Saturday, December 18, 2010


(Judy Grahn, January 1988, Oakland CA, photo by Robert Giard)

Every Saturday evening I post a Judy Grahn poem. Much of her best work is already up here (check Labels to the right for her name) but there is still a wealth more to share. If she'd been a straight white man, they'd have declared her poet laureate a long time ago -- but then she wouldn't be writing the stunning language that she does.

in the place where
her breasts come together
two thumbs' width of
channel ride my
eyes to anchor
hands to angle
in the place where
her legs come together
I said "you smell like the
ocean" and lay down my tongue
beside the dark tooth edge
of sleeping
"swim" she told me and I
did, I did

© Judy Grahn, from The Work Of A Common Woman


Thursday, December 16, 2010


(Poster from "Ain't I A Woman" in The New Women's Survival Sourcebook, 1973)

I learned today that Bridges: A Jewish Feminist Journal may cease publication. I was reminded of how important it has been to me for the past 20 years. I once had a poem of mine printed in an issue along with Adrienne Rich, among others.

I thought about the theme of that poem, which touched on strong feminist theory about nurture vs. nature -- i.e., how I am not and never will be a Jew in the same way someone raised from birth as a Jew is Jewish. No matter whether you believe in conversion (my cousin Sally has converted) or that Jews are a race, the issue is conditioning as a member of a group set apart from other groups and, not incidentally, targeted for oppression. I did not receive that conditioning, and my joined life with Jews as an adult may have made me somewhat intimate with that reality, but intimacy laid on top of prior "outsider" conditioning does not remove or even necessarily subvert that conditioning.

The feminist position on recognizing and undoing conditioning (Biology is not destiny) accorded each of us with the responsibility of naming and sorting through the ways in which we were targeted or privileged according to the insane categories of the patriarchy. This involves diving into the wreck, and the ever-present tool of that era was the consciousness-raising group. Jokes aside, they were phenomenal places of revolution and transformation. To take the assigned label of girl and woman, explore it thoroughly, discard the lies and reinvent it for ourselves in the company of others similarly assigned was an act of empowerment that I personally believe you cannot skip or condense.

Imagine if we as white people did that around our racist conditioning, instead of the liberal color-blindness which infects progressivism, and you have a sense of the power it offers.

But when you claim a genetic or biological identity, there is no similar mandate to undo your conditioning and rename your own self outside any previously agreed-upon boxes. The American myth of self-invention takes over, with as much success as the myth of class mobility in this country. It wastes generations by divorcing them from actual radicalism instead of house parties and academic enclaves.

The poem I sent to Bridges had in its title a reference to an early (mid 70s) important essay by Rita Mae Brown from Quest, titled "It's All Dixie Cups To Me", which contained the funny but prophetic line "A dogmatic Lutheran will become a dogmatic Lesbian." By age five, we have overwhelmingly become who we are raised to be -- and if we later flip over to the other side of the coin, it is not an act of revolution per se, because that coin strike pattern is still the shape of reality. We must loosen all the seams which hold the package of patriarchy in place and face chaos in so doing. It helps to do this in company, despite it being a solo journey, and our new identity must be reasserted daily as long as the patriarchy exists. Or as Judy Grahn said, "Look at me as if you had never seen a woman before." Because you have not, not the woman I have spent decades becoming.

Which I assure you is NOT the recipient of "cisgender" privilege. Take your old and new binaries elsewhere, my life and movement is dedicated to exposing them as humanity-destroying whitefolks cages.

So, instead of being a Jew, I am a lifelong ally to Jews who will fight endlessly for your liberation and never stop examining/cleaning out the unwanted anti-Semitism of my upbringing. I will not ask you to alter your definition to include me or make me "comfortable", and I will find those parts of my own identity from which I can join you in a stance of truly equal intimacy. Wouldn't you rather have that?


Always first on the scene,
someone you’d call from the pay phone
outside the doctor’s office when
the diagnosis is not good,
I have never been a substance abuser,
have no problematic memory deficits,
am not afraid of your anger,
think you are dressed fine whenever we go out.

I have been brave.
I apologize easily.
I don’t believe the reason I am alone
is because there is something wrong with me.

What a relief it was to run across my first Jews
when I hit 21 and the West Coast,
secular dykes who never once in their lives
believed in heaven or hell.
This world was what they made of it,
and I slipped gratefully into their rallies, their living rooms
transferring my latent fundamentalism
to our Revolution.
And even before they noticed
I had painted on my eyelids
the either/or of damnation and redemption,
I conscientiously began troweling out the lies,
the ridiculous theology of dying for someone,
the culture-killing mandate to proselytize,
the presumed right to judge.
With every autumn’s blast of the shofar
I presented another long list of straightened scars.

But the worst wound
remained buried.
I was still an anthropology student,
noticing how this myth
supported that practical habit,
even as I loved Judith after Rachel,
lit the candles, braided the bread,
every April rehearsed the countless verses of Dayenu
while driving to work:
it was one people’s way to survive,
a clever tikkun olam organizing style, something as much in transformation
as definitions of family or how to eat smart.
I was loved for my willingness to try,
trusted, distrusted,
argued with, given soup, teased.
I crossed over. I knew I would do
anything at all
to keep us -- them -- us
But I did not convert. No one required it,
and I was always enough.

I am still enough.
I can bear my reluctant belief
that this carnal smorgasbord
is better than any energy state,
that entropy is unpersuadable,
that our lovely blues and reds
are consensual hallucination.
My mother is dead,
and I don’t want another womb.

But my steroid-soaked imagination
is no substitute for the glimpse I have of faith.
Sometimes the prayers make sudden sense.
I still want a sign, a click,
a dream I can’t explain away, but I’m not willing
to go on believing
I’m the ultimate in evolution.
I want an immortal to need my love.
I want to sing
and believe something hears me
besides the other half
of my steadfast, sentimental brain.

© Maggie Jochild, written 6 April 1998, 1:15 p.m.



(Eta Carinae, A Star On the Brink of Destruction)

Every Thursday, I post a very large photograph of some corner of space captured by the Hubble Space Telescope and available online from the picture album at HubbleSite, followed by poetry after the jump.

(this week's selection is especially for Margot & Queenie)


by Emily Dickinson

I started Early - Took my Dog -
And visited the Sea -
The Mermaids in the Basement
Came out to look at me -

And Frigates - in the Upper Floor
Extended Hempen Hands -
Presuming Me to be a Mouse -
Aground - opon the Sands -

But no Man moved Me - till the Tide
Went past my simple Shoe -
And past my Apron - and my Belt
And past my Boddice - too -

And made as He would eat me up -
As wholly as a Dew
Opon a Dandelion's Sleeve -
And then - I started - too -

And He - He followed - close behind -
I felt His Silver Heel
Opon my Ancle - Then My Shoes
Would overflow with Pearl -

Until We met the Solid Town -
No One He seemed to know -
And bowing - with a Mighty look -
At me - The Sea withdrew -


Wednesday, December 15, 2010


This is a couple of scenes which would occur in the book between the final full chapter and the epilogue.

To begin reading this sci-fi novel or for background information, go to my Chapter One post here. To read about the background of the first novel, read my post here, which will also direct you to appendices.

For more detailed information, posted elsewhere on this blog are:

Pya Dictionary from Skenish to English (complete up to present chapter), with some cultural notes included
Pya Cast of Characters (complete up to present chapter)
Owl Manage on Saya Island, original plans
Saya Island Eastern End After Development
Map of Pya with Description of Each Island
Map of Skene (but not Pya)
Map of Saya Island and Environs When Pyosz First Arrived
Map of Saya Island, Teppe and Pea Pods Environs After Development
Skene Character Lineage at Midway Through Pya Novel
Skene, Chapter One (With Cultural Notes in Links)


Nastere 591

It was a clear Roku night, and Pyosz had persuaded Maar out to Dudor for a game of gongtong. They didn't last all the way through one round before Maar's full breasts made her want to get home and feed Lawoj, or at least check up on her sleeping before expressing milk. Uli and Qoj left with them, having also left their one-year-old Qiel at home with Dodd.

It was a full and dark moon night, a rare celestial configuration that always stirred Pyosz's blood. As they rode the long deserted stretch, she began singing the Coming Home song that was beloved of pilots everywhere.

Your breath rises from the waves
And pulls me back to island holm
The love we make is daily grain
The song we sing is emma's milk

I will never leave you (never)
I'll find a way to hover near
I'll join the others in the flow
And make a wall to keep you warm

Coming, coming, we are coming
Breaking right against your shore
Listen and you'll hear us always
We are Skene forevermore

Uli's alto came in on the counterpoints, while Qoj went up an octave on "never" and "coming". Maar reached out a hand to take Pyosz's as they swept the slow curve past the sugar beets. Pyosz remembered when she was five or so being told by Mill that these fields produced almost all the sugar used in both Pya and Skene, and how Mill had laughed when Pyosz had replied "Of course. Everything in Pya is sweet."

As they found slots for their bikes in the municipal rack, they heard a voice call out "Hey, you're back early." It was Thleen and Ziri, walking from the student cafe opposite the Poly.

"My nipples are soaking through my shati" said Maar, who glanced at them a second time to say "Where is Thiri?"

"Abba Yoj insisted we leave her on Saya, she said the music we wanted to hear was too much for her ears" said Ziri a little defensively. Thleen added "I didn't want to go out at all but Ziri said an hour away would do us good", which added to the irritation on Ziri's face.

Pyosz said "She's quite right, babies are notorious for playing hob with balance. And I'm sure Prl and the abbas have fussed over the little ones no end." She kissed Qoj and Uli goodbye, saying to Uli "We'll meet you right after lunch." Uli had decided it was time to tell Poth's family the full story of her death, and Pyosz had offered to be there with them. Nioma was going as well.

As the four walked up the path from Saya's dock, a heavy scent of roses hit them. Pyosz pulled a couple of petals to crush and rub behind her lobes, a treat for Maar to find later. A candle was burning on the table of the outdoor kitchen, but Su was not in evidence. They heard giggles from inside the cabin, and Maar sighed as she stopped to blow out the candle.

Halling was on the porch with Qala and Lawa. She said "They're all in bed, and Yoj is up in your room with the babies." Ziri grabbed a chair and, after a pause, Thleen joined her.

The upstairs hall was dark but their bedroom door was cracked, showing a buttercup wedge of light on the gleaming floor. Pyosz entered her room silently. Yoj had turned the velvet chair to face the window and dragged the cradle to where she could rock it with a foot. Thiri was sound asleep in the cradle. Lawoj had her eyes shut but they flew open when Yoj whispered "Hi, there." Maar took Lawoj and curled on top the quilt with her, Lawoj's sucking loud in the room, almost in tempo with the creak of the cradle.

Pyosz sat on the arm of the chair, her eyes on the night sky as she whispered the game's eddy and flow to Yoj. She stopped and gave a small cry as a meteor streaked brief green before burning itself out, and Yoj said "I saw it too! You take the wish, I want whatever you want."

Pyosz always wished for the same thing, Maar's survival. She leaned over to kiss Yoj's white frizz, now very fine and spare, and said "Did your headache go away?"

"Not really" said Yoj. "It vanishes with sleep but mounts as the day progresses. Halling says if I don't tell Briel, she's going to."

"She will, too" said Pyosz neutrally, adding in her own head Or I will. Yoj, the ultimate caretaker, had trouble looking after herself.

She could tell from the sound of Lawoj's breathing behind them that she was now fully asleep, but Maar was not -- no doubt watching her face intently. Qala said Y babies were often frailer than X's until they were a year or two in age, and Lawoj would turn out to be as vigorous as Thleen. Briel said that was old island superstition, but Pyosz listened to Qala when it came to children.

Yoj said "Thiri ate all the milk Ziri had in the coldbox. She'll wake them up in a couple of hours wanting more." After a minute, she added "That's one thing I never got to experience, feeding a child from my own body."

"Why didn't you aggie one of your children, then, abba?" asked Pyosz, loosing her gilet.

"Ah, I didn't actually want to carry a baby inside, I just wanted to know what it felt like to nurse" said Yoj, rubbing one temple. "Plus I'm infertile, as it turns out."

Pyosz was shocked. "How? I mean, I don't intend to pry -- "

"Not prying from you, Pyosz, not ever. I have an unusual assembly of chromosomes. Prl can explain it better than me, but the short version is that I have something like the usual X and Y plus an extra X. Which you'd think would make me an advanced egg producer, yet not so, it throws the whole system out of whack" said Yoj with humor in her voice. She had no regret about her biology, not now.

Pyosz glanced down at Thiri, who carried as much of Maar's genetic code as their own children. She said "I remember taking naps in that cradle when I'd come visit at your Manage."

"Do you now? That's a very early memory for you to have" said Yoj.

"It always smelled good, and that shape carved inside the foot was interesting" said Pyosz. "Those creatures with the single horn sticking out of their forehead, those didn't actually exist even on Yereth, right?"

"They were apparently mythical" agreed Yoj. "And Bux added some of Halling's lilac essence to our furniture oil, that's the aroma, I bet." She shifted feet to continue rocking. "I wish I knew who carved it, or how my family came by the coin to buy a cradle of actual wood, back before Pya was even dreamed about."

"Were you the first baby in this cradle, then?" Pyosz tried to imagine Yoj as a newborn and failed.

"No, my emma Rosz slept in it. I think it was Dodoj who acquired it, around the time they all moved to Isola Fling." Yoj sighed. "At least there are two Manages on Isola now, not just one."

"So Rosz, you, emma and her sibs, me, our babies, and now Thiri -- that's six generations who have found peace in it" said Pyosz. hugging herself. She made a note to write that down, for whoever was settling babies inside its warm wood six generations from now.

Yoj said almost to herself "Bux, we owe it all to Bux. All these children...I wish I could tell her how grateful I am."

"Oh, abba, she knew it, she was extremely sure of herself and your love" said Pyosz.

"Eventually" agreed Yoj, rubbing her other temple. "But she had to go looking for reassurance at one point."

Pyosz felt a tingle in her arms. It was Maar behind them who asked "What do you mean?"

Yoj shifted to look at her consideringly. "Well, not to be repeated to anyone outside this Manage, but...Bux had an affair. Claimed to have fallen in love with the next-door neighbor."

"What?" Pyosz's voice was so sharp she clapped a hand over her own mouth. Thiri never stirred.

"Yes. I nearly left her for it, until other folks shook some sense into me. Veida, mostly. Veida, we owe an incalculable debt to her and Qen for keeping this family together" said Yoj. Pyosz smelled more to this story. However, Maar kept her from pursuing it by saying, in a stricken voice "So was she in love with someone else?"

"Ah, I can't say for sure. She was manipulated, that much is clear." Yoj fixed her brown eyes, now with a grey cast to them, on Pyosz. "It was Ried who seduced her." Pyosz heard Maar's intake of breath. "I hated her, and I am glad she's dead now. For many reasons. but chiefly for Bux."

"Abba...I just cannot imagine..." Pyosz licked her dry lips. "Did emma know? When was this?"

Yoj told them most of the story. Pyosz laid her arms around Yoj's shoulders, to anchor herself as much as to comfort her abba. Yoj looked tired afterward, and stopped rocking the cradle. Pyosz said "Let me go make you some tea."

Yoj replied "I'll do it myself, collect Halling for bed." She stood slowly, steadying herself on Pyosz. "I'll send the teenagers up to resume being emmas."

"Thank you, abba. For sharing, as well as the babysitting" said Pyosz, standing to kiss her and walk her to the door. As Pyosz began pulling off her clothing, Maar said "I'd ask you to never put me through that, but if it could happen to them, seems like nothing is certain."

Pyosz grinned at her. "I was born sure of myself, and ready to love you once I found you. We're sleeping alone in our bed tonight, by the way."

Maar sat up and began unbuckling her kalsongers.

Copyright 2010 Maggie Jochild.


Tuesday, December 14, 2010


Here's the weekly best of what I've gleaned from I Can Has Cheezburger efforts. There are some really creative folks out there.