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.

Rising to the Occasion

On the June 2015 solstice (summer solstice in the northern hemisphere, winter solstice in the southern hemisphere), She Rises, the first offering from Mago Books, will be published. What began as a collective writing project on Facebook’s “Mago Circle” two years ago has transformed into an anthology of monumental proportions—470 pages of writing and artwork by 90 contributors from different continents and backgrounds.

To help celebrate the book launch, I’m posting the link to the new Mago Books website and reprinting below a slightly finessed version of my initial (quick & dirty & inflammatory) contribution to that first writing project.

A Personal Story

I got involved with women’s liberation in the early 1970s, so involved that it became my life for many years. During those beginnings of what is now called “the second wave of feminism,” everything was new to us and everything was mushed together—the political, the economic, the intellectual, the emotional, the spiritual. I liked that a lot; It felt as if all the parts of myself were coming together.

During that time, I learned something crucial: the imagery and concepts of patriarchal religion justify and are embedded in the material structures of oppression. I don’t know which came first, institutionalized oppression (of almost everyone; I’m not speaking here only of women) or the religious expression of that oppression. All I’m certain of is that patriarchal religion permeates, for example, the Oxford English Dictionary, which I use all the time in conjunction with Websters’ First New Intergalactic Wickedary of the English Language, conjured by Mary Daly in cahoots with Jane Caputi.

I wouldn’t describe myself as an especially spiritual person; I don’t practice any spiritual discipline, unless you can call reading and writing spiritual. And I agree with Marx that religion is “the opium of the people,” “the heart of a heartless world,” that which keeps people alive within the iron cage of oppressive systems while it also discourages them from collectively opening the door of their prison.

Although I reject the rebellion-squashing function of father-god religions, at the same time, and somewhat paradoxically, I look to the new Goddess writers, re-discovering and re-inventing the early religions of humankind, for inspiration. The earliest religions seem to have worked to bring people together, rather than to tread on some while lifting up others. That is attractive to me. The love of the earth and the stars and the mysterious invisible worlds that permeate Goddess spirituality also attracts me. Plus, the old and new Goddess images are beautiful, and there is something enticingly poetic about the ceremonies being created and re-created in the name of Goddess spirituality.

What’s not to like about all this?

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

My First Metaphysics Lesson

                                                     for Helen Hye-Sook Hwang

In the fall of 1964, I was a freshman scholarship student at a small liberal arts college in the midst of the Iowa cornfields (no drought then—the tall-grass prairie that had been broken to the plow turned green with lustily growing rows of corn from horizon to horizon). I wasn’t paying attention to the surrounding crops, nor even to the weather; I was avidly searching for signs of the life of the mind, which I had imagined would flourish in that place.

I didn’t find what I was looking for, but one remark by the professor teaching us “Introduction to Philosophy” did turn my attention in the direction of studying philosophy. We had just spent fifteen minutes of classroom time on the pre-Socratic philosopher Thales, who taught that everything was water, when our teacher said, Consider how extraordinary this is—to look at the multi-form ever-changing world and see flowing through it a single invisible unifying “something.”

I considered, and I was hooked.

The word philosophy comes from the Greek philos (loving) combined with sophia (wisdom; also the goddess of wisdom), so it means literally “loving wisdom” or “loving Sophia.” But, as I would find out the hard way, academic philosophy in 1960s middle America had strayed far from its roots. There was little love, not much wisdom, and most assuredly no goddess in it. It was not a way into the life of the mind; it was intellectual jousting for the purpose of determining who was the smartest guy in the room (by definition, that wouldn’t have been me).

Four years of extreme study in philosophy departments did, however, give me a built-in bullshit-meter—I could tell almost instantly when someone was saying or writing something that made no sense. Through constant use of analytic reason, I learned what a handy-dandy all-purpose tool it can be. But a tool is no more than a tool. It doesn’t guide you, and it doesn’t inspire you. And I was becoming increasingly disillusioned and unhappy. So I gave up my fellowship for graduate study and turned my attention to more pressing matters, like the bombing of Cambodia instigated by Henry Kissinger.

My first metaphysics lesson had to wait for another twenty years, until the mid-1980s, when my friend Debbie and I decided to eat two little dried-up fungus-buttons another friend had passed on to her. We thought we were ingesting the sacred mushroom used by shamans, but who knows what those wrinkly things really were or where they’d come from. We were both, however, all set for our trip into Big Mind.

It was a bitterly cold and clear full-moon night, and we were inside Debbie’s cabin, situated halfway up a snow-covered mountain in Vermont, and surrounded by woods. We each ate our “mushroom,” bundled up, and went outside. I looked at the full moon and saw it as I usually did, perfectly clearly, but over it and surrounding it was a see-through diaphanous creamy-pink lotus blossom. I blinked, and saw the full moon as usual. I blinked again, and there was the moon with her see-through lotus-double. I blinked again and again, and the lotus-moon appeared, disappeared, and reappeared in the same way.

Then I looked at the bare trees in the moonlight, and saw see-through lithe young women lying along the branches. Only they were too tall and too beautiful to be human. I blinked and they were gone. I blinked again and there they were; I could see the solid branches through their shimmery bodies. I cried out to Debbie, “Metaphors are Real!” and felt as if I’d just made a momentous philosophical discovery.

By this time, though, Debbie’s dog was yipping and biting at our heels, having had enough of the great outdoors. We went back inside, and he plopped down on the rug in front of the door. Debbie put another log on the fire, and then I saw her little dog’s see-through body sit up, trot over to the woodstove, and curl up beside it. A split-second later, his wet furry normal-little-dog’s-body sat up, trotted over to the woodstove, and curled up in exactly the same spot. Oh, I thought, so that’s how it works: dream-body leads, touch-body follows.

The next morning I woke up feeling as if I’d been kicked all over by a horse, which abruptly ended my enthusiasm for dried-up fungi. But for more than a year afterward I could see the lotus-and-moon on clear nights when the moon was nearly full, if I bent my knees. And since that night, although I’ve managed to doubt almost everything else, I have not doubted that the world is double, and that the more powerful, initiating part of it we have been conditioned not to perceive.

There is nothing ordinary about reality: that’s what my first metaphysics lesson taught me.


Note: When Helen Hye-Sook Hwang asked me to contribute to the new “Return to Mago” blog, I got all excited and wrote this little philosophy story for her. She published the first version of it on 9 September 2012 at http://magoism.net

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