Happy Birthday Marge Piercy

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Poet, Feminist, Novelist, Sci-fi writer, Piercy is quite the woman of parts.  To boot she shares her birth date with some pretty heavy hitters, including J.S. Bach, Andrew Marvell, Joseph Haydn, Edward Fitzgerald (translator of Omar Khayyam), Octavio Paz and Canadian Hockey legend, “Mr Hockey” Gordie Howe.

I choose Marge Piercy because more than ever this is a time for feminist voices.  In Belfast last week “Not Guilty” verdicts were given to four Ulster rugby players on rape and sexual assault charges.  On Twitter a full scale war is in progress between #IBelieveHer and #IBelieveThem.

There is a danger that the war of words will distract from the most important issue.  There is a groundswell of public appetite for reform of the legal procedures in rape trials.  This opportunity needs to be grasped now.  It does not matter who was “right” or “wrong” because past has passed.  It is time to own the future.  Campaign for reform.  Use the energy to deliver a better tomorrow.

What Are Big Girls Made Of? ; by Marge Piercy

The construction of a woman:
a woman is not made of flesh
of bone and sinew
belly and breasts, elbows and liver and toe.
She is manufactured like a sports sedan.
She is retooled, refitted and redesigned
every decade.
Cecile had been seduction itself in college.
She wriggled through bars like a satin eel,
her hips and ass promising, her mouth pursed
in the dark red lipstick of desire.

She visited in ’68 still wearing skirts
tight to the knees, dark red lipstick,
while I danced through Manhattan in mini skirt,
lipstick pale as apricot milk,
hair loose as a horse’s mane. Oh dear,
I thought in my superiority of the moment,
whatever has happened to poor Cecile?
She was out of fashion, out of the game,
disqualified, disdained, dis-
membered from the club of desire.

Look at pictures in French fashion
magazines of the 18th century:
century of the ultimate lady
fantasy wrought of silk and corseting.
Paniers bring her hips out three feet
each way, while the waist is pinched
and the belly flattened under wood.
The breasts are stuffed up and out
offered like apples in a bowl.
The tiny foot is encased in a slipper
never meant for walking.
On top is a grandiose headache:
hair like a museum piece, daily
ornamented with ribbons, vases,
grottoes, mountains, frigates in full
sail, balloons, baboons, the fancy
of a hairdresser turned loose.
The hats were rococo wedding cakes
that would dim the Las Vegas strip.
Here is a woman forced into shape
rigid exoskeleton torturing flesh:
a woman made of pain.

How superior we are now: see the modern woman
thin as a blade of scissors.
She runs on a treadmill every morning,
fits herself into machines of weights
and pulleys to heave and grunt,
an image in her mind she can never
approximate, a body of rosy
glass that never wrinkles,
never grows, never fades. She
sits at the table closing her eyes to food
hungry, always hungry:
a woman made of pain.

A cat or dog approaches another,
they sniff noses. They sniff asses.
They bristle or lick. They fall
in love as often as we do,
as passionately. But they fall
in love or lust with furry flesh,
not hoop skirts or push up bras
rib removal or liposuction.
It is not for male or female dogs
that poodles are clipped
to topiary hedges.

If only we could like each other raw.
If only we could love ourselves
like healthy babies burbling in our arms.
If only we were not programmed and reprogrammed
to need what is sold us.
Why should we want to live inside ads?
Why should we want to scourge our softness
to straight lines like a Mondrian painting?
Why should we punish each other with scorn
as if to have a large ass
were worse than being greedy or mean?

When will women not be compelled
to view their bodies as science projects,
gardens to be weeded,
dogs to be trained?
When will a woman cease
to be made of pain?

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Happy Birthday Omar Khayyam

Although we know him best for his poetry it is worth remembering that Khayyam was a mathematician of some note, and an astronomer.  As a scientist he had views on religion that were not popular when he lived when he was labeled a skeptic and a sinner.

In truth he was probably more of an agnostic than an atheist and more of  a Sufi mystic than a sinner.  At heart, as he displays in the quatrain below, he believed that we make our own fate.  He rejects the notion, so beloved of venal faithful of all religions, that you can behave badly on earth and be somehow rewarded in the afterlife.

I sent my Soul through the Invisible,
Some letter of that After-life to spell:
And by and by my Soul return’d to me,
And answer’d “I Myself am Heav’n and Hell

Khayyam

Breaking Step

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All across the world armies have standing orders for troops to break step when crossing bridges.

The reason for this comes down to an Irish Family, the Fitzgeralds.

The Fitzgerald family (Geraldine Dynasty) was one of the most powerful anglo-norman Irish families. It is the “F” in John F Kennedy. Over the years the family accumulated vast estates in Ireland, England and in various colonies.

One Scion of the family, a John Fitzgerald of Castle Irwell House in Manchester, at his own expense built the Broughton Suspension Bridge in 1826.

Some years later, in 1831, another Scion of the Fitzgerald family, Lieutenant Percy Slingsby Fitzgerald, led the troops who demolished the bridge. The 60th Rifle Corps were returning from exercises. As they marched they set up a resonance on the bridge. Finding this to be pleasant they struck up a marching song and pounded their feet even harder. The vibrations caused the bridge to fail. Forty soldiers were thrown into the water. Luckily it was only two feet deep on the day, and nobody died. But many were injured, six seriously.

The British Army issued the order to all troops to break step when crossing bridges. The French followed with the collapse of the Angers suspension bridge, when marching was considered to have contributed to the collapse.

The said Percy Slingsby Fitzgerald was brother to the poet, Edward FitzGerald, famous for his translation of the Rubayiat of Omar Khayyam. We will let Edward have the last word with a poem about the madness of spring.

Old Song; by Edward FitzGerald

TIS a dull sight
To see the year dying,
When winter winds
Set the yellow wood sighing:
Sighing, O sighing!

When such a time cometh
I do retire
Into an old room
Beside a bright fire:
O, pile a bright fire!

And there I sit
Reading old things,
Of knights and lorn damsels,
While the wind sings–
O, drearily sings!

I never look out
Nor attend to the blast;
For all to be seen
Is the leaves falling fast:
Falling, falling!

But close at the hearth,
Like a cricket, sit I,
Reading of summer
And chivalry–
Gallant chivalry!

Then with an old friend
I talk of our youth–
How ’twas gladsome, but often
Foolish, forsooth:
But gladsome, gladsome!

Or, to get merry,
We sing some old rhyme
That made the wood ring again
In summer time–
Sweet summer time!

Then go we smoking,
Silent and snug:
Naught passes between us,
Save a brown jug–
Sometimes!

And sometimes a tear
Will rise in each eye,
Seeing the two old friends
So merrily–
So merrily!

And ere to bed
Go we, go we,
Down on the ashes
We kneel on the knee,
Praying together!

Thus, then, live I
Till, ‘mid all the gloom,
By Heaven! the bold sun
Is with me in the room
Shining, shining!

Then the clouds part,
Swallows soaring between;
The spring is alive,
And the meadows are green!

I jump up like mad,
Break the old pipe in twain,
And away to the meadows,
The meadows again!