From the Guardian, sage words of advice:
by Jane Eaton Hamilton
If it starts to eye you
like a cinnamon heart
stand very still
blend into the background
of your dull life, into
laundry, dishes, stacks of paperwork
do all you can do
to avoid notice
become the yellow wallpaper
become the water in the trap of the sink
Whatever you do
don’t imagine the gaping
the lips, the teeth of love
don’t imagine butterflies
Whatever you do
Don’t think of dulcet dinners out
classical by candlelight
Don’t imagine love’s long eyes
her laugh, chocolate
or the slip of talented fingers
across your cheek
soft up your thigh
Turn away, turn away
from your need
Run swiftly through your town
cover your head with your arms
cry Help me!
If love still lifts you to its fleshy tongue
like a cinnamon heart
holds you to its palette melting
don’t go under its teeth as if you won’t shred
don’t slide down its esophagus like you won’t dissolve
don’t leak into its intestines as if love
were enough (even for this)
…and read Karen Connelly on poetry in academia today. Hurrah for her.
Boiled down: Write what you damn well please. Write how you damn well please. Don’t let the shaming bastards get you down.
This is a repeat post because many people have been looking up the original:
In the 90s, I wrote a long poem called Going Santa Fe. This was a term referring to a straight woman who had become lesbian. I entered it into a contest; it won first prize at the League of Canadian Poets Chapbook Contest judged by bill bissett (now my gay son) and was published by them as a chapbook, cover artwork by Claire Kujundzic.
Although Canada won our battle for same-sex marriage rights over ten years ago (I was a litigant in our case and we won June 2003), the US is still mired in discussions about what is still in your country, unbelievably, a contentious topic. So I thought reprinting the poem here might be of assistance to people grappling with how to understand it:
“The Lesbian is one of the least known members of our culture. Less is known about her–and less accurately–than about the Newfoundland dog.”
-Sidney Abbott and Barbara Love, Sappho Was a Right-on Woman, 1972
“During the 1920s and 1930s…a woman who had switched her sexual preference was said to have ‘gone Santa Fe.’”
-Jeffrey Hogrefe, O’Keeffe, 1992
When I started loving women
I thought I was falling through a roof
a tumble through shingle and beam and plaster
back into innocence
The truth is, I was nine. The first
girl I fell for wore a yellow dress
simple as sunshine–
I didn’t need innocence at all
I never, ever had a crush
on one of my gym teachers
You want to know
my history with men?
The first boy was called Teddy
I liked him because my
best chum told me to
I took my cues where I found them
I mimicked my friends
Do: hair, nails. Feel: giggly
For me, dating men was
a lot like bowling
a pleasant diversion
I felt nothing in particular
I was blank as a bowling ball
racketing the gutter
The truth is
I was raised by heterosexual parents
a man, a woman
The truth is I
didn’t have a rocky
The truth is, heterosexuals
are some of my
When the moon, Uranus, and Pluto
do their planetary thing
you want girls who come
like frothy milkshakes
Gay Pride weekend you will be
showing cleavage in a black jumpsuit
and tossing girls in the air
–Girlfriends magazine May/June ‘95
Generally, I say, the sex is better
It’s the sex straight women
are always quoted as
saying they want
“It’s just like heterosexual sex, only we don’t have to fake the orgasm.”
-Suzanne Westenhoefer, Girls Next Door, Into the Heart of Lesbian America, Lindsey van Gelder and Pamela Robin Brandt, Simon and Schuster, 1996, page 102
lez be friends
I was sometimes the crowbar
married women used to extricate themselves
from their husbands
there was a business meeting
at a university in the east
I took a married woman back to my room
where she drank sherry from my belly button
In the morning she thought she was leaving me
but the door she opened was into the closet
Do you realize
lesbians in the closet
are hiding from
What do you think caused your heterosexuality?
Most child molesters are heterosexuals. Do you consider it safe to expose your children to heterosexuals? To heterosexual teachers, in particular?
Is it possible that your heterosexuality steams from a neurotic fear of people of the same sex? Perhaps you just need a positive gay experience.
-Family Values, Two Moms and Their Sons, by Phyllis Burke, Random House, 1993, page 83 (Queer Nation)
Every straight friend my lover and I
confided in found it necessary
to tell at least three trusted friends
who found it news enough that they
told at least two trusted friends
who vowed to keep it
One of my married lovers said
But couldn’t you
teach a man to touch you
the way a woman does?
Pretend that I could.
No one asks my friend Grace
when she sleeps with men
whether she hates women
When I left my first lover
I was as bruised
as if I was straight–
“…lesbians have not, as a rule, turned to women because of a terrible experience with a man. ‘If that’s all it took,’ goes one of stand-up comic Suzanne Westenhoefer’s classic lines, ‘there wouldn’t be any straight women left in America.’”
–Girls Next Door, page 90
My wife’s in Toronto with her Lesbian Lover,
Not immune to the power
of the phrase Lesbian Lover
I could feel myself
beginning to swell, to grow
to one hundred feet, a giantess
able to squash happy family heterosexuals
with a single footstep
When I first touched
I believed I was giving
birth to myself
that sweet occasion
Soon, I called her beloved
honey, angel, sweetheart
She was a woman
her back arching
She walked Spanish banks
a serene silhouette
Our past her, the ocean
tossed and heaved her flanks
I love her I love her
“At one point we were facing each other. Nic suddenly leaned over and started kissing me. My first reaction? It was Nicole, but it felt strange. I thought, I don’t feel disgusted or upset, but can I really let myself enjoy this? Am I going to be uptight? Am I going to break away now? And then I thought, No, I’m not going to do that. I’m going to let my feelings lead me…see how it goes…
Nicole pulled back and looked into my eyes. I said. “I don’t know how to do this. I don’t know how…”
I was in a state of shock. But the shock wasn’t strong enough to make me stop…”
-Faye D. Resnick. Nicole Brown Simpson: The Private Diary of a Life Interrupted, 1994
“The pressure to test out heterosexuality is intense, [but] ‘how will you know until you’ve tried both?’ is advice that’s rarely given to straight kids.”
-Girls Next Door, page 84
When you meet gay and lesbian people: Hints for the Heterosexual
do not run screaming from the room
if you must back away, do so slowly
do not assume they are attracted to you
do not assume they are not attracted to you
do not expect them to be as excited about meeting
a heterosexual as you may be about meeting a gay person
do not immediately start talking about your partner
to make it clear you are straight
-postcard, Dan Kaufman graphics
Q: What do lesbians do on the second date?
A: Rent a U-Haul
-common lesbian joke
Well, as long as you’re discreet
What you do in the
privacy of your bedroom
is none of my business
but isn’t it
I don’t know
boring? sort of…
Really, I’d be a lesbian too
if it weren’t for Bob
Did you read the lesbian poem cycle
in my book?
I mean, Susie and I didn’t do anything
but I was in love with her
What do you mean
you’re not attracted to me?
“Not even a good ironing can make me straight.”
-from an Elizabeth Gorelik photograph
Tell us something about lesbians
We have short fingernails
Why do heterosexuals
have a life
only get a
I am a woman
I dream of tenderness in a cool morning bed
Can I ask you something?
Will you open the book again
re-write the song? Or travel
down the road you live on
slowly, inviting us along?
“Hate is not a family value.”
-message on a bumper sticker
Lesbians Who Anthropomorphize Their Pets
Lesbians I Love
Books by the side of a lesbian bed:
Shelter, by Jayne Anne Phillips
She’s Come Undone, by Wally Lamb
Anna Kerenina, by Leo Tolstoy
The Velveteen Rabbit, by Margery Williams
i live in music, by ntozake shange
Stones by the River, by Ursula Hegi
But what do lesbians do?
In a Toronto bookstore, my friend Janis and I
thumbed through the Rubyfruit catalogue of sex toys
and she said, They’re what? I thought
they were candles.
The truth is the sex involves
the usual suspects
But which one of you is the man?
The truth is that is lesbian couples
both partners are women
That’s why they call us lesbians
With this ring, I thee wed
I can’t even think straight
–message on a tee shirt
Is that a lesbian
or a garment bag?
Aries lesbians whoopee
at night with such force that
car alarms go off
Summer solstice brings
a girl habit you might
not be able to kick.”
-Girlfriends magazine, May/June 1995
What if I fell in love with a
woman from Nashville
and Immigration wouldn’t
allow me into the US?
Auntie Joy’s adopting Sarah and Meghann, I said.
They’re going to be your real cousins.
What were they before? asked our niece.
“My mother came out of the closet and all I got was this crummy tee shirt.”
At the IVF clinic
in Vancouver, lesbians
were turned away
This was called
Our favorite coffee shop
refuses to carry the local
gay newspaper because
it’s a family place
“Last year we reported that Sharon Bottoms had finally gained legal custody of her young son, Tyler. But sadly, Bottoms’ fight wasn’t over. On April 21 a divided Virginia Court of Appeals ruled 4-3 in favor of awarding custody to Bottoms’ mother, Kay. The majority opinion argued that Tyler could be condemned by society if raised by lesbian mothers.”
-Curve magazine, August 1995
“I couldn’t help but think that she’s fifty-four years old and had been dating that woman for twelve years–isn’t that sick?” a man who killed an Oregon lesbian couple in 1995 indignantly explained to the San Francisco Examiner. “That’s someone’s grandma, for God’s sake…Lesbo grandmas, what a thing, huh?”
-Girls Next Door, page, 14
Once someone called me up
and in the harsh voice
of an obscene caller said
Do you know you’re living
with a lesbian?
Imagine love being shameful
Imagine loving your boyfriend
and hiding it, so that you
can’t wear your wedding ring out
of the house, so that you can’t
tell the other teachers
at work, so that you have to deflect
questions about why you
I haven’t met the right guy
Spurn your boyfriend out loud
a few times each week:
Chris? Oh, we’re just friends
When he goes to kiss you
on the corner, pull away
glance around furtively
for instance to your mother and father
so that, at Christmas, you go home
Peel potatoes and stare
at the turkey baster, say
I’m dating someone, but he’s…
think fast, say
If somebody finds out imagine how
you could lose
When it came time to
rent a house
my first girlfriend dressed
in sensible shoes
and a heavy iron cross
We told the landlord
she was a man
The truth is she and I
never held hands
in the town in which
we lived for five years
because what if someone
took offense and we
were two women
in a house
in the country
Pretend your husband
is a woman
Does anything change for you
now that you’re lesbian?
just for the moment
that someone figures it out
say for argument’s sake
your baker, your dentist, your mother
your massage therapist
Would anything happen?
Choose just one person
say What is the worst thing I could
tell you about myself?
You have cancer.
You killed someone.
Excuse me, sir, were you aware
this is the woman’s washroom?
Anne? That’s a funny name
for a man
When my gal and I signed up
for dance classes, the clerk said,
Your partner’s name?
and I said, Joy
and she said, Joey?
and I said, Joy
and she said, Joe?
and I said, Joy
and she said, John?
and I said, Joy
and she frowned and wrote Jeff down
shaking her head
At class several women
refused to dance with us
Imagine love being dangerous
Outside the community centre
near my home
pelted a woman
with snowballs and stones
She looked the type
Dyke, they hissed
At a Bread Garden on Denman Street
Joy and I stared at each other
stupid with love
until a man growled, Goddamned lezzies
Which one’s on top?
The truth is that we scuttled away
when he wasn’t looking
trying to fade into the storefronts
across the street
Watching our backs
yearning for the soft
insides of closets
In Iran, a group of lesbians and gay men
who admitted they loved
people of their same gender
were given a choice:
stoning, or a plunge from a cliff
All ten chose to die
a sin against God
woman with immature sexuality
(all she needs is one good…)
“We don’t want [the Lesbian Camp Sisterspirit] here for the simple reason of… It’s a known fact that all your violent crime comes from homosexuals.”
-Jones County deputy sheriff Myron Holified, Mobile Register, Mississippi, Feb. 27/94
found a dead puppy
dressed in menstrual pads
spilled over their mailbox
In Oregon, they narrowly averted
a plebiscite against us. In Colorado, they
passed a law against us. In Ontario, they voted
against our equality
“In its 1989 ‘Gay in America’ report, the San Francisco Examiner calculated the cost to a hypothetical employee of its own who was in a legally unrecognized gay relationship, and compared the costs facing a legally married straight employee. Both staffers were fifty years old, and both earned $40,000 a year. In total, the report found that partners of gay Examiner employees who had worked for ten years would receive $55, 890 less in benefits than straight employees’ legally married spouses, and, if they outlived their gay partners by ten years, would lose $8000 in pension payments.”
-Girls Next Door
Sometimes I long to
feel exotic and
what always strikes me
is that I am as
ordinary as pie
As a lesbian
I brush my teeth
twice a day
As a lesbian
I clean my kitchen floor
once a week
As a lesbian
I pay my VISA bill
once a month
boring as soap
My mother made me a lesbian
If I give her the wool
will she make me one too?
Differences between you and me:
You are five foot six
I am five foot three
You have green eyes
I have blue eyes
You are thirty-four
I am forty-one
You live on Gladstone
I live on Arbutus
I don’t get a kinked neck
kissing my partner
You committed a homosexual act.
I did not.
Elton John is a homosexual act.
Tell me something about lesbians
We are famous for potlucks
Tell me something real
I am trying to tell you
she and I are the same thing
I am trying
to tell you I am a woman
she is a woman
the same thing
as you, just
two people uniting
netting love from the
We comfort each other
when the sky churns like a cauldron
Wouldn’t you wish this pleasure
The truth is I grew the
tub of nodding sunflowers
And the bowl of chicken
on the harvest table? I cooked
it. And the quilt you lie on? I sewed it
And the book in your hands? I wrote it
And the baby’s cheek? I kissed it
Kit Steinkellner over at BookRiot has posed an interesting question. Can we love a work of art but hate its creator, and if we can (and we clearly can), what should we do about it? The question was generated because of Woody Allan’s molestation accusation, recently discussed again because of the tribute to the filmmaker at the Golden Globes. Here is the recent Vanity Fair article that includes commentary about this case: Momma Mia.
The world has been over and over this–with Michael Jackson and JD Salinger, for instance, both alleged pedophiles, and the artist Modigliani, said to be a cad. Salvador Dali and Picasso both left a lot to be desired.
Do we bifurcate largely just for men? For white men? While the rest of humanity is judged more harshly?
Surely people are shades of grey–strange amalgams of good and bad. Bad people aren’t all bad–and just maybe art is just what they do with some of the good parts of themselves, the redemptive parts, and maybe the art they make can still teach us to be more human, can show us how to navigate dilemmas–maybe it can untangle us for ourselves?
Maybe art should exist on its own merit. The argument for this is strong. Surely it is the kind of judgement we’re seeking when we judge, say, literary contests blind?
Whether to turn away from the poet, the painter, the writer, the filmmaker about whom we know something horrible–this is a question I’ve struggled with throughout my career. But I’ve come up with no answer at all.
Read Kit, though. She did, and it’s a good one:
Canada Writes is looking for 1200-1500 word entries for their annual Canada Writes non-fiction contest. Come one, come all. Deadline Feb 1. $6000 first prize.
Trying like stink to write a mini essay for the CBC contest today and instead I get fiction. Here is the first paragraph of what may well go nowhere, and what in any case does not further the cause:
“The starlings have landed, hustling their backyard suet. Go murmur, birds, he thinks, go roil in the sky like magnetic shavings, go sweep the clouds, because in a lick, a gobble, an ingurgitate, the beastlings have devoured the two new cakes of sunflower seeds, millet and cranberries. Bastards, he thinks, and listens to them chatter. They sound smooth and watery, calm and reassuring, which they are certainly not, not starlings, not the assholes of the avian world, anymore than he, anymore, is the husband he once promised he’d be.”
UPDATE: I did get a non-fiction piece, finally, called “Battery” about the factory farming of chickens, and no further on the story, above.
I was at Reifel Bird Sanctuary in Delta with my friend M-E in October as it rounded towards November. Delicious place to spot wild birds, from Bohemian waxwings to Harlequin ducks. I had decanted seed into baggies, some kind of major success to even have remembered to bring it. The leaves were changing in spectacular, eastern ways because of our dry sunshiny October. We had yellows, we had oranges, we had reds. Since photosynthesis had shut down, the anthocyanins in each leaf stirred to protect the trees from sunshine.
M-E and I stood watching 3 Lesser Sandhill Cranes do very little, their orange eyes reptilian and attentive, on the lookout for bugs. One would move forward on Pick-Up Stick legs and knobby dinosaur-skinned knees to peck in the dirt. Its tutu tail feathers would shake. Its knees, I noticed, were knobby; the skin thick and scaly, dinosaur-ish.
How to tear myself away even when M-E was showing signs of boredom?
I thought of how long Sandhill Cranes had been on Earth—according to fossil evidence, at least 10 million years. They had red topknots and white cheeks, but who knows why. They only weighed about ten pounds, but were still among the biggest, and most beautiful, of uncommon birds.
Uncommon, I mean, relative to Chickadees and Bushtits, ducks and coots. Uncommon relative to starlings or crows.
I considered the woodpecker’s long tongue which curved around its entire head, wrapping even its brain; I thought of how birds had hollow bones, and many air pockets for flight. I had held two dead Yellow Finches in my hands just months earlier, victims of my cat, their bodies still warm, their heads lolling; I knew how deceptively light a bird was. (How big a cat bell really needed to be.)
M-E and I moved along to watch catfish circle through slurry water, fins brown and slick. It was them or the ducks for the birdseed we threw.
We strolled along a pathway in dappled light, birdhouses and feeders nailed to the trees, Red-winged Blackbirds winging down and zipping gone. I admired the light, the leaves, the red fields, the sunshine and shadows on the lumps of the tilled farmers’ rows. Geese with black-tipped wings looked like hundreds of unmelting snowballs as they squabbled in the muck..
When I thought of birds dying, I always thought of the National Geographic article by Jonathan Franzen about the plight of songbirds in Europe and across northern Africa (Franzen article). I thought of the extraordinary video by photographer David Guttenfelder of Warblers caught on sticky lime sticks. Hunters trap Ortolan Buntings, a delicacy in France, and Quail and Turtledoves, and Cranes and Golden Orioles. In Cypress, a dish called Ambelopoulia calls for European Robins and Blackcaps; each songbird nets two bites.
All these birds have long migrations. Exhausted and depleted, perhaps after crossing the Mediterranean, they require rest and food, but hunters lie in wait with trap sticks, nets or guns. Capturing songbirds has a long history, Franzen tells us, and is even referenced in the bible, but today the practice (with the help of population surges and technology) has grown epic and is decimating populations.
Happily here, we revered songbirds. Instead of eating them, we fed them.
When I thought of birds living, my heart filled. Now a couple passed us sunflower seeds.
M-E and I stood with our arms extended, our hands now buckets for black seeds. The birds, small and frenzied, flitted through the shrubbery, chattering to each other, considering the lures. They did well to be suspicious.
A little girl, perhaps four, perhaps five, watched us. I thought she was going to say something about birds, but instead she just elbowed her friend. “I’ve spent all day with you,” she told her, her face drawn and worn.
The friend had curly hair which frizzed around her head with the sun shining through it. She ran her hand up and down the front of her brown jacket. From her cuffs dangled blue mittens she didn’t need. “I don’t know,” she answered.
In the bushes, three Chickadees hopped from branch to branch, assessing the sudden windfall.
M-E’s hand shook a little from the effort of keeping it still.
The original girl said, “You have to give me that … I’ve spent all day with you, since morning.”
The friend slowly nodded. “All right,” she said.
The first Chickadee landed on the side of my palm, grabbed a seed and winged away.
“That bird,” said the friend, pointing. “I like that bird.”
I said to her, in wonder, “It felt like a whisper.” I talked gently for a minute about how they wore black caps—did she think they only wore them in the winter, like people might?
The first girl looked up at me, her face knitted into a grown-up expression of irritation.
A Chickadee landed on M-E. Rotund, it hopped down her arm. She giggled like someone very young, and I photographed it.
The second girl extended her hand to me and into it, I tipped out some of my seed. She held out her arm; I saw that her eyes were wet, a tear trembling just in the center of her bottom left lid.
“Just wait,” a woman said. “Just stay very still, Margo.”
The first girl frowned. Her hair switched like a horse’s tail. Finally she hit the second girl’s arm, scattering the bird seed. She put her diminutive hands on her hips and said, “Margo, listen to me. I’m trying to say that it’s time I saw other friends.”
The tear fell to Margo’s cheek and slid down her young skin while her mouth shaped an “O.” For a second, that tear was everything, and I watched it while Chickadees landed in my hand, their claws like the tiniest tap shoes. Margo crouched down, wounded, something caught in a trap, and clamped her hands over her ears.
We all noticed the hush. The dees suddenly made themselves scarce; Margo looked up. Above the farmer’s field, a Cooper’s Hawk circled; from where we stood, it looked speckish and dull and no threat. But a din broke out as the field of migratory geese lifted. The sky turned white above us, as if we’d been caught in a snow globe. All the alarm honks, all the 54-inch black-tipped wingspans flapping at once, was overwhelming, and sounded first like an accident, a multi-vehicle pile-up, and then exactly like a train barreling towards us and about to run us down.
Run! came the primeval urge. But only small Margo actually did and what she was running from was anyone’s guess.
“It’s just birds!” I yelled, but she couldn’t have heard me.
Over in Europe, maybe right then, robins, orioles, warblers were stuck on sap traps, every movement towards freedom ensnaring them.
The sound of their wings as they struggled.
The snow geese above us.
Fat-bellied Chickadees. Long-necked Cranes. Slick-finned catfish. A little girl’s friendship ending.
A sunshine-doused day in the bird sanctuary.
Happy 2014, folks!
So pleased and grateful to be here to see this year in with good friends and Queer as Funk.
Here’s some recent art; an original acrylic line drawing of Georgia O’Keefe taken from a Steiglitz photo and the rest, “copies” of Modigliani, two Picassos and a Shiele, all acrylics on paper:
Thinking this week about the women gunned down in the L’Ecole Polytechnique massacre in 1989. I lived on Saltspring Island, then, and had just been to Victoria with my partner to purchase Christmas gifts (I recall we’d bought Meg a gaudy hot pink and black and sequinned dress we hated but could barely wrench her out of); we heard the news as we walked in the door and stood stunned.
“The women killed in Montreal had robust lives and families and fiancés. They had mad skills and plans and dinner dates. Endings that are tragic and wasteful and rendered by males too pathetic to create their own stories do not nullify those aborted narratives.” –blogger Donna Decker
Tomorrow, Dec 6th, is a day for remembering. My mother-in-law, Wakako, died suddenly on this date. I think often about the state of the world for women, and I think about the state of Wakako’s world, and how her life would have been different had she been born later–how many opportunities she would have had. Her death devastated our family, and I wish we could go back, go back, go back, and undo her loss and all the loss that followed on its heels. Wakako, I miss you, and your granddaughters miss you.
I wrote a poem about the women killed in the Killeen, TX, Luby’s Cafeteria shooting (Wiki), which also targeted women.
luby’s cafeteria, killeen, tx
by Jane Eaton Hamilton
he hated women it was simple an explanation it was evidence he was a loner you know the sort of guy we all know the sort of guy that’s why we don’t walk the night streets
nobody stopped to say oh maybe I’ll be gunned down if I eat there thanks anyhow I’ll take a bagged lunch to work thanks again cafeterias mid-day give me the willies
fluke you say nuts crazy wacko women are basically safe he just lost it he wanted to make a statement (on the bodies of women) I am covered in graffiti footprints of fear and blood and what it’s like to live hunted
it’s true we’ve gone places into boardrooms into factories into nurseries with your children into engineering departments into cafeterias but
one woman with red hair was raising a blueberry muffin to her lips and another was sipping coffee with extra sugar she didn’t like milk
Women writers are heartened by the presence of VIDA (VIDA, Women in the Literary Arts) in the US and in Canada, CWILA (Canadian Women in the Literary Arts), and hope these organizations will be able to draw attention to and correct long-standing problems with gender equality in the literary world. Here are some thoughts from the Guardian’s Catherine Shoard about women and film.