She Is Still Burning 10 (November 2001)

By October 18th, 2001, according to my hand-written journals, I was already doubting that the 9-11 attacks had been the sole work of the people we were being told were responsible. But that doubt didn’t carry over from my private writing to the “She Is Still Burning” instalment below; what did carry over into my “Dear Friends” letter was my new journal-concocted self-identification as “earthling: being who lives on the earth.”

Sixteen years later, I still identify primarily as an earthling. Earthling is my “we,” and I must say it’s a “we” I’m forever thrilled to belong with.


SHE IS STILL BURNING
An Expanding Reader To Encourage Life Lovers
Installment # 10
6 November 2001

“Both day and night are good,” Agnes said. “Both speak a language. The language of the night is different from the language of the day. The language of the night is within you. Most two-leggeds have forgotten the language of night, but it would be good if they remembered, for a long night is coming before the break of dawn.”

– Lynn V. Andrews, Flight of the Seventh Moon

Dear Friends,

Since the last installment of She Is Still Burning (six weeks ago), we’ve passed into the madness-and-mayhem stage: the US and the UK drop their fabulously expensive and high-tech ordnance onto an already devastated Afghanistan, while the people starve; anthrax shows up in Kansas City, Kenya, Pakistan, Russia; American and allied governments begin operating under de facto martial law; the “Bush doctrine” enunciates policies that amount to a permanent state of war. From the point of view of your ordinary earthling (earthling = being who lives on the earth), bin Laden and Bush are pursuing the same chimera—”holy war”—and with the same probable result. The earth can’t take much more of this nonsense, and, as earthlings, neither can we.

Meanwhile, life in Saint John has become, if not peaceful, eerily quiet. The truck traffic that thundered day and night through the neighbourhood has slowed to a tractor-trailer every few hours. The Toronto-to-Europe jets that used to fly high over the city, one after the other after the other in the evenings, seem to have disappeared. Instead, a surveillance plane circles over the docks and oil refinery while a surveillance boat moves in and out of the harbour. On the tracks by Courtney Bay, two hundred railroad cars have been sitting for a month, their wheels rusting in the salt air. With the exception of the almighty Irving industrial empire, businesses have been falling like the autumn leaves. And the “Toronto fever” that had begun to grip this small city’s uptown vanished overnight: no one rushes around anymore with a cell phone glued to their ear.

In the midst of all this, I think about the fundamentalist forces that struck down the women of Afghanistan (who used to comprise 50 percent of Afghanistan’s government workers, 40 percent of its doctors, 75 percent of its teachers) then striking New York, and the worldwide economic and political fallout from that. I remember the saying of Native American tribes, “When the women lose heart, the people die.” And I think of the simple principle reinforced over and over by personal experience: everything is interconnected.

Under the omnipresent shadow of war, what to do, what to do? The only practical guideline I’ve come up with goes like this: whatever you love doing, do it now. I notice in the past few weeks that many of my friends and family seem to be following a similar self-directive—speaking their mind, forthrightly, and in public; beginning a new book manuscript; travelling overseas to a Zen peace camp; painting new watercolours; successfully agitating for the opening, on schedule, of the long-planned exhibition by Arab-Canadian artists at the Canadian Museum of Civilization, “Ces pays qui m’habitent / The Lands Within Me”; taking steps to realize a long-deferred dream. Living as boldly as they can, as fearlessly as they can, as creatively as they can, they become my “role models.” And they have my gratitude for being there, and for continuing to be themselves.

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


IN THIS INSTALLMENT

•Verena Stefan: Excerpts from keynote address to conference “Violence and Patriarchy in Art and Literature” (Ottawa, October 18, 2001)
•Ann Stokes: letter in response to SISB #9
•Albert E.B. (“The Bear”) O’Brien: “On the New Normal”
•Camille Norton: “After Reading Plato” (poem)


EXCERPTS FROM “THE ROARING INSIDE HER”
keynote address for the conference “Violence and Patriarchy in Art and Literature,” University of Ottawa, October 18, 2001
by Verena Stefan

Editor’s note: The essay/speech that Verena Stefan delivered on October 18, 2001, is a complex interweaving of literary and political analysis, poetry, mythology and story. I’m grateful for her permission to publish parts of it, but want to caution readers that the following two excerpts—one a story from literature and the other a story from life—do not give a fair representation of the essay as a whole. I selected the first story to honour Suzanne Boisvert’s fortieth birthday, because she has always loved the work of Carson McCullers. The second story I selected because it is a true story, and reflects both Verena’s life and her mother’s life. When the essay is published in its entirety and its final form, I’ll let readers know where to find it.

From the section “To whom does history belong?”

Do you remember Frankie Addams? Carson McCullers created her during WW II. She is the heroine of The Member of the Wedding.

Frankie is preoccupied with soldiers for specific reasons. In her twelfth summer, in 1944, the world seems shattered and torn, and it turns around way too fast, at a thousand miles an hour. The war in Europe is also happening so fast that Frankie Addams can’t keep up. War images and world images swirl in her head, overlapping each other, getting all mixed up together.

The only people who regularly come into the town from the outside and then leave it again are soldiers from the nearby barracks. For Frankie, they embody the big world, the whole world. Soldiers can be sent into any country on earth; they have entry everywhere. But how can she go out into the world, produce a connection? She dreams of going into the Marines and being honoured with gold insignia, but doesn’t know how this dream might be realized. Finally, it occurs to her how she might participate in the Second World War: she will give blood. She won’t bleed on the battlefield, although she is full of bloodthirsty ideas and attacks of rage and possesses a considerable arsenal of weapons. She will give her blood to those who go to battle, to the soldiers. In her mind she hears the doctors say that her blood, the blood of Frankie Addams, is the richest, reddest blood they have ever seen, and she dreams of it flowing on in the veins of all the possible soldiers in the whole world. And after the war the soldiers will thank her and address her, not as “Frankie,” but in soldierly style as “Addams.” But she is not allowed to give her blood; she is still too young. For everything, it seems, she is either too old or too young.

Frankie owns a stolen knife with three blades and a file she uses to sharpen the knife and also to file her fingernails, when they’re long enough. Once she shot bullets on the playing field with her father’s revolver. But when she commits a sin in the garage with the boy next door, she is unarmed, unsure, and doesn’t know what’s happening to her, what it is they’re doing. Something that makes her feel sick to her stomach. Before falling asleep, when the scene appears to her again, she imagines that she sticks a knife between the boy’s eyes.

She packs her suitcase. Where should she go? Everyone else knows where they belong: her father in his jewellery business, the soldiers in the army, Bernice, the housekeeper, with her family and the church. Frankie’s brother wants to marry, and only Frankie is completely alone. There seem to be but two options for her in order to enter public space and travel the world: war or love. Her rite of passage begins when she decides to join her brother and his fiancée on their honeymoon trip.

She walks through town like a queen, no longer separated from the world, although everything seems distorted to her: the unexpected doesn’t surprise her and the familiar seems strange. For the first time she looks a soldier on the street calmly in the eye, without envy and bitter jealousy in her heart. Instead she feels a kind of recognition in his look; in her opinion this is how free travellers look at each other. She interprets all encounters now out of this feeling, and when a drunken soldier takes up with her and asks whether they should go to her place or his, she is proud to be treated as an equal, as a traveller in a foreign country. She goes for a beer with him to the Blue Moon, a flophouse for soldiers and other adults who do as they please.

Here, Carson McCullers has the twelve-year-old girl speaking in sentences she has picked up from adults—”They say Paris has been liberated. In my opinion, the war will be over next month”—an eager, grotesque-sounding attempt to talk politics with the soldier without being able to give the sentences she speaks her own meaning. Finally, the author’s voice filters out the babble and names the girl’s situation on the threshold of the world: Nor would he talk about the war, nor foreign countries and the world. To his joking remarks she could never find replies that fitted, although she tried. “Like a nightmare pupil in a recital who has to play a duet to a piece she does not know … [she] did her best to catch the tune and follow, but soon she broke down and grinned until her mouth felt wooden.”

One can hardly imagine a more fitting description for the situation of the female stranger in the world. Like Lily Everit [the young heroine of Virginia Woolf’s 1925 story “The Invitation”], Frankie wants to participate in worldly affairs with her own knowledge. She simply wants to have a decent conversation with an equal. But the scenario McCullers describes is crazy-making, a game of confusion in which only one thing is certain: it’s a nightmare, and there’s no telling if one will wake up from it.

Many of the girls I have found in literature are lonely hunters, solitary runners—like Frankie Addams, seeking and creating a ritual of transition without the company or support of adult women or other girls. With their experience of ten, twelve years, they preserve an archaic female wisdom. They know what female freedom is; unlike adult feminists, they don’t have to reclaim it. The stress of becoming a woman, a REAL woman, doesn’t eat them up yet. Rather, they determine their own vagabond freedom, their own rhythm, their own life-preserving aggressivity. Theirs is a wild, unruly, primitive response, comprising day and night, the woods, every road of the world and of the mind, magic power, the stars and the aspiration to fulfil one’s dreams, to use one’s potential as a human being. Neither fish nor fowl … they defy the expectation that they unlearn their liberty. Then they discover that these are not the right traits for the true women they are meant to become, that only boys can inherit the world.

Still in the altered state of her lonely initiation, Frankie accompanies the soldier to his room. This time she recognizes the danger in the sudden silence, which reminds her of the silence in the garage. Immediately she turns to go, he prevents her, and without thinking, she bites his tongue with all her strength. When he goes after her again, she reaches for the nearest object and hits him over the head with a glass pitcher. With one blow, with her blow, she has broken the silence, averted danger. The soldier’s head sounds hollow like a coconut.

That night, distraught, she asks her father if one can kill a person by hitting them over the head with a glass jug. As usual, the father isn’t listening. She persists, and he takes the reality out of her question when he says he’s never done such a thing and consequently she hasn’t either. In his friendly way he confirms the adult principle: children are not to be believed. Beyond that his distracted answer says: you could not do anything that lies outside of my ability to imagine.

Frankie’s vision is that humans could and would meet as free travellers, not as women, not as men, throughout their lives, throughout the world. That she should be put into the category of the Other is beyond her imagination. I like to look at her as somebody talking to us about fundamental aspects of the human condition. Like other young heroines, she conveys messages to us from a time when the girl is still a human being, before she mutates into a woman.

From the section “What do I know about war?”

A friend whom I haven’t seen for thirteen years comes for breakfast. Our conversation sparks through the kitchen and weaves into a brilliant mellow September morning. The phone rings. My lover, who knows I don’t listen to the news in the morning, leaves a message about the attack in New York City. At noon, by myself again, I turn on the TV, stare at a plane that enters into a tower and leaves it on the opposite side. Though I have never lived with a TV before, never witnessed a war “live” on the screen, and don’t watch horror movies either, the image bears an eerie familiarity. Has this been the last conversation before World War III? I ask myself. Then I feel the ocean, the immensity of the Atlantic Ocean between North America and Europe. It eludes the conceptual mind. How did anybody ever manage to cross it? It is vast, infinite, cold. The void. I am cut off from Europe. The mind jumps again. The towers keep crumbling like sandcastles. Berlin … Berne … there are invitations to teach and to read. But I don’t want to get stuck over there either, is the third flash in my mind. I want to come back to Montreal.

In moments of shock the body’s memory speaks out. The reptilian brain shoots its “fight or flight” reaction through my system. War has been close to me since I have been conceived. One of my deepest emotions before falling asleep is Nicht auf der Flucht. Not fleeing. Then I sigh. Tonight I am safe. The emotion is linked with physical delight: I am in a dry place, it is not humid, I am not freezing. But always have the bags ready. Better to be prepared.

Some things about war I learned from my mother: losing a house, fleeing, being bombed, being on a trainful of refugees, fear of rape, hope for protection by state authorities, being turned down, being trapped on a train, becoming a prisoner of war, defying the enemy with her mother tongue, empowering herself by her mother tongue to a degree that defied rape. It comes to my mind now that it was she, in our family, who had a heroic war story—not Father.

She wants to leave Prague with her two little boys to head for Switzerland. She has already left behind their Berlin home of six years. My father was drafted with the pitchfork troops only for the last shabby battle. The Prague railway station is overcrowded with scurrying people. Were the gilded spheres on the roof, the magnificent glass dome, still shining? May 1945, and the Russian Army arrives. Everybody German or speaking a Germanic language instantly becomes a prisoner. She is arrested with hundreds of people in a cinema. The rapes start immediately. The first time she refuses in French, one of her boys who is in the grip of dysentery in her arms as they leave the bathroom. After two weeks they are transported to a camp in the countryside where they have to work in the fields for Czech farmers.

The rapists, both Russian and Czech men, come every night to pick some of the women and girls. I got so furious, she would tell us. You can’t imagine how indignant I suddenly felt when a soldier tapped my foot one night, ordering me to follow him. It was out of the question. Night after night we would lie there, our hearts hammering. But now I heard myself yelling at him in Bernese German with all my strength. The words just broke out of me. Never before in my life had I told anybody to go to hell, let alone called them a bastard.

The soldier, baffled by a vernacular he didn’t know and that wasn’t the enemy’s language, let her be.

Her story of the power of language belongs to my life like a recurring tune of which one doesn’t remember the beginning. It transmits the secret of gut language, of being outraged to the point of not giving permission to let rape happen, of language use that is hysterical in the true sense of the word.

Note: Verena Stefan’s first book, a memoir published in 1975 by Frauenoffensive, became known as “the touchstone of the German women’s movement.” Translated into eight European languages, it was first published in English by Daughters in 1978, then later republished along with short stories and essays as Shedding and Literally Dreaming (Feminist Press, 1994). Rauh, wild & frei (Fischer, 1997), her most recently published book in German, is an exploration of girls as literary heroines. A landed immigrant in Canada, and living in Montreal since 2000, she now writes in both German and English, and offers creative writing workshops.


LETTER IN RESPONSE TO SISB #9

Sunday, October 14, 2001

Dear Harriet,

This day seems more in tune with the demise of the world—drizzling damp unpleasant: a pall of hopelessness, i.e. stupidity.

It does feel like the world cannot piece back together, what is happening now. I have never felt this dread before. Your She Is Still Burning has the heaviness—it sinks into me. Susan Wood-Thompson’s excerpt from her poem is really something which knocked me out. Your words, your re-dedication, superb. God, you can feel the depth and desire in this issue. (I thought Lynn’s poem the best I had ever seen of her work.) The desire to live, with intelligence and utter necessity. They are within the Petition, also.

A heightened sense of life: I looked at a spider with its legs separated on a tree trunk in the sun, the other day. It was, each leg, soaking up the last warmth of summer. I found her beautiful. Walking in the woods, sort of peering for a deer—instead, an almost-black goodsize garter snake, sunning. It didn’t move away; instead, it glared at me and was ready to attack, should I come nearer. I liked that. I loved seeing a snake. It made my day. The black and dark grey New Yorker cover I found stunning and excruciatingly sad: someone commented on it “how cool” in this flip knowitall voice. I roared to its defense and chopped her head off verbally. She shrunk away.

It’s all or nothing now. Can’t deal with grey, “cool,” nothing.

Your writing is succinct clear determined tender. You are burning brighter—

Love,
Ann (Stokes)


ON THE “NEW NORMAL”
by Albert E.B. (“The Bear”) O’Brien

There’s nothing really new about what’s happening this time around — only the weaponry, the protagonists and the reason(s) for killing have changed.

The challenging questions we now have to face are: (1) are we in the West willing to  accept and therefore legitimize the “New Order” which is now in the making? And (2) what consequences will this war on terrorism have for the future of humankind? No one in our respective governments seems to know and, I dare say, no one therein even wants to think about it at this point because it is imperative that the infamy committed in New York be avenged, that bin Laden be punished, that certain regimes be held accountable for the harbouring of terrorists—and then and only then will they worry about the consequences of their actions! Typically human, isn’t it?

We in the West have ignored history for too long and have also failed to see that the world which surrounds our comfortable societies has evolved during the past forty years or so into a festering pit of misery, despair and anger. Tenuous coalitions, air-dropped ration packs, blankets, never-ending rhetoric and offers to rebuild a country after bombing it to smithereens will only serve to worsen what has already proven to be historically unattainable for humankind: there will always be war, there will always be poverty and hunger, there will always be a new “bin Laden” and there will always be a need for the eradication of “Evil.” Such is our destiny or so it appears.

Let’s keep religion and religiosity out of this please! Let’s also remember that “we of the human species” are programmed at birth with the ability to kill indiscriminately and we feel completely legitimized in doing so when given the right reason(s). History has confirmed this time and again: all one has to do is to look up the history of ancient Rome, Egypt, Peru; and more recently, that of Germany, the Balkans, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Ireland, just to name a few.

The bottom line: no one really wins in war. Only the military-industrial complexes of this world, and the new groups of “terrorists/militants” spawned by war, will benefit—as they always do—but at what cost to the rest of us?

My UN Peacekeeping experience during a Middle-East war in the 1970s tells me that we haven’t seen the worst of it yet, on both sides.

I also hasten to say that we in the West will not be able, this time around, to gracefully exit from war nor will we be able to conveniently walk away from the suffering that we will have so liberally dispensed during this, our “Jihad” against terrorism.


AFTER READING PLATO

I’m thinking about the hummingbirds in the tree behind you.

What do you think about when you see hummingbirds?

I think about their shadows whirring against the acacias.
And I think about the first hummingbird.

Where is the first hummingbird?

In Maine, on a logging road near Mount Katahdin.

It has a ruby throat.
It startles me now like the shape of bliss.

Like something unimagined that is suddenly there?

Like something unimagined.

I’m six, I’m wearing a red coat.
My mother walks ahead of me on the road and she is sad.

And for a moment I look away from my mother
and see the hummingbird

a slashing green jewel of a bird cutting between
my body and my mother’s body

like an arrow from the bow
like the knife of happiness.

– Camille Norton

 

She Is Still Burning 9 (26 Sept. 2001)

The instalment below was the first I published after 9-11, and marks the point at which “She Is Still Burning” became no longer something I loved to do, but something I’d started and didn’t know how to let go of. I loathed including Elizabeth Brownrigg’s essay on why she supported the US-led “war on terror.” I published it anyway because she’d done a great job of writing it. It’s still as vivid a picture of the time as any I’ve seen. And I am still thoroughly creeped out by what she’s saying.

But this instalment also includes the best poem Ann Stokes ever wrote (according to me) as well as Ann’s favourite Lynn Martin poem. And it begins with some stunning lines from a long Susan Wood-Thompson poem that Catherine Nicholson and I loved and published in Sinister Wisdom 7 (Fall, 1978).

SHE IS STILL BURNING
An Expanding Reader To Encourage Life Lovers
Installment # 9
26 September 2001

“The bond of suffering
is that we know
we begin with what we have
and do not measure each other
against a perfect husk
that never burst with pain.”

– Susan Wood-Thompson
(from her poem “Trying To See Myself Without a Mirror”)

Dear Friends,

I was in Montreal, in the midst of a glorious visit with friends, when the U.S. was attacked. That afternoon I phoned my mother in Iowa to see how she and my father were taking the news, and she said, “Well … these things happen.” “They sure do,” I replied. And in that moment we understood each other perfectly.

These things happen, and nobody comes through them unscathed.

In the days since, I’ve developed a near-total aversion to language. Events move faster than the mind can keep up. I begin this letter a dozen times over; I cross out every paragraph and begin again. Friends call, and when I hang up the phone, I can’t remember what we just said—only the warmth or the shakiness in their voice. It’s the voice that matters, the fact that it is still there.

Life is never more precious than when it is threatened, and it is threatened now from every side. I have no words to alter that situation, nor, it seems, does anyone else. But I can at least say this: there is no such thing as a war of good against evil (where would the soldiers be found? do you happen to know anyone who is wholly good or wholly evil?). And there is no such thing as winning a war (read history: both sides lose).

Last September I was struggling to write “The Fire This Time,” a founding vision for She Is Still Burning. In it, I said that She Is Still Burning, along with her editor, would be “devoted to clear-seeing in a confusing and deadly time, and to fanning the flames of our desire to live.” I’d like now to rededicate myself to that purpose.

Bon courage, my friends, wherever you may be at this time (remember to eat, remember to sleep, remember to balance human atrocities with human beauty),

Harriet Ellenberger
Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada


IN THIS INSTALLMENT

•“Beautiful Terrors” (a personal essay by Elizabeth Brownrigg)
•“The forbidden four letters fruit” (a poem by Claude)
•“Someday maybe” (a poem by Lynn Martin)
•“Invisible, in Slides” (a poem by Ann Stokes)
•Petition for Moderation and Restraint


BEAUTIFUL TERRORS

by Elizabeth Brownrigg

September 11, 2001

I’m in a beach cottage on the North Carolina coast. Dee calls to me to come see, come see what’s on TV. It’s a beautiful September morning. I’m getting ready to go back home to Durham to teach a class that evening. I finish tying my shoe before I go to the bedroom to watch. The cast of The Sopranos was being interviewed. I think that Dee wants me to see the actor who plays Tony Soprano.

“Look,” she says. There’s a smoking slash in the side of a tall building. The announcers think it was a small plane. It’s amazing, mesmerizing.

“Look!” the TV announcer cries. “Another plane!” and we see it hit this time. We see the explosion that billows out like a blooming scarlet flower. It is just like a horror movie. The special effects are marvelous.

My brother comes in from his walk. He and I discuss how fascinating the Concorde crash was last year, how we could watch the flaming plane hurtle across the sky over and over again.

“Are the buildings swaying?” the announcer asks. But no, it is just the camera’s movement.

“How are the people going to get out?” asks Dee. For some reason we think they can all escape, except the ones on the floors above the smoking slashes. We don’t see any people on the TV screen. We only see the buildings and their gorgeous destruction.

Another plane hurtles into the Pentagon. Dee has the sense to be afraid. I’m still caught up in my fascination, in anticipating the next exciting event. I cannot grasp the meaning of any of this, and so it is like a movie, like a story with a terribly twisted plot.

I get ready to leave. Dee says, “Wait. Stay here with me,” but I want to do the next normal thing that I have planned to do. I still don’t understand.

I drive across North Carolina for hours, past fields of golden tobacco and puffy white cotton, beneath a serenely empty sky, through small towns with a white clapboard church at every center. On the radio, I hear that the towers have collapsed, but I don’t see them. I can’t imagine.

It’s the firefighters. The radio reports that 10,000 people may have died, but my first tears are for the firefighters because 10,000 is too many to comprehend—how could death have come to so many? I can see the 300 firefighters running to their deaths.

And then I cannot bear the people jumping because they would rather fly than burn. They are falling, “like apples from a tree,” someone says. My worst nightmares are about falling, falling, falling, without end. The people cling to window ledges just before they drop. In the pictures you cannot see their expressions and so they appear to be as calm as suicide bombers.

What will it take to comprehend what has happened as though it happened to you? The sadness is a great billowing cloud, expanding outward with every new body fragment dug out of the rubble. The cloud of sadness says, “Weep.”

I try to give blood and I’m turned away. The dead don’t need it.

September 12th

Osama bin Laden looks like a saint. He has a beatific smile, a graceful manner. His flowing robes are lovely; he is like a character out of Lawrence of Arabia. I watch his recruitment video on TV. Even though I can’t understand the language, it is still inspiring, the voices raised in song, the brave young men willing to die for Allah.

Osama bin Laden speaks poetically of the shattered corpses of a thousand infidels and how his heart is glad. He’s protected by the monstrous Taliban, who show less kindness to women than to beasts of burden who are not murdered simply for walking under the open sky.

“What does he want?” I ask. It has to do with Israel, with the Gulf War and our bombing of Baghdad, with Saudi Arabia. It has to do with Allah and capitalism. No one seems to know the answer.

The world has suddenly sprouted thorns. Fiendishly clever danger lurks everywhere, in low-tech weapons like boxcutters, in the hands of mild men who walk under our radar that is tilted upwards to be on the lookout for Star Wars attacks.

September 20th

I’ve come back to the North Carolina coast. The sunset is spectacular, changing colors every moment. A flock of white ibises flies just over our heads. We’re watching the Harrier jets take off and land at the air base across Bogue Sound. When we raise our binoculars to see them more closely, we notice that they’re carrying bombs beneath their wings. The jets roar with the voices of a thousand demons.

Across the Internet come pictures of the World Trade Center rebuilt in the shape of a hand with middle finger extended; there’s another with the Statue of Liberty extending the same finger, saying, “We’re coming, motherfuckers.” I feel the same rage.

Who are the motherfuckers? Osama bin Laden and the Taliban are in power because we supported them against the Russians, in the same place, in another time. Where are the motherfuckers? Hidden among impoverished people, changing, shape-shifting. George W. Bush talks like a cowboy; “Wanted: Dead or Alive,” he says, and I wish it were so simple. I, too, would like a fight in which only the guilty are punished.

Our armies are on their way to wreak vengeance. No one knows when the fight will be over, how many innocents we will murder along with the guilty, how many unholy alliances we will make, how many new sins we will invent. No one knows what damage we will do to ourselves, now that we have an Office of Homeland Security that can spy on everyone, that can stop crimes before they happen by guessing who the perpetrators will be, that can infiltrate groups who are saying the wrong thing or who are the wrong color with the wrong surname.

I have never supported American military actions before, not in Vietnam, not in the Gulf War, not in our dozens of other escapades, but now I want vengeance. I’m afraid of what we will destroy in the pursuit of it.

note: Elizabeth Brownrigg is the author of Falling to Earth (Ithaca, NY: Firebrand Books,
1998) and is currently at work on a second novel.


THE FORBIDDEN FOUR LETTERS FRUIT
(for A.)

When presence brings dawn into darkness
Caresses, rivers of shivers to still lands
Kisses, a melting of eternal snows
Nibbling, a new budding
Sipping, a blooming for dew
And picking, a shedding of joy

One is discovering the forbidden four letters fruit

– Claude


SOMEDAY MAYBE

There he is, glimpsed from my car window
mowing the lawn on a soon to be stifling day

bare headed, tanned, bare backed.
Not heavy, but solid as a Sumo wrestler

sweat polished and brilliant.

Resentment pricks my early morning calm.

You would be so beautiful to see
topless and barebreasted, sun tipped nipples

aglow in my arrested eye.
You, of course, would be arrested

for a female body exposed in total tan.
Instead I know your midriff as pale and freckled

hidden behind the lightest blouse you can find,
you are yard and lawnless and

beaches are only a dream in your working eye.
Still, as I drive to town this morning

I take with me the sight of you
mowing the lawn, bare from the waist up,

seen for a split second in my imagination
burnt into memory, making my day.

– Lynn Martin


INVISIBLE, IN SLIDES

The wild gusts of heaven have thrilled
this mountain. Winds have swept so long,
rounded the rock cleaned the rock
undone the evergreen roots to the moss
we lay our heads upon seven thousand years later.

Once clothed it now bares scars,
muted colors of the stone that is its bone and surface.
Stretching into every heat of summer’s brief sun,
its heart cannot contain itself.
Awaits the rush of blue. The first and last pink.
A peregrine whose wing tips hold its name.

Close to those wings the mountain surrenders
to ageing so customary by now; invisible,
in slides. Gashes stark in the light
the moon throws without cover. Its ridge
rises to collide with the setting moon in ancient reassurance.

Everything comes down upon it, is thundered at it.
Even the mist does not hover but enters
to give moist rest. This mountain
takes all and gives all back, in astounded silence.

– Ann Stokes


PETITION FOR MODERATION AND RESTRAINT

By the time I’d added my name, on September 25th, nearly 600,000 persons had signed the following petition:

We, the undersigned, citizens and residents of the United States of America and of countries around the world, appeal to the President of the United States, George W. Bush; to the NATO Secretary General, Lord Robertson; to the President of the European Union, Romano Prodi; and to all leaders internationally to use moderation and restraint in responding to the recent terrorist attacks against the United States. We implore the powers that be to use, wherever possible, international judicial institutions and international human rights law to bring to justice those responsible for the attacks, rather than the instruments of war, violence or destruction.

Furthermore, we assert that the government of a nation must be presumed separate and distinct from any terrorist group that may operate within its borders, and therefore cannot be held unduly accountable for the latter’s crimes. It follows that the government of a particular nation should not be condemned for the recent attack without compelling evidence of its cooperation and complicity with those individuals who actually committed the crimes in question.

Innocent civilians living within any nation that may be found responsible, in part or in full, for the crimes recently perpetrated against the United States, must not bear any responsibility for the actions of their government, and must therefore be guaranteed safety and immunity from any military or judicial action taken against the state in which they reside.

Lastly and most emphatically, we demand that there be no recourse to nuclear, chemical or biological weapons, or any weapons of indiscriminate destruction, and feel that it is our inalienable human right to live in a world free of such arms.

 

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.

 

The Watcher and the Watched

for Susan Robinson aka Susan Wood-Thompson

I send a poem to my friend,
asking her, Do you think it is finished?
My poem speeds off to join internet traffic,
passing through the super-computers of US intelligence
before it reaches her.

If I call long-distance to read her my poem,
each word I say,
each word she says,
travels through the same computers.

This gives me an idea.

What do these super-computers do?
They scan for keywords selected by humans
following the daily threat assessment.
And what do poems do?
They tell the truth of human feeling.

What if the world of poets
scanned the news for probable keywords?
What if we scattered them liberally
throughout our poems and shared our poems
prodigally, far and wide—
would humans who answer to no one
be forced, by the exigencies of their job,
to read poetry?

Poets too assess the real behind the rumour,
and should our keywords catch their ear,
what then—spy to spy—shall we say
to the boys and girls at the NSA?

We’ll say that humans are become
a single suffering tribe,
wandering far from the tree of life,
moving into unmarked territory,
hungry and hallucinating.

We’ll say, here’s a truth of human feeling:
it hurts to be awake out here.

–Harriet Ann Ellenberger
21 May 2012

“The Watcher and the Watched” was first published in “Counterpunch” on 23 November 2012, and later, with working notes, in “Return to Mago” on 12 December 2012. The image is from Tech Week Europe.

Eclipse of Hope

A moon blots out a sun.
Darkening silence comes between us.

In place of my house,
stands a tower of stone.
At its crown —
the lightning catcher,
she who writes on the blank rune.

Below, my departing selves
wait with their boats.

Driftwood burns.

I mark in sand
the sign of migration.

My eyes sting.

At my wingbones
four winds rise.

– Harriet Ann Ellenberger, 1985-2011

Acutely Personal, Eerily Collective

In early autumn of 1985, I had been living for four months in A Studio of One’s Own, a beautifully airy structure built by women for women artists on Ann Stokes’ land, a low wooded mountaintop in New Hampshire. (For photos of the land, see Welcome Hill Studios.) It was the first time I’d lived alone and the first time I’d lived in the woods.

I was there to write a serious book of prose and to chart a new direction for my life. Instead, I’d been getting up at the crack of dawn to write in my journal, walking the trails all over the old mountain, and skidding wildly from ecstatic vision to paralyzing despair. My journal entry for 1 October 1985 reads: “11 a.m. I am EXHAUSTED. 11:30 a.m. Well, shit, I just wrote a poem.”

It was, astonishingly, a real poem, one of the first I’d written since childhood. But in the second stanza there was a tongue-tangle, marking a conceptual muddle, that I couldn’t for the life of me untangle. Eventually, I put the poem away and half-forgot I’d written it. Twenty-six years later, in the midst of an e-mail to a friend about something else altogether, the lines as they were meant to be surfaced in my mind.

In the mid-1980s, it was clear to any witness of my life that I personally was in trouble, my past gone and my future unknown. But I couldn’t altogether articulate what that felt like. By the summer of 2011, though, human beings were clearly and collectively in the same kind of trouble: past gone, future unknown. And suddenly, with so much company, I could say how that feels.

Note: “Eclipse of Hope” first appeared in the Spring 2012 issue of Trivia: Voices of Feminism; it was published with more extensive working notes on 11 February 2013, in Return to Mago.

Photograph courtesy of AP Photo / Tourism Queensland

First Baby Step

I’m in the process of migrating my old website to WordPress — please wish me luck.

And in return I offer this poem, to be used as a charm for difficult times.

 

Desire Spoken Under a Night Sky

May the earth live,
May we live on the earth,
May love in our life flower,
May the transformation be realized.

May it be stone that we stand on,
May winds bring us fast-moving thought,
May our heart bathe in salt waters,
May spiral galaxies light our way home.

– Harriet Ann Ellenberger (March 2014)