She Is Still Burning 6 (March 2001)

I decided to re-publish all the instalments of “She Is Still Burning” in their original form, not only because they give a vivid history of the times, but also because the contributions were too good to reside only on the Digital Library’s Wayback Machine. The “Harriet’s Home Page” I’m so gleefully announcing on International Women’s Day in 2001 was a teeny webspace that came with my e-mail address. When I switched internet providers, it disappeared and so did “She Is Still Burning.”

The publishing technology I was experimenting with in 2001 seems archaic now, but the writing is still alive. Which makes me wish I’d spent less time struggling with computers and more time propped up in bed with my pen and notebook.

SHE IS STILL BURNING
An Expanding Reader To Encourage Life Lovers
Installment #6
8 March 2001, International Women’s Day

“The road to a friend’s house is never long.”
– Danish proverb

Dear Friends,

In the past five weeks, I seem to have leapt on my war pony and headed off in all directions at once. The result being that there’s now half-written or half-assembled material enough for two installments of Burning, ideas enough for six more … and I’m facing my usual problem of organizing the altogether-too-many-ideas.

In the meantime, the Bush Tank continued to roll on, with “test and provoke” military exercises in the Middle East and onslaughts on no-longer-protected wilderness in the US. Is there any life form these people intend to leave standing?

But I do have one victory announcement: She Is Still Burning has finally made it to the web. … My hope is that “Harriet’s Home Page” will attract more readers and writers to the She Is Still Burning dialogue.

The first writer so attracted turned out to be my brother. The website had no sooner gone up on February 28th than I received the following:

“Would you be willing to put some info onto your web site for us? Here’s the deal. We have five extra dwarf hamsters, free to good homes or snake farms. The blessed event happened this morning just before Sarah went to school. This time she pulled the males from the nursery, so the little critters have a chance of living. We can ship worldwide if we can find a source for dry ice. Instructions for resuscitation will be included in each shipment, but no warranty is made, expressed or implied, international or otherwise.

“Please have your people contact our people as soon as convenient. Remember, supplies are limited, but we expect another delivery from our suppliers in 30 days or less.” [Signed “BAB,” short for “Bad-Ass Brother,” alias Jim Ellenberger]

Well, what could I say? I wrote back, “Sure, glad to help out.” And then didn’t hear anything more on the subject until a recent communique from Sarah Ellenberger indicated that the hamsters are now “growing hair” and “are cute.” I think this means the free-rodent offer no longer holds.

And now welcome to the sixth installment (that’s half a dozen! I can’t believe it) of She Is Still Burning.

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


IN THIS INSTALLMENT

•”Seven Signs for Home: Oakland, California” by Camille Norton
•”New York City: Ritual with Trembling” by Jane Picard
•”I am not a river” by Jeannette Muzima


SEVEN SIGNS FOR HOME: OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA

by Camille Norton

TURRETS, BEHIND THEM. Shadow of the cement factory. Shadow of ConAgra and the low-lying cement boxes of the toxic waste facility. High up on its ashy pole an electricity box crackles as it feeds the quarter with light. At night, I walk by that light to the cement island at the foot of the bridge to Alameda. I walk with the dog. There’s a store there that sells cheap goods and comestibles 24-hours a day. Behind the counter, the sign reads, “Cashier never has more than $50.00 in change at any one time.” I know about the drop box behind the counter from my past life as a cashier. Now I like to watch my image projected by the video cameras that film the customers and the clerks. I look foreign to myself, potentially dangerous or comical, depending on the angle of light. Last night, as I was walking home, a thin, hunched man in a black cloth coat pulled up beside me on his little bicycle. I felt afraid but was too polite to show it. He nodded hello briskly, then pedaled along down Glascock Street, going home I realized, to the tent city in the pallet yards, with his can of Miller High Life tucked under his arm. I pulled the gate shut, rolling it to its lock, as I do each time I enter or exit the compound. Living among the poor one must have a gate. This one slides on wheels.

PATCHES OF STANDING WATER. Deep in the recess of the yard I found a bucket of pond scum growing green fur and oily lights like swirls of paisley. A chemical wash the dog drinks when I’m not looking. I overturned it with my boot, defying the inevitability of sick dog in the night, myself on the stairs in striped pajamas and overcoat at 3 A.M. The yard burgeons with potted trees. Misshapen lemons one must never eat. Sickly oranges bulging in tumorous sacs. Basins of basil so polluted with cement grit and truck exhaust that they are coated grey and limp, even after rain.

THE CANAL. PEOPLE WHO SLEEP BY THE CANAL. The warehouses are secured behind bolted metal plates. A German Shepherd sleeps with his head on his paws in a dirt lot bounded by barbed wire. The canal churns between inlet and inlet. A barge belonging to the Fire Department, City of San Francisco, sloshes in its berth. Tiny irradiated fish bob against the muddy bottom between rays of starlight and iron ore filings that poke up from the canal floor. The bay moves us, displaces us and still we hunch down in place. At night, the old neighborhood, the one that has disappeared, breathes. Wooden houses sink deeper into their pilings. The bus people, who move their bus every night to a new corner in order to evade arrest by the police, sink deeper into their sleeping bags. They are the most discreet denizens of the quarter, as quiet as the dead and as invisible. The two who are lovers draw closer, imagining life on the road. In the compound behind the locked gate, the painter in studio #24 draws the blinds. We can no longer admire the orchids arranged in rows by the windows. Crimson. White. Crimson. Magnetic blue hybrid. A wall of books giving way to a wall of abstraction. All things are private now, contained. The man on the top floor of 2889 takes another pain tablet, running his tongue against the wound in his mouth. Alone and in pain and getting older. But one must never show any of that to other people. We smile when we pass each other on the stairs. A sympathetic greeting now and again. So many of us sleep alone in large spaces we fill with books and paintings and computers. Out of doors, the illegals sleep in crowds. Four to a bed in the pallet yard. In the morning, the cotton batting is rolled up, packed behind a wall under plastic sheeting. Then the men go out into the street, walled up inside the mother tongue, walking one by one to the day-laborer pick-up corner on International Boulevard.

PEOPLE IN CROWDS. Day labor consists of — if you can dig this — cleaning toilets at the old stadium; tearing down dry wall in a building scheduled for demolition; painting a dentist’s new office; weeding a garden in North Berkeley; slopping out the port-o-potties at a construction sight in San Leandro; stuffing tube after tube of sausage casing with chicken and herbs; rolling layers of brown cotton into futons special ordered by Buddhists; raking mulch; raking gravel; sweeping the ashes out of the crematorium; driving cars in and out of the car wash, towel-drying the cars, hand-waxing the cars. All labor performed for $3.00 an hour. Under the table. No questions asked. No stories told.

PEOPLE DANCING ALONE. But it’s only cold El Norte talking through their bones. The ones who didn’t get work wear thin-as-a-sheet bomber jackets and high-top Converse sneakers with no arches. Elvis Presley pompadour hairdos slicked back with water. The thing is, you keep moving. Keep moving so the cops don’t stop you. Keep clean, alert; learn how to carry yourself so you don’t look hungry. Nothing free here, amigo. Little girls push by with their babies in supermarket carriages piled high with paper diapers and formula in cans. Thirteen. Fourteen. They flick their eyes at you, as if to say, “I got a man.” But you can tell just by looking that the man is gone back where he came from because nothing is free here.

RAILROAD TRACKS. The tracks in the quarter are out of use except once on Fridays when the Iconco train eases out of its stall and chugs slowly along Glascock Street to Jack London Square. A comical sight, a train without a caboose and only one driver, a man who has to crane his neck out of a side window in order to yell at the dogs and cats who linger on the tracks. Every once in a while, after the train passes through, old Oakland begins to speak, Oakland just after the second war, when the quarter belonged to African-American men and women who grew cabbages and chard in the bright sun near the canal. In those days, you could ride the train downtown for five cents, eight cents roundtrip. No fences then except low picket fences to keep dogs out of gardens; no warehouses; and no freeway, just the road to the bridge crossing over to the island, where no black folks were welcome. If you were black, you belonged on this side of the canal and built your wooden house high in case of floods. You built a root cellar under the house because you never knew about the lean times, when they would come or what they would bring. Today, when you dig a little under the spoiled dirt, you find canning jar lids and smashed glass glittering under the topsoil; a bit of red cloth; a child’s top lost long ago, corroding now under the chipped blue enamel but spinning free as the weight of time slides clear. Then someone kicks it aside, someone new to the place. The top drifts away like trash. Then it knocks and blows the length of a city block before it disappears once and for all into the island trash that blows all the way into the bay.


note from Camille Norton: “I write poems about landscapes under erasure, about microcosms, lost objects, and the sound of white noise as it is lyrically distilled and remade as something we might use. I teach literature at The University of the Pacific, where my students do not know who Louis Armstrong is, let alone Simone de Beauvoir — so I work as a cultural transmitter. I do not watch television, but listen to the radio on long commutes between Stockton and Oakland, California, where I live in an old factory next to a canal.”


NEW YORK CITY: RITUAL WITH TREMBLING

There is eloquence in repetition
saying it once then again
a jolt to the spine, then
in its wake a trembling
a trembling again

I dreamed I was following
a trail through New York City, a trail
of cornmeal and ashes
a trail that wound
through a marketplace
where women in black hats
kept moving in and out of doorways
changing their minds. One said
she was pretty, she said she was bitter
kept turning away, her hands full of snakes.
The other one said: Watch out for me
I’m in the field of your desire
and I go for the heart. She handed me
a necklace of rosehips and thorns.

There are no mystics these days
only performers in catastrophic states,
drama obscuring the real issues.

We go where our love takes us
trembling like two small beasts
returned to the wild, the question
is: will we bond?
Why mark it by saying in Love?
Why not just say, they took to the trees.

Morning falls apart into day.
Bodies collapsed in doorways
rise and reassemble. Bones
grind into place. Geared up
against last night’s resistance
they go where they are told to go.

I see boomboxes carried on shoulders
ringed with fading light. Sounds
as bright as Johannesburg diamonds.
Real citizens band radio. Angels
with soot-covered wings, home girls
dance like young geese, their
arms thrown out slapping the air.
Flight divas practicing their V for-ma-tion.

I see people lining up to buy
art and brown-skinned babies from Peru.
Women lean weary into small faces
with upturned mouths. they croon
dreamy, they croon tremolo, they sing:
nothing human can thrive here anymore.

I see a relay of small lights
inside crack buildings, capsizing bodies
staggering through doorways,
men sitting in a room counting numbers
taking names, compulsive orderliness
obsessive, repetitive fixation
upon minute detail.

Darkness immanent I sing
for the abandoned I sing
for the outcast.

Freefall at 5000 feet. The heart bursts
into five fragments, a bloodline
from New York City to San Francisco, a pulse
from coast to coast, arterial repetition.
a constant rocking locomotion
a side to side commotion
there and not there, sex and desire
darkening the landscape like a shadow play.

We are side by side, two faces
on a train. You close your
eyes and I dream of you, your mouth
on my lips. Blood and cinders.
I think about all those people, all
that energy jamming the face
of the earth. I imagine an elephant’s metabolism, this
train moving slowly out of the station.

Now raise your hand love, and let the dead walk.
So that the soul I love that lies
sleeping, couched in all its
clumsy maneuvers may rise. Heart’s
desire headed homeward. Lover
every journey begins with a refrain
a heart crossing a body of water.

I feel the pull of the beast
in front of me pacing in its cage.
If I free the beast, will it
put out the pain
with the light of its tongue?

We are waiting for the signal, for the
GO that sets us running.
We engage like each car
with the next, singular but connected
with a purpose, a mission, a motive.
Like two halves of a moment in time.

— Jane Picard


 

I am not a river
you can launch your gorgeous body on
to swim from one bend
to the next

I am an ocean
between two continents
one death the other life
if you have no particular
destination
you may float on me
anytime

and always

                           — Jeannette Muzima

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!!!!!!!!!

 

She Is Still Burning 4 (Jan 2001)

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

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

Dear Friends,

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

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

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

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

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


IN THIS INSTALLMENT

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


LUCILE AND THE POWER OF PERSISTENCE

by Harriet Ellenberger

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


WHAT REMAINS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


TO CULTIVATE LAZINESS

by Harriet Ellenberger

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

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

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

Try not to read anything for five whole days.

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


THICK AND BLACK

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

— Ann Stokes


WINTER DREAMING

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

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

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

— Harriet Ellenberger

 

She Is Still Burning (intro)

In “Kung Fu Panda,” my favourite animated feature, the old turtle says, “The past is history, the future is mystery, the present is a gift—that’s why it’s called the present.” What follows is the past, a history of exact feeling as many of my friends and I faced politics and life/death/life in the years 2000 to 2004, from just before the tainted election of George W. Bush to the aftermath of the US invasion of Iraq.

In October 2000, I sent an e-mail to friends, inviting them to subscribe and contribute to a new free publication. Its title would be She Is Still Burning: An Expanding Reader To Encourage Life Lovers, and I wrote the essay below to give them a sense of its founding vision:

THE FIRE THIS TIME
A Brief Assessment of Situation, and a Declaration of Intent

Here we are—Terminal Patriarchy. I personally didn’t think I’d make it this far, and I keep expecting the whole shebang to blow sky-high or grind to an ignominious halt. But it continues.

Never underestimate the strength, tenacity, and tactical brilliance of evil. That much I’ve learned.

Adult experience and reflection on that experience have reinforced my childhood impression that it is madmen who are running the world. Over the years, I participated in successive movements to end oppression, but those movements seem to me, in retrospect, to have incompletely comprehended the source of the problem (which may explain why they were defused and diverted—“Give them a little bit of what they think they want, but keep control,” say men-in-power, aided and abetted by industrious female accomplices).

Patriarchy is not what it appears on the surface: a rational if mean-spirited system of exploitation and control. At its core, patriarchy is an accelerating drive toward extinction. And extinction does not carry the same meaning or consequence as death—death being individual, natural, necessary, the soil out of which new life springs. Extinction means unnecessarily and unnaturally extinguishing the life of a whole (a whole species, a whole tribe, a whole ecosystem, a whole culture, a whole nation, a whole race, a whole sex, a whole planet), with no possibility of renewal. Extinction is not, to my way of thinking, the consciously or unconsciously conceived project of sane persons.

Extinction is where we have been, where we are, where we’re headed, and it’s madmen who are driving the train. At an ever-increasing speed. I know this with my mind and in my bones, but unfortunately I don’t know how to derail the train. Even more unfortunately, I don’t know of anyone else who knows how either. The nuclear physicist who presented the petition signed by fifty Nobel Prize winners (a petition asking the U.S. government not to continue with its new anti-missile defense system, on grounds that it made inevitable a second cold war), after being met with polite obliviousness, put it this way: “For mad people, there is no cure.”

And still I want to live—even though there is no uncontaminated water to drink, no uncontaminated air to breathe, no uncontaminated food to eat, no uncontaminated thought to think, no uncontaminated feeling to feel. Everyone else I know wants, most of the time, to keep on living too—as long as they can. And they want the children and the grandchildren and great-grandchildren to live.

If we don’t yet know how to stop the extinction-train, we need to find a way, imagine a way, invent a way. Otherwise, despair hardens into resignation and the soul departs, leaving the body to bumble on direction-less.

She Is Still Burning was created to encourage this finding, imagining, inventing. She, along with her editor, is devoted to clear-seeing in a confusing and deadly time, and to fanning the flames of our desire to live.

She says: Guard the fire within yourself. Tend it; keep it burning. Do not allow it to be extinguished.

–Harriet Ann Ellenberger, written August 2000

[The instalments of She Is Still Burning will follow in succeeding posts.]

 

 

The Arctic Dome

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

 

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

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

Arctic wind chills the blood.

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

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

 

Harriet Ann Ellenberger
16 December 2016

 

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

 

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.