Saturday, June 15, 2019

The Muse of Red America

You cannot grasp these things unless you stumble over them.
—(Daniel C. Matt, The Essential Kabbalah, p. 163)

Spiritual Exile

Spiritual Exile

          One who descends from the root of roots to the form of forms must walk in
. —(Daniel C. Matt, The Essential Kabbalah, p.117)

Tucson, AZ

An invitation to speak to the Jung Society of Tucson was the inspiration for a trip to the Southwest. Neither Dan nor I had ever been to Tucson, a desert town, whose terrain makes a sudden leap of mountains at the horizon that takes one’s breath away. Everywhere the giant Saguaro cacti loom, like silent elders of some mystery tribe. The ordinary life of streets and houses is carried on in the presence of the extraordinary—the wild overwhelm of the sacred. It seemed an appropriate landscape for my talk on spiritual wandering, taken from my book The Rabbi, the Goddess and Jung.

I had imagined that being a Jungian in a red state like Arizona must feel like being in spiritual exile. It didn’t seem that way among the people we met. On our first evening we had dinner with Sylvia Simpson, a Jungian analyst and psychiatrist, originally from Canada, and her colleague, Charles Gillispie, author of The Way We Go On, who turned out to be a poet whose work I have chosen for publication in Psychological Perspectives. He uses poetry in therapy with addicts and others. He told me that the poetry in Psychological Perspectives’ is a rich resource; he can always find a poem “to read to a suffering person.” This unexpected feedback made my spirits sing. Sylvia and Charles turned out to be spiritual and political kin for whom Tucson is a sanctuary, close to the natural world, away from the fear and loathing dominating so much of America these days.

On the next day I gave my talk; the audience response was moving and soulful. I was among people who were at home in the realms of the symbolic and the sacred. I told them about a Jewish legend which says that before we are born, an angel, whose name is Lailah, tells us all the secrets of the cosmos, all the mysteries of being and non–being. Then she places her forefinger on our upper lip and says “Shhhh.” She wants us to forget all she has told us, but she leaves her mark—a sign that we have been touched by divinity. Over our lifetimes, if we are open to spirit, to dreams, to the living symbol, we may regain some small portion of what we knew before we were born.


I read them my poem in her voice:

Lailah Wants a Word

          Lailah, the Angel of Conception…watches
          over the unborn child

                                        Jewish Legend

You were not born for traffic
Not released into day for hustle

and drive.  I did not send you past moonstone
past glow worm, to ignore the light.  I did not touch

the soft spot on your crown, nor seal
my blessing on your upper lip, to be a slave

to acquisition.  I sent you into the company
of frogs.  I sent you to commune with willows

with oaks.  Pay attention—
the frogs have stopped wooing

the oaks been sold down river
Grandmother Spider   Brother Rabbit

are losing their worlds. You have ears —
Hear them.  You have a heart—feel them

You have two lungs—breathe
I give you the wind

in the grasses. I give you the sight
of Coyote.   She’s meandering up

the mountain.  Follow her.  Perhaps she will throw
your shoe at the moon.  Perhaps the moon

will fill your shoe with shimmer—
Sail it back down to you—Then

will you remember


We spent a lot of time talking about Sophia who showed up in my dreams years ago and has become my spirit guide. She is beautiful, dark, wise. She creates a glowing bridge between the Goddess realms and Judaism. She is Wisdom in Proverbs. She is the Shekinah. According to Philo, God creates the world by means of Sophia. (Caitlin Matthews, Sophia, p. 97.) According to Jung, she is an “independent being who exists side by side with God.” (C.G. Jung, “Answer to Job,” CW 11, ¶ 619.) According to Jeffrey Raff, she is the Tree of Life, also the light of the divine. (Raff, The Wedding of Sophia, pp. 54-5.) Perhaps she is the dark Shulamite, that “Priestess of Ishtar,” (C.G. Jung, “Adam and Eve,” CW 14 ¶ 646.) of whom Jung writes in Mysterium Coniunctionis, that she longs to “become like Noah’s dove, which, with the olive leaf in its beak, announced the end of the flood…and God’s reconciliation with the children of men.” (C.G. Jung, CW 14, ¶ 625.) In Tucson we marveled at the fiery serpent around her neck, the glowing egg in her hand, the inward and outward intensity of her gaze. Someone said: “She’s telling us we have to deal with things as they are; we have to deal with unbearable realities.”

It turns out that the Jung Society is not the only oasis of the symbolic life in Tucson. The University of Arizona in Tucson has a well–endowed poetry center, and well known poets come to read there often. We had stumbled into a treasure of a town. On our last morning, on our way out of town, we had breakfast at the Blue Willow, a charming restaurant, where I overheard: “After I’d lived here a year I’d bought 13 guns.” I guess that’s the other side.

Road Trip

          There is a secular world and a holy world…In our limited perception we cannot
          reconcile the sacred and the secular, we cannot harmonize their contradictions.

          —(Daniel C. Matt, The Essential Kabbalah, p. 153.)

Driving out of Tucson we found ourselves in high desert, peopled only by those silent Saguaro elders. The mountains leapt up—exclamation marks, or were they earth giving the finger to the gods? The road hash knifed through a runaway herd of galloping hills as we ascended to Flagstaff, where we spent the night. The Little America Hotel surprised us with its calm beauty, its meditative garden with water flowing over rocks as we ate a fine dinner.

There was snow on the mountains, and hail beating our heads as Dan brought our suitcases out the next morning. Hail rattled the rented Sentra as we drove North. The landscape was as changeable as was the weather. We descended from 7,000 feet to high desert. Snow and hail were gone. The sky was huge, full of white clouds that seemed to brood over the land like an enormous chicken. As we ascended into the belly of the clouds Dan pointed out the Vermillion Cliffs, part of The Grand Staircase, where earth reveals her changes and transmutations in a stair–like formation. We were in an ancestral sandstone dream driving into another cloud burst of hail beating the windshield of our sturdy Nissan Sentra. The dashboard flashed a warning: “Cold Temperature outside.” The temperature had plummeted from 60º to 36º in ten minutes. Vermillion? A fancy word for bright red, but I saw purple orange pink fantasies of mesas rising to the sky as the hail stopped. Dan remembered the road trip he took with his parents when he was twelve, in 1951—no air–conditioning, no freeways, no passing lanes. No big sign on the side of the road as there is now, inviting us to “Shoot a Machine Gun.” We drove through a valley, which Dan guessed was once a riverbed, into Utah. Otherworldly formations greeted us as we turned off into the Lake Powell Resort and Marina, hoping to find lunch. The Driftwood Lounge was a welcoming oasis with good food and wonderful views of sandstone erosion creating wild shapes and colors that dazzle us.

Formations seen though the window

We saw the Hopi and Navajo presence in the faces of many who greeted us with warm smiles, brought us menus and meals, in the signs on the road announcing handmade Indian jewelry up ahead, or the occasional Hogan we passed. Dan told stories of his 12 year old self and his father, who loved to stop and look at Indian handiwork. His father, a refugee from Poland, had a word for sudden rainfalls—a “plughh”—with a guttural growl at the end—an onomatopoetic word he had made up to express the sound of sudden rain, which had just “plughhed” on us. We were in a ghostly scene—shades of gray ringed with spectral mountains—and up ahead an opening to bright sky. Then suddenly we were in the clear and the heavens were full of drifting white clouds, like the boats we saw moored at Lake Powell.

This part of Utah is literally a red state—full of red cliffs, coral and pink sand dunes, peekaboo trailheads, rock formations like ancient castles in some fairy land, long stretches of road between small towns and National Parks, vast valleys inhabited by forests and ancestral rock mounds. We were headed to Zion.

The Promised Land

          Nothing is devoid of its divinity. Everything is within it; it is within everything
          and outside of everything. There is nothing but it.

          —(Daniel C. Matt, The Essential Kabbalah, p. 24.)

I have longed to go to Zion. Dan had been there, once, many years ago. The very name of the park tugged at me. Wikipedia explains:
The Jewish longing for Zion, starting with the deportation and enslavement of Jews during the Babylonian captivity, was adopted as a metaphor by Christian black slaves in the US, and after the Civil War by blacks who were still oppressed. Thus Zion symbolizes a longing by wandering peoples for a safe homeland.
I had told my audience in Tucson of my longing “for myth, for mystery, for those moments when the veils thin, and something uncanny, wild, awesome enters.” I told them that I had “glimpsed it in Hindu temples, in Catholic churches, in Pagan rituals, in poetry, everywhere but in the Jewish world I knew as a child.”
How does a Jew to whom God never spoke in a synagogue, who has wandered the world and the paths of other religions seeking direct experience of the sacred, stumble upon it in her own tradition? How does a spiritual exile, whose life was transformed by the Goddess, get past her issues with the patriarchal God of the Jews?
I told them I had found my way back to Judaism, to my inner Zion, with Jung’s help, because Jung steered me to mystical Judaism, where the uncanny and the awesome are alive and thriving. Now here we were in a difficult time in American history, two children of refugee Jews, seeking an external Zion in the red state of Utah. We learned that to get there we had to pass through dark tunnels, past towering piles of red rock bedecked with pine shrubs, cascades of shale, clusters of cars gathered at trailheads. A queue of cars awaited the first tunnel, which is short and straight–forward once you start moving.

There was a second tunnel—a longer, darker, swervier one. The queue seemed to take forever. We had thought we were making good time. Now our afternoon was being eaten up by long lines of cars. We didn’t come all the way out here for a traffic jam. That mood lifted when we finally made it through the dark passages into a glowing realm of tall stone gods whose ancient bulk, curves and pillars, made us crane our necks, exclaim in wonder. Or perhaps they were ancient temples, where the gods have withdrawn in silence, as they count the species that are disappearing from our earth, allowing us mortals only glimpses of their stony walls. There we were, in our metal Odysseys, our Voyagers, Vagabonds, Land Rovers, Rogues, Mustangs, Wranglers and Quests meandering the slow spirals of this other world until we were released into big sky, tall outcroppings touched by late afternoon’s last light, the town of Springdale and the Desert Pearl Inn.

Desert Pearl Inn

The next day a shuttle bus took us into the park. Another shuttle bus carried us through the park. We were in a crowd of people from myriad cultures speaking myriad tongues with myriad complexions. They had all come to red America—despite our xenophobic president— to see its marvels—to see the Tower of the Virgin, to hear the Piute elder tell us that Zion was called “straight up land” in their language. He said: “Our creator placed us here to care for this land…We are taught that everything has a purpose—rocks, plants, animals, people.” He sounded much like Lailah, the Angel of my Conception. Here were all the graces, in the form of red rocks, rounded female forms, hefty masculine forms, angular, tumbled, pointing at the sky forms that look like temples, like cathedrals. There were hanging gardens, nurturing baby trees as the Virgin River rushed below. “Listen to the rocks, perhaps they’ll tell the story of our people” said the Piute elder. Soft red slopes harbored cottonwoods and box elders, fierce gray rocks hash knifed the sky. This is the land of flash floods. Beware the sudden rain. Beware the long winding path—people have fallen to their deaths.

Beware the Long Winding Path

We were on the bus among so many people in their Patagonias with their phallic camera lenses, their backpacks, their fold up walking sticks, their young. Some got off to see the Court of the Patriarchs—Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. I’d had enough of patriarchs. We stayed on the bus until the end of the line—The Temple of Sinawava—Piute for Coyote—a vertical amphitheater nearly 3,000 feet deep, used by the Indians as a meeting place and a sanctuary. We were among the hordes of the awe struck, throwing back our heads to see the high red cliffs open their thighs to reveal a long, lovely strand of waterfall. The return of the condors was nurtured in these high rocks. They are sanctuary for the peregrine falcon.

At the Temple of Sinawava

The river spoke of rain and so it rained. The river spoke of rock and we saw the rock weep—rain had seeped into the sandstone. This is how hanging gardens are watered.

Our heads were turned by the “Great White Throne.” Whose throne could that be? The gods spoke in the faces of the red rock, in tongues of falling water, in cacti and cottonwoods, in slot canyons and layers of Old Navajo Sandstone, and in the softer Kayenta formations below. “History is written vertically” said Dan.

Weeping Rock

On line for the shuttle bus back to our Inn, I overheard a mustachioed old timer in a cowboy hat tell an urbane forty something couple from California that he’s from Alaska, where fires are taking the forest. “When I was a kid the forests were so dense, so beautiful. Now they’re cut up by swatches of burnt orange.” The couple from California had their own stories of fire. The well-kempt man said “What happens next?” “I hope I’m not around to find out,” said the Alaskan. “I can’t take much more of this.”

The Virgin River from our Balcony

Virgin River

I sat on the balcony of our hotel room listening to the river carry on as clouds gathered and the cotton woods leaves rustled in the breeze. It had been sunny and warm and now it was cloudy and cold——forever changing weather in the company of the high red cliffs and the Virgin who has created all this glory. Is there anything better for the soul than a river running through it?

I sat with my fears and my pain about America. I imagined the homeless, the hungry, the terrified fleeing their dangerous home countries looking for sanctuary, looking for Zion. I imagined the children separated from their parents, the people whose roots go back to primordial times in this land who have lost their cultural roots, been cut off from their ancestors. I thought of the people whose politics may be different from ours, who have been so kind to us travelers, and who take such good care of this sacred place. I remembered the humor in Porter’s Smokehouse and Grill, a place we loved to have breakfast, where there were signs that read:
“No dancing on the tables with your spurs on!”
“Unaccompanied children will be sold to the circus.”
Holy Zion

I called on Lailah, the Angel of my Conception, and on Sophia, my spirit guide, to advise me. They told me: You’ve come to the right place. Red America has returned you to the Goddess in a place called Zion. What casts your head back is the holy—makes no difference where it happens or in what cultural context. What towers over you, millions of years in the making, tells you how small your place is in the presence of the eons. What is it about the rush of water falling over rock that makes human faces glow, lifts spirits, soothes fears? It is the flow of eternity, the rock of ages.

Rock of Ages

What is it about the busy hubbub of babies in snugglies, toddlers proudly pushing their own strollers, the vibrant mix of many tongues: you heard German, Dutch, French, Spanish, Italian, Hindi and many more you could not name, that gives you hope for your land? It is the living experience of diversity, among peoples and species, states of mind and places of sanctuary; it is the hope for continuity, for courage in the face of catastrophic times, and for the glowing egg of rebirth.

Family of Geese

On our last morning I sat on our balcony by the river, sad to leave all this enchantment. I watched pollen floating in the air. I’d seen girls chasing after the white fluff in the meadows, laughing. The family of geese who have charmed us for days arose from their resting place. The five goslings meandered down to the river; their parents kept a close watch. All this was so delicate, so strong, so eternal.

Constant Flux

But the news began to seep into my consciousness. The latest mad kerfuffle: the President walked out of a meeting with the Speaker of the House. They had agreed to work together on mending our torn up infrastructure. He was angry that the democrats are talking about impeachment. She said she was praying for him. He said “She’s losing it.” Doctored fake news videos showed up on line, which made her look drunk. The news, like the weather, is in constant flux. Driving out of Zion we heard that women associated with the unions have taken over the legislature in Nevada. We cheered.

At the Moapa Paiute Traveller Plaza I felt compelled to buy a dream catcher. The young woman with bright orange hair at the register pointed out that a feather had fallen off. She suggested I get another. I thanked her and said: “I don’t want to lose my dreams.” “Right,” she says, “No broken dreams.”

Goddess of Our Dreams

Friday, January 4, 2019

The Muse of Origins

I will be your mouth now, to do your singing
breath belongs to those who do the breathing.

Mother, me and my brother Si

Word Roots

…the bond between women is a circle
we are together in it.
—Judy Grahn, Love Belongs, p. 90

As I approach the first anniversary—Jahrzeit in Judaism—of Mother’s death there are so many things I wish I could tell her. I want her to know three poems of mine were just published in the on-line journal Origins. It’s rare, at least for me, to have a journal take so many poems at once. I wish I could share my delight with Mother, tell her what it means to me when work I have wrestled with, often for months, work that emerges from strong feeling, heated inward arguments, strange dreams, far flung travels, wild associations, increasingly frightening news, work culled from hours spent with the etymological dictionary, the Book of Symbols, a library full of Jungiana, poetry and Goddess literature, is finally brought into a shape that pleases me, and then, by some fluke of Dame Fortuna, transformed by the interest of strangers into words on a printed or on-line page. It feels magical—a long labor and then a birth. My poem has entered another realm. Who knows who will read it and what it will mean to them.

I want Mother to know that these three poems, in different ways, are about origins; they seem to have found the right place in the world wide web. Origins mission statement says:
We're interested in…writing that tells us something about a character's roots or what makes her unique… We want to read provocative poems, and have gripping conversations with writers about everything from craft to creativity. Literature offers us the opportunity to endlessly interpret who we are as human beings. This journal is a celebration and investigation of our diverse origins and the art that inevitably springs forth.
The roots of the word “origin” are fascinating. But even when Mother was alive and of sound mind, she would probably not have welcomed a long discussion about etymological roots. She’d want to know how the children and grand children are doing. She’d want to tell me about the Beethoven quartets she and her friends have been playing.

Mother as a young woman

I’m dead now, in a place where there is no time, where there are no endings and beginnings, where there are no roots and origins. Sometimes it’s fun to take a break from all this formlessness, to remember the old attachments of my life. Tell me about your word roots.

Mother, thank you for showing up. Word roots are ancestors, the origins of language and culture. You won’t believe what happened when I looked up the roots of the word “origin.” I found a family of words that come from Germanic and Old English words meaning “to move, to set in motion.” These words are related to the verb “to be,” to exist, to arise, be born; they are also related to Germanic roots which transmute into the name, “Emma,” your mother’s name, which means whole, universal. This is my grandmother, my Oma, my ancestor whose self–portrait sits in my study, watching me wisely, knowingly, as I write these words to you. She is my origin, as you are my origin.

I didn’t know her name meant that. That’s what you like to call a synchronicity. Yes?

Yes, and it’s even more of a synchronicity because the first of the three poems you can read in Origins is about the ancestors.

Emma Hoffman self portrait

“The Ancestors Visit the Department of Homeland Security”

When the ancestors come    time holds its breath    space drifts    borders shift
They slip through cracks    between earth and sky    between bare winter branch
and blossom    between dream    and first light
— “The Ancestors Visit the Department of Homeland Security
                                             (first published in Origins)

The Book of Symbols tells us that the ancestors are:
sagacious, uncanny, oracular, they are the legendary elders and immortals who belong to the past, to dreamtime, to the primordial “time outside time,” and nevertheless impinge eternally upon present and future, affecting…their descendants and participating in everyday affairs. (p. 790)
Ancestors Rock Art

That was the feeling I was after in my poem—weird ancestral voices impinging on my experience of current events mixed in with the bureaucratese of the current administration. 
Including my voice?
No, you weren’t dead yet when I wrote this poem.
Do I impinge on you now that I’m dead?
Not as much as I’d like you to. When you do show up it’s always helpful. You tell me to get over myself, get over your death and get out there in the sunshine and live!
Just like I used to when you were a girl. You spent too much time holed up in your room with your books.
I still do. It’s who I am. But I miss your voice, your attention, your concern.
OK, now you have my attention. What were the ancestors telling you?
I hope you’ll read the poem Mother. Just click on the link and scroll down; you’ll find all three poems. Can a ghost click on a link?
I’m not sure. I couldn’t deal with computers when I was alive. Why should I do so now?
If you can show up and talk to me I imagine you can do all sorts of things.
Here goes. Virtual space is strange. Reading is strange. Those ancestors sound like they’re on your father’s side of the family. In your poem they say:

         Wound of our wounds      Haunt of our haunts      We carried your mothers’

         grandmothers    dread at our backs    blisters on our feet    from Moravia
         to the Pale of Settlement      Borders    closed behind us

True. I was thinking of my father’s people from what is now called Ukraine. You and your mother were born in Germany, your father in Austria. But your mother’s maiden name, Osterman, means person from the East. I wonder whether you didn’t have ancestors from the Pale of Settlement as well.

Maybe. They never spoke to me as they do to you. I do like how you go from their oracular voices to the Customs and Border Patrol:
“Customs and Border Patrol…using materials original in the United States to the
maximum extent permitted by law shall immediately begin planning, design, construction and maintenance of a wall along the land border with Mexico.”
It’s still going on, the fight about building a wall, the terrible anti–immigration rhetoric.

That sounds awful. We wouldn’t have been able to become Americans in that kind of a political climate. As it is we had to wait in Cuba because there was a quota on the Jews. That was in the middle of the war, and of the concentration camp slaughter of Jews.

I know Mother. That’s why the ancestors have haunted me into this poem. That’s why they say, at the end of the poem:

You owe us
eternal vigilance

so your children’s children
can carry us on

You owe us
your lives


Medicine Wheel

Have you ever been round such a wheel of changes?
This time last year you were gripped
by that agonized hip      Pain
was your shepherd your cane your walker
—“Medicine Wheel” (first published in Origins)

What’s a medicine wheel? Mother wonders.

Native Americans understand the medicine wheel as a symbol of time, of the seasons, of the directions. They create medicine wheels using stones or painting, or making round dream catchers. These are all modes of healing. I was also thinking of the Wheel of Fortune, and the mandala—a circle standing for wholeness. Jung painted mandalas in a time of psychological breakdown in his own life; he found the process healing. Tibetan monks create intricate gorgeously colorful sand paintings, and then scatter them, as a way to embody the transience of life.

My poem, in four sections, each of which has four stanzas and a final line in a voice of prayer or evocation, is a mandala in poetic form. The medicine is in the turning of the wheel, in the finding of words and images to express agony and a new way of being. It is in the litany of personal changes, political disasters, prayers and blessing. Just finding a form for it all, writing it all down, is healing for me.

What’s that about you using a cane and a walker? You’re too young for all that.

I had a bad hip for years. Used a cane. I needed hip replacement. Recovering from that involved using a walker. Now, miraculously, no more hip pain.

Why didn’t I know about this?

In the last years of your life, Mother, you couldn’t think straight. You couldn’t understand what was going on in my life, or in yours. I missed you even though you were still alive.

So my dying was a kind of healing. No wonder you want me around, talking to you.

That’s true. It’s been so hard not having you to connect with, not being able to complain to you about our disastrous political situation.

I gather things are pretty bad. In your poem you keep referring to “the Man made of Greed,” who seems to be a demon in your world. You’re praying to goddesses and quoting scripture, invoking Lady Fortuna and ending on this difficult image:

Destiny is a frayed rope
holding onto the boat
as seas rise…

Mother of Changes    hold on to us

But the truth is, Mother adds, always practical, I can’t hold on to you. I’m dead.

Tibetan Buddhist Mandala

Glacial Blue

                                                           Maybe it’s time
to visit the gods    who live here    among the people
of the tides    and the earthquakes    among the ravens
and the eagles    the bears    and the whales       They speak little
wear a bemused expression    on their animal faces
their rock faces      They will not answer your questions
about fast glacial flow    or the Black Hole
—“Glacial Blue” (first published in Origins)

Tlinget Totem Pole

Mother, do you remember when you went to Alaska, how you loved it? You were on an Elder Hostel trip, saw glaciers and whales, saw reindeer and bear in Denali. When Dan and I went, recently, I kept remembering your joy as I discovered my own enchantment with this land. I wrote this poem about it.

So how is this a poem about origins?

It’s about the origins of Alaska, the people that populated the north before white people came. In that way it is about the origins of America, its first peoples, its creatures, its glorious wilderness and habitat, the gods who inhabited its soul. It’s also about the origins of creativity, at least mine, which emerges from my great capacity to get lost. Come to think of it, that is part of the origin story of America—Columbus thought he was heading to India. When you let yourself get lost the unknown, the unconscious, can enter.

I like the story of that lost sea captain in your poem:

Our ship sits in the mouth of Disenchantment Bay
named by a lost sea captain looking for
the North West Passage

But your tone gets so dire when you write about the world you’re losing:

But as we lose    the world we know      As the news cycle
spins continuous sagas    of skullduggery    thuggery
every day a new catastrophe     while Google
plots Augmented Reality    and the Internet of Things
hands us over to the ‘bots      I hear a voice say  Maybe it’s time
to get lost    due North    where you’ve never been before    time
for the Inside Passage    to mist your soul    with glacial blue

—“Glacial Blue” (first published in Origins)

Whoever’s voice that is, speaking in you, is advising you well. It is time for wilderness, for hump backed whales and eagles, for what the native gods know that you’ve long ago forgotten. I’m glad you’ve got wise inner companions, because I’m dead, and it’s time for me to go now, and do what dead folks do.

What do dead folks do Mother? What do you do when you’re not talking to me? Are you still a sun worshipper?

Mother in the sun

She’s gone, leaving me to honor her in my way. There will be more poems for you Mother, more getting lost in reveries of origin. There will be a Jahrzeit candle, and me meditating on the mountain we both love—Denali, the Great One—remembering that line in Judy Grahn’s funeral poem:

“When you were dead I said you had gone to the mountain.” (Love Belongs, p. 91)


Friday, October 19, 2018

The Muse of Women’s Rage

The Furies embody the dark side of the binding power of eros, the madness of blood betrayed, the primal affective cry when one’s substance and identity are denied.
The Book of Symbols
In the fury of women lies the power to change the world. —Rebecca Traister
Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger
The Ghost of Clytemnesta Awakening the Furies.
Painting by John Dowman (1750-1824)

Whose Fury?

I am still reeling from the Kavanaugh hearings a few weeks ago. I watched them soon after Dan and I had returned from a magical time in Venice. Unplugged from the news, we had been absorbed in a luminous watery world of incandescent canals, boats, cobblestone streets, arched bridges and the heady freedom of no cars. We wandered the mazes of the ancient city, held in place by masses of great tree trunks fastened to the mud deep below. We meandered, got lost, got found, got lost again, found ourselves in a mass of human bodies packed on a vaporetto full of fellow tourists joining our delight in this glorious world. You could tell the native Venetians. They were the ones with the bored looks on their faces. The rest of us were in an enchantment.

Our time in Venice had been a retreat, a purification, a cleansing of the soul. By luck we had happened on an exhibition—Idoli: The Power of Images—of ancient clay figures, including many I’ve marveled at in books. I was heartened, strengthened, in this time of patriarchal strongmen taking over our world, to find myself overcome, again, by the luminous power of the goddess, so recently returned to us through archeological excavations. I was reminded of the work of Marija Gimbutas in particular, who has awakened so many of us to our deep roots in the feminine. 

Idoli Exhibition
I was reminded of my first intimations of the Goddess, as a young woman in India, and later as a young woman returned to America in the late 1960s, when news of our ancient divinity began to illuminate our lives and experiences. The patriarchy was coming to its end, we told each other. The power of women would prevail. It didn’t go the way we’d expected.

Something happened to me watching those hearings. It was as though a plug of mucous shot out of my throat and made way for a muse I have denied most of my life—the Muse of Women’s Rage. I grew up under the archetypal shadow of a patriarchal father’s rage. My father was a refugee Jew from Germany. In my child consciousness father and Hitler were merged. His fury ruled our home, made it a terrifying place, made my mother’s shoulders slump, her eyes fill with tears, dragged my brothers by the ears, sent my own anger deep into hiding in the basement of my soul. My father hated angry women. He said they had “hair on their teeth.” I convinced myself that anger did not become me. 

Incandescent with Rage

Watching the morning session of the Kavanaugh hearings, feeling the power of Blasey Ford’s painful testimony, and how it was blown to smithereens by an afternoon full of hectoring, furious white men, made me, to borrow a phrase from Rebecca Traister’s opinion piece in the NYTimes Sunday Review “incandescent with rage and sorrow and horror.” (“Fury is a Political Weapon” Sept. 30, 2018) I’m not used to managing this kind of feeling. I find Traister’s opinion piece, and her new book Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger, very helpful. She argues that rage can be fuel for political and creative engagement. Like fire, rage can be used to illuminate, to cook, to create a clay goddess, and it can be used to destroy. I found her advice strengthening, encouraging. In her opinion piece she wrote:
If you’ve been feeling a new rage at the flaws of this country and you want to change your life in order to change the world, then I have something incredibly important to say: Don’t forget how this feels. 
Tell a friend, write it down, explain it to your children now, so they will remember.
Clearly I have to change my life by owning my rage. Clearly I have to use my words; they are my tools. I offer you this poem—my expression of the rage of women. I say to you who read this: If this poem speaks to you, please send it on to your friends and your kin. Urge them to vote, to get others to vote in our upcoming midterm elections, perhaps the most consequential elections of our lifetime. I urge you and your friends to support Emily’s List, which supports women candidates all over the country. Whatever is your mode of political expression, use it to voice your feelings about our frightening times.

Me Too
September 27th 2018

All of us are you   Christine   in this moment
All of us in tears   because that’s what we do when we’re mad
All of us took off the day    to watch you tell
what few of us have ever dared to tell
All of our eyes dart   from senator   to prosecutor
Prosecutor?     Whose nightmare is this?

Some of us watched Anita Hill face those same   white men
those same    dead fish eyes     a generation ago Anita was so
self possessed    Not one hair    went astray    in her careful do
while your scared hair    Christine    blows around    tangles
in your eye glass frames     tries to hide
the terrified fifteen year old in you we all are
For who of us has not felt    that heavy hand over our mouth
Who of us has not feared    death by suffocation?
Who of us has not heard    that nasty laughter?

Shirley Chisholm locked herself in chambers      Wept her rage
at those old boys    who dismissed     diminished betrayed her
They could not tolerate     a black woman    running for president
Who of us did not feel    primordial fear    when Hillary spoke up
while the guy with that schlong of a tie    stalked her mocked her
Who of us did not feel the hot tongs    of the Inquisitor
when in the Quicken Loans Arena    in Cleveland    in 2016
a guy with a tie incited the crowd to    “Lock Her Up!”    “Lock Her Up!”

All of us know what happens    to those who refuse to do
the patriarchal dance     of diffidence
We’re stalked    pilloried    diagnosed as disturbed
in the womb     We bleed from our eyes
Well you’re showing them    Christine    not one iota
of rage    not a drop of disturbance    You make sweet and pliant
eye contact    name your terror    though sometimes we glimpse
the owl in your soul    how your roots reach down     to your own hard truth

You’re a flower in a fierce wind    pulling petals in close    until
storm over    goddess willing    you rise
to your full stature    dismiss the security detail    return
to your everyday home    with its two front doors    teach psychology
make dinner    walk the dog    help the boys with their homework

But this is not the end of it      Your dance of diffidence
settles nothing      He’s back    the one we all remember from forever
beating his chest    roaring       No one stops
his predatory attack    his entitled engorgement     for which we are
a handy piece of flesh    to be grabbed    groped    banged    nailed
                                                                                                     to a broken
                                                                                                                             of the tree

All of us know    what he’s not saying
that we’re witches    bitches     we are let’s say it aloud
CUNTS      And what is a cunt    but a portal    into a new world
we all come through     unless Caesar gets his way
and what is a witch    but a woman of power
who knows her own nature    is a part of all nature

In my dream    a brilliant black girl paints the world    in every living color
She’s Changing Woman    Woman of the Craft    Woman becoming us all
She runs strong    as a wild horse    dodges rocks and fissures     Maybe
it’s your dream Christine    and we’re all with you    on the wings of the owl
in the deepest part of the woods    where the oak grove remembers
the ones we were before
                                                                              we were grabbed groped banged nailed

                                                                              Naomi Ruth Lowinsky

Changing Woman