant me a few moments and a little poetic license, I’ll try to explain why.

First, let’s say that the “God of Force” is shorthand for “dominant human belief and behaviour patterns under patriarchy.” When this god collapses in a bloody stalemate with himself, who’s left standing? Well, it’s probably (to use another of Starhawk’s phrases) the “Goddess of Regeneration.” She’s also shorthand, a metaphoric image for human potential (if you think of human beings as one body, then she’d be the soul—or, in scientific terms, the quantum hologram—of humanity). But she’s also a metaphoric image for the unity-in-diversity of matter/energy—hence, the soul of a humanity in sync with the rest of the cosmos.

And if we want to locate her prophets, we don’t need to look much farther than the Women in Black, with their week-by-week, year-by-year street-corner vigils for peace. Are they unrealistic and politically naive, these women? I don’t think so.

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


IN THIS INSTALLMENT

1) “Suicidal Girls”: an Irish Crone rap by Barbara Mor, about which she writes, “i really want to bodily pick up women, in all this chaos, and set us back on the OldFeministRoad: Fuck Off, Stupids!”

2) “Some Reflections on Lesbian Culture, Feminist Thought, Jazz and Love” by Harriet Ellenberger (presentation written for the conference “Ruptures, Résistances et Utopies” to be held in Toulouse, France, September 2002)


SUICIDAL GIRLS

scream in my walls 4sex in a 4plex
their boys are crazy nightspliced wires
dance&fightdance&fight bellybutton
pliers glow in the dark
i live here numb
in rental skull bang bang bang they move in
redone stucco studio used to be a garage
cars lived there leaked oil on the rug
wall to wall rust atmosphere end of the
world plus heat  theyre not neat decorate
w/fists purplebluegreenpink hair tattoos
noserings amplifiers huge ashtrays of
noise on bad days it costs too much to
live here we’re on a one-way street wheels
roll west 24/7  nothing stops no rest dont
mess w/our trucks global politics some
say i wouldnt know  they dont sleep
like normal people could be aliens or
vampires no jobs blowjobs blowdriers or
they could be bald women hang out on the
moon stare at dead planet MTV no pots or
pans to speak of they eat boys skinny
skinny skinny
i feel sorry sometimes
spikehead genius corvair lurches around
town YouthGoingNowhere not much future in
punk music they yell at each other&they
yell back bi-chicks polydicks 6packs 8trax
up&down yr dreams all hell breaks loose
fuckfuckfuck you me anarchy murder wheres
the cop wheres the flag wheres the earplugs
wheres the preacher homedelivery tampax
brain apocalypse pizza just get married
and shut up
white&black scared persian
kitty hides under porch as party rages at
dawn new strange girl passed out on asphalt
terrible sad suitcase left behind on a
motel bed genitalrentalsingularexistence
month-to-month poetry in her head she plays
guitar voice like doomsday vomit moves in
now the sound is complete KILL EVERYTHING
DUMB THAT LOOKS AT THEM from farside of
mirrors what looks back isnt pretty on
purpose this is the gestalt  leave a bowl
of milk  thing pukes in the parkinglot
bulimic pussycat

***

the news is not good
plane crash into my mind
Fukuyama bloody mama clash of civilizations

bigger noise than girls  radio tv
world-in-trauma 24/7 hypnotic drama
Nostradamus on CNN a september month
HolyKing of Terror bangs LadyTowers on
way to Heaven they are nuts as foretold
osamabinMabus  rare avis  sirens cellphones
meltdown computers GogMagog angels plagues
smoke fire pain  confetti of bodyparts
stocks&bonds roasted sparrows  a trillion
Revelation pages flying around as
torn wings  end of world infomercial:
desert bibles neon tribals electropsycho
uber alles               2000 miles away my
glass eyes explode  the NationalEnquirer
on the spot  each Tower had its own
zipcode  zip zip  as earth says this
is how it feels
ragnarok girls   so
secular Tribecular just want to party &
be peculiar   History busts in w/guns
nasty as hormone problems zits condoms
revolution they rise to the occasion
plug-in fingers speed drums dirty throat
gutter drains&screams they wanna put a
sack  on  my  head bangbang somebody  wants
a bag over my head
its a catchy tune
groins crash&burn
man has a  Vision God hates women  is
religion  Headbanger thumps his brow on
the ground the more dull lumps on his
mind the more devoted he is the skull of
a mullah has many bumps submission to
Allah thumpthumpthump  if females do
this they expose their rumps so We must
be Invisible like Terror to scare the
children  the more you dont belong to yr
body the more you belong to God submission
to Love o yeah  they talk this shit to
BigZip 1440 minutes a day  the girls say
it sucks  if you cant evolve or dance or
read just fuckmybrainz&breed blackwrapt
toe to head bodybag of livingDead     over
the city the earth gasp for breath no
fists laughter thought libraries galleries
of stars a huge anoxiablue vinylplastic
drastic shroud yr dreams for worms  burqa
woman burqaAll FEARfashions necrophilia
HolyDicks gag yrmouth for aDeathSquad
cover my tits for the Inquisition

under rubble hear them scream IslamBamBam
thank you mam  piety humps the female
WildWest  war on our Holes  waronourHoles
they wanna put a bag on the Statue of
Liberty

***

400 years but nothing changes
a continent
they came to pillage&pray stayed to pay
rent grow roots build be fruitflies quiet
housewives but cant stop going crazy it must
be in the water psychedelic daughters dogs
drink their piss and freak out

it takes a lot of sex to get beyond sex
(V Solanas) so here we are and all the
virgins are psychotic  BornAgain fanatics
w/whips talkshows burning books Satan
out to get us Ignorance is Bliss God in
hiz bloodshot eyes kill on hiz hands God
in Hiz eyes bloodshot on Hiz hands death too
late to wake up go back to soap opera
RevelationsRevengeText on CDs   All
Natures Children on their knees just wait
til Jesus comes back just wait til yr Daddy
gets home
girls move out   inner
bitches throwback witches every step West
more sure lessPure this is a new world
for congenital Rebels progeny of misogyny
know whats happening T&A twitch&spin gyrate
on cablevision give Puritan fathers what
they want HOT SEX give thanks to whatever
made matches ropes paper documents money
jails and beer
and the poor girls have been
shaking for so long to advertise it was
coming to tell you look out look out
now who can eat
the world is starving barely breathe air
is so fat they discipline themselves to
meet the threat liberate origynal cunt
deworm the cat  their new hit on the list
of coming fatwas
PUT A SACK ON YR OWN FACE ASSHOLES

how did they cross the ocean how do i
cross the street daily life is everywhere
else the bodies are exploding in open
markets you must learn to separate human
parts from the fresh fruits & seasonal
vegetables even worse in fish&poultry
sections except the meat is raw on ice and
human parts usually cooked but look at it
this way everything is organic who cooks
anyway it takes too long i like things in
cans and plastic packets smaller than a
breadbox ziplock poptop too busy dancing
to eat worry shit my mommydaddy sunday
comix usedcarsalesman tv preacher promised
land parkinglots happiness so the world
is flat would they lie? if i fall off
the edge thats better than Afghanistan they
cant dance they dont eat they die in the
street in fever chewing grass delirious
like the Irish history repeats if you let
it or forget   humans not doomed by Nature
but by DumbIdeas    im starting to like
these loud girls   when they scream in the
daytime it must be serious

– Barbara Mor (February 13, 2002)

note: Barbara Mor is the author, with Monica Sjöö, of The Great Cosmic Mother: Rediscovering the Religion of the Earth, a text which she completely rewrote and updated for the 500-page 1987 U.S. edition (Harper & Row).


SOME REFLECTIONS ON LESBIAN CULTURE, FEMINIST THOUGHT, JAZZ AND LOVE

by Harriet Ellenberger

When I first went to the University of Iowa, in 1966, I heard stories about the deaths of two women, stories that haunted me. Abortion was illegal then, and in an apartment building I walked by every day on my way to philosophy classes, a young student had bled to death alone, after having tried to abort herself with a coat hanger. Her body was discovered only after her blood seeped through the ceiling of the apartment below hers. The second woman who died alone was someone I knew by name—we’d been in the same high-school French class. When her new roommates at university had begun spreading the rumor that she was a lesbian, she slit open her throat with a razor blade.

In Iowa City, Iowa, USA, in 1966, there were no lesbians visibly creating with each other a way to live freely—1966, in fact, was the first time I’d ever heard the word lesbian spoken aloud—and there was no women’s liberation movement. There was no name for the system that had killed both these young women; there was no place to express outrage at what had driven them to die alone, in shame, of self-inflicted wounds; there was no way to honour their lives nor to mourn their deaths.

II

By the time I’d graduated from university in 1969, I thought I was a political sophisticate—literate in Marxist analyses, an activist in the U.S. civil rights and anti-Vietnam-war movements. The first consciousness-raising groups of women were beginning to form by then in Iowa City, but I didn’t find out about their existence until years after the fact. I was awarded a fellowship for Ph.D. work in philosophy at an elite East Coast university, and then gave it up to marry one of my professors, a man old enough to be my father, an intellectual who had been booted out of the US Communist Party for left-wing adventurism (I found this glamorous, for some reason). We moved to North Carolina with his three sons. The sons were 10, 11, and 12; I was 23, still in shock owing to my sudden self-inflicted fall from much-praised student to much-criticized wife and stepmother. And then the women’s liberation movement exploded spectacularly into existence, with out-of-the-closet lesbians many of its most daring writers, thinkers, and activists.

III

Fast forward to 1976, the year that Catherine Nicholson and I began publishing Sinister Wisdom. By that time I was 30 years old, had helped found and sustain the women’s center in Charlotte, North Carolina, trained as an auto mechanic and ended up with a job as a technical writer, gone through a dramatic and traumatic divorce, and come out publicly (in the newspapers) as a lesbian feminist. But the whirlwind of creation/destruction/creation was only beginning.

In the next five years, Catherine and I put out sixteen book-length issues of Sinister Wisdom, doing most of the production work ourselves and with volunteer help: years of intense work for no pay, years of travelling all over the States to meet other lesbian feminists, years of all-night conversations with strangers who became friends, years of exhilarating highs as the movement grew in ways we had never imagined, years of sickening lows as the arguments and splits multiplied in number and acrimony. By 1980, we were burned out and intent only on turning over Sinister Wisdom in good shape to Adrienne Rich and Michelle Cliff, who had promised to keep it going.

IV

In 1976, if you’d asked me the question “Is there a lesbian culture?”, I’d have answered, “Yes, of course, there’s a lesbian culture, and we’re making it up as we go along.” But I had lots of camarades then, and we were riding a wave—a near-ecstatic fusion of lesbian experience with radical feminist thought. It was like the birth of jazz, that fusion of African rhythm and European harmonic structure that swept the globe and left its enduring mark nearly everywhere musicians gather. You could feel the beat, the movement was real, the voicing was authentic, the soul-force profound.

Yet by 1980, the year Reagan was elected and the far right began its triumphal comeback, that fusion of lesbian experience and radical feminist philosophy, at least in the States, was starting to break apart—attacked, it seemed, from every side. For me, that coming-apart was marked by the loss of a subtitle. When Catherine and I had started Sinister Wisdom in 1976, we’d called it “a journal of words and pictures for the lesbian imagination in all women.” Shortly after the new editors took over the journal, the subtitle disappeared because, as Michelle explained to us, she and Adrienne thought that “it gave straight women too much.”

The phrase “for the lesbian imagination in all women” had been my particular invention, but that didn’t entirely account for the chill I felt on discovering that it had gone missing. To me, the missing subtitle was a sign that something more important was being lost, an idea that we’d assumed was so obvious it couldn’t be forgotten, a common-sense linkage which Susan Cavin had expressed in these simple words: “Women will not be liberated until lesbians are liberated, as lesbians will not be liberated until women are liberated. That is, women’s liberation cannot be achieved until female sexuality is free at last” (“Lesbian Origins Sex Ratio Theory” Sinister Wisdom 9, Spring 1979, p. 19).

V

The fusion of women’s liberation and lesbian culture that was the hallmark of Sinister Wisdom in its first five years had given me a philosophic home, firm ground on which to confront the past, the present, the future. It enabled me, for instance, to give a name, patriarchy, to the system that had driven those two young women to their deaths in 1966. It gave me a name for the belief system embedded in both right-wing and left-wing politics, a name for the institutions that underlay both the free-market and state-capitalist systems then terrorizing the earth with their hot and cold wars. It gave me a vantage point from which to make sense of the world around me and a group with which to influence that world.

When the movement began coming apart, I became, in a sense, homeless. For the next 10 years, from 1980 to 1990, I would try repeatedly, alone or with others, to begin new projects that were both lesbian and feminist (writing projects, international theatre projects, a bilingual women’s bookstore in Montreal), but clearly I was a girl out of step with the times. The wave I’d been riding had crashed onto the beach. The music stopped. By 1990, I had become a kind of solitary wanderer.

VI

Now it’s the harsh winter of 2002, and I’m rereading, for the first time in a long time, those early issues of Sinister Wisdom. I laugh, I cry, I pick out the most prophetic passages, I notice how many of the women who wrote them have already died, I find again the poems that I loved. The words leap off the page; they seem more vividly true now than they did then.

Maybe this is because the unconscious global religion permeating every aspect of social life—what many feminists have called patriarchy, what Michèle Causse names viriocracy, what Mary Daly calls the sadostate or phallotechnocracy, and what I’m calling here simply the anti-culture—has become much more obviously a fast-track to extinction. When I was writing statements like “patriarchy is the funeral procession of the human species” for the first issue of Sinister Wisdom, I half-felt myself to be and was certainly regarded by others as a “doomsday lady,” a radical feminist who willfully exaggerated the common danger in order to justify her own political position. Now, in the twenty-first century, the sense of being driven to extinction by one’s own society is widely shared, for good reason, and not only among women.

These early lesbian feminist writings may also feel so vivid to me because many of them positively glow with a love for women. After the succeeding years of bitter internecine movement battles, many of us learned to dismiss that exultant love for women as naive, a kind of illusion. But clearly it was real. Love for women—both as individuals and as part of an awakened body of womankind—was the heartbeat of the lesbian feminist movement. In that fusion of lesbian experience with feminist thought, love played a role akin to the role played by African rhythms in the musical fusion known as jazz. Love, in other words, was the driving force.

VII

I count myself among those who find persuasive and significant the evidence suggesting that it was women who invented the fundamentals of human culture. It seems to me that the early patriarchs knew better than we know now the value of the female creativity they were attempting to tame and use for their own purposes. It also seems to me that the crushing of female genius which lies at the core of the anti-culture has led inexorably to the genocide and biocide we now confront. Female genius is precisely what humans need to unleash if we are to save ourselves from socially-induced extinction, and female genius is precisely what patriarchal loyalists keep targetting.

If I were to devise a one-sentence definition of lesbian culture it would be this: Lesbian culture is that which devotes itself to the unleashing of female genius. I can imagine no work more vital to the interests of continuing life on this planet.

To those of you doing this work, I say, May the fire of the stars illumine your pathway. May the lioness lend you her courage, and the eagle her wings and far-seeing vision. May the ant people teach you patience, and the grasses bending in the wind, flexibility. And may you survive; may you succeed; may you love and be loved in return.

– Harriet Ellenberger, 14 February 2002


	

She Is Still Burning 5 (Jan 2001)

Remember this was published in 2001, not 2017 …

SHE IS STILL BURNING
An Expanding Reader To Encourage Life Lovers
Installment #5
30 January 2001

“Reality is the leading cause of stress among those who are in touch with it.”
– Jane Wagner

Dear Friends,

Now that the long-planned blitzkrieg of repression has been unleashed in the States, my heart begins thump-thumping like that of an old war horse abruptly called back to the front.

a) Protestors at Bush’s inauguration, holding signs reading “Hail to the Thief,” are beaten bloody. O familiar scene, if you remember being part of protests against segregation, the Vietnam war, the bombing of Cambodia.

b) Bush and crew begin work day #1 by falling to their knees to petition the guidance of an Old Testament war god. And yes, indeed, there’s a ready-to-hand four-syllable name in the English language for this sort of behaviour: “pa-tri-ar-chy.” (Did you know that in the archeological remains of non-patriarchal cultures, there exists no image of a human, male or female, worshipping on their knees?)

c) Bush continues his first day in the White House by cutting off funds for international aid agencies offering women abortion counselling. A bizarre political move? Not if you recall feminist analyses of the last 5000 years or so of human history.

The bad news is coming in fast and furious. Its rapidity brings to mind other seizures of state power by “crazy” and/or “stupid” patriarchal hardliners—the Taliban, for example (comment heard on Radio-Netherlands, 28 January 2001, regarding Bush’s cutting of funds for abortion counselling: “This is a U.S. version of the Taliban”), or the Nazis. Hitler came to power in a tainted democratic election, intimidating voters with his gang of thugs known as the Brown Shirts. Bush achieved the same end through non-violent use of the judicial system, which may indicate how much more refined state and corporate control have become in the last eighty years (we were already living under a “soft fascism”?). Hitler’s electoral victory would not have meant much without the backing of German industrialists—and this he had, since they were promised the contracts to build his war machine. Bush has the backing of US-based multinationals, for similar reasons. (The Bush campaign was awash in Big Money, with computer-industry magnates, led by Bill Gates, making especially hefty contributions.) Finally, even with election-victory respectability and big-capitalist support, Hitler still needed individual Germans in positions of authority and responsibility throughout the society to decide, “Hey, we’ve got to go along with this guy now; we have too much to lose.” Most apparently did decide to accept the new situation, thereby normalizing it.

It took years for the “new situation” in 1930s Germany to radically alter and/or prematurely end the lives of most of earth’s people. But the USA in 2001 is already the world’s dominant economic and military power, and the current speed of communications and transport is lightning-fast compared to what it was before World War II; consequently, the global repercussions of anything Bush does are immediate. The global repercussions of every single act of resistance to Bush & Company are also immediate—even if less visible, owing to corporate control of mass communications.

Under these circumstances, it’s wondrous luck to have a free-speech vehicle already on the road—especially one that’s small, fast and maneuverable (like an Arabian horse, I hope). She Is Still Burning arrived on time; now may she arrive on target.

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


IN THIS INSTALLMENT

•”The Light of the Deer” by Sara Wright (a recounting of personal experience in which Cherokee myth takes on new life in the Maine woods)
•”A Wing in the Crevice” by Ann Stokes (a mysteriously moving renewal/rebirth poem that resonates on many levels—appropriate for the times)
•”She Is Still Burning” Meets “RadVictorian Radio” (with e-mail correspondence from Barbara Mor)


THE LIGHT OF THE DEER
              by Sara Wright, Autumn 2000

From out of the mountain he comes
With his head held high in the wind
Like the spirit of light he comes
The little white chief of the deer …

One blue and gold morning a few weeks ago this poem came involuntarily to my mind, as I was thinking about bears. Bear killing season was underway. I was humming a little song I had put to the words as I walked, and remembering the first time I used them eight years ago to invoke the spirit of Awi Usdi.

In the Cherokee myth this mystical white deer is called out of the mountain by the animals who are being slaughtered to species extinction by hunters. Awi Usdi is the justice maker and spirit of reverence who incarnates as this small deer. When the animals tell him about their fears of being wiped out by men, he assures them that justice will prevail. First he will visit the hunters in dreams and tell them that they must stop killing more animals than they need. They must use prayer to ask for permission to take an animal life, and then give thanks for the gift of each animal life given. Then Awi Usdi warns the hunters that if they do not curb their greed and continue to kill without reverence, he will cripple the hunters, making it impossible for them to ever hunt again. Most men listened, but some thought that their dreams were stupid and refused to stop killing. Awi Usdi put an end to their slaughter as he had promised the animals he would, and balance and harmony between animals and humans was restored once more.

This myth came instantly alive for me the first time I read it in Caduto/Bruchac’s Keepers of the Earth in 1993. I had just moved to the mountains and the continuous slaughter of so many animals left me stunned beyond comprehension and without resources to fight back. Everyone I talked to seemed hungry for the hunt. I didn’t know which was most revolting: the arrogance of the men, or the women who supported the right of these men to kill whatever crossed their paths. Either way both rationalized that often this meat was actually eaten. When I would mention that no one ate beaver these days, the women would frequently excuse the hunters’ disgusting behavior by saying that their men had to do “the man thing.” What’s behind this statement is one of the hidden truths of patriarchy, namely that many men just like to kill. I wonder now how I missed it. Hunting bears, beavers, minks, otters, deer, rabbits, moose, squirrels and anything else that was unfortunate enough to cross the human path in or out of “season” was accepted as normal, and I think it was this attitude of normalcy that frightened me the most. I felt completely alone, and I’m ashamed to say I became wary of stating my position beyond saying that I didn’t want hunting on my own land.

I had come across this poem, which I now know was written by Marilou Awiaka, around the same time as I read Awi Usdi’s myth, sometime late in the summer of 93. Today I also see the amazing synchronicity, but that day I was just desperate. Earlier that morning men with a van full of dogs had treed a bear just up the hill from me in the woods, and were closing in for the kill. Feeling such terrible grief, the words just spilled out of my mouth almost unconsciously in mantra-like repetition … “From out of the mountain you come … ” I repeated in utter desperation, choking on the poem turned song, and with tears running down my face. Suddenly the noise ceased. I listened for the fatal gunshots with a racing heart. No howling dogs. Not one sound, just silence. What could have happened? I crept through the trees to the edge of my property. I crouched at the edge of the woods road that the truck must have used, and waited, hidden behind some thick brush. When the van rattled down the mountain without a bear and full of quiet dogs, I felt incredible gratitude welling up inside me. Grace had intervened. I don’t remember when it actually occurred to me that singing the song might have helped.

My doubting mind kept me in terrible conflict after I had made the possible connection between my involuntary intention to prevent a bear killing by singing the song and the fact that no bear had been shot. However, I kept on singing … if he came once, he could come again. I was starting to believe it. I also began calling the deer to come to visit me when their killing time was passed. I hoped to be able to feed them over the winter, so my little song became an invitation too.

That year they arrived on the night of the Winter Solstice. I was in the middle of celebrating my ritual (which included Awi Usdi’s song) when I had an overpowering impression that deer were outside my window. Hugging the wall so I wouldn’t startle them, I moved to the window. There he was, standing about ten feet away, munching on the deer grain that I had just started to leave for them. “Awi Usdi, you came!” I breathed the words into the still room like a prayer. I was flooded with awe, and my skin prickled uncomfortably. My ears were ringing. He had an eight-point rack of antlers and a torn left ear, and he was staring in at me with luminous black eyes. How long I stood in that visceral and shining embrace I’ll never know. Later, when we broke eye contact, I saw that he had brought six other deer with him. He came all that winter. During this period of my life I never was able to escape the belief that this one buck whom I continued to call Awi Usdi was the little white chief of the deer. …

A pattern developed out of this first experience which I continue to follow each fall, and which always begins with me invoking the Spirit of Awi Usdi to assist the animals during the killing times. Last year when I came to this cabin and met Jeff the logger/hunter, I immediately began to sing the song. I could feel the danger pulsing in my body long before he ever remarked that he got high just knowing he could kill them (the deer). I will always wonder if the reason this man did not manage to shoot a deer on this property last November was because of my singing prayer. Since I already had learned that focusing psychic energy on the safety of an animal can also bring in the animals themselves, I knew that the deer would come to visit me when it was safe to do so, and they did.

This year I began in September by singing the song every time I walked in the woods where we often saw deer gliding and leaping through the holes opened up by butchering the trees. I hoped as usual to invoke the spirit of Awi Usdi to protect all the animals. At the same time I was also inviting the deer to visit the feeding place I had created for them out behind the house last year, but only when it was safe. On the Fall Equinox I left them a deer block for a present. I knew the deer would probably be moving around a lot over the next few weeks because mating season is coming up in November and I thought they might like a treat. If the block wasn’t demolished by November 1st, I planned to take it in. (One of the most disgusting things about human hunters is that even their guns don’t seem to be enough of an edge over the hapless creatures they pursue. For each species that they slaughter they wait until the animals are at their most vulnerable. Animals have only one “season” to reproduce, and all hunters take advantage of it, marking the season of each animal as the one in which to kill them. They call this sportsmanship.)

On the night of September 28th, Star and I were walking in the woods at dusk when Star alerted me to human presence with her peculiar low growl, which she reserves just for people. Jeff’s sudden appearance, followed by his aggressive verbal assault, cut like a knife, shattering the stillness of an autumn dusk turned night. It never occurred to me during his raging tirade that he was hunting illegally in the dark with a bow gun. I was too terrified to think. Because I already knew this man was dangerous, I tried to feign nonchalance and kept my mouth shut. The cruel irony of catching this man at some illegal hunting activity that involved killing deer was lost on me until after he “escorted” me back to the cabin.

The moment I could think again, I gathered up some deer hair that I had saved from last winter and with corn meal created a small circle in a dish. Next I squared the four directions within the circle, and put deer hair in the center along with a tiny bear fetish. Then I placed the dish on the north window in my bedroom that looks towards the woods. When I feel particularly desperate, I find that creating some kind of living prayer is helpful, especially when I am unable to stay focused on the intention behind the prayer myself.

The next morning I was writing in my journal, and felt a presence nearby. Looking up, I was startled. Just outside my north window stood two deer looking in at me! They were just a few feet away. Joy surged through me at this most unexpected visit. I felt like they had come in response both to my prayer and to the terrifying threats uttered by a madman to us the night before. There was no other possible explanation for these two deer to be gazing in at me through my bedroom window as far as I was concerned. Just having them so near brought me closer to returning to my own body, which I involuntarily desert whenever the stress and fear are too high.

This morning when three of them appeared on the knoll to munch at the rapidly disappearing deer block, I felt a deep gratitude stealing over me. I don’t know whether or not I’ll be around here this winter to feed them, but this relationship between the deer and me will continue, no matter where I am. The Awi Usdi song binds us irrevocably to one another—the deer and myself—through space/time with a tie that is more mysterious than any other I’ve known. “From out of the mountain he comes,” bringing reverence and justice in his wake. I’m waiting for him now.

Note: Sara Wright is a graduate student at Goddard College. (Many thanks to her advisor, Lise Weil, for urging her to send work to She Is Still Burning.) The following excerpts are from a letter Sara Wright wrote to She Is Still Burning in December, 2000: “I am a writer, and a naturalist who makes her home in the western mountains of Maine. I live with my dog Morning Star, my rabbit Moonflower, and two doves in a little cabin at the edge of the forest. … In my writing I am exploring the psychic edge between woman and nature. In this process I am discovering that the boundary between the two is remarkably fluid.

As an ecofeminist and a woman I believe that a willingness to explore these borderlands provides women with a way to heal themselves and the planet. Exploring the wilderness within my body through my dreams, and the wilderness without through my observations in nature, has helped me become an advocate for both myself and all life.
In my opinion it is difficult to develop a relationship with self/nature and not reach the conclusion that I have: namely, that mindless killing for recreation/sport is wrong. For years I have struggled with the despair that comes with feeling helpless in the face of animal slaughter. … ‘The Light of the Deer’ is the story of how I discovered that psychic activism really works!”


A WING IN THE CREVICE

Pale pale sun sifted from an invisible sky
its pallid weight shrinking trunks,
putting their sturdiness in question.
No sign of flame to pierce the eyelid
no root to trip over, waking ancient dreams
pressed in cliffs the short-tailed
albatross widens its feet on.

The near-extinct bird flies months
without solid touch, coming to nest
solely on this rough black rock
fierced with storms only a lover
would take years charting cross then climb,
to inhale that pink of its beak.

What’s locked has lodged its fearsomeness
deep in protection from the thrashing
cold waters, dowsing eyelids down.
Stifling beginning breaths.
See-saw askew, unpliable in clay
aloft in fantasy, the once-possible
firm foot has slid into sleep,
marooned and unwakeable.

On land far away in the pressure-stilled sun,
the dream flings out a terrible
lonely harsh light.
Shuddering shoulders.
Breaking open an encrusted lung.
Air! Young flame and feather,
the albatross wings out to transform grief.

— Ann Stokes


A Week of Syn-Crone-Icity
“SHE IS STILL BURNING” MEETS “RADVICTORIAN RADIO”

With alarum bells ringing all over the globe at the ascension of Bush (“our Cowboy Caligula on the Throne of Terminal Rome,” as Barbara Mor puts it), my e-mail in-box was exploding with messages. And in the midst of several startling and fast-paced synchronicities, I received finally the full address for Barbara Mor’s new website, “RadVictorian Radio.”

“RadVictorian Radio” is visually beautiful and, writerly speaking, the most imaginative use of the medium that I’ve seen. I happily plunged into Installment I of the adventures of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Matilda Joselyn Gage, reincarnated respectively as a beatnik poet and an L.A. waitress, with the mission of bringing “19th c. radical feminist agendas into 21st c. brains.” Then I broke off reading to write a rave e-mail to Barbara and send her all the back installments of She Is Still Burning. And received a day later the reply below. Her letters are such a wild infusion of energy-and-ideas that it seemed a shame to keep this one to myself.

From: Barbara Mor
Date: Thursday, January 25, 2001
Subject: Amazonian Times

Dear Harriet, thank you so much for sending BURNING, She Is Still Burning indeed. It is true that extreme challenge by the BushWorld fundamentalists will activate many who assumed the Worst was over. But so many of us Olde War Horses are also tired, and what does it require to rouse us one more time? Hey, maybe this is it, the Electronic Ullulation. i don’t know if that is spelled right, but does Xenna care??!! I’ve copied out the wonderful Jane Picard piece to read as I read – slowly. Yes, many tremendous lines. That you are receiving such quality response just out of the gate, really impressive! And a good idea; distribution is the obstacle to all publishing. Finally, a free gift, and it is a beautiful gift to all of us, as well as to yourself. Your writing is very moving, Harriet, never doubt it. I spew out clever lines like this, not “writing” (which traumas me into silence normally) but just “blowing” – are you watching the american PBS Ken Burns series on JAZZ? My mother was a Charleston dancer in the 20s, and played piano in a Pittsburgh jazzband briefly, so she raised me on the piano bench. I was never very good, but music was her gift to me (she died when I was 12, and it was indeed this gift that kept me going) – so very young I was going on the bus at night to downtown San Diego to see travelling Jazz at the Phil concerts, was a FREAK thru cool jazz and bebop and MJQ periods. Anyway, watching this Ken Burns series is making me cry, in memory of all this, memory of social change occurring mightily via MUSIC and the heroic lives of the musicians (they gave their lives literally, many of them). SO, blubbering away, I am thinking: What HAPPENED to feminism, which began in this spirit and then just dribbled away, morphed into — real gains, I know; I’m sure Hillary Clinton feels empowered! But that origynal spirit … people hate to say it outright, but the great utterances come up from under, and women who have “made it” – Hillary, Oprah, whomever – do not have that powerful SWING, what I mean: Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington, Anita O’Day, they growled, and roared, and wept blood, incarnadine sweat. So, in this Spirit, WE BEGIN AGAIN! swinging my ax arthritically … well, i want to tell you that I have a hard time sustaining any work, even a website, because i’ve been “rejected, boohoo!” so often I think what’s the use. But, knowing you are there putting yourself into “Burning”, this inspires – no, kicks my butt into KNOWING I have to get up and join the fight with no excuses. SO, thanks, I need that! And, please use anything I send in e-mail that works, it is my version of jazz improvisation, letters that is – a few good lines spew out because I’m not thinking: This is my real work! Writing, in other words, scares me. Standing in the street screaming and ranting like the baglady of Babylon, this doesn’t scare me. Ergo, that’s what letters and e-mail are for me. Things ARE moving so fast; California’s energy deregulations, behind the current disasters of blackouts and utilities bankruptcies, are said to have been begun by the utilities selling their energy sources to – ehem, heehaw, some TEXAS oil companies. Which are in turn demanding hijack wholesale prices which California’s utilities can’t afford without raising users’ energy rates skyhigh. Well, the usual demonic tangle of instigators and instigated, except imagine George Bush’s week: stop international abortion/reproductive rights funding, give the finger to feminists and enviros, go to bed and wake up King of the World, and – best of all – being a Texan suckering the elitist state of California. Big oil! wins again. And again. And again.

Ditto. Sister, round up the ponies. Let’s STAMPEDE!!!!!!!!!