Sapphic Symbology

Katherine_Harris_Bradley_&_Edith_Emma_Cooper_(2)

Michael Field

I started off this morning searching for the poet who celebrates a birthday today.  Allen Ginsberg was my pick last year, but I noticed that he shares his birthday with the now discredited Marion Zimmer Bradley.  Bradley was accused by her children of enabling child abuse by her husband Walter H. Breen.

Marion Zimmer Bradley did have a reputation as a womens’ rights campaigner and her one poetic work is “Maenads”.  So I followed the thread of the wild virgin followers of Dionysus as symbols of feminism or lesbianism.  Clad in fox fur, leaping through the mountains, intoxicated by wine, by life, by divine ecstasy, worthy symbols of feminine power absent the domination of men.

Ursula Le Guin also wrote a poem about Maenads and you will find it in a posting for her birthday on this blog.

Suffragettes were described in popular press as “Mad Maenads”.  The suffragette movement was very instrumental in the alignment of feminism with vegetarianism and indeed it was the suffragettes who identified the hunger strike as a key weapon against the forces of societal oppression.  The lesson was not lost on the Fenian movement and Sinn Féin adopted it in the struggle for Irish Independence.  Gandhi also borrowed the weapon for his armory of non-violent protest.

But I was more interested in following the thread that leads to Michael Field.  An unlikely lesbian you might think of a male author.  Not so.  Micheal Field is in fact the pen name of the scandalous incestuous lesbian couple:   Katherine Harris Bradley and her niece Edith Emma Cooper.  In the poem below the prevalence of fox fur is no accident.

To my knowledge Marion Zimmer Bradley has no relation with Katherine Harris Bradley.

Second Thoughts ; by Michael Field

I thought of leaving her for a day
in town, it was such an iron winter
at Durdans, the garden frosty clay,
the woods as dry as any splinter,
the sky congested. I would break
from the deep, lethargic, country air
to the shining lamps, to the clash of the play,
and to-morrow, wake
beside her, a thousand things to say.
I planned-Oh more-I had almost started;
I lifted her face in my hands to kiss,
a face in a border of fox’s fur,
for the bitter black wind had stricken her,
and she wore it – her soft hair straying out
where it buttoned against the gray, leather snout:
In an instant we should have parted;
but at sight of the delicate world within
that fox-fur collar, from brow to chin,
at sight of those wonderful eyes from the mine,
coal pupils, an iris of glittering spa,
And the wild, ironic, defiant shine
as of a creature behind a bar
one has captured, and, when three lives are past,
may hope to reach the heart of at last
all that, and the love at her lips, combined
to show me what folly it were to miss
a face with such thousand things to say,
and beside these, such thousand more to spare,
for the shining lamps, for the clash of the play-
oh madness; not for a single day
could I leave her! I stayed behind.

Food is social capital

pancakes

The first thing I taught my kids to cook was pancakes.  On this pancake Tuesday it comes to mind, Louise having a Sunday morning lie in.  Me with three rugrats at the kitchen counter, getting them to beat eggs and flour.  Cooking up the pancakes.  Having fun tossing them.  Letting them drown them in syrup as a treat.

Years pass and tastes change, but they still love those pancakes.

You seem to spend a lot of your life having mini-battles about food.  “Try this, you’ll like it.  Go on, just three bites, just one bite, anything”.  As parents we worry if they are eating enough.  Then we worry if they are eating the right things.  Then we worry they are eating too much.

Food is an education.  Food is social capital.  We learn all the most important things over food, our societal mores, our family values, our means of transacting and interacting with others.

When children go out into the world they carry this social capital with them.  A knowledge of food is an entry into society.  It demonstrates the type of home you grew up in.  The truth is we judge people every day by what we see in their shopping baskets.

Then our children come back from their exposure to the wild world and can surprise us.  Esha fell in love with Burritos from Boojum up in Galway on work experience.  Our youngest, Gavin, just returned from Kolkata, India and said in the quiet way he has that he has become mostly vegetarian.  I came across this poem which sums up how I feel about the way kids express their maturity through food.

 

For the Love of Avocados ; by Diane Lockward
I sent him from home hardly more than a child.
Years later, he came back loving avocados.
In the distant kitchen where he’d flipped burgers
and tossed salads, he’d mastered how to prepare
the pear-shaped fruit. He took a knife and plied
his way into the thick skin with a bravado
and gentleness I’d never seen in him. He nudged
the halves apart, grabbed a teaspoon and carefully

eased out the heart, holding it as if it were fragile.
He took one half, then the other of the armadillo-
hided fruit and slid his spoon where flesh edged
against skin, working it under and around, sparing

the edible pulp. An artist working at an easel,
he filled the center holes with chopped tomatoes.
The broken pieces, made whole again, merged
into two reconstructed hearts, a delicate and rare

surgery. My boy who’d gone away angry and wild
had somehow learned how to unclose
what had once been shut tight, how to urge
out the stony heart and handle it with care.

Beneath the rind he’d grown as tender and mild
as that avocado, its rubies nestled in peridot,
our forks slipping into the buttery texture
of unfamiliar joy, two halves of what we shared.