Monday, November 29, 2010

"Bella Rosa Fortunata"

La Professoressa is now walking the streets of Nadi, a town on the island of Fiji, meeting with women from the Pacific Islands to discuss how to use the UN's CEDAW conventions in their daily activist work to improve the conditions of women in their region. Two weeks in New York, speaking on complex sexual issues, then back in Melbourne to teach an intensive course, one term in a week, on human rights and gender issues and then off to her Fiji community. And before she left, she managed to put in a vegetable bed in our back yard, under the lemon tree, wearing her Women in Black t-shirt that states War is Not in My Language. She is the whirlwind of commitment with whom I share my life, the force that lifted me from the known and almost against my will, pushed me into travel, across borders. Cello and I live in this weather board house going about our daily lives, he has his and I have mine. Sometimes he accompanies me as I do my writing tasks, like the Forward for the new anthology, "Persistence: All Ways Butch and Femme," a Canadian collection to be published by Aresenal Pulp Press, sitting on the rug and turning to listen when I read a sentence out loud. The other night I was working on my thoughts about the gay marriage campaign here being run by a Socialist group, knowing I would not be popular in my questioning of what I call the magic realism of marriage or the power of the ring, calling for more thinking about what I call our politics of deprivation and how it shapes our public desires--and he just walked out. Later I found him gnawing on an old bone, perhaps that was what I was doing too. Now I am preparing for the talk I will give if all goes well at the Lesbian Lives Conference in Brighton, England, in February while Di works the University of London. I do not think Cello will take kindly to this project since it means he will live with his foster family for the four months we are abroad. Again I write in the night, and again the voice of Guini Russo is with me--"a rose is a rose is a rose," she sings out, this familiar Stein quote embedded in her Italian lyrics. I have been thinking of her, "buongiorno, come stai," she sings in that half operatic, half playful voice, with a tenderness, a closeness. Her final illness, which I imagine to be cancer, pulls her to me, all the women performers I, we, have lost--Judy Holliday, Lorraine Hansberry, Gilda Ratner, Madilyn Kahn--too soon. These are just from my world, going back in to the 1950s, but I want to comfort them all, to thank them all. Their laughter, their music, Russo now sings for all of them, for all of us who have lost our friends and for our own terrors. Laughter and voice, how human an edifice this is, just shaped breaths, but they will do, they will do. Grazie,  Giuni
"Quand'ero stanca di lavorare
Mi sedevo da sola al balcone
Il sole andava in alto e nel cielo
Tessevo il tuo nome cone le nuvole...
Era mezzogiorono quando mi hai lasciata...
Con aneliti d'orgoglio io rispondo
Sono farfalla e m'involo tra i fiori
Lasciando alle spalle il dolore
Divento farfalla e m'involo tra i fiori
Lasciando alle spalle il dolore"
"When I was tired of working
I sat alone on my balcony
The sun rose high in the heavens
And wove your name among the clouds.
...It was the middle of the day when you left me...
With a gasp of defiance I am responding--
I am a butterfly amongst the blossoms
Leaving them to carry my sadness
I will become a butterfly and hide in the flowers
And let them help me to bear this pain."

Thank you, D., for all of this. "To be or not to be," the woman sings.

Before La Professoressa left for Fiji we went to an event welcoming 16 Palestinian-Iraqi refugee families to Australia, sponsored by A.S.P.I.R.E., the Australian Society for the Palestinian-Iraqi Refugees Emergency. Sivan, one of my Women in Black comrades, an Israeli-Australian Jewish woman, had been working with the five families helping them settle into their new life here--she and many others were turning their backs on border refusals. The room filled up with the families and those of us who had come to learn, to support. There we sat in the darkness together as we watched a documentary about the tented refugees camps along the Iraqi border that had been home for so long to the families around us, the dust storms, the desolate surroundings, the years of worry, where would the next upheaval carry these families. As the lights came back on, I saw in front of me, one of the fathers, his young son sitting on his lap, wiping the tears from his eyes, in that quick deep motion that hardened men do when they are caught in their pain. The whirling desert winds had reached us, the voices hidden in those winds, men and women and children coming into the light. And then as I was eating my dinner tonight, with Cello watching, I saw the Prime Minister of Israel talking about why Israel needed another wall, this time along the border with Egypt to keep out the flood of African migrant workers, why it needed internment camps for these people who would change the national life of the country of Israel. I watched as I have done these past years, as this country and its supporters who roar when Israel is called a racist state, called for more and more walls, to keep Israel pure, to keep Israel white, to keep Israel interred in its own historical betrayals. How many walls can a country have, and still they say, come to Tel Aviv and play while the walls go up and up--and I like so many other Jews and there are more and more of us, see a shrinking country, being swallowed up by its own crazed nationalism. Weapons and walls, walls and weapons. May my words, small things, fall upon these walls, like songs of women who even after their bodies have fallen, sing the possibilities of life over and over.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Giuni Russo, Karin Fossum, Robin Hobb and Women in Black

Giuni Russo
Night has fallen. La Professoressa is working on her class material in the room at the back of the house and I am writing in the room at the front, with the voice and songs of Giuni Russo, ringing out into my night. Just a few weeks ago, a new friend told me of this Italian lesbian woman artist, who died much too young,  September 7, 1951-September 14, 2004 promising to send me from the Colorado hills a CD of Russo's songs. Now they fill my heart. Strong, yearning, romantic, handsome and at times raucous with modern beats, with trills and oceans throwing up vocal mists, her mouth wide with sound and my beloved Italian now has this woman's hands, her sculpted face, her black suit, elegant and still. Once again, I learn of important things from new friends. I know I write so often of the struggles, of the hard places where nationalisms stifle the dignity of so many, and I write of the struggles or imply, of my own body, a body taken three times by cancer, and often unsteady and unsure of its future. But I am 70.

Now I am writing of what has brought me pleasure, what has helped me through the nights. Writers all new to me. The books of Karin Fossum, the Norwegian creator of Inspector Seder and his curly- headed wise in a different way sidekick, Skarre. Always with a dog somewhere in his life, Seder, and the world of these novels appear elegant to me, sparse clean sentences, touched with human elegance of feeling as well, with thoughtfulness and a quiet seeing of what lost humans are capable of. I find them comforting, kind in their depictions of domestic life frozen into loss. I cannot explain the satisfying quietness I find in so many of the Scandinavian detective writers, but I do. I will try their cleanness of line where you think you can see the cold breath of a winter's night slowing down and deepening the word's passage along the page. Other nights I have lived in the worlds of Robin Hobb, her Liveship Traders, her Farseer Trilogy and again found human kindnesses and delights of the imagination, hope for our better selves. Torments yes, but there is no malice of power in the author's quest--while she remakes serious histories from the known world like slavery and domination of women into tales of possibilities where ships sing of their loves and their own transformations and animals guide us through snow laden passes into new countries of  imagined pasts. I ride these offerings of the imagination, whether sung or slung across the page, into the terrains of my own nights, funny perhaps at 70, fending off the unwanted darkness with books that sometime look as if they are written for children, with tales of death in frozen forest scapes, with the songs of a woman who could not have my years. I hope I have done well with them, with the mornings they have brought me to.

The reality of what must be faced in these days is as pressing as ever. I have written about our latest Women in Black vigil, the courageous protest of the 12 young Jewish men and women who stood up in a New Orleans event with Netanyahu, protesting the unquestioned might and right of Israeli positions ( and posted Marg's discussion of a recent conference here on the Boycott Movement all on our Women in Black website,    Nights and days--you can find me here or there, in the imagined places or in the real with imagined hope.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Parigi, O Cara

La Professoressa is in New York, has been for a week now, leaving me and Cello to our own devices and those of kind friends. Patrizia bundled us into her car and off we went two days ago to visit friends in their lesbian homestead in the untamed bush, except for their lovingly built solar heated and lighted houses. Here I found another part of the Australian story, orchards buried in tall grasses, asparagus and garlic carefully tended to find a home in the untamed valley-- I sat in the early morning sun on a wooden chair, looking to the hills on either side of me, felt the wind move over me, rustle the gum trees and then make its way up the side of the hills, moving the grasses in purple waves and for a moment I felt as if the world was swaying, a pulse shifting the solids, wave after wave flowing up the low mountain. Cello sitting very still by my my side, all freedoms lay before him but still he sat, looking, carefully. He was, I think, a little overcome by the sounds and smells around him. A Flemish dog, this skippergee, a dog of barges and companionable nights on the low slung boats, listening to the captain spin her yarns. We were much aware of place--the cockatoos shrieked their joy of life, white large- bodied birds, first on the mountains, then in the tree above us, groups of them harshly joyous, and the tiny willy wag tails, small insolences, with the swallows swooping around the eaves of the house, their flight a known sight to me from the swallows of Black Slip Hollow deep in the Catskills. Again place talking to place.
Go to the edge of the grasses and you will find the river, the girls said and so Cello and I made our way carefully carefully, ever mindful of snakes and soon found ourselves by a huge fallen ghost gum with the turn of the small river below us and then in a boom I have come to know, the opposite bank came alive with a mob of disturbed kangaroos and as they pushed off with their powerful legs, the earth vibrated with their surge. This was a sight and a sound of my new place, an unforgettable moment of Australian animal, not the bounding of deer I knew for so many years, but the powerful hops to freedom of this place. A combination of humility and power that for me is much of this land.
In the morning we worked on netting the apple tree in the orchard and then one by one, we gave in to the growing heat and walked up the hill back to the house. Sitting with our cups of tea, we tried to find the homage to Dame Joan Sutherland that we knew was taking place in the Sydney Opera House that late morning, and the valley smiled on us because there on the dark screen, we could just about follow a moment of national homage, not to warriors or corporate controls, but to La Stupenda, a woman who had sung her way out of the confinement of this island home, and yet never left it behind. So there we sat, the two dogs, Cello, the interloper and Tom, the dearly loved house dog, and three of us, two Australians and one New Yorker, leaning forward to catch the words of love and praise and even more, the singing, the face as broad as a land, the body large and strong, the neck and shoulders pedestals for that monumental face and the everlasting flow of breath shaped into glory. I had never listened to that voice so intently, never known what Dame Joan had meant to a nation, a vast and yet small nation trying to be part of a Europe that seemed so far away and was. Place again, the ones we leave, the ones we carry with us, the yearning for replacement. And then on the screen in the concert hall in Sydney, Joan Sutherland, swathed in acres of black lace, stepped out of her role for the evening and took her leave of her first country, her first audiences, the daughter of a tailor and of a mother who loved to sing, of the country towns like Walla Walla where she first tested her young voice, towns to be left in the wake of Paris and London and New York and Florence, she stepped to the front of the stage, with her fellow performers standing behind, lifted her hand to quiet the audience, and standing so quietly, only her fingers moving over the bouquets she held against her chest, she gave her home crowd her final good-bye. There in the house of new friends, I heard La Stupenda, Joan, sing "Home Sweet Home," in the cradle of their valley and their hospitality, I heard her final anthem to place and the push of art. My friends quietly wept. I understood a little more now, this place that so often must be left to find the larger thing, but that never leaves those who came to life amidst its gums and seas, its country towns struggling to survive, its cities still green with ambition and its dry dry ancient land. I wept too for the homes I had lost and the knowledge that I would leave this one as well. I had entered into a deep place of the Australian spirit, strong women living with the wildness of their land, the booming leaps of roos, the wind moving through the gums up into the grasses on the hills. 

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Oh My People

What have you done? Where have you fled? Into such fear, into bombastic lies and flag draped emptiness? Wars rage in your name, but you want no words about them. The poor wander your streets in larger and larger numbers, but you shout in the promise of bigger and bigger business, what have you done? Did Obama prove so frightening to you, with his cool voice and almost weary need to do something to make things more equal, did his name so foolishly frighten you, the color of his skin, you are invoked now over and over, I can hear in the background on this most lonely of nights here, the voices, triumphant repeating over and over, the American people, the American people--this is what you want--a young man from Florida who is haunted by his own Caribbean history says over and over, America is the greatest country in the world, and you repeat in unison USAUSAUSA. Oh I am afraid you will get what you want--an America isolated in its own self love, its own crazy mirror images of The Greatest while on your own lands, people not part of this  day of glory for the individual beg in your streets, sleep once again under the bridges and the rest of the world glides away into the real future where difference and brilliance and cooperation look into new heavens.
You will have your victory, the tea party with its red and white and blue little cakes of now we will be safe again, now we will be America again, now we will let every one fend for themselves again and sipping carefully from the their cups, they smile with self appreciation and do not see the people swept by in the waters, a future of ideas filled with promise drowning in the smallness of their thirst.

Oh I am lonely tonight. In a far away place from where my days had their beginning. Oh I am lonely tonight, with my little black dog sleeping curled up at my feet. Perhaps I am the one who has lost the world.