WOMAN AND NATURE -- THE ROARING INSIDE HER
BOOK FOUR: HER VISION -- Now She Sees Through Her Own Eyes
THE SEPARATE REJOINED
Out of my flesh that hungers
-- AUDRE LORDE, "On a Night of the Full Moon"
... healing must be sought in the blood of the wound itself. It is another of the old alchemical truths that "no solution should be made except in its own blood."
-- NOR HALL, Mothers and Daughters
Why is she lying so still there? And what is she dreaming? We ask, here, in the center of this darkness. We not so different from darkness, not seen but known as darkness itself, and dark to ourselves. She sleeps. Her sleep is like death. And what is she, in this night, becoming? Buried from the light like the soil under the ice frozen solid. In this dark and cold season, this wintering time, when the moon becomes smaller (just a shadow of herself) and her heart beats slower, we touch the coldness of her skin. This sleeping body, we whisper. Out of the light we can feel this body, hear the air enter her, and our hands ask what is she dreaming in this darkness? What is she, in this night, becoming? And we are darkness. Like the carbon from the air which becomes the body of the plant and the body of the plant buried in the earth becoming coal or the body of the plant in her mouth becoming her own dark blood and her blood washing from her like tides (and the sea drawing into itself, leaving the bodies of fish, coral spines, the reef). This place. This place in which she breathes and which she takes into herself and which is now in her, sleeping inside her. What sleeps inside her? Like a seed in the earth, in the soil which becomes rich with every death, animal bodies coming apart cell by cell, the plant body dispersing, element by element, in the bodies of bacteria, planaria, and back to the seed, this that grows inside her and that we cannot see. What does this body hold for us? (What we feel in this darkness that seems like stillness to us.) And what made us feel that every day was like another? Why did we no longer bother to draw back the curtains? No longer bother to make the beds? Why did we leave scraps of meat out on the tables? Leave our hair wild and uncombed? Refuse any longer to speak? Draw into ourselves and ask? And ask. What this body holds, now. What will come out of this earth. The earth turning and we not feeling any movement. But moving. Spinning through the stars. The moonlight. Turning in our sleep. What was it she remembers? Why did she sit up in her sleep as if waking. What thought seized her? To cry out like a child. What child still in her? Like the sunlight trapped in the leaf which becomes part of the ground, of the sea, the body of the fish, body of animal, soil, seed. What is growing inside and will pierce the surface, if she awakens with this memory: what she was before. And light touches her eyelids, warmth touches her skin, like the plankton thrown into the light by the turbulence of the sea and the spore carried by the wind, her body changes. And what does she feel in this morning? What does she see now? If she opened the window, what new air does she breathe? (Opens the window, combs her hair, washes her face, stares out at the world and speaks.)
The moon swells and tides wash over the rock; granite and shell become sand; the roots of trees are polished and the cell divides every day. Every day we move closer to the sun. Each day she is closer to herself. And to this child within her, growing inside her. She remembers, what she might have been (as oxygen from the plant goes into the flame, into ash). And she puts these pieces together. What is left after the years and what will come together still, like the edges of tissue grafting one to the other: blood cleanses the wound, and this place is slowly restored. (And the forest reclaims what was devastated, and her body heals itself of the years.) So we say, finally, we know what happens in this darkness, what happens to us while we sleep, if we allow the night, if we allow what she is in the darkness to be, this knowledge, this that we have not yet named: what we are. Oh, this knowledge of what we are is becoming clear.
We Enter a New Space
The new space ... has a kind of invisibility to those who have not entered it.
-- MARY DALY, Beyond God the Father
Space filled with the presence of mothers, and the place where everyone is a daughter. Space which does not exist without matter. The place where she predominates. Space which is never separate from matter. The space shaped by the movements of white-haired women and ringing with the laughter of old lady friends. The world seen on the faces of middle-aged women. The place filled with the love of women for women. Space shaped by the play of the littlest girls.
The stone dropped in water. Space that knows her. Starlight in darkness. Space lit up with her thoughts. The circle in space. Space dancing under her broom. Space transformed in her kitchen. In which her pots and pans are foremost and the diapers of her children dominate the landscape. Space charged with the cleaning out of tubs, the threading of needles, the storage of leaves in jars. Space she has cooked and scrubbed clean. Space shaped by her anger. The place made by the one who tends to needs. Her feeling of having room. The space she fills. A motion circling the void. The electron a movement in space. Space freed from her not being. The place where she is recognized. And where she can see herself.
Space the shape of experience: the form of motion. Space full of curiosity about her, and the place which records her image. Space which she embroiders. Space which she covers in quilts. Space which she makes into lace. Space which she weaves. Where she builds the house of her culture. Where her breast is a self-reflection. This space which she paints.
Space filled with her paintings. Where she paints THE FITTING, where she draws THE COIFFURE, where she sets on her canvas the YOUNG WOMAN DRESSED IN BLACK, and paints her DREAM of HAPPINESS, and the BROKEN MIRROR, and sets down the MOTHER ABOUT TO WASH HER SLEEPY CHILD, and paints the KNITTER, WOMAN SPINNING AND WEAVING, THE SELLER of TISANE, where she records the OLD WOMAN FROM THE POORHOUSE, and the WORKING WOMAN, and records the LETTER of REJECTION and sets down PORTIA WOUNDING HER THIGH, where she gives a shape to THE SUICIDE of GENEVIEVE BRIBERT.
Space in which there is no center. Space filled with her disintegration, where all certainties change. Space in which she feels she is coming apart. Space where nothing is ever still and motion always changes shape. The place where she holds on to nothing. The stone dropped in the water. Space electrified by her feelings, comes back to us in waves. Space shaped about her. Our movements rush the air by the force of what she feels, and penetrate the stone. Where she makes out the invisible, where she touches the real.
Where she sees BISONS FLEEING A FIRE, where she paints WILD HORSES IN THE FAR WEST, where she makes out the shape of METAMORPHOSIS of A FROG and creates STUDY of A WOMAN FROM NATURE and sets down COW'S SKULL WITH CALICO ROSES and where she imagines THE PHENOMENON of WEIGHTLESSNESS, where she extends into space WRAPPED IN SILENCE, and she shapes DEATH SNATCHING A CHILD, and she gives a form to NEVER AGAIN WAR, and she makes the motion of LIFT EVERY VOICE AND SING, she paints STRUGGLE of OBJECTS FOR SUPREMACY, and she draws SELF-PORTRAIT WITH A PENCIL; she makes the shape of CONFESSION FOR MYSELF, and she sets down on canvas MOTHER RECEIVING THE CONFIDENCES of HER DAUGHTER, and she paints PORTRAIT of A WOMAN PLAYING A PRELUDE ON THE PIANO, and she makes the image of YOUNG WOMAN READING; where she paints the FEMALE LIFE CLASS; ILLUMINATIONS, DARK; SKY CATHEDRAL; MEDITATIONS; HOMAGE TO MY YOUNG BLACK SISTER, and ACTIVATED CIRCLES, and PELVIS WITH BLUE, and SYMPHONY FOR WOMEN, and CAPILLARY ACTION, and she paints GREAT LADIES TRANSFORMING THEMSELVES INTO BUTTERFLIES.
Her space The cosmos flooded with The earth her vision. The space where her feelings pulled her apart and what was inside her was revealed. And this lit her way.
Space where, in her circling motion, she found an opening.
We Enter a New Time
The center of the new time is on the boundary of patriarchal time. What it is ... is women's own time. It is our lifetime ...
-- MARY DALY, Beyond God the Father
One of the tasks of women's history is to call into question accepted schemes of periodization.
-- JOAN KELLY-GADOL. "Did Women Have a Renaissance?"
We say we are brilliant with light from the stars that began millennia ago and now burn in our minds.
Andromeda (The Chained Princess) The time when she was chained. The age in which the most significant event was her loss of her own name. The millennium that began on the day that the first rape of a woman took place. The day that settled in when the rape of a woman went unavenged. The age of laws which declared her unfit to govern. The age that was shaped by the fact that she was not taught to read. The centuries that did not declare her rights. The period that declared her unfit to practice medicine. The years in which she could not own property. The time during which her word could not stand alone in court. The age that was colored by the fact that she was home all day taking care of children. The period filled by the isolation of women. The time for which the most significant evidence is her invisibility.
Hydra (The Dragon) The century during which Ales Manfield was called a witch. The age when Katherine Kepler was tortured. The year when Ales Newman, Alice Nutter and Alizon Device were accused of belonging to a coven. The week when Anne Redferne, Anne Whittle, Elizabeth Demidyke, Jeanet Hargreaves, Katherine Hewit and Jeanet Preston were burned at the stake. The time that was governed by fire.
Canis Major (The Greater Dog) The period known for the daring of Judith who cut off the head of Holofernes and thus saved the city. The age typified by the courage of Alice Knyvet who kept the king from taking her castle by force. The decade known for the ferocity of Joan of Flanders. The time called the Years of Jacoba after the healing genius of Jacoba Felicie. The age famous for having prohibited Jacoba Felicie from practicing medicine.
We say there is no end to any act. The rock thrown in the water is followed by waves of water, and these waves of water make waves in the air, and these waves travel outward infinitely, setting particles in motion, leading to other motion and motion upon motion endlessly. We say the water has noticed this stone falling and has not forgotten. And in every particle every act lives, and the stars do not frighten us, we say, starlight is familiar to us.
Monocerous (The Unicorn) The age that began when Caroline Herschel looked at the stars. The period during which Emilie du Chatelet stayed up late in the night writing of space, time and force. The period that ended when Emilie du Chatelet died in childbirth.
The Pleiades (The Seven Sisters) The age in which those women who were virgins supported themselves by their nursing, weaving and making lace. The age in which they pooled their earnings and lived together.
Taurus (The Bull) The decade ruled by Reine Louise Audre, Queen of the Markets. The time in which she led a march of eight hundred women to Versailles. The year during which women demanded that the grain speculators be punished, demanded that conditions at the marketplace be made better, that priests be able to marry, that women receive better education, that male midwifery be put to an end; the year in which these women asked for an end to all privilege, demanded that husbands stop dissipating the dowries of their wives, that women have control over their own property and their children, that women be given employment. The day of the month celebrated because that was when women brought down the Bastille.
Leo (The Lion) The period of time in American history known as the years of the slave rebellions (which were led by women).
Lyra (The Harp) That year when she spoke of a "vision of a woman, wild! With more than womanly despair." The period beginning with the words of Marie de Ventadour that "a lady must honor her lover as a friend not as a master." That decade famous for her play about the rapist who mistook pots and pans for virgins, and fondled them all night. The year her play was performed by the other sisters of the convent. The year glorified by the laughter of the nuns. That age distinguished by her book called The City of Women in which she extolled the virtues of women. The great age that began when a young woman published the words "of what materials can that heart be composed which can melt when insulted and instead of revolting at injustice, kiss the rod?"
The Magellanic Clouds. The Orion Nebula. Star Clouds in the Milky Way. We say our lives are part of nature. We say in every particle every act lives. The body of the tree reveals the past. That the waves from the stone falling into the water were frozen in the winter ice. That stars pull at the bodies of crabs, and oysters know the phases of the moon.
Delphinus (The Dolphin) The time of the visions of Hildegarde von Bingen, the mysteries of Margery Kemp, and the year of the establishment of a colony where Anne Hutchinson preached.
Perseus (The Hero) The Harriet Tubman Years. The Age of Sappho. The period shaped by the socialist movement begun by Flora Tristan called Tristanism. The century called the Swallow Period after Ellen Swallow (because she invented the word "ecology"). The day devoted to the memory of Elizabeth Blackwell (because she was the first woman to graduate from medical school). The Ma Rainey Era.
Lepus (The Hare) The years that might have been had she not been busy raising the children, keeping them alive, gathering food, stitching the holes, sweeping the floor, steaming the fish, keeping the coal in the stove. The years which could not have been had she not done these things. The ages which survived through her sympathy; the centuries subtly informed by her compassion.
Virgo (The One Who Is Inviolable) The eons of clear rivers. The millennia of brilliant skies. The time immemorial of dark forests. The past history of flowering. Aquarius (The Water Carrier) The age of dryness. The period of dark skies. The centuries during which forests turned to deserts. The age of grieving for the earth.
Argo Navis (The Ship) Her birth. The day she said her first word. The time of her growing awareness. The days of her bleeding. The years when she learned about death. The age she was when she accepted change. The time of her broadening. When she felt her body become strong. That time of her life when she learned reciprocity and the inviolability of the other. The year when her anger gave her clarity and all her weeping was filled with intelligence. The morning of her full powers. The celebration of her first gray hairs. The solemn recognition of her coming of age.
The elliptical orbit. The pull of gravity. The satellite motion. Time in space, we say, the half note pushing the air; the quarter note traversing the earth. The bud, the egg, the risen bread, the right time for things. The right time she says is now. She says our lives have been changed by what has gone before. Up until now we have been kept from our past by silence, but, she says, the time of our silence is over, and we will have The Chrysalis those years again opening.
Cassiopeia (The Queen's Chair) We say the ages when she knew her own power. The age when she kept her own name. The age when she revealed the secret of the wheel. The age when she learned to speak with the animals. The age when she discovered the seed. The age during which she wove truth about herself. The age when she joined forces with the earth. When she listened and was heard. The age when she knew she was not alone. The Age of her Resonance.
Whatever I have said about my deeds and words in this trial, I let it stand and wish to reaffirm it. Even if I should see the fire lit, the faggots blazing, and the hangman ready to begin the burning, and even if I were in the pyre, I could not say anything different.
-- JOAN OF ARC, 1431
"What is in those diaries then?"
DORIS LESSING, The Golden Notebook
This above all, we have never denied our dreams. They would have had us perish. But we do not deny our voices. We are disorderly. We have often disturbed the peace. Indeed, we study chaos -- it points to the future. The oldest and wisest among us can read disorder. From dreams, or the utterances of madness, the chance cracks on a tortoise shell, the fortunate shapes of leaves of tea, the fateful arrangements of cards, we can tell things. And some of us can heal. We can read bodies with our hands, read the earth, find water, trace gravity's path. We know what grows and how to balance one thing against another.
Many of us who practiced these arts were put on trial. We stood at the gates of change, but those who judged us were afraid. They claimed the right to order the future. They would have had all of us perish, and most of us did. But some kept on. Because this is the power of such things as we know -- we kept flying through the night, we kept up our deviling, our dancing, we were still familiar with animals though we were threatened with fire and though we were almost to a woman burned. And even if over our bodies they have transformed this earth, we say, the truth is, to this day, women still dream.
... ye was taken out of bed to that meeting in a flight.
-- BESSIE HENDERSON, Crook of Devon, 1661
In those years, whatever we wanted it seemed we could not have. Nothing in our lives was ever fortunate. We had the meagerest portions of things, and when things were rare, we went without. That is our lot in life, we told ourselves. And we stopped wanting. Only we longed, and we grew so accustomed to the pain of longing that we called this our nature. We put this into our songs. We said disappointment was part of life. Even in our imaginations, all our attempts began to fail. But one day all this changed. On this day we met a woman who was used to getting what she wanted. She ate large portions and her body was big. She let us know there were other such women. We were bewitched. We began to dream we were like this woman. Her very smile invited us to be like her. And that is how we were finally initiated.
We began to think we might get what we want. Our longing turned into desire. Do you know how desire can run through the limbs? How wanting lets your eyes pierce space? How desire propels even the sleeping? How a resolve to act can traverse this atmosphere as quick as light? We were alive with desire. And we knew we could never go back to those years of longing. This is why, despite the threat of fire and our fear of the flame, we burst out through the roofs of our houses. Desire is a force inside us. Our mouths drop open in the rushing air. Our bodies float among stars. And we laugh in ecstasy to know the air has wishes; the stars want. "Yes," we call out, full of ourselves and delight. "Yes," we sing. "We fly through the night."
If anyone at the kalends of January goes about as a stag or a bull; that is making himself into a wild animal, and putting on the heads of beasts; those who in such wise transform themselves into the appearance of a wild animal, penance for three years because it is devilish.
-- ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY, 7th century
The Devil has the best Music.
-- JOHN MILTON
Yes we are devilish; that is true we cackle. Yes we are dark like the soil and wild like the animals. And we turn to each other and stare into this darkness. We find it beautiful. We find this darkness irresistible. We cease all hiding. Nothing is secret: we display what they call evil in us. Yes, we have horns on our heads, and our feet are cloven, and we are covered with fur and with feathers. And how we love this state of affairs. We practice butting with our horns; our feet carry us quickly through the forest. In our fur and feathers, we attempt to repeat all the lessons they tried to teach us. But this fur and these feathers mock their words. We begin to laugh. We cannot stop laughing. One of us imitates the sound of the voice that has lectured us. With her hoof, she gestures pompously at us. In her growls and guttural moanings she follows the rhythms of this speech, produces its tones. We are delighted. She has captured the lecturer in her animal body. We are hysterical with laughter and now we join her mocking. We insult this foreign presence in her. We cast a spell on her. We drag her from her pulpit. We kill that lecturer in her. Now we are triumphant. We light torches. We wear flames on our very heads, so that our bodies cast light all around us. Now when we kiss the very darkest parts of ourselves with this light, we are transformed: And sweet voices pour from our mouths.
There was one of two things I had a right to, liberty, or death; if I could not have one, I would have the other; for no man should take me alive; I should fight for my liberty as long as my strength lasted....
-- HARRIET TUBMAN
From the beginning I conceived the dance as a chorus ... I so ardently hoped to create an orchestra of dancers that, in my imagination; they already existed....
-- ISADORA DUNCAN, My Life
Yes, we are
The cobra was known as Eye, uzait, a symbol of mystic insight and wisdom.
-- MERLIN STONE, When God Was a Woman
And yes we are close to animals. One of us, we admit, speaks with snakes. When she was a child this animal licked her ears clean. And that explains her to us. Because that deft tongue washed out what stops up most of our hearing, she can hear most clearly. She can even, yes, even hear what the birds say. (And the birds bring messages from the dead, and the dead bring messages from the universe.) This cleanness of her ears accounts for her wisdom. To speak with her is to be amazed, not only at the nature of this world, but at the sound of one's own voice. She hears what is said, and she also hears what is not said. Oh, she is a marvelous listener! Those of us who tell our stories to her seem to hear them ourselves for the first time. So clean are her ears. And we hold nothing back from her. We blurt out all we can remember. What we forget, or don't know, she tells us. Then, with the whole story given to us, we can usually figure things out. As for what will happen to us, that she does not hear, that she needs to see. For this, she tells us, for she too does not hold back, for this she eats the body of that animal, its flesh that has rubbed against the ground becoming part of her blood, and in that way she sees what could not otherwise be seen. She sees lives that ended before their time, and what those lives could have done. She sees possibility. She sees lives half lived becoming whole. She reads stories that have never been written. Sees whole cities grow up, and the new growth of forests that were razed long ago. She sees all kinds of marvels far beyond what we ask her to see, things, she says, we could not even dream. We would think her raving, but she speaks to us so sweetly of what she says can be, that we too begin to see these things. We know her clarity for our own, and as for the way things are now, we grow most impatient.
The biosphere does not end where the light gives out.
-- G. EVELYN HUTCHINSON, "The Biosphere"
You have sometimes wondered, my dear friend, at the extreme affection of my nature -- But such is the temperature of my soul -- It is not the vivacity of youth, the hey-day of existence. For years I have endeavoured to calm an impetuous tide -- labouring to make my feelings take an orderly course -- It was striving against the stream.
-- MARY WOLLSTONECRAFT, Letters
We heard of this woman who was out of control. We heard that she was led by her feelings. That her emotions were violent. That she was impetuous. That she violated tradition and overrode convention. That certainly her life should not be an example to us. (The life of the plankton, she read in this book on the life of the earth, depends on the turbulence of the sea) We were told that she moved too hastily. Placed her life in the stream of ideas just born. For instance, had a child out of wedlock, we were told. For instance, refused to be married. For instance, walked the streets alone, where ladies never did, and we should have little regard for her, even despite the brilliance of her words. (She read that the plankton are slightly denser than water) For she had no respect for boundaries, we were told. And when her father threatened her mother, she placed her body between them. (That because of this greater heaviness, the plankton sink into deeper waters) And she went where she should not have gone, even into her sister's marriage. And because she imagined her sister to be suffering what her mother had suffered, she removed her sister from that marriage. (And that these deeper waters provide new sources of nourishment) That she moved from passion. From unconscious feeling, allowing deep and troubled emotions to control her soul. (But if the plankton sinks deeper, as it would in calm waters, she read) But we say that to her passion, she brought lucidity (it sinks out of the light, and it is only the turbulence of the sea, she read) and to her vision, she gave the substance of her life (which throws the plankton back to the light). For the way her words illuminated her life we say we have great regard. We say we have listened to her voice asking, "of what materials can that heart be composed which can melt when insulted and instead of revolting at injustice, kiss the rod?" (And she understood that without light, the plankton cannot live and from the pages of this book she also read that the animal life of the oceans, and hence our life, depends on the plankton and thus the turbulence of the sea for survival.) By her words we are brought to our own lives, and are overwhelmed by our feelings which we had held beneath the surface for so long. And from what is dark and deep within us, we say, tyranny revolts us; we will not kiss the rod.
we have given until we have no
more to give;
and mount higher
-- H. D., "The Flowering Rod"
You call me a thousand names, uttering yourselves.
Earthquake, I answer you. flood and volcano flow -- the Warning. This to remind you that I am the Old One who holds the Key, the Crone to whom all things return.
-- ROBIN MORGAN, "The Network of the Imaginary Mother"
This story is told to us about the mountain. That one day suddenly and with no cause fire began to pour from her. That those living trustingly at her sides were frozen in their steps by the hot ash which she gave off, that without any warning a terrible death issued from her and stopped a whole city. That at that moment when she chose to strike, food was being set forth on tables and daily life continued innocently. Thus when we are shown the form of the dog whose agony was preserved forever in this ash, we see why she cannot be trusted.
They asked her to feel sorry for their plight. They told her how it was hard for them to cry. How dominance had been expected of them. They said that they knew no other life than the one that they were taught. That hence they were not responsible for what they did or said. They said that such changes as she was requiring of them were impossible. That their bodies could not be otherwise. That one could not change overnight. That these matters she spoke of so bluntly were subtle and complex. That she must be more patient. That she made them feel guilty. That guilt kept them from moving. She was bringing them to tears, they said: "Pity us." Couldn't she see that they had tried? Couldn't she see she was asking too much of them? Be fair: "You are unreasonable," they told her. But she answered them, ''You have called me unreasonable before."
Yet beneath this layer of ash, which the rain made into mud, and the sun dried for centuries, we find another story. We discover that the ash did not come suddenly and all at one moment. But first a black cloud appeared in the sky above the mountain. And that afterward ash fell over the city for two days, until the sky became darker and darker, and the ash piled thicker and thicker. That those who perished would not leave, but chose to stay in their houses, to guard their possessions; that the dog who died in that agony was chained to the door; that those who died, died struggling for breath poisoned from her fumes, that only at the last moment must they have wanted to flee, only then believed in the power of this mountain to change their lives.
And she said she was tired of this old dialogue. Whenever she heard that cry, she said, of guilt, whenever she heard them moan for patience, her jaw closed. She could feel her face redden, and the back of her spine was rigid. She was certain she would explode. Yes, she said, she had grown unreasonable. "And don't want to hear," she barked, "any more of your reasons." She had been patient, she growled, too long. "Do you know what the cost of this patience has been?" she yelled. This dialogue is over, she shouted, and she vowed the old drama would not be played out again. "I will give you no pity," she said. She did not feel pity now, she bellowed.
Searching beneath the volcano, beneath the ocean floor, tracing the movements and the history of the movements of the earth, we find cause for the fires. We say beneath the earth is a flowing rock. We say this flowing rock rises to the surface, and we say the rock on the surface sinks toward the core of the earth, becoming molten and then hard and then molten again in turn. And we say also that there are breaks in the surface of the earth, places where the depths are uncovered, and it is at these broken places that the rock is transformed, and the surface of the earth is made. Where change takes place, we say, and where the earth is replenished we find volcanoes.
And so her anger grew. It swept through her like a fire. She was more than shaken. She thought she was consumed. But she was illuminated with her rage; she was bright with fury. And though she still trembled, one day she saw she had survived this blaze. And after a time she came to see this anger-that-was-so-long-denied as a blessing.
And we learn also that the coral reefs were made by coral fixing themselves on the bases of old volcanoes, worn down by the sea. And the lava which flows from volcanoes, we say, becomes a rich soil where luxuriant forests grow.
Consequences (What Always Returns)
And I pray one prayer -- I repeat it till my tongue stiffens -- Catherine Earnshaw, may you not rest as long as I am living! You said I killed you -- haunt me, then! ... Be with me always -- take any form -- drive me mad! Only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you! Oh God! It is unutterable! I cannot live without my life! I cannot live without my soul.
-- EMILY BRONTE, Wuthering Heights
To have risked so much in our efforts to mold nature to our satisfaction and yet to have failed in achieving our goal would indeed be the final irony. Yet this, it seems, is our situation.
We say you cannot divert the river from the riverbed. We say that everything is moving, and we are a part of this motion. That the soil is moving. That the water is moving. We say that the earth draws water to her from the clouds. We say the rainfall parts on each side of the mountain, like the parting of our hair, and that the shape of the mountain tells where the water has passed. We say this water washes the soil from the hillsides, that the rivers carry sediment, that rain when it splashes carries small particles, that the soil itself flows with water in streams underground. We say that water is taken up into roots of plants, into stems, that it washes down hills into rivers, that these rivers flow to the sea, that from the sea, in the sunlight, this water rises to the sky, that this water is carried in clouds, and comes back as rain, comes back as fog, back as dew, as wetness in the air.
We say everything comes back. And you cannot divert the river from the riverbed. We say every act has its consequences. That this place has been shaped by the river, and that the shape of this place tells the river where to go.
We say he should have known his action would have consequences. We say our judgment was that when she raised that rifle, looking through the sight at him, and fired, she was acting out of what had gone on before. We say every act comes back on itself. There are consequences. You cannot cut the trees from the mountainside without a flood. We say there is no way to see his dying as separate from her living, or what he had done to her; or what part of her he had used. We say if you change the course of this river you change the shape of the whole place. And we say that what she did then could not be separated from what she held sacred in herself, what she had felt when he did that to her; what we hold sacred to ourselves, what we feel we could not go on without, and we say if this river leaves this place, nothing will grow and the mountain will crumble away, and we say what he did to her could not be separated from the way that he looked at her; and what he felt was right to do to her; and what they do to us, we say, shapes how they see us. That once the trees are cut down, the water will wash the mountain away and the river be heavy with mud, and there will be a flood. And we say that what he did to her he did to all of us. And that one act cannot be separated from another. And had he seen more clearly, we say, he might have predicted his own death. How if the trees grew on that hillside there would be no flood. And you cannot divert this river. We say look how the water flows from this place and returns as rainfall, everything returns, we say, and one thing follows another, there are limits, we say, on what can be done and everything moves. We are all a part of this motion, we say, and the way of the river is sacred, and this grove of trees is sacred, and we ourselves, we tell you, are sacred.
She swaggers in. They are terrifying in their white hairlessness. She waits. She watches. She does not move. She is measuring their moves. And they are measuring her. Cautiously one takes a bit of her fur. He cuts it free from her. He examines it. Another numbers her feet, her teeth, the length and width of her body. She yawns. They announce she is alive. They wonder what she will do if they enclose her in the room with them. One of them shuts the door. She backs her way toward the closed doorway and then roars. "Be still." the men say. She continues to roar. "Why does she roar?" they ask. The roaring must be inside her, they conclude. They decide they must see the roaring inside her. They approach her in a group, six at her two front legs and six at her two back legs. They are trying to put her to sleep. She swings at one of the men. His own blood runs over him. "Why did she do that?" the men question. She has no soul, they conclude, she does not know right from wrong. "Be still," they shout at her. "Be humble, trust us; they demand. "We have souls," they proclaim, "we know what is right," they approach her with their medicine, "for you." She does not understand this language. She devours them.
... escape from necessity? like children? but one would lose the value of life --
-- SIMONE WEIL, First and Last Notebooks
And because Barnard College did not teach me necessity, nor prime my awareness as to urgencies of need around the world, nor galvanize my heart around the critical nature of conflicts between the powerful and the powerless, and, because, beyond everything else, it was not going to be school, evidently, but life-after-school, that would teach me the necessities for radical change, revolution: I left; ...
And so I continue: a Black woman who would be an agent for change....
-- JUNE JORDAN, Notes of a Barnard Dropout
We play with numbers. Charming and sweet, we play little games with them, these figures. They are pale reflections, without the gravity of being of the potato, the glacier, the growth of lichen, the feather of an egret, the flecks in the iris of an eye, cracks in the dried clay of soil or the shed shell of a turtle, all of which they quantify, from which all they derive, the material forms whose awesome processes these numbers merely imitate, making simpler dramas with which we rest our minds, and in this bloodless theater of mathematics our hearts are eased. We are able to see the inevitability of process, count the days until our deaths, number the generations before and after, calculate the future colors of the eyes of our progeny, for numbers allow us, for moments, to objectify our own existence, which we know we cannot do to the potato or the glacier or the egret, the turtle nor the eye that meets us like our own with all its beautiful and its terrible knowledge of survival, the eye attached by ganglia and arteries through the brain's cortex down the spine even to the flesh of a foot that edges bare over the earth, feeling the hard outline of a crack on the clay surface.
Behind naming, beneath words, is something else. An existence named unnamed and unnameable. We give the grass a name, and earth a name. We say grass and earth are separate. We know this because we can pull the grass free of the earth and see its separate roots -- but when the grass is free, it dies. We say the inarticulate have no souls. We say the cow's eye has no existence outside ourselves, that the red wing of the blackbird has no thought, the roe of the salmon no feeling, because we cannot name these. Yet for our own lives we grieve all that cannot be spoken, that there is no name for, repeating for ourselves the names of things which surround what cannot be named. We say Heron and Loon, Coot and Killdeer, Snipe and Sandpiper, Gull and Hawk, Eagle and Osprey, Pigeon and Dove, Oriole, Meadowlark, Sparrow. We say Red Admiral and Painted Lady, Morning Cloak and Question Mark, Baltimore and Checkerspot, Buckeye, Monarch, Viceroy, Mayfly, Stonefly, Cicada, Leafhopper and Earwig, we say Sea Urchin and Sand Dollar, Starfish and Sandworm. We say mucous membrane, uterus, cervix, ligament, vagina and hymen, labia, orifice, artery, vessel, spine and heart. We say skin, blood, breast, nipple, taste, nostril, green, eye, hair, we say vulva, hood, clitoris, belly, foot, knee, elbow, pit, nail, thumb, we say tongue, teeth, toe, ear, we say ear and voice and touch and taste and we say again love, breast and beautiful and vulva, saying clitoris, saying belly, saying toes and soft, saying ear, saying ear, saying ear, ear and hood and hood and green and all that we say we are saying around that which cannot be said, cannot be spoken. But in a moment that which is behind naming makes itself known. Hand and breast know each one to the other: Wood in the table knows day in the bowl. Air knows grass knows water knows mud knows beetle knows frost knows sunlight knows the shape of the earth knows death knows not dying. And all this knowledge is in the souls of everything, behind naming, before speaking, beneath words.
To a certain degree this is why pottery is so exciting to make; you are never absolutely sure how a pot is going to come out. Though you may think you know every angle of possibility, there are always new ones!
-- MARGUERITE WILDENHAIN, Pottery: Form and Expression
... For no actual process happens twice; only we meet the same sort of occasion again.
-- SUZANNE K. LANGER, Philosophy in a New Key
This teacher tells us we must ride the unknown. She has made many pots. She says we cannot rely on a formula. She has made pot after pot over many years and she says she still rides the unknown. We must follow our hands, she says, the clay will speak to our hands; the clay has qualities of its own, and we must yield to the clay's knowledge. She says every rule we have memorized, the roughing and the wetting of edges, for instance, to where the clay will be joined, every law must yield to experience. She says we must learn from each act, and no act is ever the same.
And the clay will respond to events, she says. She presses the clay into a piece of charred wood. We see a history of flames. She rolls the clay over sandstone. We see the path of the wind. She says each act takes a particular form and the textures are limitless. She invites us to use shells, twigs, rope, bark, birch, straw, burlap. She invites us to use our own hands, the particular print of each palm.
As our hands become cold from the clay, she asks us do we feel the elements yield to each other? Do we feel our skin vanish? Does the clay enter us? But with our hands on this wheel, for a moment, we face nothingness. For an instant we must admit we do not know the future, and we are afraid. Yet our hands are wet and coated with clay and they continue to work, despite our fear, they continue and this particular clay speaks to them. And now as our hands give us knowledge, fear becomes wonder: we are amazed at this shape we have never seen before which we hold now in our hands.
We must give this thing a surface, our teacher tells us, and we must carry our work through the fire. She says here, too, recipes are useless. These will achieve only the conventional, she says. But beauty demands a more arduous process. We must know these glazes intimately. We glaze small vessels with every color we possess. We try dilution and thickness. We try the pots at different stages of the fire; red-hot, we thrust them in leaves, in sawdust, in water; we let bubbles rise in them; we see them turn smooth like glass. Suddenly, we find we have a new language.
The possibilities, she has told us, are endless: Red drips over the lid of a jar glazed with gray and over its swelling sides. As the color flows, the pot is fired, and two running drops are caught in motion. The red, now thick, now a wash, is resolved in particles over pink, and then one large swatch of redness appears like the half-moon on our thigh when we bleed.
Violet blue is glazed over turquoise, and countless other blues appear. Circles of black, sienna and ocher move in waves like light over water. A gray stream forks into two; red fills the joints of a lattice of cracks; whiteness sits in a fissure like a lens; ocher reflects the light as gold, and in one swatch of jade, a sudden parting reveals a jagged space between two halves. These shapes suggest our hearts, suggest flowers, faces, breath, suggest waves, the possibilities of clear rivers, the possibilities of our lives running true, the possibility that we may know these mysteries, the lattice of veins in the leaf, the air caught by the light over the horizon, in our hands. The possibilities, we see, never end. And when we take the vessel out of the fire, our teacher tells us, we will always be surprised.
We Visit Our Fears
Without words, it comes. And suddenly, sharply, one is aware of being separated from every person on one's earth and every object, and from the beginning of things and from the future and even a little, from one's self. A moment before one was happily playing; the world was round and friendly. Now at one's feet there are chasms that had been invisible until this moment. And one knows, and never remembers how it was learned, that there will always be chasms, and across the chasms will always be those one loves.
-- LILLIAN SMITH, The Journey
The old woman who was wicked in her honesty asked questions of her mirror. When she was small she asked, "Why am I afraid of the dark? Why do I feel I will be devoured?" And her mirror answered, "Because you have reason to fear. You are small and you might be devoured. Because you are nothing but a shadow, a wisp, a seed, and you might be lost in the dark." And so she became large. Too large for devouring. From that tiny seed of a self a mighty form grew and now it was she who cast shadows. But after a while she came to the mirror again and asked. 'Why am I afraid of my bigness?" And the mirror answered, "Because you are big. There is no disputing who you are. And it is not easy for you to hide." And so she began to stop hiding. She announced her presence. She even took joy in it. But still, when she looked in her mirror she saw herself and was frightened, and she asked the mirror why. "Because, the mirror said, "no one else sees what you see, no one else can tell you if what you see is true." So after that she decided to believe her own eyes. Once when she felt herself growing older, she said to the mirror, "Why am I afraid of birthdays?" "Because," the mirror said, "there is something you have always wanted to do which you have been afraid of doing and you know time is running out." And she ran from the mirror as quickly as she could because she knew in that moment she was not afraid and she wanted to seize the time. Over time, she and her mirror became friends, and the mirror would weep for her in compassion when her fears were real. Finally, her reflection asked her, ''What do you still fear?" And the old woman answered, "I still fear death. I still fear change." And her mirror agreed. ''Yes, they are frightening. Death is a closed door," the mirror flourished, "and change is a door hanging open."
"Yes, but fear is a key," laughed the wicked old woman, "and we still have our fears." She smiled.
Ablation. Abrasion. Mountain of accumulation. Aeolian deposits. Afforestation. Testimonies. Over and over we examined what was said of us. Over and over we testify. The lies. The conspiracy of appearances. There are Fissures. There are cracks in the surface. We realize suddenly we are weeping. I heard a wail, she said, my voice. Alluvial Cone. Alluvial Fan. (Sediment, Sand, Silt.) Arroyo. Ash Cone. Attrition. Avalanche. We are shouting now. We believe nothing can stop us now. What is named will not he forgotten. We are carried along by these testimonies. (There is a roaring inside us.) We are frightened. We do not know where this will stop.
Backwash. Basalt. Basin. Bedrock. Blizzard. Butte. In the bath she sees suddenly that her legs are woman's legs. Her shoulders drop softly and infinitely. Her belly rounds into dark hair. She is moved to call herself beautiful, to see the abundance of her skin. I touch her breast. We see only each other. This beauty blinds us. We were longing for this. We are filled with longing.
Calving. (The iceberg detaches from the glacier.) Canyon. (Formed by the river cutting through arid walls.) Cave. Coral. Current. Cycle. With every attempt to merge we find ourselves free again. Every mystery turns and speaks to us. Searching for you, I fell into myself. We rediscover origin. We are moved.
Dam. Debacle. What we thought we wanted turns against us. The sound of weeping still ringing in our ears. Drift. Dune. Dust.
Earth. Epoch. Erosion. We can tell you our children were born helpless. We can tell you how we fed them and dressed them and how we watched. We can tell you of their infinite patience and of their screaming impatience, of their struggle to learn. How they discovered their feet. How they crawled on their knees. How every muscle stretched toward movement. How they listened. How they struggled toward speech.
Fold. Fossil. Glacier. Hoarfrost. Ice. Islet. Isthmus. We can say how we try to love and how the old scars prevent us. How we try to deny what has happened to us. How we rage that the old still claims us. Jet streams, Key, Lagoon, Lake, Lava, Magma, Metamorphosis, Meteor (shooting star). We can tell you how words spoken in rage accumulate around us. How we make our home in this language.
Monsoon Forest. Moraine. Nadir. Oasis. Plain. Planet. Suddenly we find we are no longer straining against all the old conclusions. We are no longer pleading for the right to speak: we have spoken; space has changed; we are living in a matrix of our own sounds; our words resonate, by our echoes we chart a new geography; we recognize this new landscape as our birthplace, where we invented names for ourselves; here language does not contradict what we know; by what we hear; we are moved again and again to speech.
Quartz, Quagmire, Radiation. Rain. River. Rock. We learn to say each other's names. We see the way we are together. We admit we will not go on forever. We admit death.
Sandstone. Schist. Shale. Love bursts in us. We do not try to hold on to this. We shudder. We shake. We separate.
Tide. Timber line. We know there is no retreating. Umbra (The shadow). Undertow (The returning wave). We acknowledge every consequence. Volcano (The magma forces its way to the surface). Weathering (Decay and disintegration). Wind. Wood. Year. Zenith. We say that we are part of what is shaped and we are part of what is shaping. We sleep and we remember our dreams. We awaken. We tell you we feel every moment; we tell you each detail affects us. We allow ourselves to be overwhelmed. We allow ourselves ecstasy, screaming, hysteria, laughter; weeping, rage, wonder; awe, softness, pain, we are crying out. (There is a roaring inside us, we whisper.) WE ROAR.
It is a period I remember vividly, not only because I was beginning to accomplish something at last, but also because of the delight I felt in being completely by myself. For those who love to be alone with nature I need add nothing ... no words of mine could convey even in part, the almost mystical awareness of beauty and eternity that accompany certain treasured moments.
JANE GOODALL, In the shadow of Man
She hunkers. She sits in a hunkering attitude. We learn the attitude of not hunting. The attitude of learning. The attitude of practice. After weeks walking on treacherous slopes she became sure-footed. The attitude of alert waiting. The attitude of having to go through, of not avoiding. We finally agree to make this passage. We force open our eyes. The attitude of disappointment. For a year she circled them. At every approach they vanished; they went fleeing. Despondency. We find what we were not looking for. We do not take this seriously. Later we reinterpret the gravity of these accidents. In what was impenetrable, we find a way. She learns the name of the fruit tree they feed from, to recognize it. Illness. Exhaustion. Backward movement. The attitude of recovery. We learn to beware of panic; to anxiety we sing softly, calming words, over and over. We have learned this from our infants, whose inarticulate cries demanded this knowledge of us. The attitude of singular discovery. The attitude of risk. When she was alone, she discovered the animals came closer. The attitude of eschewing protection. The attitude of disarming. Although we had learned to defend ourselves, when we chose we could make ourselves vulnerable. These moments are sacred, we acknowledge. She watched them make their nests. She saw him build an upright fork; bend small branches over the foundation; put leafy twigs at the rim. She saw her accumulate a mound of greenery before she curled up. Solitude. No words. The exquisite. (She wrote that the waters of the lake sighed.) The attitude of moving closer by slow inches by mutual consent. She came within sixty yards of them. She saw they were less afraid. She watched them gather food. She watched them passing the meat of a piglet back and forth. She watched one squat over a termite nest and push a long grass stem into the mound. The attitude of respect. The attitude of not yet knowing. The attitude of slow recognition. One with a deformed, bulbous nose. One with hairless shoulders. One with scars from his upper lip to his nose. The attitude of watching. The attitude of watching for eight days. The attitude of seeing the unexpected. She saw them bite the ends off a piece of vine, collect several stems, choose among them, make tools. In the heavy rain, she watched them leap from trees, tear off huge branches, charge without stopping, lightning shaking the sky. She saw this dance three times in ten years. The attitude of marvel. Awe. We stare in almost disbelief. We do not rush to speech. We allow ourselves to be moved. We do not attempt objectivity.
One from Another (The Knowledge)
We were considered very poor midwives if our women had any tears.
-- ANNA MAY, retired midwife, Frontier Nursing Service
We said we had experienced this ourselves. I felt so much for her then, she said, with her head cradled in my lap, she said, I knew what to do. We said we were moved to see her go through what we had gone through: We said this gave us some knowledge. She said in the hospital these things happen all the time. She said the woman was fully dilated. She said they had numbed her feelings. She said therefore the woman had no experience of the movements of her uterus and had no desire to push. That the doctor on duty was sleeping and refused to come to her aid. That she lay there for three hours until the shift changed. That though labor was induced then the baby was born bluish and died on the tenth day. She said that the doctor always wanted to maintain control. That he wanted this birth to go according to schedule. She said that he went up inside the cervix before she was fully dilated and that he clamped the cord and the fetal heartbeat stopped and that was why they had to perform a Caesarian. She said they had taken her baby away from her for twelve hours, for twenty hours, for four hours.
We said we had learned from being there. We said we learned from watching what had happened each time. We said we used few tools. That our hands had knowledge of this act. That our hands would allow this birth to happen in its own time. We said when we asked the doctors to explain these births, they themselves knew very little. We said we had witnessed the complexities of these processes, how perfectly attuned to each other were these events. We respected the laboring of her body, we said, and we learned what not to do, and where not to intrude, and these births amazed us with their ease.
She said that the hospital was filled with noise. That women were moved from bed to bed. From room to room. That the lights were too bright. The chrome too shiny. That the place reeked with antiseptic. She said in this atmosphere, what she had seen before, what she had felt before attending a birth, this ghostlike presence, was not there. But she said despite all this activity, the woman lay alone. She lay alone in labor. And no one looked into her eyes. No one responded to the questioning of her murmurs. We said our hands themselves responded. We said it was so clear to us where and how to touch her. We said that to hold back this caring would have been a violence to ourselves.
She said after their training in the hospitals they came to us with doctors' faces. She said it took weeks for them to drop this impersonality. We said that to be there for her, we said that to hear what her needs were, that to listen to her, we had to separate ourselves from the doctors. We had to deny their authority and place the authority in ourselves. We said it was not possible to hear both their voices and her voice. When she attended the birth, she said, she did all she could to make her calm. Waiting out her labor with her, she answered each of her questions, "Am I all right? Is the baby all right?"
We said each of us in our own way had to learn to trust each other. We said what we had learned in the hospitals was not to trust these women. When the transition from labor to birth came, she said, she applied hot compresses to her belly, if the stress was there, or to her lower back, when she felt it there. She said she rubbed coconut oil into her skin.
We said in the hospitals they made us wear leggings, they had wrapped our bodies, they had claimed our bodies might infect our newborn children. And the room was cold, we said. And the chrome frightened us. So we delivered ourselves, we said, into their hands. She said the room was kept heated for the comfort of the child when it was to be born. She said the laboring woman, warm with her efforts, removed her clothing. We said in the hospitals we would have liked to remove our clothing. We said when we chose to trust this woman to attend us, we ceased to believe our bodies would infect our infants. We said, as we trusted her more, we began to do what we had always wanted to do.
She said though the infant's head had been turned upward, at the last minute it rotated perfectly by itself and slipped out toward her hands. She said she held it gently, making the passage slow, so a sudden burst would not tear the birthing woman's body. We said we felt ourselves needing her presence, relying on the calmness of her voice. We said what we felt in our bodies no longer frightened us.
She said that first the head slipped out and then the body, that this was a girl, remarkably clean, the cord wrapped loosely around her neck, her arm over her chest. She said she felt the fundus then to see if the placenta was clear of the abdomen. She said then that she helped the mother put the baby to her breast. And that the uterus began to work again and delivered the placenta with one strong contraction, she said. And then, she said, she made two stitches along the scar of the old episiotomy. We said if there was tearing it was along the lines of the old wounds. We said we discovered we had trusted her wisely, that to yield to her was to yield to ourselves.
One way to feel the holiness of something is to hear its inner resonance, the more-than-personal elements sounding -- vibrating through.
-- M. C. RICHARDs, TheCrossing Point
This cathexis between mother and daughter -- essential, distorted, misused -- is the great unwritten story. Probably there is nothing in human nature more resonant with charges than the flow of energy between two biologically alike bodies, one of which has lain in amniotic bliss inside the other, one of which has labored to give birth to the other.
-- ADRIENNE RICH, of Woman Born
The string vibrates. The steel string vibrates. The skin. The calfskin. The steel drum. The tongue. The reed. The glottis. The vibrating ventricle. Heartbeat. Wood. The wood resonates. The curtain flaps in the wind. Water washes against sand. Leaves scrape the ground. We stand in the way of the wave. The wave surrounds us. Presses at our arms, our breasts. Enters our mouths, our ears. The eardrum vibrates. Malleus, incus, stapes vibrate. The wave catches us. We are part of the wave. The membrane of the oval window vibrates. The spiral membrane in the cochlea vibrates. We are set in motion by what moves outside our bodies. Each wave of a different speed causes a different place in the cochlea to play. We have become instruments. The hairs lining the cochlea move. We hear. To the speed of each wave the ear adds its own frequency. What is outside us becomes us. Each cell under each hair sends its own impulse. What we hear we call music. We believe in the existence of the violin. The steel string. The skin. Tongue. Reed. Wood. The curtain flapping in the wind. We take these sounds as testimony: violin, skin, tongue, reed exist. Our bodies know these testimonies as beauty.
Ma Ma. Da Da. La
le la le. Mo Mon Po pon mah bowl
When she hears this cry she remembers smallness. Smallness rises up in her. Translucence of skin rises up in her. Her mother rises up in her. The taste of salt rises up in her. The taste of sweetness rises up in her. She thinks of the fragility of the inner ear. She thinks of death. She pokes her finger delicately, carefully, into the corpse of her own aged body, into the future. She thinks of the odor of feces. of decaying leaves, the cast-off shell of the crab, of the red membrane, of the red bottom. The pulse in the skull. The moisture running off the back. The child's whole body. Smallness. Fitting against her forearm. Hand the size of her finger joint. She thinks of the redness inside, the wetness inside. She lifts the child's wet body to her. Under the child's weight and heat, her own body is moist. On the top of her skull, she thinks, was a membrane. With her two hands she makes an opening in the body of her mind to reveal what is vulnerable in her. The sound of her blood resonates. The sound of air enlarges her. Presses against her womb, presses against her vulva. She is small. She is infinitesimal. She is a small speck in darkness. In wet darkness. The darkness undulates. The darkness is hot against her. The darkness is growing, pressing into her. She is the darkness. She is heat. She grows. She presses the child's face to her face. Smallness -- she closes her eyes in the softness -- rises up in her. The child's fingers enter her mouth. The child's eyes stare into her eyes. This child vibrates through her. She knows this child.
The group velocity of waves. The period between one wave and another. Waves of waves. We turned back to our mothers. We listened for the stories of their lives. We heard old stories retold. The pitch. The volume. The timbre. We heard again the story of the clean house, we heard again the story of the kitchen, the story of mending, the story of the soiled clothes. The bell ringing. The confluence of pitches in the ringing of the bell. The overtones of the cries of birthing, the story of waking at night, the story of the shut door; the story of her voice raging, we heard again the stories of bitches. Resonance, the fork of the same pitch humming in sympathy, the sympathetic wave.
We tried to recover them as girls. We sought them as daughters. We asked to be led into recesses, we wanted to revive what was buried, we sought our own girlhoods we had feared lost. The regular impulses, the steady pitch of the note. The octave. Harmony. We heard the story for the first time that her mother's mother had brought her mother to a doctor; and we heard what the doctor had said to her mother; that this pain would teach her a lesson, we heard that before this her mother's mother had gone off by herself, had given a stillbirth, we heard the words out of wedlock we understood Sound only a milder form of the shock waves made by explosions, by blasts. why these stories had been kept from us Sound one of the ways we know how many stories in which concentrated energy are in this silence diffuses itself about the world.
We say we have lost some of our mothers forever to this silence. We say we have found hatred in the mother for the daughter and in the daughter for the mother. We say of our mothers that parts of them are lost to us, that our mothers come back to us dismembered, that in the effort Waves to recover them from the friction on the bow of the string vibrating we stand in danger in the maple bridge, vibrating down the sound post of losing ourselves in the chamber of the body or parts of ourselves through the cells of the surrounding plane wood in this whirlpool shaped by the shape of the body in the inherent lie of silence outward into the air that such stillness is not stillness to reverberate to the shapes of walls that this stillness is treachery to resonate in the surrounding trees that even as we find our daughters return to us The waves we recite again their names the waves in the atom saying that we cannot be complacent the atom vibrates nor stand still, that we must name every movement that the smallest particle of matter is a vibration that we must let our voices live within us that matter is a wave, that we survive by hearing.
The news seems vague and far off, not as if it were really happening. It sits on us like an ache. We are trying to ignore it lest the pain become unbearable. September 5, 1937
-- Hundreds and Thousands, the journals of Emily Carr
All around us, each way we look, we see only whiteness. And the sky itself is heavy with snow which keeps dropping silently, whiteness upon whiteness. The only sounds are the sounds of our voices, muffled and small. Yet we speak rarely. Our minds have become as plain as the landscape around us. And the rhythms of our bodies, moving steadily through these drifts, have become slow. Hour after hour things appear to be the same. Yet the drifts grow deeper. This landscape seems to be frozen still, and we cease to believe that under this ice there were ever leaves, ever a soil, that water ever ran, or that trees grow here still. No evidence of these beings can reach us. And our memories of this place are sealed from us by this winter; none of the sharp edges of existence reach us, the odors of this place, its taste, blunted. And even the snow itself becomes unreal. Our skin which at first was stung by the cold has now become so cold itself that it does not recognize coldness. Our feet and our hands which burned with pain are numb. Our vision seems half blinded by the relentless light from the snow. And we have come to believe there is nothing to taste; nothing to smell. We are certain that all that is around us and in us is absolute stillness. This has always been, we tell ourselves. Yet something in us is changing: our hearts beat slower and slower. And we who were so eager to go on think we want to rest here in this place. That it is best not to continue. Our bodies grow very heavy. Our eyes are almost closed. We would let ourselves sink into this snow. We would sleep. To end this struggle is mercy, we think. We marvel at how pain has left our bodies. We feel nothing. We dream that this is not really happening. And kindness we say is quietness. We would sleep. But some voice in us labors to wake, cries out so that we are startled, and we work to open our eyes. Our hands reach out into the snow and we wash this ice over our faces. As we awaken, our skin stings again. And as we push our bodies toward movement, we ache, and we feel pain again in our hands and our feet. We shiver. We are on the verge of crying that these chills are unbearable. But we do not sleep. We see clearly where we are now, and we know that it is winter. And suddenly, through this shocking cold, we remember the beauty of the forest lying under this whiteness. And that we will survive this snow if we are aware, if we continue. And now we are shouting with all our strength to the other sleepers, now we are laboring in earnest, to waken them.
I want nothing left of me for you,
-- JUDY GRAHN, A Woman Is Talking to Death
Her Body Awakens
... this we were, this is how we
tried to love
-- ADRIENNE RICH, Twenty-one Love Poems
Let go that which aches within you. She tells her. That which is stone within you. Which was once green in you. That has become hard within you, let go the years within you, she tells her. Her body. Her body holds. Her body has seized what had to be seized, what had to be learned, her body is a fortress, her body is an old warrior, how she has fought becomes clear, how she has known when to hold back becomes clear, how she has learned to grin becomes clear, how she has stayed on her feet becomes clear, how she has learned to keep secrets, learned to keep going, to preserve what was possible, learned every code, lived underground, lived on the barest means possible, her body, how she has hidden suffering, how she has worn, how she has kept going, how she was proud of her strength, of her indestructibleness, how she would keep going into battle, how she has worn muteness, how she kept on despite all odds, how she refused to admit defeat, how she wore muteness like a shield, how she denied sorrow, her body living its secret life, her body sheltering wounds, her body sequestering scars, her body a body of rage, her body a furnace, an incandescence, her body the exquisite fire, her body refusing, her body endlessly perceiving, her body growing huge, her body large and swollen, her body enormous and sagging, her body soft and flaccid, her body endlessly perceiving the absence, her body refusing to submit, her body continuing, her body consuming, her body sweating, her body rising and falling, her body beating, beating, flowing, throbbing, her body endlessly perceiving, endlessly perceiving the absence, her body refusing, her body refusing to submit, refusing, her body, her body, her body endlessly perceiving, endlessly perceiving, her body endlessly perceiving the absence, the absence of tenderness, her body refusing, her body refusing to submit, her body refusing to submit, to submit to lies, let go that which aches within you, she tells her, let go the years within you, she says.
The Anatomy Lesson (Her Skin)
It is only real feelings that possess this power of transferring themselves into inert matter.
-- SIMONE WEIL, First and Last Notebooks
From the body of the old woman we can tell you something of the life she lived. We know that she spent much of her life on her knees. (Fluid in the bursa in front of her kneecap.) We say she must have often been fatigued, that her hands were often in water. (Traces of calcium, traces of unspoken anger, swelling in the middle joints of her fingers.) We see white ridges, scars from old injuries; we see redness in her skin. (That her hands were often in water; that there must have been pain.) We can tell you she bore several children. We see the white marks on her belly, the looseness of the skin, the wideness of her hips, that her womb has dropped. (Stretching in the tissue behind the womb.) We can see that she fed her children, that her breasts are long and flat, that there are white marks at the edges, a darker color of the nipple. We know that she carried weights too heavy for her back. (Curvature of the spine. Aching.) From the look of certain muscles in her back, her legs, we can tell you something of her childhood, of what she did not do. (of the running, of the climbing, of the kicking, of the movements she did not make.) And from her lungs we can tell you what she held back, that she was forbidden to shout, that she learned to breathe shallowly. We can say that we think she must have held her breath. From the size of the holes in her ears, we know they were put there in her childhood. That she wore earrings most of her life. From the pallor of her skin, we can say that her face was often covered. From her feet, that her shoes were small (toes bent back on themselves), that she was often on her feet (swelling, ligaments of the arch broken down). We can guess that she rarely sat through a meal. (Tissue of the colon inflamed.) We can catalogue her being: tissue, fiber, bloodstream, cell, the shape of her experience to the least moment, skin, hair, try to see what she saw, to imagine what she felt, clitoris, vulva, womb, and we can tell you that despite each injury she survived. That she lived to an old age. (On all the parts of her body we see the years.) By the body of this old woman we are hushed. We are awed. We know that it was in her body that we began. And now we say that it is from her body that we learn. That we see our past. We say from the body of the old woman, we can tell you something of the lives we lived.
History (Her Hair)
We begin to see that so far from being inscrutable problems, requiring another life to explain, these sorrows and perplexities of our lives are but the natural results of natural causes, and that, as soon as we ascertain the causes, we can do much to remove them.
-- CHARLOTTE PERKINS GILMAN, Women and Economics
The history of mankind is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward woman, having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over her. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.
-- Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions, Seneca Falls, 1848
Fine light hairs down our backbones. Soft hair over our forearms. Our upper lips. Each hair a precise fact. (He has never permitted her to exercise her inalienable right to franchise. He has compelled her to submit to laws, in the formation of which she had no choice.) Hair tickling our legs. The fact of hair against skin. The hand stroking the hair, the skin. Each hair. Each cell. (He has made her, if married, in the eye of the law, civilly dead.) Our hair lying against our cheeks. The assemblage of facts in a tangle of hair. (He has taken from her all right to property, even to the wages she earns. He has denied her the facilities for obtaining a thorough education, all colleges being closed against her.) Hair rounding our vulvas. How continual are the signs of growth. How from every complexity single strands can be named. (He has created a false public sentiment by giving to the world a different code of morals for men and women.) Hair curling from under our arms. How tangles are combed out and the mysterious laid bare. (He has usurped the prerogative of Jehovah himself ...) Hair which surprises us. Each hair traces its existence in feeling. (... claiming it as his right to assign for her a sphere of action, when that belongs to her conscience and to her God.) Which betrays our secrets. The mysterious becomes the commonplace. Each hair in the profusion has its own root. (He has endeavored in every way that he could to destroy her confidence in her own powers ...) Hairs grow all over our bodies. Profusion is cherished. Profusion is unraveled. Each moment acquires identity. Each fact traces its existence in feeling. (... to lessen her self-respect ...) We are covered with hair. The past is cherished. (... and to make her willing to lead a dependent and abject life.) We stroke our bodies; we remark to each other how we have always loved the softness of hair.
Memory (The Breasts)
Because of my mother, who gave me definitions, I knew what I was committed to in life.... Mother, small, delicate boned, witty and articulate, turned out to be exactly my age. Owing to continuous bad health, she had barely any education. and so her spirit remained fervent and pure. She alone, with her modest but untroubled intuitions about books and painting, music and people, had been my education.
-- KAY BOYLE, Being Geniuses Together
Mrs. Willard did not return until I had been at the seminary some time. I remember her arrival and the joy with which she was greeted by teachers and pupils.... She was a splendid-looking woman, then in her prime, and fully realized my idea of a queen.... She gave free scholarships to a large number of girls ... with a proviso that ... they should in turn educate others.
-- ELIZABETH CADY STANTON, Eighty Years and More
They remember that she gave. What she made. What she did. What we were to each other. What she taught me. What I learned at her breast. That she made things. That she made words. That she fed me. Suckled me. Clothed me. Cradled me. Washed me. We remember her labor. She told us how she almost died. How she was weary. How her skin ached. What soreness she felt. What her mother's name was. How her mother made things. What her mother told her. How she was pushed away. How she was hated. How her milk was sour. What she wore at her wedding. Where she had dreamed of going. What our first words were. How she had quarreled with her sister. How they fought over a doll. How the other was prettier. How she pushed me away. How she hated me. How her milk was sour. How we hated her. Her body. We remember our fear of becoming her. What we were to each other. What we learned. What was said behind backs. Who had done what. What was revealed in dressing rooms. How we saw each other naked. How there were some we trusted. How we showed our bodies to each other, how we held up our breasts to be seen, how we laid our heads, what we learned, what we knew, we remember; everything she said to us, when we must be careful, where we might go, what we might do, what we must not say, how we saw what she did, how we carried in our hearts, how we remembered there was one, how we repeated to each other the name of the one who made her own way, who was alone, how we were in awe, how we marveled, how we paraded before the glass in her dressing gown, what we were to each other, how she told us what we suspected might be true, how she said she refused to be subjected, how she said all our efforts were marvelous. How I realized I could not have gone on without her. How I was amazed by her knowledge. That she knew what was in me. How her sorrow shot through me. How I found myself weeping for her. How she told me her story, held her hands one on top of the other, her palms facing up, her fingers open, how her story, how I remembered that she held me, my face on her shoulder, how she told me what she remembered of how she was hated. How I was moved to. What we were for each other. How we remembered. How her memory brought me my memory. How I knew what she knew, how her breasts felt then, her body, how we were flooded with memory. How we loved in these moments: how telling these stories brought us here.
Archives (Her Vulva)
... We know that relying solely on argument we wandered for forty years politically in the wilderness. We know that arguments are not enough ... and that political force is necessary.
-- CHRISTABEL PANKHURST, speech delivered at Albert Hall, March 18, 1908
Who were those for whom we fought? I seemed to hear them in my cell, the defenseless ones who had no one to speak for their hungry need. The sweated workers, the mothers widowed with little children, the women on the streets, and I saw that their backs were bent, their eyes grown sorrowful, their hearts dead without hope. And they were not a few, but thousands upon thousands.
-- LADY CONSTANCE LYTTON, on her conviction for "disorderly behavior with intent to disturb the peace," 1909
We were never told of the existence of this movement. The existence of this movement was denied to us. We believed we were the first to want to act. We thought we were the first to refuse to submit. I remained there until the Wednesday evening, still being fed by force. I was then taken back to the same hospital cell, and remained there until Saturday, October 2, noon, feeding being continued in the same way. On Saturday, October 2, about dinnertime, I determined on stronger measures by barricading my cell. I piled my bed, table and chair by jamming them together against the door. They had to bring some men warders to get in with iron staves. I kept them at bay about three hours. The denial of this movement was not called a lie. The denial of this movement was never spoken. No one ever spoke of this movement as existing or not existing. I walked quietly onto the stage, took the placard out of the chair and sat down. A great cry went up from the women as they sprang from their seats and stretched their hands toward me. It was some time before I could see them for my tears, or speak to them for the emotion that shook me like a storm. We are told that we are unique in history. That our history has been a history of passivity. We are to be blamed for our passivity, they say, we are our own oppressors. For our sufferings, they blame our passivity. The women were treated with the greatest brutality. They were pushed about in all directions and thrown down by the police. Their arms were twisted until they were almost broken. Their thumbs were forcibly bent back and they were tortured in other nameless ways that make one feel sick at the sight. We say we have discovered action in ourselves. We say we are determined, even if we are the first. We have been prepared to sacrifice our safety of life and limb. We have been prepared to do these things because we believe in our cause. We say this not to boast of it, but to claim that we have the same spirit that the reformers of all ages have had to show before they could win success. But we say we do not believe we were the first. We say this is not possible. We discover the old papers. We read the old accounts. These have been hidden from us, we see, for a reason. I wrote on the wall:
To defend the oppressed
Letters (Her Clitoris)
How do you do this year? I remember you as fires begin, and evenings open at Austin's, without the maid in black. Katie, without the Maid in black. Those were unnatural evenings -- Bliss is unnatural -- How many years, I wonder, will sow the moss upon them, before we bind again, a little altered it may be, elder a little it will be, and yet the same as suns, which shine, between our lives and loss, and violets, not last years, but having the Mother's eyes --
-- EMILY DICKINSON, letter to Catherine Scott Turner, 1859
Sarah Butler Wister first met Jeannie Field Musgrove while vacationing with her family at Stockbridge, Massachusetts, in the summer of 1849. Jeannie was then sixteen, Sarah, fourteen. During two subsequent years spent together in boarding school, they formed a deep and intimate friendship ... their affection remained unabated throughout their lives, underscored by their loneliness and their desire to be together.
-- CARROLL SMITH-ROSENBERG, "The Female World of Love and Ritual: Relations Between Women in Nineteenth Century America"
It was said of us that we had nothing of value to say. (Nothing has happened but loneliness perhaps too daily to relate, she wrote.) That our lives were filled with gossip and trivia. (Are you in danger, she wrote, I did not know that you were hurt. Will you tell me more?) That it was difficult to imagine what we might say to each other. (Every day life feels mightier, she wrote, and what we have the power to be, more stupendous.) That left to our own devices we lack passion. (She came to see us in May. I remember her frock, and how prettily she fixed her hair, and she and Vinnie took long walks and got home to tea at sundown.) That we needed moreover to be protected from the harshness of life. (And now remembering is all there is, and no more Myra. I wish 'twas plainer, Lon, the anguish in this world. I wish one could be sure the suffering had a loving side.) It was said of us that we were narrow and could not see past our own small lives. (O Matchless Earth -- we underrate the chance to dwell in thee, she wrote.) And that thus our capacity for love was dwarfed, as our minds were smaller. (She wrote, Each of us gives or takes in corporeal person for each of us has the skill of life. I am pleased by your sweet acquaintance.) They remarked on our prudery and our fear of sex. (If the day should come when you failed me either through your fault or my own, she wrote her, I would foreswear all human friendship, thenceforth.) They recorded that our vulvas would not permit entry. (Gratitude is a word I should never use toward you, she wrote to her. It is perhaps a misfortune of such intimacy and love that it makes one regard all kindness as a matter of course, as one has always found it, as natural in the embrace of meeting.) They say that reticence toward love of the body was natural in us. That modesty was natural in us. (Dear darling Sarah! she wrote, How I love and happy I have been! You are the joy of my life.... I cannot tell you how much happiness you gave me.... My darling how I long for the time when I shall see you....) We asked them how they could be certain (I want you to tell me in your next letter ... that I am your dearest) that they knew (I will go to bed ... I could write all night -- a thousand kisses -- I love you with my whole soul) what was possible in us. (my separation from you, grievous to be borne ... Oh, Jeannie. I have thought and thought and yearned over you these two days. Are you married I wonder? My dearest love to wherever and whoever you are.) What we could be.
Records (Her Womb)
From the evidence adduced on trial, it appeared that Miss Ashe went to the establishment of Howard ... about the middle of January 1858, for the purpose of having abortion procured, supposing herself pregnant, by a young farmer, by whom she had been employed during the previous summer; that a bargain was struck between the reputed father of the child and Howard, by which he was to perform the desired service for the sum of $100.
-- Report of a trial for criminal abortion, C. P. Frost, M.D., of St. Johnsbury, Vermont
The "immorality" of women, favorite theme of misogynists, is not to be wondered at; how could they fail to feel an inner mistrust of the presumptuous principles that men publicly proclaim and secretly disregard? They learn to believe no longer in what men say when they exalt woman or exalt man: the one thing they are sure of is this rifled and bleeding womb, these shreds of crimson life, this child that is not there. It is at her first abortion that woman begins to know."
-- SIMONE DE BEAUVOIR. The Second Sex
Her sister swore that she witnessed every operation. She testified that the doctor operated three times with instruments. (She could not describe the instruments minutely. She did not know how many there were.) She said water discharged from her sister's body (for two or three hours, she said). She said on the next day, he operated again. (She said he used two or three instruments.) She said her sister did not cry out, but gave other evidence, she said, of considerable pain. There was now a discharge of blood, she said. On the night of the same day, Saturday, she reported, he operated again. After this, her sister did not sit up, she said. He used instruments again, she said, and also his hand. This time a child was delivered about two-thirds grown, she said. She said her sister continued to bleed for a few days. That she lived from that Saturday to the next Friday evening, that the last two or three days of her life she was delirious and picked at her clothes. It is said from the body of the dead woman no proof of innocence or guilt can be issued. We go back. We ask what happened then. We find no mention. No reference. No books. Books out of print. Lost, destroyed. Pages torn away. Days missing. We find documents. She finds letters. Diaries. Stories are repeated. We discover she was operated on four times before she died, we discover a hairpin was removed from her bladder, we read they took salts of lead, copper, zinc and mercury, we read they let themselves fall down staircases, we read she injected vinegar into the bladder, we read her womb was perforated by a knitting needle, by a probe, we read hemorrhage, we read inflammation, we read that she drank a solution of soap and then ran for a quarter of an hour, we read she remained for four days in her room bathed in her own blood with no food and no water we read that the doctors would do nothing for her pain we read that she gave birth alone that the infant was found dead beside her nearly dead body that she was sentenced to death, we read pain, we read illness. We can tell you something of what they went through, we say. Standing in the pharmacy, she was afraid they would know she was hemorrhaging. From the records, we say, we can guess what she felt. So that her screaming would not give her away, she began to sing. From the records She spent the night on the floor rocking in agony, biting her teeth into the flesh of her palm so she would not awaken them we can tell you what we know. The past is a hard stone within us. On this subject we have become unmovable, implacable. There is no way of convincing us otherwise, we say, and what is stone becomes wood that ages and resonates: we know what we know.
Now we will let the blood of our mother sink into this earth. This is what we will do with our grieving. We will cover her wounds with mud. We will tear leaves and branches from the trees and together pile them over her body. The sky will no longer see her fallen thus. We will pull grass up by the roots. We will cover her. Thus, as we do this, we know her body will melt away. And only her bones will remain. But these we will take. Still feeling her absence, we will cradle her tusks in our trunks, and carry them to another ground. And thus will this soil be absolved of her death, and the place of her dying be innocent again, and thus her bones will no longer be chaffed by the violence done there. But though all traces of her vanish, we will not forget. In our lifetimes we will not be able to forget. Her wounds will fester in us. We will not be the same. The scent of her killer is known to us now. We cannot turn our backs at the wrong moment. We must know when to trumpet and charge, when to recede into denser forest, when to turn and track the hunter. We feel the necessity of these acts in us. We will pass this feeling to our young, to those who follow in our footsteps, who walk under our bodies, who feel safe in our presence, who did we not warn them, did we not teach them this scent, might approach this enemy with curiosity. Who imitate our movements and rely on our knowledge; we will not allow them to approach their enemies easily. They will learn fear. And when we attack in their defense, they will watch and learn this too. From us, they will become fierce. And so a death like this death of our mother will not come easily to them. This is what we will do with our grieving. They will know whom to beware and whom to fear. And this hatred that began to grow in us when we saw her body fall will become their hatred and no man will approach them safely. No man will come near them and live. We will not forget and this memory will protect them. What they have learned from us, all that we have taught them so that they can survive, how to suck up water into their trunks, how to pull down leaves from trees, how to lift with their tusks, and dig holes by the river with their feet, all this they will pass on, and generation after generation will remember the scent of this enemy. This is how long our grieving will last. And only if the young of our young or the young of their young never know this odor in their lifetime, only if no hunter approaches them as long as they live, and no one with this scent attempts to capture them, or use them to his purpose, only then will the memory of this death pass from our hide. Only then will those with the scent of her killer be absolved, as the soil is absolved, of her blood. Only then, when no trace is left of this memory in us, will we see what we can be without this fear, without this enemy, what we are.
One should identify oneself with the universe itself. Everything that is less than the universe is subjected to suffering ...
-- SIMONE WElL, Notebooks
As I go into her, she pierces my heart. As I penetrate further, she unveils me. When I have reached her center, I am weeping openly. I have known her all my life, yet she reveals stories to me, and these stories are revelations and I am transformed. Each time I go to her I am born like this. Her renewal washes over me endlessly, her wounds caress me; I become aware of all that has come between us, of the noise between us, the blindness, of something sleeping between us. Now my body reaches out to her. They speak effortlessly, and I learn at no instant does she fail me in her presence. She is as delicate as I am; I know her sentience; I feel her pain and my own pain comes into me, and my own pain grows large and I grasp this pain with my hands, and I open my mouth to this pain, I taste, I know, and I know why she goes on, under great weight, with this great thirst, in drought, in starvation, with intelligence in every act does she survive disaster. This earth is my sister; I love her daily grace, her silent daring, and how loved I am how we admire this strength in each other, all that we have lost, all that we have suffered, all that we know: we are stunned by this beauty, and I do not forget: what she is to me, what I am to her.
The poor little working-girl who had found strength to gather up the fragments of her life and build herself a shelter with them seemed to Lily to have reached the central truth of existence.
-- EDITH WHARTON, The House of Mirth
The bank was dense with magnolia and loblolly bay, sweet gum and gray-barked ash.... He went down to the spring in the cool darkness of the shadows. A sharp pleasure came over him. This was a secret, lovely place.
-- MARJORIE KINNAN RAWLINGS, The Yearling
The way we stand, you can see we have grown up this way together, out of the same soil, with the same rains, leaning in the same way toward the sun. See how we lean together in the same direction. How the dead limbs of one of us rest in the branches of another. How those branches have grown around the limbs. How the two are inseparable. And if you look you can see the different ways we have taken this place into us. Magnolia, loblolly bay, sweet gum, Southern bayberry, Pacific bayberry; wherever we grow there are many of us; Monterey pine, sugar pine, white-bark pine, four-leaf pine, single-leaf pine, bristlecone pine, foxtail pine, Torrey pine, Western red pine, Jeffry pine, bishop pine. And we are various, and amazing in our variety, and our differences multiply, so that edge after edge of the endlessness of possibility is exposed. You know we have grown this way for years. And to no purpose you can understand. Yet what you fail to know we know, and the knowing is in us, how we have grown this way, why these years were not one of them heedless, why we are shaped the way we are, not all straight to your purpose, but to ours. And how we are each purpose, how each cell, how light and soil are in us, how we are in the soil, how we are in the air, how we are both infinitesimal and great and how we are infinitely without any purpose you can see, in the way we stand, each alone, yet none of us separable, none of us beautiful when separate but all exquisite as we stand, each moment heeded in this cycle, no detail unlovely.
Ask who keeps the wind
-- MARGARET ATWOOD, "Circe Poems"
Yes, they say our fate is with the wind. The wind? Yes, they say when the wind blows this way one thing will happen, and when it blows the other way, something else will be. Something else will be? Yes, these are the questions. Does the wind blow for us? This is what we must ask. Are we ready for this wind? Do we know what this wind will bring us? Will we take what the wind gives, or even know what is given when we see it? Will we see? Will we let the wind blow all the way through us? Will the wind know us? These are the questions to ask. Will we let the wind sing to us? Do our whole bodies listen? When the wind calls, will we go? Will this wind come inside us? Take from us? Can we give to the wind what is asked of us? Will we let go? Are we afraid of this wind? Will we go where we are afraid to go? Will the wind ask us? This is the question. Are we close to the wind? Will the wind ask much of us, and will we be able to hear the wind singing and will we answer? Can we sing back, this we ask, can we sing back, and not only sing, but in clear voices? Will this be, we ask, and will we keep on answering, keep on with our whole bodies? And do we know why we sing? Yes. Will we know why? Yes.
Because we know ourselves to be made from this earth. See this grass. The patches of silver and brown. Worn by the wind. The grass reflecting all that lives in the soil. The light. The grass needing the soil. With roots deep in the earth. And patches of silver. Like the patches of silver in our hair. Worn by time. This bird flying low over the grass. Over the tules. The cattails, sedges, rushes, reeds, over the marsh. Because we know ourselves to be made from this earth. Temporary as this grass. Wet as this mud. Our cells filled with water. Like the mud of this swamp. Heather growing here because of the damp. Sphagnum mass floating on the surface, on the water standing in these pools. Places where the river washes out. Where the earth was shaped by the flow of lava. Or by the slow movements of glaciers. Because we know ourselves to be made from this earth, and shaped like the earth, by what has gone before. The lives of our mothers. What she told me was her life. And what I saw in her hands. The calcium in the joints, the aching as she hemmed my dress. These clothes she made for me. The pools overgrown by grass, reed, sedge, the marsh over time, becoming dry, over centuries, plankton disappearing, crustaceans gone, clams, worms. sponges, what we see now floating in these pools, fish, birds flying close to the waters. This bird with the scarlet shoulders. This bird with the yellow throat. And the beautiful song. The song like flutes. Like violoncellos in an orchestra. The orchestra in our mind. The symphony which we imagine. The music which was our idea. What we wanted to be. The lives of our grandmothers. What we imagined them to be. She told me what she had wanted to be. What she had wanted to do. That she wanted to act on the stage. To write. She showed me the stories she wrote before she was married. Before I was born. Why we were born when we were, as we were, we imagined. We imagined what she imagined then, what lay under the surface, this still water, the water not running over rocks, lacking air, the bacteria, fungi, dwelling at the bottom, without light, no green bodies, freeing no air, the scent of marsh gas, this bog we might lose ourselves in, sink in, the treachery here, our voices calling for help and no one listening, the silence, we made from this earth, returning to earth, the mud covering us, we giving ourselves up to this place, the fungi, bacteria, fish, everything struggling for air in this place, beetles capturing air bubbles on the surface of the pond, mosquitoes reaching with tubes to the surface of the water, fish with gills on the outsides of their bodies, fish gulping air at the surface, air captured in small hairs on the bodies of insects, stored in spaces in the stems of plants, in pockets in the tissue of leaves, everything in this place struggling for light, stems and leaves with thin skins, leaves divided into greater surfaces, numerous pores, tall plants in shallow water, open to the light; a jungle of growth in the shallow water at the edge, interwoven stems, matted leaves, places for wrens to hide, for rails, bitterns, for red-winged blackbirds to protect their nests. Fish hiding in plants underwater, insects' and snails' eggs, pupa cases, larvae and nymphs and crayfish. Sunlight pouring into plants, ingested into the bodies of fish, into the red-winged blackbird, into the bacteria, into the fungi, into the earth itself, because we know ourselves to be made of this earth, because we know sunlight moves through us, water moves through us, everything moves, everything changes, and the daughters are returned to their mothers. She always comes back. Back from the darkness. And the earth grows green again. So we were moved to feel these things. The body of the animal buried in the ground rotting feeds the seed. The sheaf of grain held up to us silently. Her dreams, I know, she said, live on in my body as I write these words. This proof. This testimony. This shape of possibility. What we dreamed to be. What we labored for. What we had burned desiring. What always returns. What she is to me. What she is to me, we said, and do not turn your head away, we told them, those who had tried to name us, those who had tried to keep us apart, do not turn your head away when we tell you this, we said, how she was smaller than I then, we try to tell you, what tenderness I then felt for her, we said, as if she were my daughter, as if some part of myself I had thought lost forever were returned to me, we said, and then held her fiercely, and we then made you listen, you turning your head away, you who tried to make us be still, you dividing yourself from this night we were turning through, but we made you listen, we said, do not pretend you do not hear what we say to each other, we say, when she was returned to me and I to her that I became small to her, that my face became soft against her flesh, that through that night she held me, as if part of herself had returned, like mother to daughter because we know we are made of this earth, and we know these meanings reach you, we said, the least comment of the stare, we said, the barely perceptible moment of despair, I told her, the eloquence of arms, those threaded daily causes, the fundaments of sound, cradling the infant's head, these cries, the crying I heard in her body, the years we had known together, I know these meanings reach you, we said, and the stars and their light we hold in our hands, this light telling the birds where they are, the same light which guides these birds to this place, and the light through which we imagine ourselves in the bodies of these birds, flying with them, low over the grass, weaving our nests like hammocks from blade to blade, from reed to reed. We standing at the edge of the marsh. Not daring to move closer. Keeping our distance. Watching these birds through the glass. Careful not to frighten them off. As they arrive. First the males, jet black, with a flash of red at their shoulders, a startling red which darts out of their blackness as they spread their wings. First the males and then the females flying together in the winter, now joining the males. The females with yellow throats, their wings brown and black, and light around their eyes. Now all of them calling. Calling or singing. Liquid and pleasant. Like the violoncello. We imagine like the violoncello, the cello we have made in our minds, the violin we have imagined, as we have imagined the prison, as we have made up boundaries, or decided what the fate of these birds should be, as we have invented poison, as we have invented the cage, now we stand at the edge of this marsh and do not go closer, allow them their distance, penetrate them only with our minds, only with our hearts, because though we can advance upon the blackbird, though we may cage her, though we may torture her with our will, with the boundaries we imagine, this bird will never be ours, he may die, this minute heart stop beating, the body go cold and hard, we may tear the wings apart and cut open the body and remove what we want to se, but still this blackbird will not be ours and we will have nothing. And even if we keep her alive. Train her to stay indoors. Clip her wings. Train her to sit on our fingers. Though we feed her, and give her water, still this is not the blackbird we have captured, for the blackbird, which flies now over our heads, whose song reminds us of a flute, who migrates with the stars, who lives among reeds and rushes, threading a nest like a hammock, who lives in flocks, chattering in the grasses, this creature is free of our hands, we cannot control her, and for the creature we have tamed, the creature we keep in our house, we must make a new word. For we did not invent the blackbird, we say, we only invented her name. And we never invented ourselves, we admit. And my grandmother's body is now part of the soil, she said. Only now, we name ourselves. Only now, as we think of ourselves as passing, do we utter the syllables. Do we list all that we are? That we know in ourselves? We know ourselves to be made from this earth. We know this earth is made from our bodies. For we see ourselves. And we are nature. We are nature seeing nature. We are nature with a concept of nature. Nature weeping. Nature speaking of nature to nature. The red-winged blackbird flies in us, in our inner sight. We see the arc of her flight. We measure the ellipse. We predict its climax. We are amazed. We are moved. We fly. We watch her wings negotiate the wind, the substance of the air, its elements and the elements of those elements, and count those elements found in other beings, the sea urchin's sting, ink, this paper, our bones, the flesh of our tongues with which we make the sound "blackbird," the ears with which we hear, the eye which travels the arc of her flight. And yet the blackbird does not fly in us but is somewhere else free of our minds, and now even free of our sight, flying in the path of her own will, she wrote, the ink from her pen flowing on this paper, her words, she thought, having nothing to do with this bird, except, she thought, as she breathes in the air this bird flies through, except, she thought, as the grass needs the body of the bird to pass its seeds, as the earth needs the grass, as we are made from this earth, she said, and the sunlight in the grass enters the body of the bird, enters us, she wrote on this paper, and the sunlight is pouring into my eyes from your eyes. Your eyes. Your eyes. The sun is in your eyes. I have made you smile. Your lips part. The sunlight in your mouth. Have I made the sun come into your mouth? I put my mouth on yours. To cover that light. To breathe it in. My tongue inside your mouth, your lips on my tongue, my body filled with light, filled with light, with light, shuddering, you make me shudder, you make the movement of the earth come into me, you fill me, you fill me with sound, is that my voice crying out? The sunlight in you is making my breath sing, sing your name, your name to you, beautiful one, I could kiss your bones, put my teeth in you, white gleam, whiteness, I chew, beautiful one, I am in you, I am filled with light inside you, I have no boundary, the light has extinguished my skin, I am perished in light, light filling you, shining through you, carrying you out, through the roofs of our mouths, the sky, the clouds, bursting, raining, raining free, falling piece by piece, dispersed over this earth, into the soil, deep, deeper into you, into the least hair on the deepest root in this earth, into the green heart flowing, into the green leaves and they grow, they grow into a profusion, moss, fern, and they bloom, cosmos, and they bloom, cyclamen, in your ears, in your ears, calling their names, this sound from my throat echoing, my breath in your ears, your eyes, your eyes continuing to see, continuing, your eyes telling, telling the light, the light. And she wrote, when I let this bird fly to her own purpose, when this bird flies in the path of his own will, the light from this bird enters my body, and when I see the beautiful arc of her flight, I love this bird, when I see, the arc of her flight, I fly with her, enter her with my mind, leave myself, die for an instant, live in the body of this bird whom I cannot live without, as part of the body of the bird will enter my daughter's body, because I know I am made from this earth, as my mother's hands were made from this earth, as her dreams came from this earth and all that I know, I know in this earth, the body of the bird, this pen, this paper, these hands, this tongue speaking, all that I know speaks to me through this earth and I long to tell you, you who are earth too, and listen as we speak to each other of what we know: the light is in us.