She Is Still Burning 15

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

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

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

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

Dear Friends,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


12 May 2002

Dear Ms. Ellenberger,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


15 July 2002

Dear Harriet:

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

Love,
Dad and Mom


FIREBIRD’S SONG

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

screeching and clacking
Haunting the night with her song.

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

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

and soars …

To the edge
of the Universe

to the crack between worlds.

– Sara Wright


MEMORIES OF AGE

by Mary Meigs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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Whales Who Come to Tadoussac, Quebec

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

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

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

Teach me to do the same.

 

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

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