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.

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