Friday, January 12, 2018

My Life with the Man

About eight years ago, in a poetry workshop, we read "My Life with the Wave," a prose poem by Octavio Paz. It is in keeping with the magical realism style of many Latin American writers. The poem is about a wave which begs a man to take her away from the ocean. After he is arrested on a train, they eventually end up together in his apartment in Mexico City. At first their love affair is passionate, but, like most affairs, it begins to fade in the routine of ordinary life. He spends more time away and she is trapped at home. He tries to buy her off with trinkets, but they move further apart. He ignores her and she turns cold - symbol of the frigid woman - in fact turns to a pillar of ice. He blames her for this turn of events and he solves the problem by taking her to a restaurant and having her chopped up to be used to chill bottles of wine.

Needless to say, I didn't find this acceptable - the story of a woman who thinks she can find her self worth in the "male gaze" and has no outlet for fulfilling herself. When she becomes angry, she's the crazy bitch who deserves what she gets. It immediately took me back to my mother's rage at being a highly educated woman, stuck in the suburbs in the 1950s, while my father went off to work in Manhattan (her favorite place on earth). So, I rewrote the story from the wave's point of view instead of the man's. You will not find the part in which she discovers her own self-worth in Paz' version! I had to make a few changes to the story to have the train portion of it make sense, but mostly, I just turned the tables. The poems are the same length - about 2,000 words. The photos are not mine - just right off the internet.

by Susan Collier Lamont

One woman’s response to My Life with the Wave by Octavio Paz – sixty years late

On a warm day like any other, my friends and I rocked together gently that day, lapping the beach, as is a wave’s wont in summer. Each time I receded down the sand and my belly slid upon earth’s grainy breast, I felt an inexplicable longing. I yearned for release from the monotony of in and out, over and under, but I could form no image of what might take its place. In the glare of the afternoon sun, a man stood with his feet, wet in our midst, solid and unmoved, shading his eyes. Wrapped in his own thoughts, he did not notice my approach. I thought he might be my chance and, with a surge, I broke upon him, drenching him. My friends tried to pull me back and roiled in agitation at his feet. I pleaded with him to carry me away. He explained that he lived in a city and that I would not be at home there – that I would find myself lonely and trapped. I cried, screamed, hugged, threatened. He apologized. He hadn’t understood the depths of my longing and agreed to take me with him.

He was anxious as we approached the train.He worried that it might be illegal to carry a wave on board. He feared the consequences. I was dazzled by the bustle – the whistles, the smoke, the crowd. He carried me close to his chest, afraid of discovery. People approached and suddenly he pushed me away! Poured me into a water cooler! Never before had I been imprisoned like that – forced to conform to the boundaries of such a strange vessel. I could feel nothing but the cold glass upon which I could gain no purchase.

Men, women, children jostled around me. The man tried in vain to protect me. Some drops of me fell through a hole into a cup. A woman drank me. In her alarm, she spat me out! Hers was the reaction of those who come to swim in me. I ebbed in rejection. Three policemen pushed their way through the crowd and dragged the man away. I was alone! Would I be stranded here forever? I cowered in fear of the hostile crowd. I quivered in dread of a friendless future.

I was tasted again and found to be just sea water – harmless and ordinary. I churned with bitter laughter because they obviously did not know me. I was poured into the train’s engine. It was as dark as the bottom of the sea, where we waves fear to go. And it was hotter than I had ever known. I was scalded and in agony. I cursed my desire to leave my friends in the sea. In my pain, I began to fly apart into a steamy mist. I lost all sense of myself.

I came to as I scattered into the cool night air and fell as soft rain and collected, trembling, into the crevices of the locomotive. The train carried me to the man’s city – far from the sea. In the heat of the mid-day sun, I again began to drift apart. In this strange place, I would have lost myself completely if the night air had not, once more, brought me to my senses. And I drifted down as dew and dripped into a chimney, sliding down and collecting as puddles in a dark and dusty room.

At first I was sad to find myself in such an unpleasant place. I had not come this far, throwing myself on the mercy of a stranger, to end up here – trapped once more – with no one to keep me company. I rocked back and forth in my sorrow and, to my surprise, the room began to brighten. I increased my swaying until every last vestige of gloom had been chased from the dark corners. The sun shone through the windows and I began to sparkle. My loneliness disappeared as I sang and danced.I never tired of the glitter that the sun called forth from me. My frothy skirts swished and swirled and laughter poured from me. I became my own world and my own company was all that I craved – that and the sun. A rainbow of blues fell from my hair. I was clothed in every green known to heaven. And the rays of the sun, as they played on my body, would have blinded mere mortals.

I had no desire but to live like this forever, but after a year the man appeared at the door. A look of pain and surprise crossed his face when he saw me. He was displeased to find me here and cross-examined me. He was unmoved by my story. I found myself receding into a puddle at his feet. The sun hid behind a cloud, but I did the only thing I knew to do. I began to dance. I danced to show him how beautiful I had become – a sinuous, strong, and solitary wave. He smiled and I saw myself reflected in his eyes. Forgetting all that I had been in his absence, I felt that I had never been lovelier than under the full gaze of his attention.

I swayed around him and he soon became caught up in the dance. At first he did not have the rhythms of my friends in the sea. Exuberantly I smacked him in the chest and he lost his footing, tumbled over, and almost drowned. I slid under him and carried him up the walls and down, as the sun joined us – a ménage à trois of warmth and wet and muscle.

Love was our life, a perpetual creation. In ecstasy, we melted into each other and, with our tongues as one, we taught each other songs in a new language. His voice, no longer foreign, replaced the ocean’s roar that had once been my heartbeat. Many hours of every day we spent singing hymns of praise and delight set to the rhythm of a sunbeam. And just as at home I had loosened the stones from the cliffs along the seashore, had broken them down and made them mine, I lapped at his edges and loosened his heart. His feet, once so firmly planted on the ground, began to rise, buoyed by liquid longing. And as he abandoned himself to love, he plunged his hands, his toes, his lips into my sunlit pools and I wrapped his body in liquid lace, growing softer as he grew hard.

But there were nights when neither man nor sun could hold me. Claimed by the waxing and waning of the moon, I was pulled onto distant shores, where I was unknown even to myself. So long had I basked in the heat of the man’s attention that I no longer recognized myself, draped with the beadwork of stars, advancing in feathers of white under the gaze of an adoring moon.

On other days, the sun stayed with us for hours, chasing the moon to a lone corner of the sky and setting our rooms ablaze. The candlewicks drooped, soggy and forlorn – useless in the face of such radiance. Forgetful of his duties, the sun let the streets grow dark too soon. The jealous, platinum moon bided her time and the sulking stars grew resentful as they worked overtime to keep the city lit. Drawn by our glow, people passing on the street pressed their noses to the windows. Voyeurs to the luminescent rainbows created by our union, they were envious of our joy.

When, at last, the sun crept home, the man slept. I cradled him in languorous swells and whispered sea lullabies in his ear. But some nights he grew restless and, as he rocked in sleep between my breasts, he would startle and cry out. Never did I love him more than when I could drink his salty tears, but he would not be comforted.

And in this love, I laid myself bare. Flowed shallow and transparent across his floor until I feared that, vulnerable and mortal, I would evaporate. Sent messages from my heart out in ripples. Would gather myself into a whirlpool and draw him down, revealing my depths, frightening him. My intensity was more than he could bear and he would swim frantically to the surface, breaking free with relief. As he fled from me, I would crash about the room, soaking his books and breaking his dishes.

When, in his fear, he spent more and more time away from the house, I grew bored and lonely, searching the rooms for the wave I had once been. The skies outside the windows became chilly and gray and I along with them. I would wait for his return and would search his face for some sign of his love. I could no longer remember the color of his eyes. Had they always been this flinty gray or were they a reflection of me?

In place of himself he would bring me offerings - starfish and crabs, shells and sailboats, coral and eels. At first amused and delighted, I would gather them round me – my treasures! I played with them or would drape them in my hair, about my breasts or between my thighs. Their caresses aroused me and as, through their attention, I changed from pearl to celadon to aqua, he grew jealous. Some days he sat for hours on the bed, daring me to join him there. I defied him and remained with my playthings. I would only lie down beside him when he slept and now, instead of lullabies, I hummed in his ears of ship-wrecked mariners, bridge-leaping suicides, and cave-trapped pearl divers.

Where once he had rejoiced in being drenched with my desire, he now whined about damp sheets, foggy windows, or sand between his toes. At other times he spat foul names at me, comparing me to sewer water. Occasionally I could placate him, recalling the dance that had so captivated him, but I was a chilly imitation of my former self. At night we lay cold and damp beside each other as the bed sagged in the middle and spilled us together, unable to break free as we continued to disappoint each other.

One afternoon he returned, having been away longer than usual. His trouser legs were damp. Did I smell pond water on him? Jealously, I surged above him, crashing down upon his head. He gasped for air. I surged again, crushing his chest to the floor with the full weight of my being and, as quickly, released him. Sometimes he fought me, frantic, clawing at his throat. Sometimes, oxygen deprived, he begged for a different release, the release of death. I would deposit him on our bed, his bed, and he would sit with downcast eyes, weak, fatigued and humiliated. I soon came to enjoy this power, my ability to bring him close to death and then resuscitate him with my kisses.

One day, he walked out the door, valise in hand, saying he needed some escape. I cried out to him, “Take me with you or return me to the sea, to my friends!” He did not listen and closed the door without looking back. Winter closed in. Snow and ice glazed the windows. Abandoned by man and sun, I was alone. Only the moon remained, held me bound to her rhythms, carried me on tides. I fought her as my voluptuousness transformed into sharp, glittering crystals.I fought her as my little shell teeth became barbs of cold steel. I fought her and waited for the man.

After a month, he returned. The room was bitterly cold and I, trapped, a tower of ice, could not greet him. He lit a fire, opened some wine, and slowly, very slowly, I melted, drop by drop, into a limpid puddle at his feet. He was home, but the moon tugged, the sun refused to shine and the man spent more and more time curled up on his bed of sandstone, eyes closed, asleep or awake, it mattered not. Until one night, drawn into my fatal tide by the light of a full moon, he called for me to submerge him, anchored his legs to the bedpost, and begged me to drown him. With the stars as my witness, I obliged.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Mary Jemison, Feminism and the Enclosures

Mary Jemison, Feminism and the Enclosures

Earlier on this blog, I told the story of a dream I had in Paris and finding its meaning in Scotland. I discussed Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign in light of that meaning – her loyalty to the patriarchy, not to women. Here, I leave Clinton behind and relate the story of a truly brave heroine most of you have never heard of. I apologize for the need to repeat myself a bit.

Protesting the cutting of the Art program at Brown University in the late 60s

As a peace and social justice activist, it has been fascinating for me to trace the myriad ways in which one's political consciousness develops. Years ago, I hosted a gathering for activists and would-be activists at which people shared their stories of awakening political consciousness and how they turned that to action. There were as many variations of that journey as there were people in the room. My goal had been to inspire action in those who felt somehow unqualified. I wanted them to understand that there is no “unqualified.” I hope that happened.

Many experiences and encounters go into creating the activist one becomes – the causes one takes up, the combination of cooperation and resistance, the people with whom one feels comfortable working, even one's ability to work with people who make one uncomfortable - but one of the most important is simply being open and paying attention to the messages sent one's way. I'm reluctant to use that word “sent,” because I question that there is something doing the sending. Where I stand between coincidence and synchronicity, I'm still not certain. But I'm inclined to believe that what is labeled “synchronicity” is simply that openess, which enables one to see more and select what reinforces one's inclinations or gives one the confidence to move in a new and unexpected direction.

What follows is the long trail of one of those messages.

Our Long Island house in the 50s

During my elementary school years, I lived on Long Island, NY, in one of those new suburban developments that were springing up in the 1950's, in part because of the G.I. Bill. Our house was at the edge of the development and across from a small forest. We called it The Woods. It was actually part of a huge estate owned by heirs of the Cunard shipping line. Besides The Woods, it offered fields (some of them farmed), haystacks, greenhouses and a mansion. We generally stayed out of sight, feeling sure we could be arrested for trespass, but occasionally risked being seen by jumping from the haystacks. I remember daring to get near the mansion only once.

The Woods as seen from my house (that white house is not the mansion)

In a tiny clearing in The Woods, there was the roofless remains of a log cabin. It has always distressed me that I never took a photograph of the cabin (which no longer exists)..We did not know how long it had been there, but we always assumed that it dated from colonial days, which was unlikely. We played there often and I would stand outside the cabin door and try to imagine – through my feet on the earth – what it would have been like to be a young pioneer girl living before what I considered to be “civilization.” I was sure that the forest would have been home to “Indians” and that was a terrifying thought. This was the 50's and playing “Cowboys and Indians” was at its height. That pioneer girl seemed unimaginably brave! I felt her courage, along with a sense of both distance and belonging in that spot. And I still do that feet on the earth thing in hopes of connecting to the humans who are “history.”

My mother between her Aunt Helen (l) and Aunt Jessie (r) at the house in Belfast

At that time, we spent several vacations visiting my great-aunt Jessie, who lived in the farming community of Belfast in western New York State. Jessie lived in a white house with an old barn. I remember that house for its very steep and narrow stairs to the second floor, its Victorian furniture, a collection of Earl Stanley Gardner mysteries and a wonderful raspberry patch out back. Jessie smoked cigarettes and would blow smoke rings upon request! My mother's aunts were unusual for their time. They went to college, had careers and never married.

Jessie, when she was young, probably as a college student

When we weren't playing with the kids from the dairy farm across the street or walking a couple of blocks to buy penny candy or reading the decades' worth of “LIFE” magazines stored in the barn, we would play Canasta or Bolivia with the grown-ups. It seemed particularly sophisticated to be spending the hottest part of the day in the gloom of the old house playing cards.

My brother, Bill, standing on a fence which overlooks the Genesee River Valley

The town and the house were on a rise overlooking the Genesee River. About twenty-five miles away, the river runs through a gorge, sometimes called the Grand Canyon of the East, in what is now Letchworth State Park. We would drive to the park to see the falls, have a picnic and visit the cabin of Mary Jemison. Mary was born at sea as her family fled a famine in Ireland in 1743. I didn't learn until recently that my great-great-great-great-great-grandparents (5th great-grandparents) had left Ireland in 1751 (at the time of the collapse of the linen trade) and my 5th great-grandmother had died and been buried at sea. She had already birthed my great-great-great-great-grandfather. The Jemisons grew flax in western Pennsylvania for what was left of the Irish linen trade in and they were killed and scalped in a Shawnee raid in 1755, except for Mary and a brother, whose fate is unknown. She was abducted and given to some Seneca women to replace their brother, who had been killed by settlers. She married, twice, and had several children. When she had an opportunity to return to White “civilization,” she refused.

My father, Jim, standing near the falls at Letchworth

When I was about 9, I bought her autobiography, which she had dictated to a local preacher, from the Letchworth Park gift shop. I read it a couple of times, had dreams about her for years and couldn't comprehend her choices. As a child, I had several recurring dreams which I would invoke in order to go to sleep. These dreams would generally be considered unsettling and, yet, I took comfort in them. Why they helped me sleep, I do not know. One was based upon Mary's life. From that time on, when I stood outside the ruins of the log cabin in The Woods, it was Mary Jemison I tried to imagine and Mary Jemison I could not yet understand. Why had she chosen to stay with a people who had scalped her family? I was a child and didn't know what I know now, but courage and belonging were the two conditions I still experienced as my feet were planted outside that cabin.

Me, at age 9

Though my mother was a feminist her entire life, beginning well before the Women's Movement of the 70's, she was definitely a modern White feminist with little understanding of intersectionality. Hers was a perspective of a highly-educated, white, middle class woman, who wanted to work, but dd not have to. I'm not sure that she ever realized that to have the freedom she wanted, she would have to give up much of what she felt she needed. It was always someone else's fault that she couldn't have that freedom. She was a slave to creature comforts and would never have been able to explain why a woman would stay with “savages.” It would be decades before I would learn that the majority of abducted White women, who lived in indigenous communities, refused to return to “civilization,” because life was more egalitarian where they were. And just a few years ago, I learned even more.

My mother

In the intervening decades I developed politically, but slowly. Protesting against the Vietnam War and the subsequent large and small wars, which the United States waged upon small countries, and a fairly constant appearance in the Letters to the Editor sections of several newspapers were the extent of my activism. But, eventually, I became more radicalized and with it came knowledge of The Commons and the Enclosure Movement in Great Britain and the United States and their relevence to privatization and climate change in the present moment.

Since then, most of my activism has been around the issues of war, income inequality and the militarization of law enforcement, often through the lens of feminism. But I wasn't giving Mary Jemison much thought.

In 2013, I turned 65 and had long promised myself a few months in Paris to celebrate that birthday. Some day I may regret having spent all that money that should have been for my old age, but I hope not. I planned 2-1/2 months in Paris, 2 weeks in Scotland and 2 weeks in Wales with my poetry workhop. My heritage is Scots-Irish, English, Welsh, German and Swiss. It was a fabulous trip, but a couple of things happened in Paris that are germane to this story.

The first incident was learning about the Scottish Clearances, as distinct from the English Enclosures. I did a lot of reading in cafés with a glass of rosé and some olives and got most of my books at a second hand store called The Abbey Bookshop in the Latin Quarter. It was tiny and so packed with books that one could barely turn around in it. One day I went into the basement and near the bottom of a stack on the floor I found John McPhee's The Crofter and the Laird, about McPhee's time on the island of Colonsay, off the west coast of Scotland, the home of his ancestors. When I went to pay for it, the owner remarked, “Ah, you've found a treasure!” In that book, McPhee told the story of the Clearances, the Scottish iteration of the Enclosure Movement.

A photo of Scottish crofters from the internet

The Clearances (which spanned more than a century from the early 1700's to at least the mid-1800's) was literally a clearing of the land of people and the replacement of them with sheep. People were thrown out of their homes and many of the homes were burned so people couldn't return. Many fled to the coastal cliffs, where they could not support themselves. Most had led a subsistence life of weaving, shepherding and growing their own food. Some were dumped in Ireland. Others fled to North America and Australia. Many of them died of hunger. In the book, McPhee offers an 1827 quote: “The landlords have very properly done all they could to substitute a population of sheep for innumerable hordes of useless human beings, who formerly vegetated upon a soil that seemed barren of everything else.” Sounded to me an awful lot like some modern politicians and corporate CEO's laying waste to workers through job out-sourcing and automation. People had become superfluous to the needs of the rich – which is all that matters, right? - just as many have here in the United States.

The second incident of import to this story was a dream I had about a week before leaving Paris for Scotland. In the dream, I was standing with some allies behind me. I could not see them, but sensed they were women. I knew we were facing a violent enemy and we had to be brave and strong. Whatever the upcoming conflict was, it was not a part of the dream. I clearly felt both the danger, which was extreme, and the support, which was not necessarily sufficient. I was keenly aware that this was a “battle” - both physical and ideological – that we might not win. And now I know that we didn't.

The apartment in Paris, where I had the dream

My trip to Scotland was in the southern part of the Highlands along the western coast. One evening I was having dinner in a restaurant on the Isle of Mull. There were two women – probably in their 70's - at the next table. I was reading and one of the women leaned over and asked me how I liked the book (it was history). She explained that she was a retired professor of British history and we discussed the book briefly. Hearing my American accent, she asked, “What do you think about what happened in Detroit today?” I hadn't seen the news. “Detroit declared bankruptcy today.” I had known that was an imminent possibility and I told her that I thought Detroit was but one U.S. example of a modern day Scottish Clearances. Then she did something uncharacteristic of the British: she stood up and gave me a huge bear hug. She was thrilled to discover someone from the U.S. who knew about The Clearances and who understood the relevance for today.

Photo of Kilmartin, looking from across the glen

My next stop was the tiny town of Kilmartin, which I chose because it had the greatest concentration of cairns and standing stones in Scotland. I was traveling by local bus (often as the only non-local passenger) and ferry and needed to see sites to which I could walk. The small inn I stayed at looked out on a glen (valley) that contained several Bronze Age cairns and a collection of standing stones. It wasn't until later that I would realize how much its denuded hills with rectangles of existing Spruce (non-native) would reflect exactly what had begun in this glen thousands of years ago.


Looking down the glen from my room at the Kilmartin Inn

Standing stone in the middle of a sheep pasture

I spent a day walking down the glen and at one point stopped to look at a scraggley grouping of thistles. For some reason I felt compelled to take a picture of them, though I had passed many examples of beautiful thistles. I took the picture and, as I turned to walk over to a cairn, I suddenly became completely disoriented and almost fell over. I was sensing that I had been there before and kept telling myself “you've never been here, you've never been here.” I regained my balance and then realized that the dream I'd had in Paris had taken place in this spot, as impossible as that seemed.

The thistles that stopped me in my tracks

Thistles I'd seen elsewhere

It wasn't until I returned to the U.S. and ordered some books about the area from the museum in Kilmartin I hadn't wanted to add them to my baggage) that I learned that the glen was one of the first known examples of the clash created by the evolution from a feminine, earth-centered culture to a masculine, war-centered culture. One of the books contained an essay titled “From Sacred Landscapes to Warrior Society.” In that dream, I had somehow been tapping into the struggle that had taken place in the glen. And the women, those brave allies who had stood behind me, lost. Actually, I believe all humanity lost.

Someone's imaginative rendering of a Bronze Age burial in Scotland

After returning from my trip, I spent time thinking about the relevance of what had happened a couple of centuries earlier in Great Britain to our era of privatization and increasing income disparity. Let me give you an example. For quite a while now, people have been wondering why government would so consistently under-fund education. We say, “Don't they understand how important education is to a healthy economy and country?” But this does not account for automation, among other things, that will continue to eliminate jobs on a massive scale, as computers increasingly replace people in the workplace. Most of us will become those “useless hordes” - just 200 years later. Why spend the money on educating people who will be superfluous, when you can spend it on, for example, the law enforcement which will be needed to protect the 1% from the rest of us?

During this same period, I also did some genealogical research, building on work done by my uncle who had died a few years before. This was when I started learning about the exodus of many lines of my family from the British Isles, primarily because of religious and economic persecution.

This chair is in Chester (England) Cathedral and is where "nonconformists" were questioned by the Church of England - often resulting in prison and, sometimes, death. My Welsh ancestors were "nonconformists" and left for the Colonies at this time.

A year after my return, while attending the Progressive Festival in Petaluma in 2014, I came upon a book in the PM Press booth titled Stop, Thief!:The Commons, Enclosures and Resistance by Peter Linebaugh. Ever since returning from Scotland, I had wanted to read more about The Clearances and this book was just what I was looking for. As I was paying, a man came into the booth to buy the same book (there was a single copy) – he'd gone back to his car to get the money. The PM Press rep told him he could get it online and he was amenable, relieving me of a little of the guilt I was feeling for snatching it up ahead of him.

I really can't recommend this book enough. As I mentioned above, just as so many believe that the United States could never return to slavery and don't recognize it in mass incarceration and the renting out of the labor of the incarcerated, so, too, people don't recognize that the political/corporate class has already returned to this period of “superfluous” people, who can be allowed to die through law enforcement violence, recruitment of young people for wars for the rich, lack of housing, healthcare, jobs, etc. Aren't we too aware to allow this to happen? Apparently not. And it is the culmination of the “march of history” which began with men who replaced the “sacred landscapes” wth a “warrior society.”

I started the book that evening. In the “Introduction,” Linebaugh wrote of his mother, who grew up along the Genesee River, of his time in Rochester, NY and his visits to Letchworth State Park. To my amazement, the “Introduction” ends with a tribute to Mary Jemison! My heart actually started pounding faster in my chest when I read her name. So, it was here that I learned how much more important she had been. While putting the essays together for his book, Linebaugh wrote, “....I learned about Mary Jemison, an unsung inhabitant of the region.....her story....seems so well to summarize the personal, professional and theoretical themes of Stop, Thief!” A story in my life, that had comforted me in my childhood dreams for unknown reasons, had come full circle.

While, as a child, I had concentrated on Mary's early years, Linebaugh concentrates on her adulthood and wrote, 'Mary Jemison fled to Letchworth Gorge from the terrorizing onslaught in 1779 of General Sullivan who killed and burnt everything – corn, orchards, cabins, men, women and children [just like the Clearances] – of the Iroquois [of which the Seneca were a part]. With two children on her back and three trailing behind, she found refuge in the relatively inaccessible gorge where two runaway African-American former slaves made her welcome. They lived in common for several years. Given the opportunity in 1797 to return to so-called “white” society, she refused. That was at the peak of the second historical wave of enclosures. Despite the settlers' terror, the commons was, at least, temporarily preserved by the unexpected endeavors of a commons of Irish, Iroquois and African people. Her white, Anglo editor of 1824 agreed that “she was the protectress of the homeless fugitive, and made welcome the weary traveller.” It was the women of the Haudenosaunee [Iroquois Nation] who preserved the commons in the midst of the expropriations attendant on the creation of the USA. It is the women of the world who continue to do so in the midst of our dark times.' (excerpts from Linebaugh's book)

At Letchworth State Park

You can imagine how exciting I found this. It felt as though I had somehow been destined to be in the political place where I am now. How could I ever have imagined how much Jemison would come to represent, back when I was dreaming of her as a child, back when I tried to feel her presence through the soles of my feet.

I've begun, but have not completed to my satisfaction, a couple of poems about my walk down Kilmartin Glen. But last year I wrote this poem about my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother's voyage from Ireland.

And I've posted this before, in August of 2016, referring to the inspiration from the Irish poet Eavan Boland. Please bear with me as I repeat it.

Sailing ship of the period

by Susan Lamont

for my 5th great-grandmother, buried at sea in 1751, wife of John, first name unknown

I imagine cormorants, black against rinsed sky, fog
a second skin, your hands on the ship's slick rail
steady against the tide that day you fled. I imagine

your leave-taking, rough unpainted door, hedgerow
of hawthorn in bud, blue song-thrush eggs safe in their nest,
left behind with your idle loom. Ulster's kings of commerce

no longer trade in linen, raised the rent, pressed your life to the margins.
You and yours can only imagine freedom and plenty somewhere that is not home.
A rough migration along the curve of the earth leaves the Irish Sea behind,

your ears filled with wind, heaven past the horizon, just out of reach.
I imagine ingots of light igniting the waves as smallpox ignites
your cheeks, your fevered dreams of home, the hawthorn buds, open,

their honeyed scent, a thrush's fluting song, while on this ship,
three children, John, Jacob, Sarah, clutch their father's homespun shirt.
I imagine a life, a death, your memory a whisper,

nameless. No shroud save your linen apron. No Memento mori
on lichened stone. The salt of fever and tears joins all the unnamed
beneath the waves, your life just so much salt in the wound of the world.

Monday, October 17, 2016


Pancho had a bathroom/water fetish!

When my cat, Pancho, died of feline leukemia, I took to my bed for three days and cried more than I think I've ever cried in my life. He was only three and this was in the early 70's, before there was a vaccine. I'd never even heard of it. And, except for a couple of months in the New Hampshire woods with my parents' cats, he was an indoor cat. I loved Pancho more than any cat I've lived with before or since. He was fun and spunky and smart.

Maggie, going gray

And now I've lost two dogs and a cat in the past five months. I haven't cried as I did with Pancho, but I feel utterly anchorless. And I've always believed that I don't like anchors. It's almost a hollow feeling, as though I could blow away. I guess I never fully realized how much my life revolved around my animals. I continue to plan my days around the trip to the dog park at noon. When I come home late, I immediately think about how hungry Maggie must be. I just saw the note on the calendar that it's time to buy more flea/tick medicine and was about to make the phone call.

Poor Myrtie!

I've lived with cats my entire life, beginning with Myrtie (named after my grandmother, Myrtle), my parents' cat before I was born. 

I should never have been allowed near animals!

Dogs followed soon after – always dachshunds in my childhood. 

Robin always slept under the covers with me
and rode in the basket of my bicycle

But in the middle of my life, though I always had cats, I was dogless for more than 20 years. I lived in a city, they'd have to be inside, they'd need walks...…

Ellen and Midas

We finally got a dog when we left San Francisco and moved to Santa Rosa. Ellen wanted a dog, so we got a Golden Retriever puppy. She named him King Midas. Several years later, we got a Black Lab puppy named Becca. We lived on an acre at the entrance to Spring Lake Park, a far cry from living in the city. Other than one skunk encounter, it was no big deal and Spring Lake was right out the front door for walks.

Becca and Midas

But living in the “country” resulted in our going a little off the deep end with pets. At one point, we had 2 dogs, 6 cats, 2 horses, 2 cockatiels and a whole bunch of rats! I don't recommend that! I definitely learned that I don't like having pets who are forced to live in cages.

Dinner time when I was growing up

Midas developed bone cancer while Ellen was in graduate school in Chicago. She flew home to say goodbye to him, but it was up to me to have him euthanized. She left me with instructions that I was to sing “Leaving on a Jet Plane” to him while he died. It was beautiful that day and I got Midas out on the front porch (he could barely move), where he lay in the sun and the vet came and administered the shot, while I sang and cried.

Midas and Becca had lived, for the most part, as though the other didn't exist. They were not buddies, but Becca fell into a major depression when Midas died. She just stared out the window all day. We put her on anti-depressants. Ellen pushed me to get another dog and emailed photos from online searches. She sent the photo of a dog named Scully, who was about to be euthanized at a kill shelter in Grass Valley. Julia and I went up to check her out and we took Becca along.

Maggie loves water

The shelter had an outdoor fenced-in area where you could take a dog to get acquainted. We brought out several dogs, one at a time, to meet Becca. She wasn't interested. Then we brought out Scully – beautiful brown and white with a bushy curved tail - and that was the one for Becca! Then Julia knelt down and Scully put her front legs around Julia's neck. That sealed the deal. Scully had been found running down a road with her black and white brother and was presumed to be part Akita (the tail!) and part Border Collie. Brown and white Border Collies are much less common than black and white ones and the resemblance to Scully – renamed Maggie – is obvious.

Julia and Maggie

It turned out that we had saved a severely traumatized dog. We presume she had been beaten, We did not see her pee for almost a year – she always hid. If we called her to go outside, she ran past us as fast as she could. She was terrified of hoses. But she became close to me and she developed separation anxiety. She ate the furniture when no one was home – three couches, the rattan off some chairs, the legs of tables and the corners of bookcases. Most people would have sent her back to the shelter, I guess.

Chilling in the backyard

People suggested chew toys, but Maggie had plenty of those. One day I came home to find she had eaten a hole in my bedspread, the blanket, the sheets, the mattress cover, and the mattress and had stored her toys inside. I learned later that Akitas are nesters.

At the dog park

She loved going to the dog park and was the fastest dog, loving being chased by the others. Back then there was a pond and she adored water. Eventually, the pond was eliminated because it was so difficult to keep clean. Maggie really missed it.

Andrew and Lilly

After Becca died, Ellen and her family came to live with me while she worked on her dissertation and that included Lilly. They had adopted her at the same time they had been encouraging me to get another dog. In the meantime, Maggie had had a traumatic encounter with another dog and was wary of dogs. I had to stop taking her to the dog park and she never really became friends with Lilly.


Sadly, Lilly died too young and Ellen adopted another dog, Nola. But when Ellen finished her dissertation and moved to North Carolina to teach, that left Maggie alone, again. But she had mellowed and really slowed down – age and arthritis – and we returned to the dog park. Though she wasn't very social and couldn't run as before, she always loved going. We became regulars again.

Maggie and Bruno enjoying the dog park

And then, two years ago, I rescued another dog, Bruno, who was twelve and a boxer-pitbull mix. He was a sweetie and I'll write a bit more about him another time.

Bruno took over the recliner

Other than the expense of vet bills and medications, it's pretty easy having two old and mellow dogs and I highly recommend senior rescues – if you can afford it! The thought of old, abandoned dogs breaks my heart. I'll leave the hard work of puppies for someone else!

Bruno always rode shotgun

Bruno lived with me for a year and a half. He died, at about fourteen, in April. Then my cat, Polly, died in June at seventeen. Then Maggie died in September, just shy of her fourteenth birthday.

Polly as a kitten

I was busy all day on her last day and we didn't make it to the dog park until about 6:00 – we usually went mid-day. As we walked from the parking lot, I thought about how good she looked for her age. I thought about the vet, who had said, "but they can go downhill quickly." And that night, about 10:00, she started having trouble walking and she couldn't lie down. She was pacing, panting and in pain. I took her to the emergency vet and they diagnosed a ruptured disc and said she was gradually becoming paralyzed. They gave me long, slow and unpleasant treatment options, which made no sense for a dog her age.

Bruno and Maggie hanging out at the foot of the bed

I knew that Julia would want to say goodbye, so I left Maggie at the vet, where they gave her strong painkillers, and told them that if she got markedly worse and really uncomfortable during the night, they should call me any time for permission to euthanize her. When Julia and I arrived in the morning, Maggie was paralyzed and in severe distress and they hadn't called to let me know. She was heavily medicated, but still trying to get up (which was impossible) and I hope that she realized we were there and holding, petting and talking to her as she was put out of her pain.

Maggie and the dragonfly garden tile

Now, more than a month later, I haven't moved her food bowl and there's still some food in her food bin and treats (peanut butter flavored) in the treat container. I have moved her arthritis medication off the kitchen counter. I've started reclaiming the backyard, which was seriously abused and neglected after many years of dogs. And I can't decide whether to get another dog or cat.


I'd only adopt an older rescue and that means vet bills, not out in the future, but soon. I think I'm a good candidate for that because providing them with love and a good home when they've been abandoned, outweighs my sadness when they die. I also want to drive across the country, hopefully by sometime next year – a genealogical pilgrimage. It's difficult to travel with a dog – hot cars, “no dogs allowed,” etc. And leaving an elderly dog behind for a long time doesn't seem kind.

This guy is cute, don't you think?

I've visited some dogs and have been tempted and I'm trying to resist. My house is empty in a way I've never experienced before. I like living alone, but, apparently, that means without people. I wasn't sure until now.