Song of Souls

5 April 2003
Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada

Dear Friends,

Today at our peace gathering, when the son of a poet read a poem in Arabic on the steps of city hall, something broke loose in me. My mind comprehended none of the words, but my body understood the emotion carried by rhythm and sound.

No one knows where poems come from; we can only notice the circumstances in which they arrive. This one showed up about two hours after the rally ended.
SONG OF SOULS

Startled by death
that fell from a roaring sky,
we flew away.

We circled high,
higher than the war planes fly,
and we saw you far below,
piling our broken bodies
in the back of your truck,
driving to a hospital
where none could heal us
and none could heal you.

O hear our song
in the music of the wind —

We have found the forever place,
the place of no war.

We remember you, beloved.
We remember you always.

 

– Harriet Ann Ellenberger

note: photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

 

 

Confrontation with the Rapist

In dreams, the Rapist says,
Nothing is possible,
I will kill you,
I have already killed you,
She will not come for you,
You cannot have love,
There is only money
in this man’s world—
and (he hisses in my ear)
she knows it.
She is French, and practical.

He continues:
There is only money
and you don’t know how to make it.
There is only rape
and you are the rape-ee.
We serve up girls like you
for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Your bird of love is a gull
who eats and shits our garbage.

His buddies join him:
Sex-crazed witch, they say,
your phantasming mind
will not save you from us.
Ineffective weapon,
when has it saved you in the past?

This is a description of Them.
They have the facts,
all the news that’s fit to print.
I have language and the spirits.
Both abandon me the moment
I balance my checkbook.

A wealthy friend once told me
I was the most impractical person
she’d ever met.
She hurt my feelings,
but she was only telling the truth.

I wish I were her.
I wish I were anybody but me.

I wish I were the poet
from a moneyed background
who said, when I solemnly announced
that I must put writing first,
“But, Harriet, how will you eat?

Damned if I know.

The practical nurse who was my grandmother
had a mantra for me:
If wishes were horses,
poor men would ride.

I do not want, I do not want,
I do not want what is.
I want to stay child.
I want a childhood I never had.
I want adventure
and the youth that passed me by.
I want my horse,
and a white banner flying.

Il n’y a pas de magie,
a friend informs me.
We wish magic were real,
she continues firmly,
but it is not.
Lucky her, she appears to derive
a measure of satisfaction from this.

If wishes were horses,
poor girls would ride,
you told me in so many words.
Everyone, in fact, from the beginning,
has been telling me the Same.
A Greek chorus.
Five thousand years of plunder
are not, I admit,
on my side.

In dreams, I am being raped.
It hurts in my vagina
and in every particle of my bones,
visceral humiliation
that goes on and on and on …

Just a bloody minute!
I suddenly say to myself.
The practical thing to do,
when being raped,
is to go for the jugular.

And, with the sharp teeth
of my phantasming mind,
in the nightmare that begins my new day,
I do.

God rest his soul, I say,
and let me be.

 

– Harriet Ann Ellenberger, 1989, revised 2015
   

note: The image of Leda and the swan, an Italian 16th-century bronze casting, was found on images.nga.gov. “Confrontation with the Rapist” was first published in Trivia: Voices of Feminismissue 17, “Radical,” Winter 2016.

 

Love in the Crosshairs

Reflections on Dark Matters: a novel by Susan Hawthorne

 

I am asking myself what accounts for the haunting power of Dark Matters, this latest in a long line of books of poetry, fiction, and non-fiction by Susan Hawthorne. One clue may simply be the length of that trail of published work which precedes Dark Matters. No one creates a profound work of art by staying on the surface of life, but it is equally true that no can do it before they’ve taught themselves to be at home in their own language. Each sentence of Susan Hawthorne’s Dark Matters says what it says — and it also says, “my writer knew what she was doing.”

frontispiece SapphoDark Matters vibrates through time, in part because the line of writing which leads to it includes more than Hawthorne’s own: that line begins with Sappho, the tenth muse, the rockstar of the Mediterranean, of whose multitudinous lyrics only fragments have survived the attempts to eradicate them, along with the memory of her and her companions. A whole machinery of cultural destruction has been brought to bear on the poet of love, and we are left with bits and pieces that nonetheless retain their power to evoke and to move.

Like the remnants of Sappho’s lyrics, the novel Dark Matters itself is made up of fragments. Its structure echoes the story being told as well as the background story of lesbian history, a zigzag trail through landscapes and timescapes of erasure and memory. Telling the love story of Kate and Mercedes in fragmented episodes allows for intensity (both in the scenes of beauty and in the scenes of terror), alternating with relief from intensity. And the fragments are arranged in such a way that the reader, along with Kate’s niece Desi, gradually moves through a mist of unanswered questions and mysterious gaps toward a feeling for what drew Mercedes and Kate together and a comprehension of the forces that tore them from each other’s arms.

The love story that is the heart of Dark Matters begins with Mercedes teaching Kate the tango, and from there they dance their way into a shared life. Mercedes’ family has fled torture in Chile to resettle in Australia, but when things go bad politically in her new home, the torturers show up again. In a dawn raid, armed and hooded intruders kill Priya (Kate and Mercedes’ beloved dog), shoot Mercedes, and seize Kate, transporting her to a remote detention center, where she is subjected to the textbook methods of torture, which few survive.

For Kate, the lesbian and feminist, however, there is an added twist. The most sophisticated of the torturers, the one she calls Velvet Voice, is a man who has gone beyond his job description. He’s been tracking Kate as obsessively as a rejected suitor bent on revenge: he’s read her poetry and her political writings; he’s gone through her library and studied her performances. When he grinds his heel into her left hand, breaking the bones, he calls her “sinister sister.” He knows Kate, and breaking her spirit along with her body is not only his work, it’s his pleasure. He intends to turn everything she’s ever loved against her.

Kate doesn’t know where she is, why she’s there, who authorized her being there, who else is being held in the building nor what is being done to them. She doesn’t know if Mercedes has survived. She doesn’t know what to expect next. She has been systematically robbed of situational awareness, the cues to orient herself in time and space blocked by her captors. All she has is her mind and her memory. And this is where the great richness of Dark Matters comes in because, as it turns out, Kate’s mind is very full.

There are the memories of her life as a child, memories of her travels to her mother’s Greek homeland, later memories of journeys and conversations with Mercedes, and then there are the memories extending back thousands of years, to the time of the Eleusinian rituals, to a time when women had not yet been de-authorized, to a time when the old goddesses were a living presence in the life of the Mediterranean peoples. Memory is the mother of the muses, and as Kate remembers, she begins to write archaic-sounding poems in her head and one night she dreams, like her grandmother, in the old language of Classical Greece.

To tell more of Dark Matters might be to ruin it for new readers, so I’ll stop here with one last thought: there is so much wisdom woven into this book, you can spend weeks teasing out the strands and pondering them. As Desi says, “Those goddesses are not dead. I mean not dead-dead! Not really dead! They keep coming back in cycles. It all depends on who you talk to.”

 

Note: Susan Hawthorne’s Dark Matters: a novel was published in 2017 by Spinifex Press, an independent feminist press in Australia that has been putting out cutting-edge books, winning awards for them, and distributing them internationally since 1991.

This review of Dark Matters: a novel was first published in Return to Mago E-zine on December 27, 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Magic for Big Kids

We were born for this,
to work with the strands
of ancient knowledge
woven into our DNA,
gifts from a long lineage
stored in the 90 percent of our brain
we don’t use.

We are all the descendants of
gathering, fishing, hunting, travelling peoples
who moved through the fullness
of vibrational reality.

Survival depended on being aware.
Willed ignorance was not an option,
nor unbridled greed.

What they found,
they shared.
What they learned,
they passed on.

The nature of reality has not changed.
What they knew remains true.

Everything is alive,
everything is connected,
everything shimmers with significance.

Those who see only in three dimensions
cannot see the spirit world.

That purring under our thoughts is love,
anima mundi,
psyche of the cosmos,
soul of the world.

Listen for the purring,
and many more dimensions unfold.

 

– Harriet Ann Ellenberger, July 2018

 

Note: “Magic for Big Kids” first appeared in Return to Mago E-Magazine on 7 September 2018. The photo is by Simon Matzinger.

 

Another Turn on the Writing Road

It’s been over a year since I published anything on “River Song,” and during those months I’ve been doing a lot of thinking. What do I want to write about now, with fifty-odd years of writing behind me?

For more of those years than I care to remember, my burning question has been the question of human survival. Will human beings learn how to take care of the earth and each other? Or will we refuse to learn, thereby becoming one more memory in the vast memory-stores of the cosmos.

My crystal ball was broken in the last windstorm, so I can’t see what’s coming next. At the moment, however, it looks as if some of us are learning, some of us are adamantly refusing to learn, some of us are immobilized by war and poverty, earth upheavals and political upheavals, and for some of us, the world begins and ends with our own skin.

The future of human children lies in the hands of this motley crew. Am I the only one who thinks we’re in need of an extraterrestrial intervention?

 

note: photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

She Is Still Burning 17-18

The following remembrance and celebration of Mary Meigs’ life and friendships was also the final installment of She Is Still Burning, a fitting ending to a project that I’d begun simply because Michèle Causse sent me an e-mail saying, “Harriet, do something.” I don’t always rush to comply with the wishes of friends, but in this case, because it was Michèle issuing the order, I swung into action, and am glad of it. Thank you, Michèle. Thank you, Mary. And thank you to everyone who contributed to the brief fiery life of She Is Still Burning.

SHE IS STILL BURNING
An Expanding Reader To Encourage Life Lovers
Installment #17-18
21 June 2003

Now a thought trickles in like water giving life to dry clay. It is– “that bush over there is quite beautiful, it has been transformed by snow in less than half an hour. Once it was the flame tree, the vision that sang in October. Now it is a snow-blossoming March bush—and I croak my toad’s song under its roots.” (Mary Meigs, 21 March 2002)

Dear Friends,

This installment is a dual tribute: to Mary Meigs and to the powers of friendship. In it, you will hear her voice in the last year of her life, accompanied by the voices of friends grieving the loss of her and conjuring her presence back among us through their words.

There are many ways to know someone, even when it’s too late to phone her, send her a fax, mail her a letter or land on her doorstep. I hope you will enjoy coming to know Mary through these words and images, or coming to know aspects of her that you might not have known before.

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

note: Painter and writer Mary Meigs (1917–2002) was born in Philadelphia, but lived the latter part of her life in Montreal. Talon Books in Vancouver published all five of her books: Lily Briscoe: A Self-Portrait (1981), The Medusa Head (1983), The Box Closet (1987), In the Company of Strangers (1991) and The Time Being (1997).

Those who never had the chance to meet her in person can still see her on film, playing herself at age 70—the witty, compassionate, outspoken lesbian artist who is the driving force in Cynthia Scott’s film In the Company of Strangers (NFB, 1990). The film is available on DVD or video as part of the “Modern Day Classics” series, under the title Strangers in Good Company.

“Who She Was,” a charming comic-strip story by Eve Corbel about her friendship with Mary, appears in the Winter 2002 issue of Geist magazine (Vancouver).


IN THIS INSTALLMENT

1) Betsy Warland: “A Remembering of Mary Meigs”
2) Suniti Namjoshi: “Mary’s Dream” and an extract from “The Good Witch Sycorax”
3) Claire Saint Aubin: “À bientôt Mary”
4) Sylvie Sainte-Marie: “Elle est apparue dans ma vie” and “Soledad”
5) Verena Stefan: “Agitation on a Brick Wall”
6) Cynthia Rich: “Seeing Mary”
7) Lise Weil: “Freewriting with Mary”
8) “Feathers”: correspondence between Mary Meigs and Harriet Ellenberger
9) Mary Meigs, “Dead Flicker 1985”

Continue reading She Is Still Burning 17-18

She Is Still Burning 16

Republishing this early 2003 installment 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

Continue reading She Is Still Burning 16