by Eavan Boland
The only legend I have ever loved is
the story of a daughter lost in hell.
And found and rescued there.
Love and blackmail are the gist of it.
Ceres and Persephone the names.
And the best thing about the legend is
I can enter it anywhere. And have.
As a child in exile in
a city of fogs and strange consonants,
I read it first and at first I was
an exiled child in the crackling dusk of
the underworld, the stars blighted. Later
I walked out in a summer twilight
searching for my daughter at bed-time.
When she came running I was ready
to make any bargain to keep her.
I carried her back past whitebeams
and wasps and honey-scented buddleias.
But I was Ceres then and I knew
winter was in store for every leaf
on every tree on that road.
Was inescapable for each one we passed.
And for me.
It is winter
and the stars are hidden.
I climb the stairs and stand where I can see
my child asleep beside her teen magazines,
her can of Coke, her plate of uncut fruit.
The pomegranate! How did I forget it?
She could have come home and been safe
and ended the story and all
our heart-broken searching but she reached
out a hand and plucked a pomegranate.
She put out her hand and pulled down
the French sound for apple and
the noise of stone and the proof
that even in the place of death,
at the heart of legend, in the midst
of rocks full of unshed tears
ready to be diamonds by the time
the story was told, a child can be
hungry. I could warn her. There is still a chance.
The rain is cold. The road is flint-coloured.
The suburb has cars and cable television.
The veiled stars are above ground.
It is another world. But what else
can a mother give her daughter but such
beautiful rifts in time?
If I defer the grief I will diminish the gift.
The legend will be hers as well as mine.
She will enter it. As I have.
She will wake up. She will hold
the papery flushed skin in her hand.
And to her lips. I will say nothing.
Caliberal has been in despair about what has happened to women in this country. I love Cali; she's my girlcrush, and I wish we lived closer so I could hang out with her. But here, in my home, I have two reasons for every move I make in honor of women. Two daughters, born of my body, and the lights of my life.
Sometimes, I just want to throw up my hands and give up. We are going backwards when it comes to women's rights in this country. The Fundamentalists, whose fear of women is so pronounced that they can't think of enough ways to punish us for having vaginae, currently seem to have direct access to those in power who make decisions about women's rights.
Of course, it's the same in various parts of the world. Bob Herbert's columns this week dealt with violence against women--violence that was directed at women solely on the basis of their sex.
My friend, Amy, said it more eloquently, I think, but then again, I think poets say most everything more eloquently than those of us who write clumsy prose in offering to the Muse.
Lake Kivu plaits through the Rift valley,
a current of despair and revenge.
I was the Hutus' favorite daughter,
I am their nation; a lakebed,
my mouth a volcano,
a danger to anything that breathes.
My nation insisted I become a nation,
scissors, opened and closed, life sliced
in two. I sent my son, Shalom,
to young Rose, the Tutsis' plea to God,
to where she hid, to the fields
where her faith fought back.
I called to the Tutsis, exhausted as rain:
Here is your food. Here is your shelter.
All of their death took only an hour;
a red chested cuckoo asked why.
I told him: My eyes are split open,
I am sorry; I am not.
This will never end, my wandering
into the twilight, out of my Bombay
backyard, my parents' final basket of fruit,
my peafowl sashaying to the males' courtly
help help of recognition.
I miss my peacocks more than mother or father,
birds of prey who could not comprehend
this girl's longings.
When the males release
their plumage, they call ahhh ahhh;
the peahen mutters Hell-o Hell-o.
I can not tell you
what you want to hear,
cannot remember the travelers' eyes, faces, words,
any kindnesses as I drifted out of my skin,
as my mouth became the rapist's chick, wingless, blind.
This will never end. No, I am not that girl:
her sorrow song not mine.
I do not wake up every morning and thank God
that I am a man; I love my mother.
I will never tell my wife.
What I love most is morning,
my line cast for stripers,
their obedient mouths.
The girl was pretty, tall, lean enough.
In the graveyard, the headstones
shut their eyes, their mouths sang
silently, she did not hear their sympathy.
All of my life looked
meek in the setting sun.
I heard her No, but who
could stop in the throes of opening.
That was another life.
She was never my true child.
My snow white crane,
her red right eye, her hysterical cry
entreating me, Faz Mai, to feed her.
I hear her
in the shallow waters of the Indus,
but my breasts are not milky,
the weeping sustenance that calls
my fledgling home for food
is only rain. Even my tears
have dissolved into breaths I take
when I must breathe, have to breathe,
for the child who floated out of me
into my blister of nothing.
And for my cousin Naseem,
like me, forced to spread herself
into our country of dread,
into the fields where white bulbs
of cotton are slowly dying.
That was another life.
I had not yet cradled my daughter,
she had not suckled
my lexicon of milk.
I had not forgiven myself
for being a body,
a dutiful daughter,
for inhaling my era's
I refuse to remember him.
I refuse to remember the Portuguese
stones of loss, the nearby sea
smacking its futile fish.
He kissed me.
He did not kiss our child's sigh
as I slipped it into the waters
of the Holiday Inn, my thumb nail,
my lily, I named No, Please No.
At times, I want to be his body,
to feed him with regret
I need to imagine.
Now white bulbs push up and out
of my hardened suburban soil.
What I have learned is lime, water,
what returns and will not return.
Still, there are times I want to be you,
Naseem Mai, pesticide flowing through
your still body like fresh milk.
Now I am milk. My daughter has eyes
so blue they become the sea,
daybreak, another country.
I return to the sink, the toilet, the mop, the clothes,
the little neck splayed opened, my husband's
silky undershirt, its smallest tear.
My husband snaps a picture
of our daughter shaping mud
for her report on the prairie photographer
who fell in love with sod,
the wonders of sod,
gave up everything for sod:
medical school, lovers, home,
to travel, to take pictures
that would be lost
in a fire, all 1500, except negatives,
imprinted on glass,
sheltered from obscurity
nothing was lost.
I love my imaginings of this man,
this Solomon Butcher,
the long stretches of land,
the wind, the occasional tree,
the lone dugout,
how he wanted to discover the world,
discover the woman, her fire
beneath the caldron.
I love my life,
my mislaid child,
this century of tears,
life before life.
This week, the Supreme Court will hear arguments on an abortion question. One of the heroines of the right-to-choose movement, Jane Hodgson died a few days ago. Dr. Hodgson was sentenced to jail in 1970 for performing an "illegal" abortion. She acted on her conscience, choosing to provide medical care to a woman who had contracted German Measles during her pregnancy. Rubella is devastating to the developing fetus. But don't think that the anti-choice forces give a shit about any of that. Every sperm, egg, and zygote is sacred. Women, on the other hand, don't count for shit in their world.
Perhaps it's best that Dr. Hodgson not live to see what continues to happen that women fought and died for just a generation ago. Eight men, none of whom will never be pregnant, never face the danger of pregnancy, never have to make a choice about what they carry within their bodies, will rule on whether women and their doctors can be trusted to make the right decision about late-term abortion.
The law lacks the exception for a pregnant woman's health that the court held in the Nebraska case to be constitutionally required; Congress simply declared that the procedure was never necessary.
Congress declared that the procedure is never necessary? Jesus Fucking Christ. Is this the same Congress that voted to authorize the president's search for chimerical weapons of mass destruction? That spent days arguing over whether Terri Schiavo was alive? What, did they all go to medical school during one of their recesses? What the fuck?
But you know what? Regardless of what the Supreme Court decides, we will fight them. We will fight them with Emergency Kindness. We will fight them with my nascent plan to create a network of women willing to help minors get Plan B. We will fight them by educating our daughters about the beauty and perfection of their own bodies, their own souls. They will not take our daughters.
For a generation, we have been losing ground. But it is time for a new generation of Bread and Roses. Of Beauty and Sex. Of Love and Pleasure. Of Equal Opportunity and Freedom.
Bread and Roses
by (Lyrics: James Oppenheim; Music: Martha Coleman or Caroline Kohlsaat) (1910s)
As we come marching, marching in the beauty of the day,
A million darkened kitchens, a thousand mill lofts gray,
Are touched with all the radiance that a sudden sun discloses,
For the people hear us singing: "Bread and roses! Bread and roses!"
As we come marching, marching, we battle too for men,
For they are women's children, and we mother them again.
Our lives shall not be sweated from birth until life closes;
Hearts starve as well as bodies; give us bread, but give us roses!
As we come marching, marching, unnumbered women dead
Go crying through our singing their ancient cry for bread.
Small art and love and beauty their drudging spirits knew.
Yes, it is bread we fight for -- but we fight for roses, too!
As we come marching, marching, we bring the greater days.
The rising of the women means the rising of the race.
No more the drudge and idler -- ten that toil where one reposes,
But a sharing of life's glories: Bread and roses! Bread and roses!
Twenty years ago, I fought my shame by posing for photos for a friends' artistic portfolio. I never thought I would post any of those photos publicly, but today, for my daughters, and for myself, and for Cali, I re-claim my body, my rights, my freedom.
It's not perfect, but it's mine. And I'll be godfuckingdamned before I let them, or anyone else, tell me what I can do with it. And if they think that they can mess with my daughters, they clearly, clearly do not know the wrath of Mom-Lorraine.