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.

 

 

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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 10 (November 2001)

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

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


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

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

– Lynn V. Andrews, Flight of the Seventh Moon

Dear Friends,

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

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

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

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

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


IN THIS INSTALLMENT

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


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

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

From the section “To whom does history belong?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


LETTER IN RESPONSE TO SISB #9

Sunday, October 14, 2001

Dear Harriet,

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

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

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

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

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

Love,
Ann (Stokes)


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


AFTER READING PLATO

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

What do you think about when you see hummingbirds?

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

Where is the first hummingbird?

In Maine, on a logging road near Mount Katahdin.

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

Like something unimagined that is suddenly there?

Like something unimagined.

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

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

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

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

– Camille Norton

 

She Is Still Burning 9 (26 Sept. 2001)

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Friends,

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

These things happen, and nobody comes through them unscathed.

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

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

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

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

Harriet Ellenberger
Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada


IN THIS INSTALLMENT

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


BEAUTIFUL TERRORS

by Elizabeth Brownrigg

September 11, 2001

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 12th

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

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

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

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

September 20th

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

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

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

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

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

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


THE FORBIDDEN FOUR LETTERS FRUIT
(for A.)

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

One is discovering the forbidden four letters fruit

– Claude


SOMEDAY MAYBE

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

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

sweat polished and brilliant.

Resentment pricks my early morning calm.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Lynn Martin


INVISIBLE, IN SLIDES

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

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

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

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

– Ann Stokes


PETITION FOR MODERATION AND RESTRAINT

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

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

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

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

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

 

She Is Still Burning 2 (Nov 2000)

The history continues, with a reminder of context: in November 2000, you could get on an airplane without taking off your shoes first, and no one put their hands on your body; you could travel between Canada and the US without a passport; there was no Patriot Act passed by a Congress that didn’t read it, and no Homeland Security.  No “War on Terror”  either. Iraq was still an intact country, as was Syria.

SHE IS STILL BURNING
An Expanding Reader To Encourage Life Lovers
Installment #2
11 November 2000

Dear Friends,

What were the responses to the first installment? They ranged from the funny to the profound, but they all gave me what Jeannette Muzima refers to as “a jolt of hope.” Below is a sampling:

Suzanne Cox: “I feel very lucky to be getting it in today’s world of market, piggies go to market. I cannot believe it is free.” (This was in response to her suggesting that I should at least charge $5, and my replying IT HAS TO BE FREE. Maybe I am being stubbornly impractical with this project, but the greenback god from hell rules our collective life to a degree that was unimaginable when I was growing up—and I purely hate calculating my every move in terms of money. She Is Still Burning will remain what it was conceived to be: a gift, to myself as much as to anyone else.)

Jeannette Muzima: “Thank you for creating this. I look forward to reading, contributing, laughing, raging, and re-igniting.”

Rawi Hage: “I know many shes with eternal fires in them.”

Madelaine Marin: “Et BRAVO! pour le lancement de SHE IS STILL BURNING! FEU dont le besoin se fait si grandement sentir tant la chaleur est absente de nos isolements respectifs.” (rough translation: And bravo! for the making of SHE IS STILL BURNING—a fire we feel need of to the degree that warmth is missing from our respective solitudes.)

My thanks to all who responded. “Every woman deserves her own hallelujah chorus,” says Clarissa Pinkola Estès—and so does She Is Still Burning.

This installment appears three weeks after the first one, which feels to me like a pretty good rhythm. I do She Is Still Burning in between working on contracts for my editing/translation business, so the installments happen when they happen. If it’s more than a month between installments, that doesn’t mean the project is dead. It means I’m up against a deadline.

All this said, welcome to the continuation of She Is Still Burning!

Bon courage (keep your spirits up),
Harriet Ellenberger
Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada


IN THIS INSTALLMENT

1) “Love Prints” by Jeannette Muzima (a love poem is about the world)
2) “The Castle” by Rawi Hage (a childhood memory of war)
3) “Who Really Did Write Don Quixote?” (a question for readers)
4) “Faye’s Notebook, Part I: The Most Terrifying Thing I Ever Heard” by Harriet Ellenberger (Faye is a less restrained and more playful version of myself. Excerpts from her notebook may appear regularly … or they may not.)


Continue reading She Is Still Burning 2 (Nov 2000)

War Babies

War babies are babies
who make war
without knowing what war is.

War babies make war
on nature,
on drugs,
on anyone who crosses them,
on each other.

War babies have guns
that are big and mean.
War babies have money
that won’t buy them more time.

War babies hit a telephone pole
at 100 miles an hour,
and expect to walk away.

War babies stay babies
because they don’t learn.

Oh look, they’re doing it again.

 

–Harriet Ann Ellenberger, 11 February 2016