Dark Night of the Soul

In 1992, I put together a small book of my poems and mailed it to Robin Morgan, asking for her advice on how to publish it. She selected one of the poems for Ms. Magazine, hired an artist to illustrate it, and paid me $50. I was very excited. But then I had to do something fast about paying the rent, and after only one long wait and one rejection by a book publisher, I let the manuscript languish. Sometimes I’d pull out a poem and change a line or two and get it published in an online journal. But the bulk of them just sat there, first in a cardboard box and then in a file cabinet, biding their time.

A month ago, I decided their time had come, mostly because human beings seem to be entering a collective dark night of the soul. Hey, I thought, I know something about this descent into the underworld. Everyone does it differently, but it’s a recognizable process with a beginning, middle, and end. And I’ve got evidence that the process is survivable; the evidence is in the poems.

note: If you get lost in the French passages, there’s an English translation at the very end.

TONGUES OF FIRE, LANGUES D’AMOUR

Espoir / Désespoir / Espoir
Hope / Despair / Hope

IN YOUR ONE-ROOM APARTMENT

My breasts ache when you are near.
My spine arches toward you, even across this room.
My skin longs for the length of you.
My tongue imagines itself
flicking in and out the doors of your body.

Listen, I will bite your shoulders gently.
I will shake you in my arms
and hum a low barbarian tune to your throat.
This time I will bend over you
and not let go.

I will part your lips with my two good hands,
touch in between with my curled tongue,
enter slowly, stay, until
the inside of you
and the outside of you
join light with its shadow.

And I will show you how to
caress me with your shining hands.
My hips will move by themselves.
I will let down my language
to the play of your tongue,
and I will come to you
and come to you again.

You may grow so slippery
with my juice
that you will feel yourself birthed again ―
wet and new between my breasts,
my hands in your soft, soft hair,
my lips at last telling truth:
It is you who wakes me with wonder.


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.


I TASTE YOU

and the moon becomes a lotus
ivory with rose core
violet along all her trembling verge

you rise in my sky
car of ecstasy
cry of light

my skull flies up
from the intricate
column of bone

my mouth falls
open

oh


TONGUES OF FIRE, LANGUES D’AMOUR

I wake and you are here,
near enough to taste,
next to me when I am alone,
close by me when I am with others.

Someone,
a woman who follows a man,
a woman I tried to follow,
told me you were my last attachment:
to let go of you would be to fly free of ideas,
to leave behind the selfish, paining ego,
to accomplish enlightenment.

I tried.
I tried every maneuver I could envisage.
I took my working metaphors
from a library of acquired wisdoms,
from an entire company of friends and guides
who told me:
“Bury this hope,
bury it and you will be free.
Exorcise your body’s memory of her,
cast her out.
Extinguish your desire for her.
This is not love;
this is obsession.
Let go and you will be transformed.”

I let go, all right.
Au point de suicide.

I let go of them.

ii

Veux-tu approfondir
l’imagination émouvante de l’univers,
la pensée incessante et invisible
qui engendre nos corps visibles,
la belle araignée qui secrète
ce lien éclairant entre nous,
à travers les temps,
à travers nos vies,
à travers même la destruction de la terre?
Peux-tu sentir sa présence?
Veux-tu suivre ses intentions?
Désires-tu les rendre tangible?

iii

In the shock of our rencontre, my body altered.

Five years ago at dawn,
on a frozen Vermont morning
longing to melt into spring,
you walked in my kitchen door.
A stranger to me then,
you resembled no one I had ever seen.
But an ancient part of myself recognized you.
An olden, olden part of my heart
said you had come for me.
I gave myself to you in that moment.

Who can tell the terror of transformation?
Who can tell its ecstasy?
I had no words ―
only your name.

Was it a terrible thing that I did?
Was it a thing that cannot be undone?

iv

I wake to absence, the empty shape of the air,
and I call that negation by your name.
What I dream that does not come about,
the phantasms of my desire that do not take form,
to these I give your name.

You have become for me all things:
that which calls to me from deep within,
that which for me refuses to break open.

Dreaming witch whose magic aids all but herself,
I repeat my lives.
Over and over and over again,
the rock shatters me.

I ask the silence which carries your name,
“Do you know what it is to be strung
between heaven and earth,
life after life, death after death,
singing what cannot be spoken,
calling out
where the response is blank incomprehension
or murdering greed?”

Silence answers in my own voice.

It is exactly that
which I have not learned to bear.

v

Having achieved the freedom of complete despair,
I no longer desire your presence.

What would I do with you?
Perform?
To what end?

Meaninglessness completes its own circle.
The snake bites her tail.

vi

I detest above all else your discernment.

When I was whispering
je t’aime, je t’aime, je t’aime,
as if this were a present you should be glad for,
your reply was a speech.

Love is not an angel thing, you said,
you can destroy someone with it.

But if not you,
who will keep me within boundaries?

And if not I,
who will take you into her heart?

vii

These near-death days
end always the same way:
spirit wedding.

I feel you again ―
behind me,
arms around my waist;
against me,
curled up like a kitten.

Something holds me to life.

viii

Sprung out of bed like a jack-in-the-box,
on the hunt for coffee, tobacco, words, food ―
dawn in a stranger’s house ―
I’m out the door, wild for something.

Déraisonnable. Fever of the road.

Late night or early morning,
on the streets I always meet men ―
sprung loose also from context, smoking,
on the hunt, wild for something.

Chaos without reason ― I feel them like that.
Passion without direction I feel myself.
All they need is a young witch to lead them.
All I want is to ride with you.

Déraisonnable.
But real.

ix

Yesterday, all day, half the night,
I meet dykes:
brave old friends,
the ones who created something from nothing,
the ones who keep on fighting even as they give in,
recluses, singers,
agitators, dreamers,
those who lit our hopes and broke our hearts
along with their own.
Do you remember them?
Do you remember me?
Do you remember yourself
living the international lesbian conspiracy?

I write these words on a Palm Sunday,
jukebox country music playing,
the waitress telling a story
about the cross which hangs by her bed.
She says she cannot sleep.
Nor can I.
Nor, I suspect, do you.

I think about the light years
separating her mind from mine.
I think about the ocean
separating you from me.
Who is farther from whom?

Tu me manques.

x

Bleeding at the new moon,
I open my legs to you.
As before, your tongue moves slowly
in the silent groove of time.

We are calling the dream to come,
divining the future,
touching the past.

Our bodies shimmer
in the tender dark core of light.

xi

Lying in wait for the poem.
Out of swirling thought, which image will come?
The sun in the river.

Yesterday morning in front of friends,
I throw tobacco to the winds
above the sculpted rock of Salmon Falls ―
mute tribute to the spirits living there,
thank-offering for gifts they give me.

Two women who care for me,
my friends a year ago thought me mad ―
gone wild from grief of losing you,
deluded and endangered,
my ceremonies part of the danger.

I show myself to the spirit world
in the face of their disbelief,
and the spirit of the falls
shows herself to me:

Fire on the face of the waters.

xii

Après la tempête,
tout ce qui reste,
c’est l’amour.

Je veux te serrer dans mes bras,
je désire te dire tout bas
que tu es la plus belle amante de ma vie,
le plus beau visage de mon âme.

xiii

Täi chi, Poésie, Prophétie

Täi chi: gestes lentes du corps
qui danse en respirant

Poésie: paroles chantantes du corps
qui rêve en respirant

Quand je me sens profondément,
je te sens au même moment.
Le destin qu’on partage se dévoile.
Source et destination,
il monte à la surface de mes gestes lents,
de mes paroles chantantes,
en respirant.

Mais on peut toujours ignorer le destin
et je ne connais pas l’avenir.

xiv

Good Friday: favorable for suffering, not song.

The women who come to me tear out my heart.
Then they feel stronger.
Then they vanish,
headed for open fields under a white sky.

xv

cinq heures du matin:

Five years, suitcases full of writing,
a hundred hundred-thousand words by now?
Each written in blood
to beguile you,
threaten you,
caress you,
describe you,
banish you,
order you around,
enter through you into the world.

I was just a simple country girl.
How could I have committed this extended act of war?

xvi

Undo, unweave.
Out of this entombment,
chrysalis spun by my own hand,
let me fly free.

The renaissance you promised me with your eyes . . .
I desire it now.

xvii

My therapist asked my kindly ―
I was laughing and crying and inhaling smoke simultaneously ―
have I knocked down your house of cards?
It is a fantastic construction of desire, my dear ―
these voices, these visions,
this promised rescue which never arrives.
You show the naked power of the human mind.
But there is something you must accept,
a lesson you have refused to learn:
you cannot trust your own mind.

What would have me do? I asked.
Burn my writing?

Yes, she said.

***
How events repeat,
how persons reappear ―
I thought I remembered her;
now I am certain.

In another sex,
un autre pays,
she taught me self-abasement
for my own good.

***
Standing straight once again, as before,
tower of flaming flesh,
I say this:
La terre est en train de mourir.

By their faith,
they are killing the earth.
By their words,
they murder mind.

xviii

I wake with such happiness rising in me,
légère, légère . . .
then the fear hits.
Fear of the others.
Fear of the human world as it has been and is.
My sickness.
I undo myself, all I have done,
brutally.

The spirits protect me,
the spirits feed me,
the spirits caress me in dream.
What they weave in the night,
I unweave in the day ―
servant to those who loathe spirit
and my body.

A black cat walks my back fence at dawn ―
self-possessed, purely herself.

Born into the magic female body,
possessed of the magic female mind,
I could spin my way out
surely.

All I desire is to live as myself,
fearlessly.

Come, desire.
Lead me as before.

xix

The Resurrection in the Body

I confess I desired you.
I confess I was deceived by my desire.
I confess I desire you still.

L’ÉCLATEMENT / BURSTING


F
IRST CAME THE LOVE POEMS, HERE COMES THE HATE POEM

This is a poem for every woman
who was seduced by a woman
who mistook herself for Don Juan.

This is poem for every female
who followed her heart
and found out she was just another case history.

This is a poem for every girlchild
who let herself be enflamed
by prayers and glory and crazy hope
and who was subsequently shot off her horse.

Cursèd be the day I met you,
cursèd be the hour you were born,
cursèd be the star that crossed us,
monstre d’amour I am.

“Hell hath no fury like that of a woman scorned” ―
this is a cliché.
I feel free to write to you clichés,
since you do not know the difference.
When I told you your English was superb,
I lied.
It gives me great satisfaction to tell you this.
I will stoop to anything
if it will put a skewer through your Gallic égoïsme.
I will even stoop as low as you,
to nationalist insult.
When you told me, “Americans are like children,”
I bit my tongue.

France was never worth the passions of Jeanne d’Arc.
And you were never, ever worth mine.


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.


BORDER GUARDS

Incessantly crossing frontiers,
I have become a fantastical liar.

Where do you live?
I lie.

Where are you going?
I lie.

How long will you stay?
I lie.

What is your work?
I imagine a vocation
to reassure invisible strangers.

To myself, I tell the truth.
I am a poet.

Do you believe me?


POEM TO CUT YOU AWAY


Full moon over Montréal:
I dream the completion ceremony,
poem to cut you away.

Do you remember my black-feather knife?
I carried it always,
in the woods and in the theatre.
With it, I cut rope,
shaped wood,
mimed mute clitoridectomy . . .
to show what had been done to us,
our powers cut away at an early age.

I lost that knife and never found another.
It returns to me finally,
when time has come full,
in dream.

A chill wind sweeps through my limbs as I write.
There is no air moving in this room but my breath,
cold as metal,
touch of the knife to my own heart.

I wonder, are my dreams too terrible?
Do they lead me to the wrong stone circle?

After five years of stunning pain,
I believe in the powers of language.
Poems alter the winds of the world.

Do I do in this place something irreparable?

I take the knife returned to me,
and with it I cut through
the living fibers of light
binding me to you,
binding you to me,
binding us in single destiny.

J’embrasse ma mort.


GOING BACK

Gutting the prose
of a life in the wrong body,
without wonder, without rhyme,
see the glistening entrails ―
heart, liver, spleen.

Lift them to the rising moon.

Cry the songs of renewing.


STILLNESS.    WANING MOON IN THE DAWN SKY.

Can I learn to love you
as one loves the dead,
with no hope of their return?

The cards read clearly.
Silence. No return.

Your body goes into the earth.
My hot heart learns tenderness.


GHOST DANCERS

Exiles all,
their dreaming fell into common pattern,
sharing the plot of the night-time sky.
When stars faded,
dancers rose to enact the truth of desire,
compelling dream of return.

Their moment of dancing,
the victory they knew.
My poems,
what I am left of you.


BLACK GOLD

It was hot as blazes when I was born,
and the creek overflowed.

My aunt rings from Iowa, early,
to report that she did not give birth to me
but she gave me my name.
When I ask how she is, she says she is eighty-four
and she walks and she talks
and she looks like a sack of flour
with a string tied around the middle
and when am I coming home?

Gertrude Stein said if you’re from Iowa,
you’ll always be all right.

When am I coming home?

Are we always all right?

So many of us are already dead.

All right, the subject of my birthday poem is home:
where is it,
on which side of the river is it,
why does no satisfying word for it exist in French,
and what in God’s name am I doing in this place?

“Jesus, lover of my soul,
let me to thy bosom fly,” the old song goes —
and I must say your breasts attract me tremendously.
Home. I am a homing bird.
Fluff my feathers,
hold me close over your heart,
my heart beats for you,
my heart longs for you,
you live in Paris and I live in Montreal —
Sweet Jesus, how did I get myself into this?

I have an infantile fixation:
you, you, more you.
How is it I come from soil so rich
they call it black gold,
and still I feel always half-fed?

Can I wrap my legs around you?
Is this too earthy for you?
Honey, can we make love ’til the cows come home?

I am interrupted – bloody good thing —
by my friend Catherine from the Canadian prairie,
who calls to say happy birthday
and that she has done it again,
gone off the deep end.
Something to know about prairie people, darling:
eventually we realize when we are being excessive.

I, for example, recognized it as excessive
to roll around on my kitchen floor at 4 a.m.,
calling your name,
wailing loud enough to wake the baby downstairs,
“Home, home, take me home,
put me in your suitcase,
oh my god, take me home.”

I knew it was too much,
I did it anyway,
and then I could sleep.

When I woke, I made the ceremony,
finally, to say adieu to you,
and I had no sooner blown out the candles
than you were standing at my front door.

There’s a moral in this. Somewhere.

A July electrical storm begins —
just like home.
Wild lightning splits the sky;
thunder echoes my drumming heart;
the elements conspire to show me my origin,
what I am.

This much I know:
after the rains
come green growing things.


PRAYER TO THE WHALES WHO COME TO TADOUSSAC, QUÉBEC

I remember you,
dying erotic poets of the sea,
surrounding the whale-watch boats,
singing.

Wind-burned,
in fog and in pain,
I sent up my silent love-calls to you:
O come,
O live,
O let me caress your mind.

We share a mortal enemy,
unnatural man.
Yet you surround his boats,
singing.

Teach me to do the same.


PRAYER TO THE FOUR DIRECTIONS

May the earth live,
may I live on the earth,
may love in my life flower,
may the transformation be realized.

May you bring me stone to stand on,
may you grant me fast-moving thought,
may you keep for me clear-burning passion,
may you bathe my heart in salt waters.

May I always remember myself.


THUNDERER, PERFECT MIND

Purple clouds mass along the horizon.
Sheet lightning crackles.
Black winds cut,
keen as an obsidian knife.

Out of the dark west she rides.
From the yellowing east she comes.
Her white flags fly to the north.
In the south her red fires are lit.

She speaks.
The rock peaks split.

She speaks
and the past is laid open.

She speaks.
A light rain falls.

She speaks
and the future rises,
vapor on her breath.

She speaks.
Death is real.

She speaks again
and death is not an end.


                                              

SONG OF THE EXILE

She who is my mother
loves and hates me.

She who was my lover
loves and hates me.

Everywhere I go,
I take with me my house of despair.

Where can I go
to leave it behind me?


A PRACTICE OF RELIGION

The woods are my church
because everyone in them lives by the law.
If you take more than you need there,
your surplus will be stolen by brown bears,
for dessert.

I take to the woods
like wild geese to Northern skies,
like the red fox to her sensuous den.
The woods are cradle, hearth fire,
roof, spire.
The oak is my god
and the ladyslipper, my pleasure.

If I go to the woods, it is to flee humans,
but I am a human too —
what I touch, I despoil,
my greed knows no bounds,
my jealousy sickens every sacred creature.

If I go to the woods,
without skill, without knowledge,
it is to ask the holy ones for help.


WHEN I MISS YOU

I remember the lightning-struck oak:
heart split to the ground,
still one at the root.


L’ÉTOILE / THE STAR

WINTER DREAMING

I am still forming,
I am not yet myself,
but I dream a lover to come:
someone who will know me
from the left side,
someone who will remember my eyes
from a place where people spoke differently,
someone who will call me
singing deer,
white moon and lotus,
the one who dances in my heart.

People now say what I do is dreaming,
and useless.
But I say winter dreaming
keeps me on earth.

I myself am a dream of the earth.
She is filling me with her breath.
When her dreaming nears fullness,
someone will see me.
Someone will choose me.
Someone will take my hand.

And when that one comes,
I will begin again as myself:
adorned by my own name,
sheltered by my own roof,
fed from a beautiful and cherished land.


ROUGH TRANSLATIONS

langues d’amour: languages of love
au point de suicide: at the point of suicide
“Veux-tu approfondir …” Do you wish to feel deeply the moving imagination of the universe, the unceasing, invisible thought which engenders our physical bodies, the beautiful spider who secretes this shining thread between us, through time, through our lives, through even the destruction of the earth? Can you sense her presence? Do you wish to follow her intentions? Do you desire to make them tangible?
rencontre: meeting
je t’aime: I love you
déraisonnable: irrational
tu me manques: I miss you
“Après la tempête …”: After the storm, all that remains is the love. I wish to hold you in my arms. I desire to say to you softly that you are the most beautiful lover of my life, the most beautiful face of my soul.
“Taï chi …”: Tai Chi, Poetry, Prophecy. Tai chi: slow gestures of the body that dances while breathing. Poetry: singing words of the body that dreams while breathing. When I feel myself deeply, I feel you in the same moment. The destiny we share reveals itself. Source and destination, it rises to the surface of my slow gestures, of my singing words, while breathing. But we can always ignore destiny – and I do not know the future.
cinq heures du matin: 5 a.m.
un autre pays: another country
La terre est en train de mourir: The earth is dying
légère: light
monstre d’amour: monster of love
égoïsme: selfishness
j’embrasse ma mort: I embrace my death

[The featured photo is by Robson Hatsukami Morgan on Unsplash.]

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

She Is Still Burning 14

It’s easy to introduce this 2002 installment: 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


Continue reading She Is Still Burning 14

She Is Still Burning 13 (May 2002)

The May 2002 installment 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)

Continue reading She Is Still Burning 13 (May 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” installment 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)

Continue reading She Is Still Burning 10 (November 2001)

She Is Still Burning 9 (26 Sept. 2001)

The installment 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 installment 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


Continue reading She Is Still Burning 9 (26 Sept. 2001)