womanness is a/an:

visual exploration
poetic investigation
personal essay
intimate practice
erotic expression
performance of self-authorship
visual-verbal love song1
pursuit of a new archetype
living metaphor
nocturnal poem2
archive of female overflow
map of intuition


1Mann, Sally. Hold Still, Little Brown and Company, 2015, pp. 208. 2Paz, Octavio. “The Kingdoms of Pan.” Translated by Helen Lane. The Double Flame: Love and Eroticism, Harcourt, Inc., 1995, pp. 18.
CHAPTER 14: IN SATURN








107-03-2019: “the canopy of redwoods like a cathedral overhead...”

2Thomas Moore: “Saturn's moods may be dangerous because of their darkness, but his contributions to the economy of the soul are indispensable. If you allow his depression to visit, you will feel the change in your body, in your muscles, and on your face--some relief from the burden of youthful enthusiasm and the unbearable lightness of being."

3Kassiane. “Troparion.” Translated by Liana Sakelliou. Women in Praise of the Sacred, edited by Jane Hirshfield, HarperPerennial, 1995, pp. 54.

4(I lay in bed in listening to animals crawling across the cabin roof and contemplated deeply those winters days, then only months in the past, those winter days when the desert night and some regal queen of violence tried to swallow me whole but spared me in the end. What did it mean, I thought. July now/January then. The desert far, far away.)

5Hirshfield, Jane. “A Breakable Spell.” The October Palace, Harper Perennial, 1994, pp. 56.

6Women in Praise of the Sacred: “Again and again, these poets, teachers, and singers come to the point where they confess the inability of any language to hold the uncontainable, inexpressible core.”

7Hirshfield, Jane. “Ripeness.” The October Palace, Harper Perennial, 1994, pp. 78.

8Octavio Paz: “I believe the fragment to be the form that best reflects the ever-changing reality that we live and are. The fragment is not so much a seed as a stray atom that can be defined only by situating it relative to other atoms: it is nothing more or less than a relation.”

9Thomas Moore: “Some Renaissance gardens had a bower dedicated to Saturn, a dark, shaded, remote place where a person could retire and enter the persona of depression without fear of being disturbed... Modern architecture, when it tries to be cognizant of soul, seems to favor the circle or square where one joins community. But depression has a centrifugal force; it moves away from the center.“


9Jenny Lewis. On the Line. Asylum Warner Bros. Records, 2019.

10Ali Farka Touré. Talking Timbuktu (with Ry Cooder). World Circuit Limited, 1994.
It’s summer, early July. A drive up north to a place where the trees stretch taller than the sky1, to a place holding the memory of her long hair, her loop of smoking/meditating/smoking, her green sweater swapped for my birthday in the bathroom of Figaro and then plucked from my body onto his and now here, empty-handed. Here, the memory of our deliriousness, dancing until dawn, our four bodies collapsing on the road beneath the stars. Here, how we sprawled on the beach mid-afternoon to watch the eclipse, how I remember it colorless, only through the black and white photographs I took. Many months later and myself alone with tea and the far/not far smell of fires and my mind on his body in South Africa and my own about to leave California, never to come back? Except of course back, always back. Back to the freeways and the sooty dusk and the perfect camera light. Back to the sanctity of that little shack in the woods. Now here I am a handful of years later with my camera of course and my poetry of course and the promise of their wedding and the hopes of shaking off a sadness2 I can’t quite taste. “What a desperate night I’ve traveled through: extravagant the desire, dark and moonless the needs of a passionate body.”3

It’s summer, early July. A different moon. A different eclipse. This stranger pulls me out of line, asks about my camera, teases the way I say France, tells me I smell like the flowers on Moloka’i. I can barely understand his accent but that word I catch. I’ve been there! I say. Moloka’i? His mouthful of French. Yes, Moloka’i. My once midwest, then east, now west, my nowhere tongue. We talk about the island ghosts, the strangeness of that place, its overgrowth and urgency. Never have I experienced such a tangible sadness to a land, as if all the trees and trails and clear depths vibrated along its axis. Now here we are, strangers from different places, united only by that far-away sad and this brief, overlapping presence.

He touches the green of my dress with his fingertips, goes to the back of the restaurant and reemerges with plates of food, wine that neither of us drink. The next day it will be bits of dark chocolate in a palmful of parchment. And the morning after that it will be a quiche that he drizzles with olive oil while the boy at the next table marvels at his finesse. I sit with coffee on a back bench beneath the sun and he steals out between tourist swells to sit beside me. Are you happy, he asks? What a line, I think. And how tiresome it can be, the game of seduction. His motorcycle. His gardens. But he’s one step ahead of me, one step ahead of my city fatigue, my thirty-something fatigue which he winks at with two decades of hindsight. Are you happy, he says, it’s not a trick question. A few days later he asks me again, in the morning again, in the sun again, like gently taking my temperature. By then my whole self is rinsed clear by the shock of nature, by the unbroken night4 as it stretched above my sleeping form. Are you happy, he asks and as I start to equivocate he pins me still.

Are you happy here?
    Here?
       Now.
           Sure.
              With me. 
                 
(I try to smile)
                  I don’t know you.

(a beat, 
(I wonder gently what tumbles through his mind))

Look at this sun!

I squint. He closes his eyes as the light spills across us all. He breathes deeply, with vitality if ever I’ve seen it, then steals a bite of my breakfast like a boyfriend from my past. Here I am with this stranger I will never speak to again, barely think of again. Here I am in this place that spits of spirit and wilds my attention, this place I once dreamed of living and which shape-shifts so subtly with each new self I heap upon my returns. “I don’t know with what tongue to answer this world’s constant question.”5 Here we are together beneath the sun and I soften in understanding. It’s not a trick question. It’s a question, simply, of presence. I will never find the words to articulate this subtle shift of posture, from the burden of life to a recall of its strange, spectacular reverence. The way that feeling washes over me, like my whole self opening up wide, like fog leaving my eyes, like--6 Unexpected humor pouring out. Color pouring out. “To let your body love this world that gave itself to your care in all of its ripeness, with ease.”7 I don’t believe in god but I think this is what it must feel like. This deep remembering as a gesture of the soul. The gesture of the artist, too. All of this races through my mind as he brings me more chocolate and a kiss. I feel briefly, savagely holy. The gifts of strangers.

Sadness is its own fragment8, its own island. It connects to nothing, relates to nothing. I would argue that is the cause of much of its pain, that sense of finding yourself suddenly so far from anything, anyone, never quite sure how you got there, and what feels like the impossibility of any/ever return. It’s an abyss, incoherent yet entirely complete. Is there a sadness inherent in nature? Or the body? My friend tells me that once sadness was referred to as being “in Saturn,” cosmic, rhythmic. She tells me of gardens9 once devoted to these visits from Saturn. My sadness these days is a location with no map. It’s a room in a far away place where I’ve been before, before with her voice On The Line9 and before that a fall writing myself into fires and before that with a careless abandon into my body that perhaps I’d seek again if I’d felt any of it at all. Now here I am again, in this room again, and everything is just as I left it before, the bed unmade and the phone off the hook. I stand washing dishes with the roll of Lasidan10 rushing up and through and carrying with it a knowing beyond words. My island undulates beneath me and the air smells nameless, but of flowers.