She Is Still Burning 16

Republishing this early 2003 instalment of She Is Still Burning, I notice most the opening quotation from a speech that Arundhati Roy had just given in Brazil. I love her words even more now than when she wrote them.

SHE IS STILL BURNING
An Expanding Reader To Encourage Life Lovers
Installment #16
10 March 2003

“Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”
– Arundhati Roy, “Confronting Empire,” Porto Alegre, Brazil, 27 January 2003

Dear Friends,

The last full installment of Burning came out in October 2002, which feels like a lifetime ago. In the intervening months, I travelled to North Carolina to visit friends, just in time for the ice storm that brought down a multitude of valiant old trees along with the power grid; then I made an unexpected trip to Iowa to see my family while my father was still alive. Both he and my aunt Hazel, his sister, died quickly at the end of January, within a week of each other. And the rest of us, relieved that they were no longer suffering but missing them already, carried on, sort of.

Just before leaving for Iowa, I had impulsively confided in a local convenience-store owner that I was nervous about crossing the border into the States again because I thought we were facing a full-blown fascist regime down there. To my surprise he agreed at once, adding that it wasn’t a Nazi regime, but it was fascist.

Now I look at the conspirators in Washington, with their aggressive plans for multiple massacres abroad and a police state at home, and I think … does the word fascism even begin to describe what they’re doing? Sure, they fuse corporate and state power (Benito Mussolini’s definition of fascism); sure, they manipulate their own people through terror, distraction and dis-information; sure, they glorify war and promote a robotic brand of patriotism; sure, they scapegoat easily identifiable minorities. Sure, they are busily constructing a totalitarian (total-control) system characterized by the Big Lie,* and incapable of moderating itself or altering direction. But there’s more. The last wave of fascists didn’t have the capacity to exterminate most of the world’s population. These people do. It seems evident that they regard the rest of us as a herd to be culled. And some of them sincerely believe that their “God” would back them in such an endeavour.

No wonder I’m having trouble thinking and writing these days. As Helen Keller said, “thinking can lead to unpleasant conclusions.”

On the other hand, I’ve been happily falling in love with the millions of persons across the globe who are demonstrating for peace. I think they’re awake and beautiful. And their courage is contagious.

In closing, I’d like to apologize to the writers in this installment whose work I’ve been holding onto since last fall. My apologies also to those who’ve been waiting for the installment in memory of Mary Meigs—it’s coming, soon.

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

*The Big Lie, in this case, is that the 9-11 attacks were solely the work of Islamic fundamentalists. For a boatload of indications that they were planned–or at the very least deliberately allowed to succeed—by a hard-right faction within the US government itself, see the Centre for Research on Globalization website.


IN THIS INSTALLMENT

•”One Naturalist’s Reflection” by Sara Wright
•”At Eight” by Marjorie Larney
•”The Yoga Sutras’ Corner” by Ilit Rosenblum
•”on the chronicle discussion page” by Susan Cox


ONE NATURALIST’S REFLECTION

by Sara Wright

written September 5, 2002 (bear-killing season in Maine)

Early this morning I wandered through the damp mist along a lowland trail to a place I call the deep woods spring. Water bubbles out of the ground here, and disappears into the marsh grasses that hide the sliver of stream as it snakes its way down to the swamp below. Hazelwood boughs arc gracefully over the spot. Their slender finger-like branches seem to be calling the waters up from the deep.

When I noticed that the nearby sedge grasses had been flattened by some large animal I began looking around for further clues. A large black-seed-filled scat and an overturned log helped me to fill in the possible identity of the creature. A bear had visited here not long ago.

There is something about the black bears inhabiting these mountains that has captured my imagination. Bears seem to evoke in me a sense of Wilderness in a way that deer and moose do not. I recall that bear skulls discovered in mountain caves date back to 50,000 to 70,000 years ago. According to some sources these bear skulls were objects of veneration and were used in ceremonies created by humans. Maybe humans have always associated the bear with some kind of call to the wild.

Many people fear these shadowy woodland creatures, and when I first came to these mountains fifteen years ago I was no exception. I recall how much I wanted to see a bear and how nervous I was when I first walked through these hills looking for bear sign. Imagine my astonishment when a yearling finally visited my bird feeder one spring, only to crash into the thick underbrush and disappear the moment my twelve-pound dog barked just once! I still managed to get pictures, and something in me felt graced by this bear presence.

Since then I’ve learned that our black bears are very shy, and have a complex social structure. The females stay within a relatively small five-mile range while the males wander over an area up to a hundred miles or more. Mother bears share their home ranges with their daughters or other females, but the male offspring must learn to forage in a new territory. Bears love to eat jewelweed, jack in the pulpit corms, flower twigs and buds, green and ripe berries of all kinds, wild lettuce and poplar leaves, to name just a few ursine delicacies. A female bear will often adopt wild cubs that are left motherless. As soon as the cubs emerge from the den in the early spring, the mother teaches them to climb the highest trees in the area for safety. Males do not participate in the rearing of cubs, but because they are on the move all the time, neither do they compete with the mother bear and her offspring for food. Late spring is probably the best time to see bears because this is the season when the mother bears will abandon their yearlings in order to mate again. Both young and adult males live on the outer edges of a female’s home range.

It is probably these wandering male adolescents that are most likely to turn up at back yard feeders, irritating and sometimes scaring the occupants of the house. One way to avoid having a bear visit is simply to take in your bird feeder. Sunflower seeds have a much higher caloric value than the natural seeds and nuts (like beechnuts or acorns) that bears eat in the wild. This nutritional differential is what makes the sunflower seed such an irresistible treat for an opportunistic youngster. It is important to realize that black bears have no history of unprovoked attacks on humans, and even when a bear huffs or false-charges, s/he is communicating a need to have more personal space and not a desire to fight. Of course, unlike the black bear, both polar bears and grizzlies can be dangerous.

Benjamin Kilham, a naturalist who raises and rehabilitates black bear cubs in New Hampshire wrote a fascinating book about these animals. His naturalist’s approach, which is based on his observation, and involves developing a personal relationship with each of his bear cubs, allowed him, he believes to discover things about bears that the experts have missed.

For example, he observed the bears gently mouthing plants with their jaws before eating them. Once he gave one of his cubs a deadly amanita mushroom, and the cub, after mouthing the fungus, refused to eat it. Kilham already knew that bears have one organ in the roof of their mouth that helps them locate and dig for roots. But when he dissected a road-killed bear, he discovered yet another organ in the roof of the bear’s mouth. Kilham believes that this second organ may help the bear determine whether or not a plant is edible. It is even possible, he thinks, that black bears are using plants for medicinal purposes.

In many indigenous cultures black bears are still revered as great healers. For example, the Lakota Sioux Indians believe that the bear will assist any person who needs to develop a sense of his or her own personal power. For the Pawnee Indians a girl born with a bear spirit has the power to heal. In India bears are believed to prevent disease. I am struck by the parallel between what indigenous people have believed for millenia, Kilham’s observations, and the possible conclusion he is drawing about bears in the wild. I’d like to believe that bears heal people who are broken.

Just a few weeks ago I went to the Wildlife Festival in Errol, New Hampshire. I was disturbed when I saw the snarling stuffed black bear heads that were for sale. I found myself wondering why anyone would choose to portray the shy and non-threatening black bear in such a ferocious manner. I don’t even understand why anyone would want to kill one of these gentle creatures in the first place.

I had a similar experience when researching books on black bears on the Internet. The first books that came up concentrated on the bear as a “man-killer” and offered information on how best to slaughter the animal. The ones that came next seemed to focus on bears in a sentimental way. Only a very small percentage of the books that finally appeared on the screen were about the natural history and the lives of the wild bears themselves. This portrayal of the black bear as a man-killer worries me, because I think a chance encounter with a black bear is a glimpse into the mystery of our vanishing wilderness.


AT EIGHT
(St. Dominic’s Convent, Long Island)

A high, white-concrete garden wall, sharp-edged, broken
shards of clear, blue, brown, and green glass stuck on top.
Inside the wall, two rows of twelve apple trees teemed with red-ripe fruit.

The midday Indian summer sun dazzled above, and beneath
outlined coarse shadows of leaf, fruit, on the packed, sandy earth
in the nuns’ silent contemplative sanctuary, territory
verboten to the forty-eight boarders and orphans, girls and boys.

Apples, stock still, scattered singly or touching under the trees,
huddled together in groups of five and six, their skins split open, juices bursting.
A feast offering to the buzzing blue-green flies and hordes of golden brown ants.

Tall, kind Sister Hortensia, second-grade teacher of the town’s Holy Ghost
Elementary School, Mother Superior to the ten resident Dominican sisters,
said in a guttural German accent:

“For the making of the children’s applesauce, you gather, every day,
only the fruit off the ground, none from the trees.”

– Marjorie Larney


THE YOGA SUTRAS’ CORNER

by Ilit Rosenblum
(written summer 2002)

may all the suffering bring love
may it dispel ignorance
may it bring justice to fruition

Mid-July I track back to Jerusalem after a 5 days’ yoga seminar in a Zen Center in farm country in Sweden. Vibrant shades of greens all around. In contrast West Jerusalem seems bleak, stripped of colors. My friends do not return my calls; overwhelmed, they are not taking anything more on. Life on the streets is tentative, no less so than in my mind. Shall I go sit in this cafe? Take this bus? Go down this road?

I walk around listening to Pema Chödrön, the Buddhist teacher, talking about going to The Places That Scare You.

It is all scary. My personal history is rapidly changing. My mother is losing her grip on everything beyond the very moment. She is confused, in pain and is suffering. The house I grew up in is torn down. The family business is closed. I stay in a flat that before served as an office for the business amidst mounds of boxes, and furniture.

Friday, at the end of my first week, I join the Women in Black vigil, right outside the apartment. After 15 years even the abuse hurled at us is routine. Across the street counter-demonstrators of the Settlers’ Movement hang large banners saying “Transfer Now!” Preparing public opinion for mass expulsion of Palestinians. I shudder. Again I think “standing here is not enough.” I break the silent vigil and yell “How can you? You are using Nazi terminology! Shame on you!” I cross the street and stand in front of the banners with my small “end the occupation” sign.

Early Monday morning I go with a friend to an international Solidarity Movement training in East Jerusalem. Young and old activists arrive from different countries to participate in “Freedom Summer” in the occupied and re-occupied Palestinian West Bank and Gaza. We train to deal with the Israeli occupation army, shootings, sound bombs, tear gas, tanks, roadblocks, curfew, house demolitions, Jewish settlers and other daily brutal items of life under occupation. I feel awed by the organization and by everyone’s energy, courage, and vital presence.

I look for members of “Ta’ayush” (Arab-Jewish Partnership) at an Arab-Jewish demonstration against racism in Haifa. The demonstration is disappointingly small. Among Israeli peace activists one sees very young college students and gray-haired old-timers well over 60. A whole middle-age group is missing. In contrast, fliers about “Ta’ayush” actions are inspiring. “Ta’ayush” (Coexistence) carries out humanitarian and political actions in the occupied territories and in Israel. Since October 2000 they organize food and medical supplies caravans, demonstrations against home demolitions and land seizure, and work camps in Palestinian villages.

Another day I join the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions. We are a group of over 30, mostly young, Israelis and internationals, somewhere on the Jerusalem hills on the way to the Dead Sea, helping to rebuild a Palestinian home that has been demolished three times already. We get quite a lot done and it feels good. Doing anything feels good, better than succumbing to the sense of hopelessness and inertia.

In a “Peace Now” rally in front of the Prime Minister Sharon’s residence in Jerusalem, a group of army-clad men march and chant about the deadly consequences of following Sharon policies. Their statement pamphlet is a clear and scathing document against the crimes of occupation, calling to soldiers to refuse service. I savor the document; such a relief to read these pages, my heart strengthens. From the building across the street a group of young orthodox jews yell “death to the lefties!”

In New York we continue our weekly public support for the Palestinian people every Saturday 3–5 pm at Union Square.


 

on the chronicle discussion page
you can say whether poets should talk politics
(after being banned from the white house of “democracy”)-
in the gallery there are photographs by Fazal Sheikh
of exiled people from the Sudan and Ethiopia;
they stare back at me as if no camera existed
between us
and all the greediness of white houses
perpetuated on them comes through my tears;
one little girl poses with her father
she has gone mute after soldiers invaded her village
her mother gone…missing…forever?
Refugees all living in tents
their beautiful faces etched with history’s horrors;
I feel like such a pig
to be part of this suffering anymore. My greedy feet in new sneakers, my car full of gas.
The world needs us. Needs our poetry.
Not for war.
Not for oppressing.
But for all the truth we can muster.

– Susan Cox, 7 March 2003

 

Editor’s note: Since late January 2003, Poets Against the War have published 12,996 anti-war poems on their new website.

 

 

 

 

 

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She Is Still Burning 15

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

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

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

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

Dear Friends,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


12 May 2002

Dear Ms. Ellenberger,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


15 July 2002

Dear Harriet:

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

Love,
Dad and Mom


FIREBIRD’S SONG

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

screeching and clacking
Haunting the night with her song.

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

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

and soars …

To the edge
of the Universe

to the crack between worlds.

– Sara Wright


MEMORIES OF AGE

by Mary Meigs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

She Is Still Burning 14

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

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

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

Dear Friends,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


IN THIS INSTALLMENT

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


Crowmothers, Come Home

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

– Sara Wright


THE CROWMOTHER THREAD

by Sara Wright

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


CROSSING OVER

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

Crows know everything
because they eat everything.

Crows bring good luck,
especially in travel.

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

– Harriet Ellenberger


CROW

carries on her back
all we don’t know.

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

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

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

She insists
on calling
until we look up
and listen.

– Lynn Martin


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

Dear Harriet,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A CONVERSATION WITH FEAR

by ilit rosenblum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

She Is Still Burning 12 (March 2002)

8 August 2017: One thing I’m discovering from republishing these fifteen-year-old instalments of  She Is Still Burning: it’s the individual writer’s intensity, clarity of thought, attention to detail, that make a piece worth reading more than once. When they wrote it, and under what circumstances, matters much less.

I may be a little slow in coming to this realization—I think the rest of the world calls these things-worth-rereading “Literature.”

SHE IS STILL BURNING
An Expanding Reader To Encourage Life Lovers
Installment # 12
01 March 2002

“When my mornin’ comes around
From a new cup I’ll be drinkin’
And for once I won’t be thinkin’
There’s something wrong with me”
                                      – Iris Dement

Dear Friends,

Scientists have recently determined that the colour of space is turquoise. For reasons unclear to me, I was delighted with this announcement. And here’s another: last July, astronomers discovered a previously unknown planet on the edge of our solar system, eccentrically orbiting between and beyond Neptune and Pluto. The planet has not yet been named by an official committee of the International Astronomical Union (it’s currently referred to as “2001 KX76”), but the union will accept naming suggestions from anyone. Suzanne Cox submitted the name of the ancient Chinese goddess Nu Kua (because, after the universal holocaust, she repaired and restored the shattered columns that hold up heaven; she patched the torn heavens together, making the world whole again). I have kept wishing that something would repair the human-made hole in the ozone layer, so invoking Nu Kua by naming a newly discovered planet after her seems to me just the ticket. Why wait for an official committee to be similarly persuaded? Let’s all welcome Nu Kua to the planetary family, and hope she can do what she did before.

Invoking goddesses, ancient or otherwise, makes me feel slightly foolish, but I’ve reached the limits of patience with all these fundamentalist Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, etcetera-etcetera who monopolize the naming of the mysterious, who, in effect, colonize the invisible. At the moment of their triumph, their time—as far as I’m concerned— is up. We will henceforth create our own religions, thank you very much. Based on kindness toward life forms (a novel idea when applied to the political/economic/military sphere).

Truth to tell, the political/economic/military sphere has become so lunatic that I’m finding it nearly impossible to write about clearly. Last night, Bert and I were watching a video of the film “Illuminata,” and we both latched onto the line, “In the name of all that is real, I’m going [away].” My sentiments exactly, but go away where? I used to relieve my frustrations by writing scathing commentary about Bush & Co., but, frankly, that doesn’t work anymore. How, for example, does one parody an “axis of evil” state-of-the-union address that is already a parody of itself?

Two days ago, on the excellent Montreal-based website Centre for Research on Globalisation, I ran onto the alarmingly titled article by John Stanton and Wayne Madsen “The Emergence of the Fascist American Theocratic State”. It has the virtue of compiling events from November 2000 through February 2002 into a coherent story, as told by future historians relating the demise of democracy in the U.S. The problem with the article is I couldn’t come up with much in the way of counter-arguments; the authors make too much sense. But read it for yourself, please, and let me know what you believe they may be exaggerating or omitting.

The question of what exactly the U.S. government has become in the last fifteen months seems to me crucial for those outside as well as inside its borders, since this is a state apparatus which has planted military bases throughout the world and which dominates the world economy, tracks global communications, and so forth. We need to know what’s being decided behind closed doors in Washington (as well as in those two fortified underground locations where the Associated Press today reports that a “shadow government” has been operating since “the first hours after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks”), and CNN isn’t telling us. So it’s a matter of putting together the scattered pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, seeing the picture that emerges.

Gertrude Stein reportedly once remarked that when there’s everything to fear, there is nothing to fear. Which makes a kind of psychological sense. When there is no security (no privacy either), what do we do? We do what it pleases us to do, simply that.

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


IN THIS INSTALLMENT

•Sara Wright: letter with poems
•Ariane Brunet: letter
Lynn Martin: “Like an egg” (poem)


LETTER FROM SARA WRIGHT, 10 JANUARY 2002

Dear Harriet,

I am writing in response to the last issue (#11) of She Is Still Burning, but also because I want you to know how much I have appreciated your sending me each previous installment. … You’ll be pleased perhaps to know that a couple of the feathers you sent me ended up as part of a mask I created this fall called Shapeshifter, the Blue Voice of the Forest. I have been consistently moved by these ornithological offerings and wanted you to know …

I am hoping that your cat Pookie is mending still … I have special empathy for those of us whose relationships include non-humans …

In installment #11, I hungrily devoured those parallel letters that Lise and you wrote. You are so right—one certainly does illuminate the other. I don’t think I realized how truly isolated I have been here in this small mountain community, or how starved I have been for words from others of like mind. I do know how depressed I’ve felt. I also know that as a result of reading and re-reading those two letters I have made a decision to investigate the possibility of hooking up to the internet to help me tap into a couple of web sites (the ones you suggested) that might help to relieve my sense of isolation. This is a drastic step for one who dislikes machine chatter as much as I do.

After re-reading installment #11 one more time this morning, I also wrote a poem that is a first attempt to articulate my own distress, instead of giving into what has become pervasive fear and a terrifying sense of powerlessness. Most frightening is the realization that these powerful feelings have been present on some level just below the threshold of my own consciousness since the events of September 11th first occurred. My initial response to the bombing was one of rage towards the American people for believing that Americans could go on destroying human lives everywhere on earth but in this country without ever having to take the consequences. When I walked in the woods that first night, I wept with the trees.

Don’t for god’s sake feel you need to publish this poem. I’m sending it to show you that your words have moved me, and helped one person to break a silence too dangerous for words.

THE AMERICAN MASK

I am a woman without a country
Repelled by the iconic ribbons plastered on store windows—
That flap wildly from the phallic poles of speeding cars.
What new monstrosity does this American mask hide
Behind its horizontal slashes?
Beneath its two faced feigned unity?
I am a woman without a country.
How can I survive the paradox?
Living as a creature whose love for this land
Crosses every known boundary artificially created by man?
I am a woman without a country
Living on the threshold of a culture killing Wilderness
Who feels the Earth’s pulse drumming softly but persistently—
The song of the Universe pushing up from her feet.

What will become of this land and its woman

who keens with dark tree roots tangled in her hair

if her senses keep numbing

if her voice becomes mute?

It might interest you to know that on the morning of September 11th I was in the process of painting a watercolor called The Acorn Story when I suddenly felt compelled to paint a fiery orange sky on the left hand side. It was later that day that I received the news that the bombing had occurred. Instantly, I recalled my orange sky, understanding that I had inadvertently tapped into the collective without realizing it.

On the day we began to bomb Afghanistan I was attending a retreat and had just returned from a silent walk up Spruce Mountain when I had a very peculiar thought: namely that death and creativity were on the same edge. Feeling upset and curiously unsettled, I went into a quiet room and wrote the following poem without understanding the source of its imagery. It was noon on 10/7/01.

THE VOICE OF THE FOREST

Tree Woman
winds her way
around the bark.
Up and down
spiraling in both directions,
engraving her life in wormwood
Breathing tearful tree prayers.

In her wake
A wave breaks …
While slashed beech
and white pines burn,
An arid stench of death
Stunts the air.

A solitary presence
the barred owl takes flight,
her wide eyed vision piercing illusion.
Soaring on silent wings
she slices through the deeply troubled sky—
Marking this threshold passage
As her own
Crossing over into other worlds.

On a lighter note I am feeding the deer and wait with childlike anticipation for their arrival each night.

Blessings, Harriet, and warmest regards —
Sara (Wright)


LETTER FROM ARIANE BRUNET, 22 JANUARY 2002

[note: Ariane Brunet and I met by serendipitous accident on my first trip to Montreal, in 1984. Later, we were both part of a group that founded the women’s bookstore L’Essentielle in Montreal and began organizing for the 1988 Third International Feminist Bookfair. And much water under the bridge later, Ariane began working for the International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development, where she now coordinates their Women’s Rights Programme. The following letter is excerpted from correspondence between us when we reconnected, again by serendipitous accident, over the internet this past winter.]

From: Ariane Brunet
To: Harriet Ellenberger
Sent: Tuesday, January 22, 2002 6:33 PM
Subject: Re: happily satisfied …

Ah! I can only agree! You have no idea how good it feels to read you and to link with my literary radical friends! Good for the soul.

There is so much I would need to say about the human rights field … how women have learned to use it, but also how States have learned to use human rights as a post-colonial ideology. Yet my friends in Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, India, Indonesia, Congo, Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya, Columbia, Bosnia, Croatia, Serbia, etc. need to use the mechanisms that enable them to shame their country into changing a policy, acknowledging a violation from time to time. It doesn’t always work, of course, especially since Northern governments have used rights as a way to escape their own responsibility in the socio-economic domain. Yet, more aware then ever of the double-edged sword it has become, I keep trying to use this framework to make a dent here and there with other activists.

Right now, we would very much like to:

1) ensure that impunity for violence against women in war be a thing of the past (so we work on the International Criminal Court and the International War Crimes Tribunal for Rwanda and Ex-Yugoslavia; and develop strategies to engage Japan to apologize for the sexual military slavery of the 30s and 40s in Asia Pacific and, more importantly, to take legal responsibility for what they did to “comfort women”;

2) contribute to the work of Sima Samar and activists of Pakistan and Afghanistan to integrate women’s rights in the new constitution of Afghanistan;

3) establish an informal network of women activists to analyze the policies at the root of fundamentalism, be it Catholic, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu or Buddhist, nationalistic or cultural;

4) create an international coalition so Congolese women have a chance to sit at the peace negotiation table.

I write this, and on a good day I say to myself … yeah maybe we can get some of this done. Other days I feel we are fools. But fools are much needed these days. … Southern activists have certainly given me more than I will ever be able to express: their resolve, their endurance, their clear mind, political savvy, sense of humour, sense of joy, the way they share their vision …

Well, Harriet, reading all of your SISB made me realize that the writing women’s world also does that, and that I needed to get in touch again with that world as well. Sharing poems, reflections, ways of observing the world, transforming into quiet thoughts the noises of the world, is also essential in order to keep faith. So thank you, Harriet, for doing that. …

Amelia [Ariane’s cat] died two years ago after 23 years of life, 14 of which she lived with three legs. In fact, she used her tail as a rudder and could keep balance turning corners, running like no one else! So if cancer does not pursue its ravages, Pookie [Harriet and Bert’s cat, who recently had a leg amputated] will join the incredible agile ones!

love to you and a nice allo to your loved ones!
Ariane (Brunet)


LIKE AN EGG

I  crack  my  car  open
shatter  glazed  windows,  smash
a  mounded  roof, set  loose  a  buried  hood
rediscover and unblind headlights,
all the while caught between
fragility and imminent destruction,
as if I needed to be reminded
how thintheline,

the same as when I take pen to paper,
stubborn, no matter what goes down,
what computer winks out.
Gloved or huddled by candlelight
makes no difference, my soul
insists on release.

Emily, I can understand why
you sewedthosebooks together,
wrote the desired against
the freezing night. If that’s insanity
I choose it over pretense,  voices insisting
there’s nothing new under the sun.

If I  have  to  crack  cars  open
to get where I’m going,
wear crampons to grip the ground,
don a hard hat
        as
                      trees
                           come
                                  down
it’s no different than trying to shape
this poem, walk it firm
to meet the dawn of any new beginning.

Among tornadoes, volcanos, avalanches, nor’easters,
a hanging on, going on
with love a thin insulation
against the skin.

Lynn Martin

 

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!!!!!!!!!