Saturday, June 21, 2008

Sweetness, sweetness...

I was standing lopsidedly to give my bad leg a rest, putting the finishing touches to an apple pie I was baking for our dinner with Joel and Daniel tonight, when on the ABC radio came a distinctly American voice--how the perpetually youthful sounding vowels jump out at me now--talking about the My Lai massacre of March 16, 1968. Every brown-sugared curve of apple that I set in place was accompanied by another voice, testimony from the past, detailing the revenge killings by Charlie Company and others it is now known of over 300 "unarmed combatants" as the soldiers were carefully trained to say--children gunned down as they fled, as they stumbled across American soldiers, who had orders to wipe out the village. "We had to destroy the village to save it." The program was a radio documentary following the investigative trials, the words of survivors on both sides, the unlivable lives of some of the soldiers haunted years afterwards by their actions, the courage of the American war photographer who made his photos of the event part of the public record, the journalist Seymour Hersh who would not let go of the story, the judges who pushed for the "truth" and those who did not. Apple slice after apple slice slipped so comfortingly into its pastry home; how American was I at this moment, I thought. Baking the good old American standby, as American as apple pie, while listening to the archived horrors of the madness of an American war, how domestic a woman I was, even if I was living with a woman and planning a dinner for other queer loved ones. How old I was, thinking of the wars that have held me in their grip--of the notion that "revenge" for the losses of friends in battle is piled on top of the required aggression to fight any war, that "revenge," that almost most domestic of human failures, so often coupled with jealousy, becomes a "new" emotion over and over again, so the regular killing continues but massacres are a special moment in war, that last death was just one death too many, that was my pal, and now all will pay. The innocence that has so long been slaughtered by the bullets and bombs is reborn in the blinding flash of personal hatred, and in My Lai, in Iraq, in the streets of Palestinian villages in 1948, civilians are lined up against a wall, chased into ditches, blown up with their homes. The after rage within war, birthed by war, soldiers still mourning loved ones lost in the Holocaust turn their guns on the exiled civilians of another place, the absolute thirst for relentless toughness as a national image, the revenge for once having been perceived as too weak in the face of the Nazi onslaught, when in reality, what we were was no more, no less then civilians, unarmed citizens of nation states who became the national enemy. Never never say to me again "like Lambs to slaughter." No, like human beings who thought life was their dignity, who tried over and over to be the citizens of their countries, and we take our revenge on them, by saying they were not war like enough, they did not kill in preparation for their lives. We will be their killers. Or we use the death of 3000 to kill hundreds of thousands, we use the madness of the few to be the torch to the calculated madness of nations. How did I get here, from bum leg and sweet smelling apple pie, from a pearly gray Melbourne early winter morning in June, from a woman simply cooking an old favorite for friends, to a ghost floating above atrocities that pour out of the war-jumbled frailties of the human heart. How simple Iago was in his revenge plans of the white handkerchief, but how deep the loss of two once so brave lovers. Desdemona, the loving civilian and Othello, the too needful soldier.

The Secrets of the Gordon River, Tasmania

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Raised Arm

The images sits in front of me, perhaps by now you have seen it too--four masked young men, Jewish settlers of Israel, faces masked except for their eyes, with baseball bats hanging from their hands, the next image, one raises the bat to smash the face of Thamam al-Nawaja, a 58 year old elderly Palestinian woman who, along with her 70 year old husband and nephew, are grazing their goats close to the settlement of Susia, too close for the comfort of these young devout men. The next image is of the bruised face, the broken cheek of the Palestinian woman, her broken right arm bleeding through bandages. The rage is growing in me--is this the work of the "chosen people? How will my friends who find so many ways to apologize for what Israel allows to happen explain this action, not uncommon, away? I think this is the arm of Israeli fascism, the settlers sought out by the government, asked to do the dirty work of setting up a "different reality on the ground" as Bush and Israeli right wingers like to say. Can this be the Israel of the future, when religion, nationalism and thuggery throw off the holds of secular society, cut off from the "decadent voices" of the diasporic Jews, all turned into tref because we do not live in this holy land where, often, cruelty pretends to be the voice of Abraham and Sarah. I think of the other baseball bat brutalities I have seen in my years, smashing the heads of African-Americans in Selma, in Bensonhurst, in Boston, in Poughkeepsi, on the never ending newsreels of governments beating their own dissenting people into bloody submission on every continent of this poor poor world, I hear the breaking glass, the breaking bodies, of Krystalnacht--but never have these actions taken place in the name of a Jewish state, our homeland so they say. You know what I have seen, so have you, my time is your time if you are over fifty. And so the rage, fed by overwhelming sadness, my being Jewish now holds this image of brutality in its heart--I can hear others saying, but why single out the Israeli settlers, other countries have the same elements within their borders--I cannot tell you how many times I have heard some other Jews say to me, why pick on Israel, other countries do far worse things, and I have always thought how unJewish this escape from moral responsibility is--I am a Jew and that bat was held by a young Jewish man who was serving the cause of Israel, so he thought and the government of the USA and of Israel gives him the protection of separate highways, armed entrances and exists, houses on illegal land made into patriotic islands where even a Palestinian goat is not to be tolerated. I think of the men I saw in the Jerusalem market with rifles over their shoulders as they picked out the loaf of bread they wanted, "Settlers," explained Gila, they can carry their guns every where. No more clothed in the protective glamor of the kibbutzim, but the right of aggression anywhere they move, so cloaked in national yearnings are they. What kind of Israel will be in the world, what will constitute this victory of survival for the Jewish people? Why can't we speak of the problem of a nuclear armed Israel as we speak of Iran, is Jewish fanaticism any less dangerous? The raised arm with the bat, the tanks outside of Gaza, the bombers flying over Syria. God always speaking to them, giving divine permissions for brutality. Like those in the hills of Afghanistan who burn girl children for going to school. You see how the words come, from this woman from the Bronx with such a pisk. Where does sanity lie? In these facts--it was an Israeli Jewish peace group, B'Tselem,that provided the Palestinian villagers with video cameras to document these attacks, long may they live. "When they have the camera, they have proof that something happened--they now have something they can work with, to use as a weapon," say Oren Yakobovich of B'Tselem. As I type the letters of his name, I am touching history, and I am so moved by the courage of the people of B'Tselem. I can write these words in West Brunswick and not fear for my life, but the peace workers in Israel, the dissenters, walk the streets with those who call them traitors. I have another piece of paper looking at me now--one that brought me great joy--the announcement of the launching of the Hebrew translation of my selected works, at the Cinemateque in Jerusalem, a night of Lesbian story telling, with music, poetry, dance and humor, Haya's translation reads. On the letterhead are words in Arabic and Hebrew, the names Kol Ha-Isha--Women's Center and Jerusalem Open House. I think of the women who have worked so hard on this project, I see their faces and I see the raised arm. I know their Israeli, Jewish, Palestinian hearts are breaking yet again and I know they are the hope, I think of all who send me their e-mails about the occupation, their visits to the occupied territories, reporting, always reporting and the e-mails go around and around--I send them to you and we stand our vigils, I think of the daily exhausting work of our Haifa friends, living relentlessly for a different Israel, a different Palestine. A different human world for we are all at risk of losing our empathetic human hearts--in a free market whirl of the new imperialism, where "security" demands "new realities on the ground," and the red mist grows grows, the remnants of human selves.

I so wanted to write about my Dickens, my Professora, the warmth of our home.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

My Fellows at 4 Fitzgibbon

Bananas in the Backyard

Before I pick up other threads--the remains of the prison colony on Sarah Island, the chronicling of my own Jewish despair and anger at the state of the world, the travails of an aging fem queer self--I return to some images of my life here, at 4 Fitzgibbon Avenue in West Brunswick. I read myself to bed these nights with Dicken's "Barnaby Rudge," a novel of his later years, I thought only to discover this not so, published as it was in 1841--it is I who desire to see how an imagination ages and find I love the man more and more as I age. I am already ten years older then Dickens was when he collapsed and died after a dinner in his family home--but how vacant those years seem for me in some creative sense as I read of Grip's tenacious hold on Barnaby's playful self, of the warmth of the Maypole Inn's common room, of Dicken's vast view of London both alive in his own time and the past dark streets of a city growing into its self a hundred years earlier. Never has a fire shown so bright on the page, the wind howled so forlornly outside the frosted windows, yes, the glow of sentiment and moral vision, all the holy fools of Shakespeare are here, and hollow worlds of human vanity and vital richness es of earthly beauty--even more special as I hold the compact Oxford Illustrated Dickens edition in my hands, late into the night, with its yellow illustrated cover, I am close to Naomi who back in New York City, my other London, took this book off the top shelf of the book case close to the door, plucked it from the row of the other Dickens in this series and put it into my hands. A plump, solid moment, these bound words from her hands into mine. Now that winter is approaching here, back in Melbourne, I sometimes light the fire in our small hearth in the study, Cello stretches out in front of the warming blaze and I read my Dickens with all the howls of weather and the human heart in this little space between the fire and my chair. I am so grateful to the imagination of this gifted hard working man, to all who have put words into my hands, living things that dance with the glory of our so vast, so frail human possibilities. My comforts in this world of our horrors--the guns that spit death, the bombs that birth hundreds of other killing bits, the marches and the flags and uniforms of humanity lost.

Last night such pleasures. Daniel and Joel, two young friends, joined us for dinner. Daniel and I had been working for some hours on our book project, "Archiving Pleasures: An International History of the Founding and the Future of Lesbian and Gay Archives," in this same study with another fire warming the room. Then as night fell, La Professora returned from work and Joel was called from his academic toil and we set out for Moony Ponds, a neighborhood, as we would say in New York, made famous by Dame Edith, the created "woman" of Barry Humphrey as her home town and the one from which Humphrey had to flee in real life. Four queers in Fifi, our old Honda, tootling down Dawson Street in search of somewhere to eat on this the evening of The Queens Birthday, a national holiday here. In five minutes, Dawson street turns into Puckle street and we are in Moony Ponds--and Dickens is dancing in my head. We find the only restaurant still open, a small Vietnamese family place and talk and eat and talk for a few hours-- in a small place in a small suburp--and then back to Brunswick and Lygon street to a still open Italian pastry shop where La Professora tells us her plans to bake a trifle for Joel to celebrate his Ph.D. Good talk, good friends, all knowing uncertainties, but laughing and kind with Joel even given in to my request for a bit of French, his loved language--by reciting a poem by Sartre. We pile back into Fifi and head back home. Later in the night, as I lay with Dickens resting on my belly--I remember Daniel's words almost whispered into my ear ,as we sat looking at the photographs he had taken of New York just two weeks before when he visited for the first time--he had gone to my old home, 215 on 92nd and taken images for me, Hector, Maria, the postwoman, all who had remembered and as I sat in the darkness with him with only the light from the computer screen in front of us and the dying light of the fire behind us, he whispered, don't worry, Joanie, we will get back there. How like Barnaby and his pal, Grip, a smart bird who never left the side of the "fantastic, half-crazed youth," as Dickens described him. Kindness and promises not to be kept but to be commemorated.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The River and Beyond

Rivers of Loss, Rivers of Resistance

Like the river that carried us along thick shores and past histories, the events of my own time move much faster then I am able to. I have not been feeling well, my thoughts are slow but I can see the shimmer of events that I can no longer hold on to. Stories spill over into each other, and I cannot finish tellings before the shores have become distant clouds.

I receive an e-mail from Lepa sharing with me the terrible news about the joint suicides of two Indian lesbian women: "According to a letter drafted by several Delhi-based activist groups, which would be circulated among progressive and like-minded people across Tamil Nadu, eight lesbian suicides have taken place in the state from the beginning of 2008 alone. In Kerala, in the past ten years, more then 35 lesbian couples are said to have killed themselves." What are these electronic pathways for--that at the end of my life I have been lucky enough to be able to travel--to tell you of lives and histories that must be known in the fragile ways we can grasp on our human lives. "Christy Jayanthi Malar (38) and Rukmani (40) set themselves ablaze after their families took objection to their 'unnatural relationship.' It has been reported that the two women had suffered years of torment from their families who objected to the closeness of the couple. Although being in a relationship since their school days, the women both had husbands...The alarm was raised when smoke was seen coming from Mrs Malar's home. When neighbors went in they found the bodies of the two women held in an embrace." ( Lepa's letter did not stop here, and this is what I have seen so often in our history, in the history of others deemed not completely worthy of full life--acts of resistance quickly follow if possible: from the Times of India "It was an unusual get-together for Chennai, and more radical was the agenda that rolled out. A group of activists, including women who celebrate alternative sexuality, on Saturday decided to start a counselling-cum-support centre for lesbians in the state. 'The decision to set up such a centre was born out of a need to reach out to lesbians here and prevent their isolation," said A Ponni, a researcher in the Bangalore-based, Alternative Law Forum. Amidst growing concern for Tamil Nadu's lesbians, activists came together in Chennai for the first time to protest against Sec 377 of the Indian Penal Code (carnal intercourse against the order of nature)--the letter by 'Voices against Sec 377' and other NGOs pointed out that 'repression of same-sex desire is not just a case of imposing one kind of desire and lifestyle on everyone, but is one that often paves the path to a question of life or death. The groups urged the state government to 'acknowledge the reality of this repression and provide the space for every human being to uphold their right to live and love with freedom..." Before I could continue with any other telling, I had to tell this story, say the names of the two women who could not survive the cruelty visited upon them and the names of those who will struggle to change death into life, the name Sudha Ramalingham, the activist lawyer who told the meeting she would be part of an advocacy group to fight for changes in the law. The river is still running under my feet, leading me to the ruins of the penal colony on Sarah Island and the shouts of victory for Obama lift the clouds and my own body falters and the soil of Mars is touched not gently for the first time, perhaps, by our creations , and the students of Gaza are given back their scholarships by a state, a people that so prizes education, and perhaps this is the only way I can tell stories from now on and part of the story is how grateful I am to you all, those in the past who found my books or who sat in a darkened room as I clicked the slides into light, telling you of lives of desire twenty, thirty years ago and those who read these words, a struggling journey, and to the women in Israel who have translated a selection of my writings into Hebrew--I have been given words and so this I give to you.