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 13 (May 2002)

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Friends,

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

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

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

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

Checkmate.

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

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

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

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


IN THIS INSTALLMENT

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

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


SUICIDAL GIRLS

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

– Barbara Mor (February 13, 2002)

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


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

by Harriet Ellenberger

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

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

II

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

III

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

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

IV

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

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

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

V

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

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

VI

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

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

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

VII

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

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

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

– Harriet Ellenberger, 14 February 2002


	

She Is Still Burning 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 11 (December 2001)

Re-formatting this instalment from 2001, I’m struck by the fury against the American Empire that fills my own essay, “Arundhati’s List.” Nearly sixteen years have gone by since I wrote it, and now the remnants of that empire’s influence lie all around us, but the machine itself is direction-less, moving in fits and starts, like a robot whose programming has gone haywire.

I have no notion what the berserk robot will do next, but I am relatively clear about the past. So I invite you to hop in my little time machine and head for the final month of 2001, when the writing was on the wall and several Cassandras were busy reading it.


SHE IS STILL BURNING
An Expanding Reader To Encourage Life Lovers
Installment # 11
21 December 2001

“Some say cavalry and others claim
Infantry or a fleet of long oars
Is the supreme sight on the black earth.
I say it is
The one you love. And easily proved.”
– Sappho

Dear Friends,

On the domestic front, it’s been a tumultuous six weeks since the last installment of Burning. While US war planes continued to pound Afghanistan, tragedy struck at home: Pookie, beloved feline companion with the startling intelligence, martial temperament and ballet legs, had one of those legs amputated, owing to bone cancer. She came through the operation with flying colours, but then succumbed to a week-long temper tantrum after discovering that she’d been reduced from speed, elegance and great hunterly feats to hopping around on three legs. By the time the stitches were out, however, she’d concluded that hopping was the new normal, and regained her dignity, if not all her playfulness.

Small things are emblematic of big things. Or, as Jane Picard reminded me two weeks ago, everything is a metaphor. I’d rented a car for the weekend to visit her at her niece’s house in southern Maine, where we took up again those long, spinning and magical conversations of fifteen years before. Renewing my somewhat dented faith in the restorative powers of the universe.

And, in the midst of travels and travail, the Harriet-and-Bear think tank rolled on. I’d been urging Bert (the aforementioned “Bear”) to continue his intelligence briefings for the non-establishment (i.e., us), but he became so angry over current events that he quit writing, saying he’d just like everyone to ponder the ramifications of this sentence: “We in the West have been hoodwinked into submission.”

Meantime, unbeknownst to each other, Lise Weil and I were writing parallel essays on America as viewed by girls who don’t live there anymore. Which is why this installment is double-long: the essays are written from two different perspectives and hit separate points, but they illuminate each other. Special thanks goes to Verena Stefan, who gave each one a thoughtful reading and suggested clarifications.

Camille Norton suggested that she’d love to read more letters in Burning, so this time we have two: one from Suzanne Cox, the other an excerpt from a letter that Lynn Martin sent as a “December wishes” e-mail to friends. Which reminds me to add that letters from readers are always welcome, and that excerpts from back-and-forth letters between friends are a new hot genre, as Camille points out. So if you’ve got some of those, consider submitting them, as well as stories, poems, essays, whatever. (We are nothing if not flexible.)

Finally, in my quest for news and views from outside the war-propaganda media machine, I ran across an e-zine Feminista! It’s good, very good. And its collection of  articles on the 9/11 crisis led me to a more general site called Common Dreams, which led to still more alternative news and analysis sites. I thereby discovered, years behind the times, that there’s a wealth of provocative writing out there, but you have to own a computer or use public library computers to locate most of it.

At this winter solstice, may we all find renewed energy and inspiration … and may Lady Luck come out of hiding.

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


IN THIS INSTALLMENT

• Lise Weil: “On Being American”
• Suzanne Cox: letter
• Lynn Martin: “To All the Musicians I Know”
• Harriet Ellenberger: “Arundhati’s List”


ON BEING AMERICAN
              by Lise Weil

Breathes there a man with soul so dead who never to himself has said “this is my own, my native land, this is my native land.” (first line of “This is My Country,” a popular American national anthem)

I am an American, born and bred in the USA. My parents were not typical Americans: my father, though born in Chicago, styled himself a cosmopolite, an internationalist; my mother is Norwegian. They spoke French and German at home and entertained mostly foreign guests. I’ve often thought this is how I ended up in Montreal, a city where I never presume anyone will speak to me in my native tongue, a city where I feel more at home than I ever did in any American city.

When I moved here I was vaguely aware of wanting to get out of my country; it was 1990, Bush senior was in office, we were gearing up for the Gulf War, and when the war finally broke out, it was a relief to watch it being waged from the other side of the border. But there were personal reasons for my move which overrode the political. And my politics at the time were mainly radical feminist. When I went down to Washington to demonstrate against the war in the spring, my banner read “don’t let the dickheads screw up our planet.”

Notice my use of “we” back there. “We were gearing up for the Gulf War.” This is what has begun to change now, I see, after ten years of living on foreign soil. That “we” jumps out at me now. It gives me away, betrays a sense of national identity I thought I’d long since discarded. And now, after Sept. 11, I notice, that “we” repels me.

In a way this makes no sense. My country has been deeply wounded; I should feel sympathy, I should feel some sort of solidarity. Yet as people in countries all over the world (even here in Quebec) display the stars and stripes in sympathy and solidarity, I find myself responding to that icon with mounting embarrassment and distaste.

Partly this can be attributed to the crash course in US foreign policy in the Middle East I’ve been receiving ever since the attacks, almost entirely via the internet. Like any counter-culturally inclined person who grew up in the 60’s and 70’s, for most of my life I have been vaguely “anti-American.” I’ve been aware that the US is the most powerful nation in the world, that it sees itself as the world’s policeman, that it’s propped up dictators around the world, that it’s the planet’s major polluter and takes no responsibility for this fact. Nothing about Bush junior’s response to this crisis has surprised me: not his good vs. evil, you’re either with us or against us rhetoric, not his crass manipulation of humanist and now yes even feminist sympathies to further US economic interests.

And yet in some ways it seems to me I am now seeing my country for the very first time. I did not know, for example, about the CIA’s arming and bankrolling of the Taliban with full knowledge of their atrocities towards women. I did not know Madeleine Albright, when told about the 500,000 infant deaths resulting from six years of US sanctions on Iraq, said “all things considered, we think the price is worth it.” And somehow though I knew about the staggering loss of life caused around the world by our policies, it took these thousands of deaths on New York soil for me to start thinking concretely about those hundreds of thousands of foreign deaths—to start feeling them. So maybe what I’m saying is in some ways since Sept. 11, I’ve been seeing myself for the very first time. To this extent, and to the extent there are others like me, the terrorists, whether or not this was their intention, have accomplished something positive.

Meanwhile, down there in my country, the flags multiply epidemically. Crossing the border you start to see them right away crowning the antennas of pickup trucks. As you approach New York it seems they wave from every other car. In the city they are everywhere. Huge banners adorn the entrances to the wealthiest apartment buildings on Park Avenue and Fifth Avenue. Down at ground zero the walls are plastered with tributes to God and country and firemen. Oh yes, and photos of people who have come to show their support. “Hi we’re Ted and Lois, we came all the way from California to let you know we care.” No personal jottings of grief or rage. No lines of poetry. No reflections. As if all thought and feeling has been channeled into sentimental cliche. Flag vendors raking in money hand over fist.

I’ve heard a lot of different arguments about the flags. “It’s their/our way of showing solidarity.” “A way to feel united in a time of grief.” “It doesn’t mean they/we agree with Bush’s policies.” It’s become a sensitive subject, a litmus test. I see a flag decal on the back of a friend’s car, I rib her about it, assuming it came with the car, which she just bought. She points to the words beneath the flag which I hadn’t seen: “forever in peace may you wave.” I think: what’s wrong with me that that doesn’t make it okay. And after awhile I think: what’s wrong with her that she thinks it does. And it comes between us. I don’t want it to but it does.

You’re a grand old flag you’re a high flying flag, and forever in peace may you wave . . . Suddenly I realize how many flag-waving songs I know by heart, beyond the “Star-Spangled Banner.”

This is my country, land of my birth! This is my country, grandest on earth!
I pledge thee my allegiance, America the bold!
My country tis of thee sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing . . .

I understand that Bush has recently asked the movie industry to do its part in the war effort by relaying patriotic messages. As one who has been watching US TV almost compulsively these last months, I can attest to the fact that Hollywood has been sending virtually no other message since Sept. 11. Beginning with the celebrity telethon in the week after the attacks that culminated with Celine Dion singing “God Bless America, land that I love” against the backdrop of a gigantic flag and all the stars joining Willie Nelson for a final round of “America America God shed his grace on thee.”

How many national anthems does one country need?

As for major network news broadcasts, at this moment there is little to distinguish them from Defense Department communiques.

Of course I am aware there are many Americans who want no part of this patriotic orgy, who have thought deeply about the events of Sept. 11 and their aftermath and who have voiced absolute opposition to the war. Their voices, most of which I am aware of only thanks to the internet and those few alternative publications which remain in print, give me sanity and hope.

But theirs is not the face that America is offering to the world. And, even among thinking people in the US, some of them friends of mine, I often hear a tentativeness about our foreign policy, a qualified critique: “I’m not for the war, but we have to do something.” What they mean is: we need to stop the terrorists. But what I always hear behind this is: we need to preserve our way of life, what we stand for as a nation.

Deep in the souls of most of my fellow Americans, even the thinking ones—this is what I’m starting to see—there dwells a national pride that’s been wounded by the attacks on our country and is now on the offensive. Deep down, I sense, most of them identify—proudly—as American, and if asked how they’ve been changed by the attacks might offer some version of what I heard Brad Pitt say recently on TV, with tears in his eyes: “It’s made me appreciate our way of life. Our freedoms.” (Though they might be horrified by what came next: “We need to rebuild those towers, make them bigger, taller. We’ll just leave the floors where the planes hit empty, as a memorial.” )

Most of my fellow Americans, in other words, do not see what I see. A country so swollen with hubris, so bloated with its wealth, so in love with itself that its only response to this unprecedented threat to its power its ideology its very identity is to gird its loins, ram its greatness down the world’s throat, and order its citizens to do the same.

A country that just might end up sleeping through the grandest wake-up call it’s ever had.

So I have to wonder: is it because I’ve left my country that I’m able to see what I see? Ten years of learning to operate without the assumptions that govern life on the other side of the border. Ten years of not presuming I will be spoken to in my native tongue, ten years of making myself as small as possible in stores because the aisles are narrow here. Ten years of watching news on CBC and BBC and RDI, ten years of seeing my country through the eyes of Quebecers, of Haitians, Syrians, Egyptians, Brazilians, Hungarians, Algerians. Ten years of slowly taking in that though the US may be the most powerful country in the world, the one everybody has to watch, it is most certainly not the center of the world.

The flag, they say, is a way for Americans to feel we’re united, we’re together. A way for us to feel we’re a community. God knows we all need more community in our lives. But a community in the name of what? In what ways will this togetherness be manipulated in order to trash other parts of the world? Isn’t this feel-good moment for America even now translating into thousands of corpses, widespread famine, mass destruction, and millions of displaced people in Afghanistan, into anti-terrorist measures that threaten to wipe out years of efforts to stem the tide of corporate globalization, into a mandate to this president who withdrew his country from the Kyoto protocol to drill in the Arctic oil fields?

It’s a Saturday night some two months after the attacks. I decide to check out Saturday Night Live just to take the country’s humor pulse. Since TV comedians have dutifully abstained from making fun of our eminently laughable president since the attacks, I am delighted to tune in to the very first skit of the evening and see George W. Bush updating the country on the latest advances in the war effort. His jaw is clenched in an “I mean business” look, but behind it he’s gloating as he announces: “We’ve frozen Bin Laden’s assets. He won’t be able to use his ATM card now anywhere in Afghanistan, not even in Kabul.” The audience roars with laughter.

And I feel such relief! The taboo has been lifted. The blinders are coming down now, I think, maybe people in the USA are starting to see. Then the camera pans to the show’s host as he emerges from behind the curtain, some aspiring actor who prances to center stage in a red and blue t-shirt sprinkled with white stars. Written on the front of his shirt in big block letters: AMERICA RULES. As the audience takes in the words on his chest it sends up a huge roar of applause. In a matter of seconds, my delight is replaced by horror, disbelief.

AMERICA RULES. I’ve enjoyed enormous privilege as an American. As a woman, being born in the USA has made it possible for me to live a life of freedom unheard of fifty years ago and still unheard of in most other countries in the world. I don’t want to deny the benefits I’ve derived from “our way of life.” I don’t want to deny this “we,” this “our,” that trails me wherever I go, that I’m apparently unable to shake, that will no doubt stay with me for the rest of my life.

The fact is, living outside my country has made me appreciate that privilege and those benefits as never before, for it has thrown them into relief. At the same time it has forced me to ask: at whose expense were they won? Freedom if it’s only for Americans is not true freedom. And freedom is meaningless if you don’t have the means to enjoy it. In this sense there are far too many people within the borders of the US who are not living “the American way of life.” So much for this funhouse image of America being shaped and wielded in our names, this fake unity being cobbled together in the name of “enduring freedom.”

So what am I going to do with this “we” that sticks to me like velcro? That sits in my blood and bones and my TV preferences too? That was as shaken by the collapse of the towers as anyone on that side of the border and is still hungrily devouring anything written about the victims, almost all of whom led lives more like mine than the people I encounter on the streets of this city where I live. I have to grieve, of course, and to take in the unimaginable grief of the many thousands more who loved them. But as a genuinely privileged citizen of the USA, I also have to ask myself what I can do, how I can take responsibility for its actions throughout the world. Because it’s clear to me by now that as long as America rules, this planet doesn’t stand a chance.


LETTER FROM SUZANNE COX, NOVEMBER 11, 2001

Dearest thouest of the power of words,

Tis true I keep thinking the pen is mightier than the sword. Maybe this is why I stopped writing so much—I have few war words. Maybe this is why the government hired an ad campaign person to do the war PR. She was a coca-cola woman I think. Or she said something like “this won’t be about cokes—we’ll be using athletes and movie stars.”

Anyway, I’d rather read your words and SISB. I soak this up like sunshine, which seems so limited in our gray November days and also in the world’s spinning away from anything warm.

I keep thinking about when the women lose heart. I lost heart for my own words with images of the women who taught girls about books—being killed by Taliban in the stadium; of people going to work in the WTC one morning and they were gone—never had the chance to know it was their last moments. I am thankful I can still paint the watercolours. They delight my heart. So I keep hope somewhere, which has been a struggle.

Did I tell you my niece wrote to ask for my advice about going to a protest. This gives much more hope. Young women and men who are awake to how things are going. I call my mother. I ask, “How are you?” “Living,” she says, “that’s about all I can say. Come home as soon as you can.” I can hear the catch in both of our throats.

Last night I went to the movie Himalayas. The Tibetan people move their yaks and bags of salt across the mountains so they can get grain to live on. It is one of those haunting, breathtaking movies that takes your emotions to the height of the mountains and drops them, like life only more so because you fall in love with the people. I said to my friends who were there, “I shan’t complain ever again … ” What a rich, stupid life I have. How ridiculous for one person to have so much junk. One bag of grain for a bag of salt. My life for all these bags of stupid absurdity.

Tomorrow I shall print SISB at work and take it to lunch with me. I like all the different perspectives very much—from all sides of the war and peace stories. Thank all the writers for me please. I like thinking about each piece—the long treks of everyone’s life and memory in shared story.

I have a tiny perfect pumpkin I like to look at. It has an unusual twisted stem as if it had danced while growing on the vine. Every night I turn off the news after supper and dance for awhile. Eat, drink, and be merry may be some of the greatest words ever written.

Thank you for yours and for sending it to me.

Love,
Poetkin [Suzanne Cox]


TO ALL THE SINGERS I KNOW
        by Lynn Martin

Birds dart around continually and flash such explosions of color. They have been trying to get our attention for centuries. Listen, they say, it’s all in the song.

Song, the ornithologists say, is a bird’s way of marking out its territory.

The air outside my window is awash with squares, rectangles, circles, pentagons laid out on a grid and fenced in with musical notes. The borders are noted and delineated by song hung from a bush, a berry, a towering hemlock. I can, on one spring morning, hear as many as 50 different birds singing around the house.

I am drawn to them on a primitive level. Like the Greeks I see birds as divine messengers. And their ability to fly is as awesome to me today as it must have been to the ancients. As a child I believed I could talk to the birds. A cousin teased me out of this. But I wonder if I did understand the language of the birds when I was a child? Even today when I hear them calling it feels just on the edge of a language I know. Observing them over the years, it is obvious different species have worked out a way to live together and share the earth. And song is what they share.

That’s why I think humans should investigate more closely. We could do away with Summits and International Conferences, and, maybe, even war. Each nation could mark their own national borders with song. If each soldier sang, then you could hear an army coming for miles. Tanks could provide the bass; jets the soprano; infantry the alto. Generals, admirals, dictators and war lords would be named Mozart, Beethoven, Bach. The “war” would be a concert, and the winner the side with the most original composition. Each of us would have our own variation on a theme learned in childhood.

Singing takes incredible energy. You can’t sing and fight at the same time. Let’s work out a way to live together and share the earth. Let’s start right now.


ARUNDHATI’S LIST
          by Harriet Ellenberger

4 December 2001: A few nights ago I watched on CBC television an Afghan refugee father being interviewed with his son in a makeshift hospital in Quetta, Pakistan. One of the son’s legs had been blown off by a US bomb (pinpoint targeting is not possible when you’re flying at 50,000 feet). The son said, now I can’t work, I’m useless. The father said, I don’t believe the Americans are after terrorists, I believe they want to kill innocent people.

Whoever that man was (either the interviewer didn’t mention his name, or I missed it), he was saying out loud what I’d been thinking privately. By a massive bombing campaign that, among other things, cut off food aid at a critical moment, the US government has just committed mass murder in Afghanistan. I think they did it on purpose. I believe they wanted to send a message: this is what we can do; this is what we will do.

It’s the same message they were sending to Stalin when they dropped nuclear bombs on two cities in Japan, a country that was already defeated, already trying to negotiate a surrender. This is what we can do; this is what we will do.

Reportedly (but the US media is now filled with misreporting as well as the usual nonreporting), some 90 percent of US adults surveyed supported Bush’s bomb-them-to-hell campaign.

It’s times like these that I feel lucky to have left the States in 1987, lucky to have been accepted as a citizen by Canada—however controlled it may be by its big brother to the south. But personal good-fortune aside, the whole business makes me feel violently ill, and guilty by way of origin.

How could they do this? How could the US government keep on doing this, my entire lifetime? How could US citizens (not “Americans”—a name that belongs to all the inhabitants of North, Central and South America) allow their government to do this, yet again? And call it patriotism.

The rhetoric currently thundering forth from the States doesn’t sound like patriotism to me. Lust for revenge, lust for power, lust for dominance, yes. Love of country, no.

If you retain even the slightest shred of common sense and concern for your people, you do not lead them on their very own high-tech suicide mission. Yet that is what Bush-and-advisors have done. Bombarding the most war-ravaged place on earth: what a brilliant way to turn the world irrevocably against you. What a superb ploy to ensure that every person in the US remains a walking target.

I could spit nails, I’m so upset. Nothing seems to calm me these days. I can say to myself, well, what empire in history didn’t destroy itself by biting off more than it could chew? I can say to myself, well, if people insist on having an empire while at the same time refusing to admit that they have one, what do they expect—wise governance? I can say, none of this is new news; all of this is old news, more of the same, more men-on-men and war-on-war, and so it goes to the weary and whimpering end of the world. I can say whatever I please, but what’s really getting me down is that words—in particular, words of sanity and moderation—don’t seem to make a dent in events.

To echo Jeanette Winterson’s October 30th essay “Life on Planet Earth,” published in the London Guardian, it looks as if the inmates have taken over the asylum. And she names the malady they’re suffering from as a specifically “male madness”: “Everywhere I look, men are talking about nuclear capacity, about germ warfare, about dedicating 50 years to wiping out terrorism. The Bush administration is delighted not to have to worry about tedious environmentalists and Kyoto protocols and world trade protestors. This is a war—and the ‘big trousers’ are back in charge.”

In London, apparently, you can still write what you think as vividly as you’re able. If, like Madeleine Bunting writing for the Guardian, you’re a British woman commentator opposed to the “war on terrorism,” you may receive e-mail messages from US readers advising you to “get laid, get pregnant, shut your fat legs, shut up.” But that’s a long-distance response, from the far side of a very large body of water, and less personally endangering than, for example, the tongue-lashing in the Canadian Parliament and press followed by anonymous death threats that Sunera Thobani experienced after her anti-war speech to a women’s conference in Ottawa, or the death threats Susan Sontag received for her comments in the New Yorker about the September 11th attack. In North America it’s put-on-the-kid-gloves time for writers. And, interestingly, the taboo subject appears to be US foreign policy since World War II.

On November 24th, Reuters ran a brief interview by Stephanie Holmes with Gore Vidal. One of the essays in his forthcoming book The End of Liberty: Toward a New Totalitarianism (forthcoming in Italy, not in the States) was originally commissioned by a US magazine (probably Vanity Fair) following the September 11th attacks. Once the editors read the essay, however, they refused to print it. (And who is Gore Vidal? Only one of the States’ best writers, a fifty-year stellar career as novelist and essayist, knows US history like the palm of his hand, born into the old-line ruling elite, the gadfly they loved to tolerate.) “I’ve listed in this little book,” Vidal says, “about four hundred strikes that the government has made on other countries. War, undeclared. Generally with the excuse that they were harboring communists. You keep attacking people for such a long time, one of them is going to get you back.”

And then there’s the other male éminence grise famous for knowing US policy inside and out: Noam Chomsky. On the Media Education Foundation website I find him described as “America’s leading dissident” and “the most-quoted writer in the world.” But try to find him quoted in the mainstream North American press. I figured he’d have something illuminating to say about the September 11th attacks, and so he did—in an interview with a Belgrade radio station and a speech at MIT, excerpts of which were published in Cairo’s Al Ahram. For centuries, he says, Europe practiced terror on the peoples it subjugated. Then an offshoot of Europe, the USA, took over the job. September 11th marked the first time the guns had been pointed the other way round.

A third writer who’s done her homework on the subject is Arundhati Roy—screenwriter, novelist, essayist, practitioner of an astonishing fusion of analytic, emotional and spiritual intelligence (falling under the spell of her novel The God of Small Things, I wished the book never to end). In Outlook India (October 18), she writes:

When he announced the air strikes, President George Bush said, ‘We’re a peaceful nation.’ America’s favourite ambassador, Tony Blair (who also holds the portfolio of Prime Minister of the UK), echoed him: ‘We’re a peaceful people.’ So now we know. Pigs are horses. Girls are boys. War is Peace. …

Here is a list of the countries that America has been at war with—and bombed—since World War II: China (1945–46, 1950–53); Korea (1950–53); Guatemala (1954, 1967–69); Indonesia (1958); Cuba (1959–60); the Belgian Congo (1964); Peru (1965); Laos (1964–73); Vietnam (1961–73); Cambodia (1969–70); Grenada (1983); Libya (1986); El Salvador (1980s); Nicaragua (1980s); Panama (1989), Iraq (1991–99), Bosnia (1995), Sudan (1998); Yugoslavia (1999). And now Afghanistan.

So now we do know. By the time we’ve reached the end of Arundhati’s long list, we know perfectly well why references to relevant US history are being greeted with hysterics and silencing. And we have a good notion of why the US government, in response to the September 11th attacks, cobbled together a strange-bedfellows coalition, rather than working through—and thereby strengthening—the United Nations. And we can make an excellent guess as to why, rather than recognize existing instruments of international law by using them to punish those who planned the attacks, US leaders preferred to launch an undefined, unlimited and self-destructive war against “terrorism” (terrorism being, as Kanin Makiya points out, a tactic, not a side).

Just put yourself in their boots. You’ve been head outlaw for a long time, and suddenly you’re under siege by rival outlaws. Do you call on the sheriff for assistance? No outlaw worth his salt would do a girly thing like that (and, besides, when it was all over, the sheriff might be wanting to take a look at your own checkered past). You don’t call in the law, you shoot it out. You make one long last stand.

And to hell with humans who get caught in the crossfire.

 

 

She Is Still Burning 10 (November 2001)

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

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


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

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

– Lynn V. Andrews, Flight of the Seventh Moon

Dear Friends,

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

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

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

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

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


IN THIS INSTALLMENT

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


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

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

From the section “To whom does history belong?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


LETTER IN RESPONSE TO SISB #9

Sunday, October 14, 2001

Dear Harriet,

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

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

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

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

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

Love,
Ann (Stokes)


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


AFTER READING PLATO

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

What do you think about when you see hummingbirds?

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

Where is the first hummingbird?

In Maine, on a logging road near Mount Katahdin.

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

Like something unimagined that is suddenly there?

Like something unimagined.

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

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

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

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

– Camille Norton