The Neighbours Send a Message

northern hawk owl
northern hawk owl

for Monica Casper

Moose, deer, lynx, coyote, bear,
skunk, porcupine, snowshoe hare,
hawk owl, ant, crow, honey bee,
all who live in the woods
behind the house I live in,
now formally address the human race:

We, aforementioned children of earth,
together with all our relations,
and by the power of spirit that moves in all things,
do hereby protest
vehemently
the destruction of our homes.

We have kept watch in silence
while you made war on each other,
but our time for surveillance
and fleeing is finished.

We will not watch
without intervening
while you mindlessly kill our mother.

– Harriet Ann Ellenberger
April 2012

note: “The Neighbours Send a Message” was first published, with working notes, on Return to Mago 29 October 2012.

Sunrise Over the USA

for Barbara Mor

In place of the old dream
and the old lies,
I wish for my country of origin
a new story,
one that goes like this:

We rode roughshod,
we drove pedal to the metal,
we blew our own cylinders.
We squeezed the life from all
we could lay hands on,
converted our kill into currency,
bowed low before the greenback god we made.

Then — an inch from extinction —
in the midst of brawling, bawling,
blowing each other away,
we woke from our nightmares.
Watched the sun rise.
Said this is a good day to live.

We started to share food
and keep house.

It was astonishing
how quickly the tall-grass prairie,
intricate forest that bends with the wind,
grew back.
Astonishing how quickly the milkweed pods shot up
and the monarchs laid ever more eggs on them
and the great butterfly migration strengthened.
Astonishing when legions of Canada geese flew south again,
barking and writing long flat V’s in the sky.

We woke,
and the earth under our feet
decided to live.

It was that definitive,
that clear a turning.

− Harriet Ann Ellenberger, February 2012

Note: “Sunrise Over the USA” was first published, with working notes, on Return to Mago, 1 October 2012.

Never Underestimate a Fox

Nine-Tailed Fox
Nine-Tailed Fox

for the man who gave himself
the street-name “Tonto”
 

At a loss for everything
but words,
I’m writing in the sunlight
of a sidewalk cafe
when someone falls
over an empty chair and
lands on the table
in front of me.

I’m as drunk on language
as he is on booze.

A foxtail hangs from a leather cord
at his throat, like a necktie
over his T-shirt,
and when I ask him about it,
he tells me his story.

He killed the fox,
and then his mother said to him,
You took the life
of a free and beautiful animal
so you could feel like a bigger man.
Now the spirit of the fox
will make you pay.

He believed his mother.

I believe her too.
And beneath her words,
I hear the soft, alluring
voice of earth:

I dreamt each one of you,
you are just as I wish —
Go now,
walk your path,
breathe
and live.

– Harriet Ann Ellenberger, January 2012

  Continue reading Never Underestimate a Fox

The Watcher and the Watched

for Susan Robinson aka Susan Wood-Thompson

I send a poem to my friend,
asking her, Do you think it is finished?
My poem speeds off to join internet traffic,
passing through the super-computers of US intelligence
before it reaches her.

If I call long-distance to read her my poem,
each word I say,
each word she says,
travels through the same computers.

This gives me an idea.

What do these super-computers do?
They scan for keywords selected by humans
following the daily threat assessment.
And what do poems do?
They tell the truth of human feeling.

What if the world of poets
scanned the news for probable keywords?
What if we scattered them liberally
throughout our poems and shared our poems
prodigally, far and wide—
would humans who answer to no one
be forced, by the exigencies of their job,
to read poetry?

Poets too assess the real behind the rumour,
and should our keywords catch their ear,
what then—spy to spy—shall we say
to the boys and girls at the NSA?

We’ll say that humans are become
a single suffering tribe,
wandering far from the tree of life,
moving into unmarked territory,
hungry and hallucinating.

We’ll say, here’s a truth of human feeling:
it hurts to be awake out here.

–Harriet Ann Ellenberger
21 May 2012

“The Watcher and the Watched” was first published in “Counterpunch” on 23 November 2012, and later, with working notes, in “Return to Mago” on 12 December 2012. The image is from Tech Week Europe.

Eclipse of Hope

A moon blots out a sun.
Darkening silence comes between us.

In place of my house,
stands a tower of stone.
At its crown —
the lightning catcher,
she who writes on the blank rune.

Below, my departing selves
wait with their boats.

Driftwood burns.

I mark in sand
the sign of migration.

My eyes sting.

At my wingbones
four winds rise.

– Harriet Ann Ellenberger, 1985-2011

 

Acutely Personal, Eerily Collective

In early autumn of 1985, I had been living for four months in A Studio of One’s Own, a beautifully airy structure built by women for women artists on Ann Stokes’ land, a low wooded mountaintop in New Hampshire. (For photos of the land, see Welcome Hill Studios.) It was the first time I’d lived alone and the first time I’d lived in the woods.

I was there to write a serious book of prose and to chart a new direction for my life. Instead, I’d been getting up at the crack of dawn to write in my journal, walking the trails all over the old mountain, and skidding wildly from ecstatic vision to paralyzing despair. My journal entry for 1 October 1985 reads: “11 a.m. I am EXHAUSTED. 11:30 a.m. Well, shit, I just wrote a poem.”

It was, astonishingly, a real poem, one of the first I’d written since childhood. But in the second stanza there was a tongue-tangle, marking a conceptual muddle, that I couldn’t for the life of me untangle. Eventually, I put the poem away and half-forgot I’d written it. Twenty-six years later, in the midst of an e-mail to a friend about something else altogether, the lines as they were meant to be surfaced in my mind.

In the mid-1980s, it was clear to any witness of my life that I personally was in trouble, my past gone and my future unknown. But I couldn’t altogether articulate what that felt like. By the summer of 2011, though, human beings were clearly and collectively in the same kind of trouble: past gone, future unknown. And suddenly, with so much company, I could say how that feels.

Note: “Eclipse of Hope” first appeared in the Spring 2012 issue of Trivia: Voices of Feminism; it was published with more extensive working notes on 11 February 2013, in Return to Mago.

Photograph courtesy of AP Photo / Tourism Queensland

The Teacher

The Teacher

When we howl, children,
we give it all we’ve got.
Think power, think passion,
send your voice over the mountain,
“I am here, where are you?”

Everyone ready?
Deep breath—
fill out those lungs to the ribcage—
ears back,
nose to the sky,
now yearn! yearn! yearn!
and re-lee-ee-ee-ease.

You just scared the pants off those two-leggeds
down in the valley.

Harriet Ann Ellenberger
25 March 2015

Desire Spoken Under a Night Sky

I’m in the process of migrating my old website to WordPress — please wish me luck.

And in return I offer this poem, to be used as a charm for difficult times.

 

Desire Spoken Under a Night Sky

May the earth live,
May we live on the earth,
May love in our life flower,
May the transformation be realized.

May it be stone that we stand on,
May winds bring us fast-moving thought,
May our heart bathe in salt waters,
May spiral galaxies light our way home.

 

– Harriet Ann Ellenberger (March 2014)