This August evening I’ve been driving over backroads fringed with queen anne’s lace my car startling young deer in meadows—one gave a hoarse intake of her breath and all four fawns sprang after her into the dark maples. Three months from today they’ll be fair game for the hit-and-run hunters, glorying in a weekend’s destructive power, triggers fingered by drunken gunmen, sometimes so inept as to leave the shattered animal stunned in her blood. But then evening deep in summer the deer are still alive and free, nibbling apples from early-laden boughs so weighed, so englobed with already yellowing fruit they seem eternal, Hesperidean in the clear-tuned, cricket-throbbing air.
Later I stood in the dooryard my nerves singing the immense fragility of all this sweetness, this green world already sentimentalized, photographed, advertised to death. Yet, it persists stubbornly beyond the fake Vermont of antique barnboards glazed into discotheques, artificial snow, the sick Vermont of children conceived in apathy grown to winters of rotgut violence, poverty gnashing its teeth like a blind cat at their lives. Still, it persists. Turning off into a dirt road from the raw cuts bulldozed through a quiet village for the tourist run to Canada, I’ve sat on a stone fence above a great-soft, sloping field of musing helfers, a farmstead slanting its planes calmly in the calm light, a dead elm raising bleached arms above a green so dense with life, minute, momentary life—slugs, moles, pheasants, gnats, spiders, moths, hummingbirds, groundhogs, butterflies a lifetime is too narrow to understand it all, beginning with the huge rockshelves that underlie all life.
No one ever told us we had to study our lives, make of our lives a study, as if learning natural history music, that we should begin with the simple exercises first and slowly go on trying the hard ones, practicing till strength and accuracy became one with the daring to leap into transcendence, take the chance of breaking down the wild arpeggio or faulting the full sentence of the fugue. And in fact we can’t live like that: we take on everything at once before we’ve even begun to read or mark time, we’re forced to begin in the midst of the hard movement, the one already sounding as we are born.
At most we’re allowed a few months of simply listening to the simple line of a woman’s voice singing a child against her heart. Everything else is too soon, too sudden, the wrenching-apart, that woman’s heartbeat heard ever after from a distance the loss of that ground-note echoing whenever we are happy, or in despair.
Everything else seems beyond us, we aren’t ready for it, nothing that was said is true for us, caught naked in the argument, the counterpoint, trying to sightread what our fingers can’t keep up with, learn by heart what we can’t even read. And yet it is this we were born to. We aren’t virtuosi or child prdigies, there are no prodigies in this realm, only a half-blind, stubborn cleaving to the timbre, the tones of what we are, even when all the texts describe it differently.
And we’re not performers, like Liszt, competing against the world for speed and brilliance (the 79-year-old pianist said, when I asked her What makes a virtuoso?—Competitiveness.) The longer I live the more I mistrust theatricality, the false glamour cast by performance, the more I know its poverty beside the truths we are salvaging from the splitting-open of our lives The woman who sits watching, listening, eyes moving in the darkness is reheasing in her body, hearing-out in her blood a score touched off in her perhaps by some words, a few chords, from the stage, a tale only she can tell.
But there come times—perhaps this is one of them when we have to take ourselves more seriously or die; we when have to pull back from the incantations, rhythms we’ve moved to thoughtlessly, and disenthrall ourselves, bestow ourselves to silence, or a severer listening, cleansed of oratory, formulas, choruses, laments, static crowning the wires. We cut the wires, find ourselves in free-fall, as if our true home were the undimensional solitudes, the rift in the Great Nebula. No one who survives to speak new language, has avoided this: the cutting-away of an old force that held her rooted to an old ground the pitch of utter loneliness where she herself and all creation seem equally dispersed, weightless, her being a cry to which no echo comes or can ever come.
But in fact we were always like this, rootless, dismembered: knowing it makes the difference. Birth stripped our birthright from us, tore us from a woman, from women, from ourselves so early on and the whole chorus throbbing at our ears like midges, told us nothing, nothing of origins, nothing we needed to know, nothing that could re-member us.
Only: that it is unnatural, the homesickness for a woman, for ourselves, for that acute joy at the shadow her head and arms cast on a wall, her heavy or slender thighs on which we lay, flesh against flesh, eyes steady on the face of love; smell of her milk, her sweat, terror of her disappearance, all fused in this hunger for the element they have called most dangerous, to be lifted breathtaken on her breast, to rock within her—even if beaten back, stranded again, to apprehend in a sudden brine-clear though trembling like the tiny, orbed, endangered egg-sac of a new world: This is what she was to me, and this is how I can love myself as only a woman can love me.
Homesick for myself, for her—as, later the heatwave breaks, the clear tones of the world manifest: cloud, bough, wall, insect, the very soul of light, homesick as the fluted vault of desire articulates itself: I am the lover and the loved, home and wanderer, she who splits firewood and she who knocks, a strange in the storm, two women, eye to eye measuring each other’s spirits each others’ limitless desire,
a whole new poetry beginning here.
Vision begins to happen in such a life as if a woman quietly walked away from the argument and jargon in a room and sitting down in the kitchen, began turning in her lap bits of yarn, calico and velvet scraps, laying them out absently on the scrubbed boards in the lamplight, with small rainbow- colored shells sent in cotton-wool from somewhere far away and skeins of milkweed from the nearest meadow original domestic silk, the finest findings and the darkblue petal of the petunia, and the dry darkbrown face of seaweed; not forgotten either, the shed silver whisker of the cat, the spiral of paper-wasp-nest curling beside the finch’s yellow feather. Such a composition has nothing to do with eternity, the striving for greatness, brilliance only with the musing of a mind one with her body, experienced fingers quietly pushing dark against bright; silk against roughness, putting the tenets of a life together with no mere will to mastery, only care for the many-lived, unending forms in which she finds herself, becoming now the sherd of broken glass slicing light in a corner, dangerous to flesh, now the plentiful, soft leaf that wrapped round the throbbing finger, soothes the wound; and now the stone foundation, rockshelf further forming underneath everything that grows.
I'm a woman, a Witch, a mother, a grandmother, an eco-feminist, a gardener, a reader, a writer, and a priestess of the Great Mother Earth. Hecate appears in the
Homeric Ode to Demeter, which tells of Hades who caught Persophone
"up reluctant on his golden car and bare her away lamenting. . . . But no one, either of the deathless gods or of mortal men, heard her voice, nor yet the olive-trees bearing rich fruit: only tenderhearted Hecate, bright-coiffed, the daughter of Persaeus, heard the girl from her cave . . . ."