by Angeliska on March 22, 2017
The Vernal Equinox heralds Persephone’s return into the light, beckoning her back up to the land of the living. Coming back slowly into consciousness – the body wakes up, remembers how to breathe, sigh, sing again. This Pluto transit I’ve been going through will keep me in the underworld for at least another year, I think – learning how to read the roots, speak to ghosts, be transformed completely. I’m not the same girl that was plunged down into the choking dirt a season ago. Persephone left the earth a girl, but walked back in the door of her childhood home, something else entirely. The deep want and longing that had always been a part of me have been purged from my heart, finally. I do not want what I haven’t got. I sang that song in a wavering voice under a full moon by firelight in the middle of the Sahara Desert. I am certain no one enjoyed hearing it, but I had to sing it anyway – because though I’ve sung those words for years, they’ve never been more true. I am walking in the desert. I am not scared, but it’s hot. I send a would be lover away from my bed, turn away from his kisses, even though he is the King of the Berbers. I am loyal only to myself, for once. I sleep alone, draped in his robes, his silk burnoose, pale blue. I am stronger than I knew, calm in my resolve, finding a truth deep in myself, way out in the middle of nowhere.
Today is a day for telling things, for whispering truths into the shifting sands. In a room full of women, we shared our secrets, telling each other’s – faces hot with the releasing, letting it all go. This is where all the deep work is happening. I see it all around me, in so many of the brave people I meet. Facing their shadows head on. We take care of each other’s darkest secrets, confessions scrawled on notecards and passed around the room, spoken aloud, clouds of shame dispelling, like puff-ball mushrooms deflating colored smoke, releasing gasps of relief. These truths hang in the air over our heads and then fade, just a ghost of something that had so much power, unspoken, untold. The shock and boom of fireworks exploding cathartically, and then just as suddenly turned to ash, to a floating jellyfish chrysanthemum made of haze. Was it ever real, this fear that held so much power over us? Sometimes. Thinking about the lost maidens we were, and the troubled young women in our own lives now – how hard it is to be female in this fucked up world. Thinking about all the mothers and daughters. How we lose and find each other, again and again and again. Stories of trauma and loss, memories of our teenage shames, and secret desires. Our bodies, ourselves. Mothers and daughters, lovers and others. Seeing so clearly now how I’ve been repeating that old story, for so many years now. I don’t need to do that anymore. The old sorrow is with me, but I know what to do now to be mother to myself, to give myself back what I lost, as best I can. It takes a lot of work, a lot of care. It’s worth it. I cry for the girl I was, how much she had to figure out on her own. I’ve been thinking about that time in my life a lot lately. Going into the past, sitting with how far I’ve come, how much my life, and my perception of it has changed. What has remained. I have lost so, so much. But everything I’ve gained has more value to me than robes of silver, than a starry crown. Worth more to me than a gold ring on my finger. Knowledge, peace, and freedom – more precious to me than any of those old illusions I once clung to so fervently. It’s some deep Venus in Retrograde work, Our Lady Underground. My fingers feeling around for the shape of her, eyes unseeing. Digging the carved stone figure of a goddess out of the ancient dirt. Scrabbling blindly for the sacred. Have you ever been inside a cavern, deep under the earth, when the tour guide shuts all the lights off? Letting your vision adjust to that complete darkness, total lack of light. I always wish they’d let us stay in the dark for just a little while longer. It’s such rarity, that level of deep pitch black. Just like seeds, we need it to grow.
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.
– an excerpt from The Pomegranate
I’ve been in cold storage, like a bulb tricked into thinking it’s winter still. An unripe pomegranate. The soil frozen, down deep. Permafrost. I’ve been sweating since December, a hot Christmas, celebrating the New Year with bare arms and legs. The rest of me never thawed, though. I dig in my long shovel, muddy boots shoving it in deeper, ripping the old roots out like rotten teeth. I never planted this, never wanted this – and now it’s taking over, invasive. Sea-Oats. I’ll leave a small patch, because the dangling seed-pods are good in bouquets – but this is my garden now. Mine, and mine alone. I reclaim my body that way, all the places the old lovers like ghosts used to touch, mine and mine alone now. Never theirs again. Broken trust, and deep violation. The old story, Proserpine’s abduction. Old myths. Ancients gods and goddesses rear up enormous, fantastical, breathing fire, trampling cities like juggernauts. Terrible and beautiful (but mostly terrible.) My arms held behind my back, pinning me down, face in the dirt, mouth full of dead leaves. A voice in my head, a dark memory saying, “I own you completely. I fucking own you.” No, you don’t. Not anymore. No longer ill-used, kept in a back pocket for safe-keeping, possessed. Robbed of my choice. Kept in the dark, intentionally. These are Plutonian lessons: sex and death, love and loss. Control and liberation. I suppose I could not have truly learned any other way. But goddamn. I told a shorthand version of this myth to a beautiful maiden on a dark night, on the road back from New Orleans. Winding through the bayou. Telling the tale of the underworld descent, as we made our way back up from below sea-level. Why did Persephone eat that pomegranate, anyway? In doing so, she sealed her fate – to become Queen of the Land of the Dead. This is the other aspect of myself I’ve been learning to embrace – the Mediumatrix. Learning that language, reading the letters written on the cave walls, inscribed on tombstones. Maman Brigitte, whose domain is the cemetery. My mama didn’t name me that for nothing, you know? So, I have to trust. However, I had been warned: don’t feed the shades! A bad spirit followed her home through the streets, tried to play pranks on me. I wasn’t having it. Performing the necessary banishing, cord-cuttings. The lit candle, out. In dark dreams, dead hands on me cold as clay, heavy as stone. Sleep paralysis keeps me from hollering at them – get off, get out! Go now, back to your grave, you old ghosts! It’s time for you to dissolve, fade into memory, dust. New sprouts are forming beneath the soil, lifting tiny green leaves into the morning sun. Spring is here, the birds are singing – wake up, wake up from your strange dreams! I don’t know if I know how or even want to write about how angry I’ve been. How hurt. Pluto has brought me harsh lessons, and I’ve had to work hard not to let my bitter tears salt the earth, make it so that nothing grows there anymore. I want good things to grow here, wild and strong. Truths, and wisdom. Joy and acceptance. Bit by bit I make my way there. Spring does not arrive overnight. There are still trees with bare branches. I’m giving myself a lot of time.
I forgot my razor in New Orleans, and so have been experimenting for the very first time with letting the hair on my body grow – seeing what it does when left untended. I started shaving more or less as soon as my body first began to grow hairy, so I’ve never really seen it do its thing. I’ve been thinking about something my friend said, when she stopped shaving recently: that she would grow her body hair out until she could look at it without repulsion, until she could see it as normal – as beautiful. As part of her. Because it is. Growing wild, a thick tangle like roots exposed to the light. It was such a shock, when I was a young girl – the dark wiry hair standing out like a shock on such pale skin. Now, it seems so benign, so harmless. It’s surprisingly sparse, finer than I imagined. So much less hideous. Delilah taking back her own power, owning her animus. I am a mammal, after all – an animal. Perhaps it’s a protection, an amulet, personal talisman. In the underarm cavern, furring down shins, new sprouts, surprises. Growing wild. Feeling strong, a feminine strength. The scent of my own skin, intoxicating. I smell like a woman, like Artemis the huntress, with her loyal hounds, chasing only the moon. Musk and jasmine and leather. Carnations and goat-fur and candlewax. Transformations, explorations of identities, a deeper understanding of my own femininity. A strange and sometimes wonderful construct. An idea, an energy. I was granted new dresses for the first day of spring, flowered sprigs, pin tucked, gathered up and nipped in at the waist. I chose new ones, with room to let my belly breathe, in shades like ripe fruit and shadow: plum, cerise, soot. I hadn’t been wearing any of my more girly frocks much for a bit, or anything flowery or delicate anymore. I felt most comfortable in sort of shapeless overalls, dusk colored, warrior woman garb. Nothing to prove, no one to tempt. No need to be coy or coquettetish. I’m not looking to draw anyone into my orbit. All my lacy stockings are rolled up in their bundles in my drawer, unworn. Gowns hang in the closet like shed skins, high heels gathering dust. I’ve been unwilling to wear any constricting bullshit whatsoever, for the most part. A different mode for me. As is learning to be a good friend to myself, a loving and constant companion. To let myself unfold how I will, over this process. It’s been interesting, liberating, and curious. I am so much more comfortable in my skin than I have ever been. It is only from this place of acceptance and compassion can I initiate any real changes. I want to be stronger, I want to be healthier. So I’m working on that.
i made it up
here on this bridge between
starshine and clay,
my one hand holding tight
my other hand
an excerpt from
won’t you celebrate with me
Lucille Clifton, 1936 – 2010
We lay in the meadow, among evening primroses nodding their heavy petals, polled loaded. Buttery kissed noses, glowing in the gloaming. All the colors returning to the world that so recently seemed to be nothing but grey. We went down to the river for the parade in darkness, and looked around in amazement as the sun rose over the water and all the hues that had been leached away and hidden in the night were slowly revealed, brightening and deepening in intensity as dawn opened up her golden hands to embrace us. Our eyes were dazzled, our lips speechless, seeing each other, all of us – truly for the first time. Come out, come out – wherever you are! Scattering seeds: bluebells and scarlet flax, poppies and alyssum, bachelor’s buttons, delphinium, black larkspur and hollyhocks. I pull up the beggar’s lice, wild geranium, old cleavers. I plant Angel’s Trumpets. With whispered words I encourage horseherb, toadflax, frogfruit, spiderwort, henbit to reclaiming the garden. The wild weeds return to teach me their often overlooked and misunderstood magic
look at love
how it tangles
with the one fallen in love
look at spirit
how it fuses with earth
giving it new life
why are you so busy
with this or that or good or bad
pay attention to how things blend
why talk about all
the known and the unknown
see how the unknown merges into the known
why think separately
of this life and the next
when one is born from the last
look at your heart and tongue
one feels but deaf and dumb
the other speaks in words and signs
look at water and fire
earth and wind
enemies and friends all at once
the wolf and the lamb
the lion and the deer
far away yet together
look at the unity of this
spring and winter
manifested in the equinox
you too must mingle my friends
since the earth and the sky
are mingled just for you and me
be like sugarcane
sweet yet silent
don’t get mixed up with bitter words
my beloved grows right out of my own heart
how much more union can there be
Untitled ["Look at love"] by Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi
I grieve for and honor this man who gave us this poem, that has helped me maybe more than any other, survive and understand the past five years. I’ve shared it before, but feel moved to do so again, because this lesson and practice is continuing to unfold for me, deeper than ever.
The time will come
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread.
Give back your heart
to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.
– Love After Love
Let the day grow on you upward
through your feet,
the vegetal knuckles,
to your knees of stone,
until by evening you are a black tree;
feel, with evening,
the swifts thicken your hair,
the new moon rising out of your forehead,
and the moonlit veins of silver
running from your armpits
like rivulets under white leaves.
Sleep, as ants
cross over your eyelids.
You have never possessed anything
as deeply as this.
This is all you have owned
from the first outcry
you can never be dispossessed.
– Derek Walcott
(from Sea Grapes)
Dinah Washington – This Bitter Earth
My theme song for this Spring: This Bitter Earth, recorded by Gene Chandler in one spectacular take.
Dinah Washington’s original slays me to the bone, but I listen to this one when I’m all out of tears…
This bitter earth
Well, what a fruit it bears
What good is love
Mmh, that no one shares?
And if my life is like the dust
Ooh, that hides the glow of a rose
What good am I?
Heaven only knows
Oh, this bitter earth
Yes, can it be so cold?
Today you’re young
Too soon you’re old
But while a voice
Within me cries
I’m sure someone
May answer my call
And this bitter earth, ooh
May not, oh be so bitter after all
Equinox wishes from days of yore: