Sunday, September 30, 2007

Hall of Fame

A traveler left this book at my place, so I read it. The Woman Who watches Over the World by Linda Hogan is an autobiography and the description of a personal quest. Against high odds, the author prevails. She travels trough the four elements, drawing lessons or strength from them. The books starts out with a strong metaphor where she buys a beautiful clay female figurine, which breaks and cannot be repaired but is beautiful anyway. So we are all broken beyond repair but beautiful... here are lessons for all of us. Today she was induced in the Chickasaw Hall of Fame as a Pulitzer finalist. Well done!
I am just now becoming a human being, as many tribes say. And I am becoming a person old and joyous and vulnerable in new ways. Half a century is a great beginning, and still the mystery of the self is there. Like water, I rush towards a destiny, a balance, a harmony. I call it sea level.
The walls of the ship, the keel and bow, were not as overwhelming as life on land. Even the men whose looks I admired were too fine to flirt with a girl my age, and that, too, was a relief, although as I look backward now from so many years later, I know I would have offered myself to them, thinking it was love.
As a child I became like my mother, with my own inability to speak. And yet, ironically, I became a woman who uses words for a living, who has a need to create beauty, for remaking the world, a part of it, a corner, like a woven web just repaired with a new line of silk.
But I do know that for us, to open our eyes, so see with our inner fire and light, is what saves us. Even if it makes us vulnerable. Opening the eyes is the job of storytellers, witnesses, and the keepers of accounts. The stories we know and tell are reservoirs of light and fire that brighten and illuminate the darkness of human night, the unseen.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Ditches and dykes

With trains canceled and sometimes standing place only and packed in cars I have spend a week riding through a waterlogged country, flat and like old lace fraying at the edges. Yes the Netherlands are really flat, the highpoints are railroad bridges and tree lined dikes, the smoke rising from a chimney stack. Water everywhere. Crossing a border is without formalities, yet one is very aware of the strangeness of this place. The sounds and attitude different, the building style more uniform than one sees at their southern neighbors… I thought that in peaceful border areas the differences would cease to exist since the neighbors cross often and freely for shopping and entertainment, yet it seems to harden one’s own identity. Is there fear of loosing oneself? It is remarkable how well all migrants speak Dutch after just a few years and how colorful and inclusive the public service is. Yet at breakfast in different hotels you find gingerbread and ‘hagelslag’. At noon the fare is bread, ham and cheese, day after day. I am sure that they feel that having a warm meal at noon seems extravagant. Their wealth is in the beautiful words they have for all the waterlandscapes and specific types of ditches: greppel, gracht, sloot, canal, vaart… They have words for how water gets on the land. I don’t main the endless variations of rain and drizzle, but kwelders, which are outlying areas past the dikes of pasture or arable land which will flood at exceptional high tide only and each time a layer of silt is deposited so that the land becomes higher and dryer. Also uiterwaarden, land in the food planes of rivers, between the river and the winter dike, occasionally flooded. The trip brought new words, always a great present.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Chrystos II

Since some friends let me know they appreciated Chrystos' work, I just post another poem for the readers and writers among us:

Going into the Prison
The guard growls, what’s this?!
poetry, I answer, just poetry
He waves me through
with a yawn
that delights me
so I snuggle my words in
to the women
who bite them chewing starving
I’m honored to serve them
bring color music feelings
into that soul death
Smiling as I weep
for poetry who has such a bad reputation
She’s boring, unnecessary, uncomprehensible
obscure, effete
The sneaky weapon
for this sneaky old war-horse
to make a rich repast of revolution

Friday, September 21, 2007


Chrystos is a poet, artist, activist born in San Fransisco, California November 7, 1946. She is of mixed origin: her mother was Lithuanian/Alsatian, her father of Menominee ancestry. She identifies with her father's heritage and refers to herself as an urban Indian. The political aspect is dominant in her writing. Native land rights & treaty rights, racism towards Native peoples, are but one aspect she writes about. Another subject is domestic violence – she writes about her mother’s depressions and the abuse she herself suffered as a child by her mother. Abuse being one of the reasons to reject her mother's side of her heritage. So she readily identifies with all victims of violence and lends them her voice.
Not Vanishing from 1988 is her first and very confrontational collection. In later work she has matured as a poet. An outed lesbian, she writes also very beautiful and moving love and erotic poems. In the summer of 2002 she was making a film about two spirited women ‘in order to make the lives of queer native peoples more visible’. Two spirited women is the general Native American word, two hearts is also used, although that leads to confusion in some nations where that term is deserved for the evil form of witchcraft.
From all the minorities in the USA the native peoples are most oppressed. A strong poetic voice like Chrystos is essential in those circumstances. Many of her poems are autobiographical, fiercely personal; some might call it testimonial. Her writing is however always strong and inclusive of all who have gone through the same suffering.
Remember the saying: we are all wounded at Wounded Knee? The poem refers to this.

In the scars of my knees you can see
children torn from their families
bludgeoned into government schools
You can see through the pins in my bones
That we are prisoners of a long war
My knee is so badly wounded no one will look at it
The pus of past oozes from every pore
This infection has gone on for at least 300 years
Our sacred beliefs have been made into pencils
names of cities gas stations
My knee is wounded so badly that I limp constantly
Anger is my crutch I hold myself upright with it
My knee is wounded
How I Am Still Walking

Monday, September 17, 2007

Hell and damnation

A voice from the past made itself pleasantly present with an invitation to go to the opening night of the opera was a "concertante" performance of The Damnation of Faust by Berlioz. (On the link you should be able to hear some of his music.) I was gently told that they no longer wear tuxedo's for the opening but that it might be fun to dress up...
La damnation de Faust is a romantic drama and Berlioz, being the genius he is, lets it all out, showing off what he can do. Than having an Italian conductor in Cool Flanders, well then there is a special electricity in the air. About Berlioz the say that he has a nice contained feel for earthquakes, for things beyond control... You drown in the sound and I smiled a lot. Poor Faust depression (Goethe, the original author knew what he was writing about, but in French it sounds so much more pathetic), the seduction by Mephistopheles an the love between Magarita and Faust, the student and solders songs and the signing of the pact and then hell and damnation for Faust and heaven for Margarita is the short list of high points. I was partial to Mephistopheles. It was wonderful. This opera that is seldom performed as an opera was first shown in 1846. In the loss of Faust's soul and the horror of hell, there is a section I think that might be considered satanic. I quote:
Tradioun marexil fit trudice burrudixe
Fory my dinkorlitz,
O merikariu! O mevixe! Merikariba
O merikariu! O mi dara caraiobo lakinda,
Merondor dinkorlitz,
Merondor dinkorlitz, merondo,
Tradioun marexil,
Tradioun burridixe,
tundixe caraibo.
Fir ome vixe merondor
Mit aysko,! Oh!

Diff! Diff!
Has! Has! Satan!
Has! Has! Belphegor!
Has! Has! Mefisto!
has! Has! Kroix!
Has! Has! Astaroth!
Has! has! Beƫzlebub!
And so on....

A wonderful performance, a warm audience and fun company...

Saturday, September 15, 2007

The spice of life

A dear dessert poet wrote me a note going more or less as follows: Prices on property are dropping like crazy out here. I think the water situation is only going to get worse. With Luck, I will get my own humble home somewhere... I have decided that I do NOT want a boring life with a man. I need a social life...laughter, and some travels...not just endless dishes, and staring at the walls while a man paces in the background...I need poetry readings, and all that.....cook outs...pot luck veggie feasts.....I am learning more about Astral Projection....and ESP....The Casinos can only take me so far....
Then, she invites me to go crazy together at my next visit to my desert. Now that is an offer I can't refuse. Isn't that what gives the spice to life: poetry, beauty, fun and serious stuff, real thought and feelings, peace and environmental action, passion for life and all things living. The housewify stuff never has been my forte...

There is a job to do
the getting up at six
feeding the dogs
watering the plants
washing the dishes
drying them
and putting them away
scrubbing and
washing drying and
putting everything away
use knife and forks
wash them dry them
put them away again
walk the dogs
cut off some blossom
arrange it in a vase
brush your teeth
change your clothes
and go to work
come home and go to work -

When is my time to be a woman?

Sunday, September 9, 2007


Reservation Blues was the first novel I read by Sherman Alexie and I became an immediate fan. Later I discovered his poetry and translated some. The last book that found me is Flight. An orphaned Indian boy shipped from one foster family to another constantly gets in trouble, although he is obviously not an evil person. The novel starts: “My zits are me.” Marking him as not part of a clean and wholesome world. His only defense is: ”Whatever.” Till one day at the brink of real violence he shifts shape and time, becomes another person, looks at situations through a different perspective. Each layer of reality that makes up his own personality is thus experienced and he learns that violence is not the answer. The writing as always is swift and shows knowledge and understanding of past (Custer and the Ghostdance) and present (poverty) and the struggle to make it in this world as it presents itself to Indians. So when the young warrior returns to his own life he has been changed by all the experiences and the healing can slowly start. I once was present at a book presentation of Alexie: he is witty and sharp, thinks on his feet and is borderline intimidating. I had intended to interview him and didn't feel prepared enough… The humor mediates the author's anger; he is direct, brilliant and moving. A must read.
p. 2: I don’t think I’m some mystical bastard. I just pay attention to the details.
p. 25: “The individual has always had to work hard to avoid being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high for the privilege of owning yourself.”
p. 58: He is one hundred different versions of himself, and only one of them is a killer.
p. 90: I don’t kill anybody. But I ride with killers, so that makes me a killer.
p.148: “yes, I laughed so hard that I forgot my wife and daughter were standing there. And when I remembered, I turned around and looked at them, and they were staring at me with those eyes. Do you know what kind of eyes I am talking about?”
“Disappointed eyes.”
“ yeah, disappointed eyes. But I’m used to those eyes, I mean, I’m married, right? My wife gives me those eyes sixteen times a day. But my daughter was giving me those eyes. And you know what’s worse?”
“She was ashamed of me. My little girl was ashamed of me. I turned her love and pain into a big fucking laugh.”

Saturday, September 8, 2007


A Jewish friend of mine wanted to talk about whether a museum dedicated to the holocaust in Belgium the Dossin Kazerne in Mechelen, could be transformed without taking away from the Jewish suffering in that place, into a Museum to teach about genocide. I have visited the wretched place, which was a Sammellager, where people, almost 25.000 Jews and about 350 Gypsies, were brought together to be deportated to the concentration camps. Two thirds were gassed upon arrival. That should never be forgotten. The Museum is really impressive and moving. I see the value of teaching the causes for genocide, but when a place has been instrumental in one specific, well documented atrocity then we should take that concrete place and it’s events as the example, the didactic instrument to teach how to avoid later genocides like in Rwanda, the former republic of Yugoslavia and so on, because obviously such loss of life should be avoided, made impossible. All conflicts need to find a peaceful, non- violent and fair resolution.
There is a clear demarcation line between not believing that the State of Israel is acting right and being an anti-Semite. We should have the right, from an honest point of view, to question and criticize what seems wrong or disproportionate. The other question she asks is whether ‘Antwerp Jews’, a rather large and pretty influential group in the diamond city that Antwerp is, are Jews or Flemish or Belgians. Living in a state one becomes a citizen of that state, whatever the genealogy… Of course there are different cultural groups, all quite distinctive: Moroccans, Italians who constitute the largest group of migrants in Belgium, Dutch, Turks, Jews, Armenians and even Americans… In the square mile I live at the last count there were 67 nationalities and I do like that. All these groups have a right to their own cultural, religious traditions, which are within the law of the land. So no female genital mutilations, no slaughtering of animals in one’s own house, equal rights for women and men… The latter is a mute point within all monotheistic religions.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Light meal

After a dark, rainy, windy autumn day, travel and late work a light meal with an old friend at a Chinese restaurant was just what was needed. The talk was life and love, living, homes and what makes a home, and the blessing of daughters... This friend is a kind of St Bernard. You know, the dogs which rescue people in the Alps by bringing some brandy in a little vat around their neck. People, children, will find their way to her and find a helping hand, an open home even if no other solutions are available. She is a truly generous person, not that she is a 'do gooder' looking for victims, picking up every shattered existence. No, her sense of justice and caring brings people who know to dare to turn to her and then she steps up and does what needs to be done.
Respect, as the rappers would say...

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Weekend Work

It is good to be chartered by younger folks for one or other of their projects. This time it was the "Rotory Club": an unused part of a street in a town is given a temporary structure in mainly recuperated material. People are gathered to produce something in three days, which is then shown at the 'finissage' at the end of the fourth day. It is meant to cross fertilize each other, to learn about each others creative outlook. There were photo shoots, a sweet animation film with paper sheep coming out of a wall and running away, projected high up on a derelict wall. There was a lot of fuzzy activity going on in which the low tech environment poses challenges for the high tech performances. Of course I am partial to the art documentary with interviews about the future in different cities of the world, with the added the interviews by the locals of the venue.