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
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
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),
Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada
*The Big Lie, in this case, is that the 9-11 attacks were solely the work of Islamic fundamentalists. For a boatload of indications that they were planned–or at the very least deliberately allowed to succeed—by a hard-right faction within the US government itself, see the Centre for Research on Globalization website.
IN THIS INSTALLMENT
•”One Naturalist’s Reflection” by Sara Wright
•”At Eight” by Marjorie Larney
•”The Yoga Sutras’ Corner” by Ilit Rosenblum
•”on the chronicle discussion page” by Susan Cox
ONE NATURALIST’S REFLECTION
by Sara Wright
written September 5, 2002 (bear-killing season in Maine)
Early this morning I wandered through the damp mist along a lowland trail to a place I call the deep woods spring. Water bubbles out of the ground here, and disappears into the marsh grasses that hide the sliver of stream as it snakes its way down to the swamp below. Hazelwood boughs arc gracefully over the spot. Their slender finger-like branches seem to be calling the waters up from the deep.
When I noticed that the nearby sedge grasses had been flattened by some large animal I began looking around for further clues. A large black-seed-filled scat and an overturned log helped me to fill in the possible identity of the creature. A bear had visited here not long ago.
There is something about the black bears inhabiting these mountains that has captured my imagination. Bears seem to evoke in me a sense of Wilderness in a way that deer and moose do not. I recall that bear skulls discovered in mountain caves date back to 50,000 to 70,000 years ago. According to some sources these bear skulls were objects of veneration and were used in ceremonies created by humans. Maybe humans have always associated the bear with some kind of call to the wild.
Many people fear these shadowy woodland creatures, and when I first came to these mountains fifteen years ago I was no exception. I recall how much I wanted to see a bear and how nervous I was when I first walked through these hills looking for bear sign. Imagine my astonishment when a yearling finally visited my bird feeder one spring, only to crash into the thick underbrush and disappear the moment my twelve-pound dog barked just once! I still managed to get pictures, and something in me felt graced by this bear presence.
Since then I’ve learned that our black bears are very shy, and have a complex social structure. The females stay within a relatively small five-mile range while the males wander over an area up to a hundred miles or more. Mother bears share their home ranges with their daughters or other females, but the male offspring must learn to forage in a new territory. Bears love to eat jewelweed, jack in the pulpit corms, flower twigs and buds, green and ripe berries of all kinds, wild lettuce and poplar leaves, to name just a few ursine delicacies. A female bear will often adopt wild cubs that are left motherless. As soon as the cubs emerge from the den in the early spring, the mother teaches them to climb the highest trees in the area for safety. Males do not participate in the rearing of cubs, but because they are on the move all the time, neither do they compete with the mother bear and her offspring for food. Late spring is probably the best time to see bears because this is the season when the mother bears will abandon their yearlings in order to mate again. Both young and adult males live on the outer edges of a female’s home range.
It is probably these wandering male adolescents that are most likely to turn up at back yard feeders, irritating and sometimes scaring the occupants of the house. One way to avoid having a bear visit is simply to take in your bird feeder. Sunflower seeds have a much higher caloric value than the natural seeds and nuts (like beechnuts or acorns) that bears eat in the wild. This nutritional differential is what makes the sunflower seed such an irresistible treat for an opportunistic youngster. It is important to realize that black bears have no history of unprovoked attacks on humans, and even when a bear huffs or false-charges, s/he is communicating a need to have more personal space and not a desire to fight. Of course, unlike the black bear, both polar bears and grizzlies can be dangerous.
Benjamin Kilham, a naturalist who raises and rehabilitates black bear cubs in New Hampshire wrote a fascinating book about these animals. His naturalist’s approach, which is based on his observation, and involves developing a personal relationship with each of his bear cubs, allowed him, he believes to discover things about bears that the experts have missed.
For example, he observed the bears gently mouthing plants with their jaws before eating them. Once he gave one of his cubs a deadly amanita mushroom, and the cub, after mouthing the fungus, refused to eat it. Kilham already knew that bears have one organ in the roof of their mouth that helps them locate and dig for roots. But when he dissected a road-killed bear, he discovered yet another organ in the roof of the bear’s mouth. Kilham believes that this second organ may help the bear determine whether or not a plant is edible. It is even possible, he thinks, that black bears are using plants for medicinal purposes.
In many indigenous cultures black bears are still revered as great healers. For example, the Lakota Sioux Indians believe that the bear will assist any person who needs to develop a sense of his or her own personal power. For the Pawnee Indians a girl born with a bear spirit has the power to heal. In India bears are believed to prevent disease. I am struck by the parallel between what indigenous people have believed for millenia, Kilham’s observations, and the possible conclusion he is drawing about bears in the wild. I’d like to believe that bears heal people who are broken.
Just a few weeks ago I went to the Wildlife Festival in Errol, New Hampshire. I was disturbed when I saw the snarling stuffed black bear heads that were for sale. I found myself wondering why anyone would choose to portray the shy and non-threatening black bear in such a ferocious manner. I don’t even understand why anyone would want to kill one of these gentle creatures in the first place.
I had a similar experience when researching books on black bears on the Internet. The first books that came up concentrated on the bear as a “man-killer” and offered information on how best to slaughter the animal. The ones that came next seemed to focus on bears in a sentimental way. Only a very small percentage of the books that finally appeared on the screen were about the natural history and the lives of the wild bears themselves. This portrayal of the black bear as a man-killer worries me, because I think a chance encounter with a black bear is a glimpse into the mystery of our vanishing wilderness.
(St. Dominic’s Convent, Long Island)
A high, white-concrete garden wall, sharp-edged, broken
shards of clear, blue, brown, and green glass stuck on top.
Inside the wall, two rows of twelve apple trees teemed with red-ripe fruit.
The midday Indian summer sun dazzled above, and beneath
outlined coarse shadows of leaf, fruit, on the packed, sandy earth
in the nuns’ silent contemplative sanctuary, territory
verboten to the forty-eight boarders and orphans, girls and boys.
Apples, stock still, scattered singly or touching under the trees,
huddled together in groups of five and six, their skins split open, juices bursting.
A feast offering to the buzzing blue-green flies and hordes of golden brown ants.
Tall, kind Sister Hortensia, second-grade teacher of the town’s Holy Ghost
Elementary School, Mother Superior to the ten resident Dominican sisters,
said in a guttural German accent:
“For the making of the children’s applesauce, you gather, every day,
only the fruit off the ground, none from the trees.”
– Marjorie Larney
THE YOGA SUTRAS’ CORNER
by Ilit Rosenblum
(written summer 2002)
may all the suffering bring love
may it dispel ignorance
may it bring justice to fruition
Mid-July I track back to Jerusalem after a 5 days’ yoga seminar in a Zen Center in farm country in Sweden. Vibrant shades of greens all around. In contrast West Jerusalem seems bleak, stripped of colors. My friends do not return my calls; overwhelmed, they are not taking anything more on. Life on the streets is tentative, no less so than in my mind. Shall I go sit in this cafe? Take this bus? Go down this road?
I walk around listening to Pema Chödrön, the Buddhist teacher, talking about going to The Places That Scare You.
It is all scary. My personal history is rapidly changing. My mother is losing her grip on everything beyond the very moment. She is confused, in pain and is suffering. The house I grew up in is torn down. The family business is closed. I stay in a flat that before served as an office for the business amidst mounds of boxes, and furniture.
Friday, at the end of my first week, I join the Women in Black vigil, right outside the apartment. After 15 years even the abuse hurled at us is routine. Across the street counter-demonstrators of the Settlers’ Movement hang large banners saying “Transfer Now!” Preparing public opinion for mass expulsion of Palestinians. I shudder. Again I think “standing here is not enough.” I break the silent vigil and yell “How can you? You are using Nazi terminology! Shame on you!” I cross the street and stand in front of the banners with my small “end the occupation” sign.
Early Monday morning I go with a friend to an international Solidarity Movement training in East Jerusalem. Young and old activists arrive from different countries to participate in “Freedom Summer” in the occupied and re-occupied Palestinian West Bank and Gaza. We train to deal with the Israeli occupation army, shootings, sound bombs, tear gas, tanks, roadblocks, curfew, house demolitions, Jewish settlers and other daily brutal items of life under occupation. I feel awed by the organization and by everyone’s energy, courage, and vital presence.
I look for members of “Ta’ayush” (Arab-Jewish Partnership) at an Arab-Jewish demonstration against racism in Haifa. The demonstration is disappointingly small. Among Israeli peace activists one sees very young college students and gray-haired old-timers well over 60. A whole middle-age group is missing. In contrast, fliers about “Ta’ayush” actions are inspiring. “Ta’ayush” (Coexistence) carries out humanitarian and political actions in the occupied territories and in Israel. Since October 2000 they organize food and medical supplies caravans, demonstrations against home demolitions and land seizure, and work camps in Palestinian villages.
Another day I join the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions. We are a group of over 30, mostly young, Israelis and internationals, somewhere on the Jerusalem hills on the way to the Dead Sea, helping to rebuild a Palestinian home that has been demolished three times already. We get quite a lot done and it feels good. Doing anything feels good, better than succumbing to the sense of hopelessness and inertia.
In a “Peace Now” rally in front of the Prime Minister Sharon’s residence in Jerusalem, a group of army-clad men march and chant about the deadly consequences of following Sharon policies. Their statement pamphlet is a clear and scathing document against the crimes of occupation, calling to soldiers to refuse service. I savor the document; such a relief to read these pages, my heart strengthens. From the building across the street a group of young orthodox jews yell “death to the lefties!”
In New York we continue our weekly public support for the Palestinian people every Saturday 3–5 pm at Union Square.
on the chronicle discussion page
you can say whether poets should talk politics
(after being banned from the white house of “democracy”)-
in the gallery there are photographs by Fazal Sheikh
of exiled people from the Sudan and Ethiopia;
they stare back at me as if no camera existed
and all the greediness of white houses
perpetuated on them comes through my tears;
one little girl poses with her father
she has gone mute after soldiers invaded her village
her mother gone…missing…forever?
Refugees all living in tents
their beautiful faces etched with history’s horrors;
I feel like such a pig
to be part of this suffering anymore. My greedy feet in new sneakers, my car full of gas.
The world needs us. Needs our poetry.
Not for war.
Not for oppressing.
But for all the truth we can muster.
– Susan Cox, 7 March 2003
Editor’s note: Since late January 2003, Poets Against the War have published 12,996 anti-war poems on their new website.