Friday, October 10, 2008

Now, a Bit on Poetry

I know, I should put some of my own stuff on here, but tis the season to be witchy. Incidentally, this has led me to think about Margaret Atwood's poem Half-hanged Mary (1995).


Rumour was loose in the air
hunting for some neck to land on.
I was milking the cow,
the barn door open to the sunset.

I didn’t feel the aimed word hit
and go in like a soft bullet.
I didn’t feel the smashed flesh
closing over it like water
over a thrown stone.

I was hanged for living alone
for having blue eyes and a sunburned skin,
tattered skirts, few buttons,
a weedy farm in my own name,
and a surefire cure for warts;

Oh yes, and breasts, Whenever there’s talk of demons
these come in handy

The Mary Atwood writes about is Mary Webster, a woman from Hadley Massachusetts who was hanged--unsuccessfully--upon a rumour of withcraft in 1684. Margaret Atwood is also a descendant of Mary Webster. This is somewhat of a lengthy poem (I believe it is classified as an epic), so I won't place it in its entirety here. I highly encourage you to seek the poem yourself, for its eerie description of Mary nearly-dead on a noose, her rage against death and her bitter victory over the town of Hadley.


The rope was an improvisation.
With time they’d have thought of axes.

Up I go like a windfall in reverse,
a blackend apple stuck back onto the tree.

Trussed hands, rag in my mouth,
a flag raised to salute the moon,

old bone-faced goddess, old original,
who once took blood in return for food.

The men of the town stalk homeward,
excited by their show of hate,

their own evil turned inside out like a glove,
and me wearing it.

9pmThe bonnets come to stare,
the dark skirts also,
the upturned faces in between,
mouths closed so tight they’re lipless.
I can see down into their eyeholes
and nostrils. I can see their fear.

You were my friend, you too.
I cured your baby, Mrs.,
and flushed yours out of you,
Non-wife, to save your life.

Help me down? You don’t dare.
I might rub off on you,
like soot or gossip. Birds
of a feather burn together,
though as a rule ravens are singular.

In a gathering like this one
the safe place is the background,
pretending you can’t dance,
the safe stance pointing a finger.

I understand. You can’t spare
anything, a hand, a piece of bread, a shawl
against the cold,
a good word. Lord
knows there isn’t much
to go around. You need it all[...]


When they came to harvest my corpse
(open your mouth, close your eyes)
cut my body from the rope,

surprise, surprise:
I was still alive.

Tough luck, folks,
I know the law:
you can’t execute me twice
for the same thing. How nice.

I fell to the clover, breathed it in,
and bared my teeth at them
in a filthy grin.
You can imagine how that went over.

Now I only need to look
out at them through my sky-blue eyes.
They see their own ill will
staring then in the forehead
and turn tail

Before, I was not a witch.
But now I am one.


My body of skin waxes and wanes
around my true body,
a tender nimbus.
I skitter over the paths and fields
mumbling to myself like crazy,
mouth full of juicy adjectives
and purple berries.
The townsfolk dive headfirst into the bushes
to get out of my way.

My first death orbits my head,
an ambiguous nimbus,
medallion of my ordeal.
No one crosses that circle.

Having been hanged for something
I never said,
I can now say anything I can say.

Holiness gleams on my dirty fingers,
I eat flowers and dung,
two forms of the same thing, I eat mice
and give thanks, blasphemies
gleam and burst in my wake
like lovely bubbles.
I speak in tongues,
my audience is owls.

My audience is God,
because who the hell else could understand me?
Who else has been dead twice?

The words boil out of me,
coil after coil of sinuous possibility.
The cosmos unravels from my mouth,
all fullness, all vacancy.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Gypsy: Dancing the Dance

Why are we Gadje so romanced by the notion of "gypsy?" Historically, the Rom have been vilified, persecuted, executed, all the while being the subject of romantic art, literature and music. We are entranced by what the Rom seem to represent: freedom, music, dance, magic, mystery, rebellion and passion. It's as though their spirit fills a void that exists in many non-gypsy cultures.

As far as I understand, and my understanding is limited, the Roma culture is complex. The roving bands of gypsy caravans is just one perspective. There are gypsies who do not travel. There are rich gypsies. There are poor gypsies. There are several Rom nations--most likely they are ethnically related although these nations themselves might not recognize one another as truly "Romani."

I have spent the last three hours searching the web for any ancestral ties I may have to the Rom and found only one reference to my family name on my Irish side. My knowledge of my family history doesn't extend much farther than my mother and father (they are Irish and Scottish respectively). What I did discover, however, was how heavily populated England, Scotland and Ireland are with gypsies, both now and historically. I have always known about the Traveller people in the UK, but did not know their numbers and how extensively they've been photographed and researched. As I learn more about them, I hope to share this learning here on this blog.

Alas, as of yet, I do not seem to be Rom decent. Since I preform with a casual dance troupe what is know in fusion belly dance as "Gypsy Dance," I feel obliged to at least by 1/10th Gypsy or something, way back where, on my great great-grandad's mother's side. I feel like a cad, parading about in what I perceive to be Gypsy attire, attempting to take on what I understand to be Gypsy traits: confidence to the point of cockiness, pride, strength, Independence, anger, all the while quelling my inner-shrinking violet. I was not born with the stereotypical "Gypsy" personality mentioned above. My insides are painfully shy.

Yet, I feel if I am going to "dance the dance," I should at least have a deeper understanding of the cultures I'm attempting to imitate. And I should celebrate the parts in me that may actually reflect the "Gypsy Spirit:" my wanderlust; my inability to identify with the status quo; the freedom of my soul; my love of music and dance; and the desire to be with a community of like-minded people.

The above is just a small part of "Gypsy" in "Gypsypoetplantstudent."