Saturday, September 24, 2016

Women on the Ancient Wall of Kranea

Surely on another autumn day like this, the acorns swelling green on the trees, the earth dark red with rain, the sky elaborately patterned with the tatters of a storm, another woman stood here on the behemoth limestone wall of the ancient acropolis called Kranea, looking north across a fertile oak valley at noon.

Maybe the wife of a soldier who patrolled the wall, looking out for invaders from the eastern acropolis at Sami, came to bring him a basket of corn meal cakes and sheep's cheese and a flask of weak wine for lunch.

Or maybe his daughter, with black braids and bare feet and fistfuls of acorns to throw at imagined foes. Or maybe an old woman, despite orders, in a time of peace, wearing the saffron robes of an old priestesshood, a school from Before the wall and the acropolis and the men who could move and chisel the earth into such giant blocks.

Maybe she came to look and to think, to dangle her veined old legs until someone stopped her, to sing the songs her grandmother left her, songs for the moon and the red earth and the harvest.

Songs from before even the names of Artemis, Demeter or Kore. Before She was broken into a hundred pieces and scattered. As one name she was far too strong even for a wall of immortal limestone cut by teams of oxen and men.

And what of a woman just my age and size and temperament, twenty-seven and slight, a dreamer with a hearty appetite and a streak of anxious nerves? Did she ever walk this wall?

She would have had children, no doubt, half-grown already. A body broader and more generous for it. What broke her fast at dawn? What words did she murmur to the rising sun? What lullabies to her daughters and sons with the moon? What teas for their coughs, what fears, what hopes, what smell and warmth of her husband in the heat of the early autumn dark?

Now, the wall stands tumbled. The spines of scrub oak, soft-eared salvias, white blooming squill spires, olive trees and thyme push everywhere around and between.

Lichens spread across the stone, maps of millennia, each century's island.

Rain, two thousand years of it, has made hollows, tunnels and bowls in the limestone wall, like the underbelly of Kefalonia itself, riddled with freshwater passageways and underground rivers.

Everywhere across the dark red earth, small purple crocuses have sprung up out of the rain.

Somewhere, there are pieces of an old temple to Demeter, but nobody seems to know where, and stones, after so long, begin to look alike. We eat a picnic on the old entrance gates and talk of ancient carts and chariots, the sound of wheels, of hooves, the life of the gatekeeper.

Goats nap, belled, under olive trees beyond a wire fence. We leave dry golden grapes from a small market and a pinch of rolling tobacco in a rainmade hollow for Demeter, since we can't find her temple. The sky and its clouds talk about rain.

The people of ancient Kranea are now only the red earth, the olive, the crocus, the acorns, the chisel marks on their colossal guardian wall. We try to visit some of their tombs at Mazarakata, but the gates are closed, the lock rusted. We can see a few through the fence, full of wild thyme. There is one almond-shaped hole into the earth, womanly and dark. There, in the read earth, everything is reborn. There, the fall of civilizations is not past, but now, resting in mythtime. Right there, where Demeter walks, with purple crocuses at her heels. 

Friday, July 15, 2016

The Dark Country

Things in the world  have been growing darker and darker for a while now. But last night, upon hearing news of the Nice attack, something shifted inside of me. A new layer of horror, of sorrow, of fear—this is no longer becoming a reality. It is a reality. This unbounded, rampant hate. We opened Pandora's box a long time ago, and then forgot what it might mean. Now, I fear, we are remembering, and it is terrible. The level of uncontrollable hatred is reaching a mythic pitch, and I am taking solace, sips of hope and prayer, from the grounds of story. Today I came across a passage I'd read before in a wonderful 1983 essay by Ursula Le Guin ("A Left-Handed Commencement Address," given at Mills College, printed in her collection Dancing at the Edge of the World). It struck a new chord. This morning in bed I was thinking about how we will get nowhere fighting hate with hate. We never have. We will be stuck in a cycle of blood feuds and vengeance and sorrow forever. And yet no western power is going to turn now to the Middle East with any measure of compassion, or the question— what is it we have done to create such poison? What can we do to heal this terrible, terrible wound without more loss of life? 

The only way out of any of it, of all of it, seems to me to be the way we will not go as a society, the way of gentleness, of compassion, of the dark and nourishing earth... As Ursula writes: 

In our society, women have lived, and have been despised for living, the whole side of life that includes and takes responsibility for helplessness, weakness, and illness, for the irrational and the irreparable, for all that is obscure, passive, uncontrolled, animal, unclean—the valley of the shadow, the deep, the depths of life. All that the Warrior denies and refuses is left to us and the men who share it with us and therefore, like us, can't play doctor, only nurse, can't be warriors, only civilians, can't be chiefs, only indians. Well, so that is our country. The night side of our country. If there is a day side to it, high sierras, prairies of bright grass, we only know pioneer's tales about it, we haven't got there yet. We're never going to get there by imitating Machoman. We are only going to get there by going our own way, by living there, by living through the night in our own country. 

So what I hope for you is that you live there not as prisoners, ashamed of being women, consenting captives of a psychopathic social system, but as natives. That you will be at home there, keep house there, be your own mistress, with a room of your own. That you will do your work there, whatever you are good at, art or science or tech or running a company or sweeping under the beds, and when they tell you its's second-class work because a woman is doing it, I hope you tell them to go to hell and while they're going to give you equal pay for equal time. I hope you live without the need to dominate, and without the need to be dominated. I hope you are never victims, but I hope you have no power over other people. And when you fail, and are defeated, and in pain, and in the dark, then I hope you will remember that darkness is your country, where you live, where no wars are fought and no wars are won, but where the future is. Our roots are in the dark; the earth is our country. Why did we look up for blessing—instead of around and down? What hope we have lies there. Not in the sky full of orbiting spy-eyes and weaponry, but in the earth we have looked down upon. Not from above, but from below, Not in the light that blinds, but in the dark that nourishes, where human beings grow human souls.

For at least the last five thousand years, the western world has been wracked and wracked again by war, led by a patriarchy that settles conflicts and takes what it wants by force. This isn't going to work any more. Already we can see it isn't working. The question is, how can we walk, all of us, into the hope that lies in the roots in the earth and keep our torches aloft? Really, I have hardly a clue. All I can say is — may we find the wisdom of the dark and feminine country, of the earth that grows human souls, of the land where there is no war, before it is too late.