Daniela Gioseffi: Eggs in the Lake

foreword by John Logan

For permission to reprint contact the author at danielag333@gmail.com.

Completion of this book was made possible by a grant award in poetry from The Creative Artists Public Service Program funded by The New York State Council on the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts. I am grateful for the encouragement and financial assistance from CAPS. - Daniela Gioseffi

The Publication of Eggs in The Lake was made possible with the assistance of a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts in Washington, D.C., a Federal agency.

Grateful acknowledgment is made to the editors of the following journals in which these poems first appeared: Ambit (Britain), Antaeus, Assembling, Black Box, Bones, Chelsea, Choice, Cloud Marauder, The California Review, Dialog (Canada), Equal Time, Goliards, Hanging Loose, Italian-Americana, Migration, Modern Poetry Studies, Ms., The Nation, New Letters, The New York Quarterly, The Paris Review, Poet Lore, Poetry Now, Penumbra, Quadrant (Australia), Some, Sunbury, Sundial, Survivots Manual, The Seminary Review of Friends School, Telephone, Toothpaste and The World.

Grateful acknowledgment is also made to the editors and publishers of anthologies in which some of these poems, or earlier versions of them, were first published: "Quantum Poem" in Contemporaries, Jean Malley and Hale Tokay, Eds., The Viking Press, New York, 1972; "The Vases of Wombs," 'Wearing Breasts," "Peace Prospect," 'Woman with Tongue in Cheek" in Rising Tides: 20th Century American Women Poets, Laura Chester and Sharon Barba, Eds., Pocket Books, A Division of Simon & Schuster, New York, 1973; "Some Slippery Afternoon," "Vacancy," "Paradise Is Not a Place" in We Become New: Poems by Contemporary American Women, Lucille Iverson and Kathryn Ruby, Eds., bantam Books, New York, 1975; "Some Slippery Afternoon," "Through the Eye of the Needle," "Eggs" in The Ardis Anthology of New American Poetry, David Rigsbee and Ellendea Proffer, Eds., The Ardis Press, Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1977.

"The Vases of Wombs," "Peace Prospect" and "Eggs" were recorded by the author on Black Box 4 (A Cassette Magazine), Washington, D.C., 1974.

"Belly Dancer" and "The Earth Is Feminine In Most Languages" appeared in The Great American Belly Dance, a novel by Daniela Gioseffi, Doubleday & Co., Inc., New York, 1977, and in The New English Library edition of that novel, London, England, 1978.

Eggs In The Lake. Copyright ©1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, by Daniela Gioseffi. Foreword, copyright ©1978 by John Logan. All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. Except in the case of brief quotations in reviews and critical articles, no part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. All inquiries should be addressed to A. Poulin, Jr., BOA Editions, 92 Park Avenue, Brockport, New York, 14420.

Printed at the Visual Studies Workshop.
Cover Photo by DiGesare
Typeset by Advertising and Marketing Graphics.
Binding by Gene Eckert, Inc.

Distributed by the Book Bus, Visual Studies Workshop
31 Prince Street, Rocheste, New York, 14607

ISBN 0-918526-13-2 Cloth
0-918526-14-0 Paper

First Edition: January, 1979

For Josephine and Daniel Gioseffi, for the good friends who have encouraged me during the past ten years in which these poems were written, and for my daughter, Thea.


Foreword by John Logan

I. Beyond the East Gate

Beyond the East Gate
Talking to My Philodendron
Wearing Breasts
For Prince Myshkin
At the Bank of a Lake
Susannah to the Elder
The Lily Pad

II. Vacancy

Some Slippery Afternoon
The Origins of Milk
Quantum Poem
Woman with Tongue Sculpted in Cheek
Warm Keys

III. The Vases of Wombs

The Loneliness of the Pregnant Woman
The Vases of Wombs
The Sea Hag in the Cave of Sleep
Belly Dancer
The Peach Through the Eye of the Needle
Nippled Trees Outlast an Age of Steel
The Earth Is Feminine in Most Languages

IV. Peace Prospect

Major Surgery
Falling Into Sand
You Are a Mediterranean
Bicentennial Anti-poem for Italian-American Women
My Venus Fly Trap Is Dying
Paradise Is Not a Place
Lady Godiva's Horse
Peace Prospect

Daniela Gioseffi is a poet and novelist whose work has appeared in such journals as Ms., Choice, Antaeus, The Nation and The Paris Review, as well as in such noted anthologies as Contemporaries (Viking), Rising Tides (Simon & Schuster) and We Become New (Bantam).

Ms. Gioseffi is also known for her work as a multimedia artist. Her performance of The Birth Dance of Earth -- the so-called "belly dance" -- which includes music and poetry of her own composition, has been critically acclaimed in America and Europe. And she has received award grants in both poetry and multimedia from the Creative Artists Public Service Program of the New York State Council on the Arts.

"I am a neo-pagan reviving the shaminist tradition," Daniela Gioseffi has written about herself. "What I really aspire to is healing some of the rifts in the 20th Century American psyche. In the beginning, poetry, dance, music were all part of the same ritualistic aspiration."

To that end Ms. Gioseffi has spent much of the past several years as a professional actress/singer, as well as a teacher of creative writing -- singing, reciting, dancing and performing poetry in colleges, universities, theatres, museums, senior citizen centers, public schools, parks and prisons.

Eggs in The Lake has been issued in a first edition of twelve hundred copies. Seven hundred copies are in paper and four hundred and fifty copies are in cloth. Fifty additional copies have been specially bound by Gene Eckert in quarter cloth and French papers over boards; twenty-six copies are lettered A-Z and signed by Daniela Gioseffi and John Logan; ten copies are numbered I-X, signed by both poets, and include a poem in holograph by Daniela Gioseffi; fourteen copies are numbered i-xiv, signed by both poets, and retained for presentation purposes.


I find Daniela Gioseffi's poems imaginatively rich, startling, intelligent (with a wide range of reading behind them) and eloquent in a manner relevant to one of the most profound issues of our time: the relationship of the masculine and the feminine principles inside the self and society. A feminist writer who celebrates what it is to be a woman, Ms. Gioseffi is also genuinely a poet whose work comes from the part of the personality that gives, shares and creates bonds rather than from the part that is divisive and militant. Fortunately, there is little politics here -- something ill-suited to poetry. And there are very few feminist writers of which this can be said.

Ms. Gioseffi is inventive, usually in a surreal mode, and she shares with the Iyric poet generally that loneliness which comes from the struggle with the self. "In My Craft or Sullen Art is the title of a poem by Dylan Thomas, and we remember that the word "sullen" comes from the Latin "solus" which means "alone." Yet when the poetic gift of sharing is present, by which I mean making public in a beautiful fashion, as it is in Ms. Gioseffi's work, then that loneliness -- which is itself part of the human condition -- becomes altered ironically and one is not alone in the same way as before the experience of art. Rather, one is brought, through the poetry, what Dylan Thomas called "a temporary peace". This "peace" I see as the natural equivalent to grace.

Ms. Gioseffi brings us such moments again and again. "I am a lost and primitive priestess/" she writes, "wandering in a walled city of the wrong century." Still, "I would have been what you were searching for/ . . . if you could decide/what sleeper you resemble and which of your dreams/struggles behind your eyelids.

There is also a special kind of loneliness Ms. Gioseffi writes about in a poem titled "The Loneliness of the Pregnant Woman":

She dreams
trees push limbs up
through her belly; her body
is an oven baking bread, a moon
presses from between her lips,
floats, a loaf of sun in winter light.

I want to comment on two further aspects of this passage. One is the image of the tree --Ms. Gioseffi has struck an archetypal note here, for the changing of the woman into a tree (cf. also her poem "My Venus Flytrap is Dying") occurs again and again in the history of literature, from Ovid's story of Daphne through Dante to modern poems of Ezra Pound, Hart Crane, and James Wright. (The title poem of Wright's most recent book, "To a Blossoming Pear Tree," is a beautiful piece about the transformation of a woman into a tree.) Norman O. Brown has an essay in which he sees the metamorphosis of Daphne as being at the very heart of poetry itself. "Undulate the branches of your arms/in the wind, goddess of trees," Ms. Gioseffi writes in another poem.

The other motif in this poem I want to note is the androgynous one which is introduced by the juxtaposition of the feminine moon with the masculine sun. I believe that one of the deepest motives for writing is man's attempt to feel his way into the world of woman and woman's attempt to feel her way into the world of man. This is not opposed to the search for self-identity on the part of man or woman poet for each finds the other at the heart of self. In another poem of Ms. Gioseffi's she uses an epigraph from Rimbaud which combines the theme of self-identity and androgyny: "The poets of the future will come when the infinite servitude of woman will be broken, when she will live for herself and by herself . . . she will also be poet! Woman will find the unknown! . . . The two sexes will then make one . . . the great Androgyne will be created, humanity will be woman and man, love and thought, tenderness and strength, grace and energy."

Ms. Gioseffi's "The Sea Hag in the Cave of Sleep" is one of the most ambitious androgynous poems of our time. Here the lines occur, "He swims into me in clouds of semen," and "Sea and shore mix in one giant sex." The poem ends with the astonishing image of the female assuming the penis at the moment of giving birth: "I come out from between my own legs into this world."

As in all lyric poetry there is a strong search for identity by the speaker in these poems: "I can be anything I will myself to be. I spend all my time . . . willing to be/what always/I am about to become." Again, "a vast lonely conscience strains to give itself a name." Here is a quotation from her work which reflects the eternal yearning of the poet for an audience who will help him assert his identity: "I wake . . . /and think there must be someone there . . .; who listens to me here in the dark."

Yet the poems present a very strong self-identity of the speaker as woman. In "Caves" Ms. Gioseffi writes: "At the hour of sleep a woman enters her own body/through mouths hidden beneath the skirt of night." Though there is compassion for the hardships of a woman's life, as in the elegiac words for her grandmother ("She died, her body wearied/from giving and giving and giving/food and birth.") still the overall tone of the book is the celebration of the status of woman -- particularly in the essential creativity of the maternal impulse.

The poem "Caves," from which I quoted, is taken from a section of the book entitled "The Vases of Wombs" -- a phrase in which Ms. Gioseffi reveals her unusual intelligence, for it is taken from her long and deep research into the historical and psychological development of the woman (in this case she is echoing Eric Neumann's monumental The Great Mother, which sees vases since ancient times as ikons so to speak of the woman's womb).

One of Ms. Gioseffi's poems, "The Belly Dancer," reminds us how far her researches have taken her: from her reading she discovered that what has come to be called "the belly dance" was in reality a birth dance given by women to assist at and celebrate the births of children. The dance originally had nothing to do with the market place and the entertainment of men. She has acted on her own research and learned the art of the "birth dance", frequently supplementing her programs with lectures on the dance and readings from her poems. She has written and I published a novel called The Great American Belly Dance (Doubleday 1977; Dell 1978).

On this aspect of Ms. Gioseffi's work one cannot do better than to look at an article on her poems by Harold Schechter entitled "The Return of Demeter: The Poetry of
Daniela Gioseffi" (Psychocultural Review Vol. I, pp. 452 - 45 7). Schechter in a Jungian analysis reminds us that behind androgyny lies syzygy, the union and vital exchange from the heart of the feminine to the heart of the masculine and vice versa, and he also reminds us that in promoting the matriarchal over the patriarchal -- in particular that aspect of the former which is benevolently maternal (creative) as opposed to the vengeful, terrible "tooth" mother (cf. Robert Bly's poem "The Teeth Mother Naked at Last") one is promoting a healthier, richer society -- a society of hope -- the newer, higher order which Ms. Gioseffl presents in her poem "Peace Prospect": "A better race will come./I feel/bright animals waiting/for the right genetic moment."

Still it is not in such partly didactic poems as "Peace Prospect" that I feel Ms. Gioseffi's strength so much as in those which dramatize a genuine erotic moment ("We might touch ourselves into peace") or show a deep rapport with other created things -- rapport with sun, sea and salt in "Beyond the East Gate," with plants in "Talking to My Philodendron," or with ancient creatures of the deep as in "Wearing Breasts" and in "For Prince Myshkin."

Because so much of Ms. Gioseffi's work touches the common, deep experiences of mankind (what Jung would call archetypes of the collective unconscious) I believe Jung should have the last word here in our approach to her poetry. "Whenever the collective unconscious becomes a living experience and is brought to bear upon the conscious outlook of an age, this event is a creative act which is of importance to everyone." Need I add this means you and me.

John Logan
Mayday, 1978

I. Beyond the East Gate Reality invents me, I am its legend! - Jorge Guillen I saw them despoil themselves, sobbing and singing, for a hen's egg... - Frederico Garcia Lorca
BEYOND THE EAST GATE I listen to the voice of the cricket, loud in the quiet night, warning me not to mistake a hill for a mountain. I need to be alone, in a private house with doors that open only outward, safe from strangers who smell of death, where I can draft a universe under my eyelids and let nothing invade it. I want to sing a fugue sounding like the genius of flowers talking to leaves on their stems, to have more concrete meaning than even the dance of a child in my uterus. I'm a lost and primitive priestess wandering in a walled city of the wrong century. I need to spend thirty years in the desert before I will understand the sun, thirty years at sea to gather the blessing of salt and water. In the back room of my skull a secret dice game determines the rites of my hands before they touch flesh again. I want to reach a peace I've never known, to be an old woman who is very young, a child who is a sage come down from the mountain.
TALKING TO MY PHILODENDRON Green passion on the horizon of my waking, Leaves, whose green yawn matches mine with morning, whose breath is always sweet, pristine peace and super-human silence, whose beauty is never coveted by men nor envied by women, whose constancy depends on waters of my memory, hear me; feel me loving you, playing Mozart concertos for you. I test your soil for moisture, feel of you adoringly, sense you answer me, in the dark tube of your stem, speak to me in the veins of your heart. Lift the fingery hands on the wrists of your stems and wave at me; tell me you hear me, feel dreams flow through me into yours, my senses, your perception through long nights; seep through me as water in your cells. Leaves, understand the peace I sigh into you. Let me know I long to be with you, my body melting to earth caressed by roots, gentle open palms against my red eyes, green hands of the Goddess on the heart of my vegetal sleep, on the breast, leaves, of my animal dreams.
WEARING BREASTS I sit back in the city and admire the octopus, wise old mollusk. I myself am an ancient fish wearing new plastic shoes. My lungs have been through many changes -- breathing water, then ooze, then air. A tree-climbing fish evolved me, giving me delicate names: Ivy, Heather, Rose, Lily, and a cave of sleep within my body, a child's room with a closed flower to guard the entrance. Out of the estuaries where rivers come to the sea, I am born of my mother's waters and can't find my paternal parent or give wifely comfort among creatures that stare from green mud.
FOR PRINCE MYSHKIN When I ride the adventures of my legs through your heart, or complain of bathroom spiders crawling up my ankles as I wash blood from my thighs, when I call to you from nightmares, want you to be a wave pulling me out to sea, or beg you to assure my voice is etched on glass eardrums, when I go leaving behind a sink full of winter, I need to swallow my agony, be told, "You are, you are a child again!" I poke at your petals like a child, twisting your stem until you break and your pollen falls around you. I gather and examine it in trembling hands. I know that you are pure, the ideal idiot, but I am trying to understand you through a periscope. I'm a lonely submarine of ripe flesh swimming with the blind, crusted creatures of the deep.
EGGS -for Francis Ponge Eggs that come from chickens, squeezing oblong from their feathered bottoms. Tapered ovals opaque with white filled with albumen. Delicate thickness! I've eaten them raw, sucking them from a pin-hole carefully made in the shell. I've pressed my lips to the hole and sucked until the white carried the yolk out in one mass onto my tongue. I've beaten them and butter-fried them into spongy yellow chunks. I've left their sunny sides up until the whites were glazed like plastic, and then pricked the orange yolk with the sharp point of a fork and watched it slowly spread and ooze over the plate. Then, I've sopped it up with toast until the toast was soggy and limp and dripped when lifted to the mouth. I've boiled them and listened to the click of shells as they wobbled in the bubbling water. Small sounds of thunder; shell against metal. I've cracked them and peeled them, pulling the residue of skin-like membrane from them, then sliced or bit into their shine of rubbery white with its yellow paste center. I've lathered them into my hair with shampoo, mixed them with cheeses and mushrooms and onions. Today I've bought one hundred dozen of them -- farm-fresh, Grade A, large white eggs in spongy, grey, cardboard cartons. I've arranged them around the bathroom, their cartons opened, exposing rows of gleaming white lumps. One thousand two hundred of them! Delicate shells threaten to burst and spray yolk over tile. I choose the first, tap it lightly on the porcelain tub. A thin line shatters the cool shell. I violate the crack, thumb-nail first, slowly separate the shell, tearing the inside membrane with a small sound of skin, and plop it into the tub. Its nucleus of yellow pops on the hard surface below. Slowly, from the ragged half-shell a clear string of mucus, a long thin globule, follows after it. I take the next and the next, crack each on the tub edge, plop it to the hard surface, see the yellow yolks break, ooze, and splatter. I keep on with my work till the tub fills enough for me to watch the yolks bounce into the thick liquid, sink a little, then buoy to the surface. When I drop, at last, the-one-thousand-two-hundreth, the tub is full; the mucoid surface is cobbled with yolks. Slowly, I put one bare leg into the tub, letting the viscous mass climb up my body as I slide down in up to my chin. I lie perfectly still, listening to the silent squish of the mass that surrounds me. I smear the fluid into my hair and over my skin, I move and thrash my limbs about until the mixture of yolk and white is thoroughly blended.
AT THE BANK OF A LAKE Black sedans the mayor ordered from the city invade rows of trees, arrive at the bank of a lake where water polishes stones. Wheels hum, engines purr, cool water laps and ripples. Fish leap, birds dive with watery sounds into the lake. Keys turn; engines die. The sun sinks into the horizon, gleams in the fenders of each sleek sedan. Behind sheer glass windows old men's faces stare, somber with grey beards, long noses, tight mouths. Each eye of each old man's face reflects the pin-point image of a naked moonlit woman asleep beside a lake.
SUSANNAH TO THE ELDER Eyes that pierced my nakedness, invading the privacy of my bath, did not harm me. They were as innocent as nipples chilled erect by cold water. When I see your naked body, your limp genitals lying in your lap, even though I am far younger, I feel a mother to you, what the earth is to a tree. Don't be afraid. Your aging body has its own beauty and I would give my youth to you if my innocence did not frighten you, or if you would take my kisses like grapes to quench your thirst. But your eyes are frightened, staring at the purple fruit, bubbled with the cool sweat of washing, cupped in the hands I hold out to you. You see a tiny fetus, glistening red, curled inside of each transparent grape skin. You cringe, cover yourself with guilt, as the white teeth in my small red mouth crush the juice from one.
THE LILY PAD Morning: She pulls a French horn from the bodice of her dress, tries to play it. No sound comes out. She begins to weep but the cries she makes sound like a horn played far off in the distance. Noon: She puts the French horn back into the bodice of her dress, runs to the river, leaps in, the weight of the horn carries her to the bottom. The same water fills her ears that flows through the horn. She hears its sound sighing in her head. Night: She swims to the surface dragging the French horn with her. Her hair has turned white. She drowns with the horn clutched to her shrivelling lips. Her white hair floats out all around her: Now she is a lily pad with a frog singing on her breast.
II. Vacancy Psychology which explains everything explains nothing, and we are still in doubt. - Marianne Moore The immediate beauty of a rag in the wind... The immense stone statue of a grain of sea salt The joy of every day and the uncertainty of dying and the iron of love in the wound of a smile... - Jacques Prevert
SOME SLIPPERY AFTERNOON A silver watch you've worn for years is suddenly gone leaving a pale white stripe blazing on your wrist. A calendar marked with all the appointments you meant to keep disappears leaving a faded spot on the wall where it hung. You search the house, yard, trash cans i for weeks but never find it. One night the glass in your windows vanishes leaving you sitting in a gust of wind. You think how a leg is suddenly lost beneath a subway train or a taxi wheel some slippery afternoon. The child you've raised for years, combing each lock, tailoring each smile, each tear, each valuable thought, suddenly changes to a harlequin, joins the circus passing in the street, never to be seen again. One morning you wash your face, look into the mirror, find the water has eroded your features, worn them smooth as a rock in a brook. A blank oval peers back at you too mouthless to cry out.
THE ORIGINS OF MILK Mushrooms grow in my thighs to spite the frenzy I've offered as love. Faces explode my albums with sighs that shatter gravestones. Torn up for confetti, I'm showered on the celebration winding in the streets below. Another man is elected to rule the flow of milk. I look for my mother copulating among sheep in a dream field. A haze floats in over my head, a long cold shore of sand. I ask a genie waiting to be born in blue smoke from my navel if she has heard my magic words and knows I, too, wish to see beyond the lamp. All the telephone booths are out of order in the soup of the city. Strange voices, shells from unknown seas sound in my ears. Stray dogs wander in gutters, nipping at my toes. Abandoned children sit on curbs. Panhandlers replace clowns on every corner. They do not smile or dance, but simply ask for money to be dropped in empty cups. I ponder coins, weather maps, rubber stamps, newsprint, white bread, false hair, plutonium. Stranded in a society of abstracted men, I am made of primal customs practiced in varied tongues. I gather water, try to chat with you amidst flower- boxes. Fumes clog my throat; machines follow me down the street, grinding gears against flesh. Grey dials turn. I try to call you whom I met by the accuracy of chance. The telephone receiver is gone. It's stuck to my mouth. My eyes are dimes caught in my hair. Blood I left on your sheets came from moons of change hidden in my belly. When we part, are you still there, are we lovers as we were? Curdling time gives us up to decisions. Kettles whistle for morning coffee and we mourn our dreams. I want to bottle wind, drink it for cola. Instead, I lose you among strange hands, open mouths, wiggling buttocks, umbrellas. I would have been what you were searching for with sheer will, if you could decide what sleeper you resemble and which of your dreams struggles behind your eyelids. I hardly bear the hollow music of a tubular life. Birds in my inner ear batter wings to get out. I have no names to call them to open windows. The artful lover lacks artless feeling. I knew when you touched me where your thoughts were. I can't be fooled into orgasm, but I can pretend. Into my chest, I follow birds, trying to sing proper notes to the moon, mirroring the sun, to the darkness in me, nothing without your light. Perhaps the finest language is silence in its glory. I long to be an apple tree standing in your garden.
QUANTUM POEM I feel like a gingerbread man running from my destiny meeting a hungry fox by the boiling sea an oyster gone walking with a walrus in either instance I keep disappearing
A WOMAN WITH TONGUE SCULPTED IN CHEEK There are no rules for sadness -- so much despair rising from the sink drains of evening. The chairs are empty, curtains full of wind, the room silent as a lantern. Who couldn't go on spilling pages of wordy histories, cracking thoughts as shells from nutmeats of philosophies, spinning threads from fish eyes. I lift my breasts waiting for the ceiling to sprout fingers. Men do not let women live in their dreams but dream of women in their lives as if we could be as good as trees, as calm as photosynthesis in all our fornication. Guilty since Eve, I will not be responsible for temptation, I pull the trap door shut, dose my legs against eternity, build a moat around my uterus, use my ovaries for amulets, cease rattling my bracelets, cut off my nails and close my lips tight against kisses, new mournings. My hair was not my own idea; it grew from his rays and he commanded that I brush it till it shone as moonbeams because he was the sun, he was everyone: He was Dr. Kildare, Emmett Kelly, Christ; Leonardo da Vinci, Albert Einstein, Louis Pasteur; Charlemagne, Napoleon, Mozart, and Shakespeare; Mailer, Ginsberg, Plato, and Buddha; Lincoln, Rembrandt, Donato Gioseffi, and Richard Kearney. Father, husband, whom I've worshipped all my years. I've let you commit crimes in my name, place me on a pedestal of halos, hide my clitoris as my hips grew wider and a child squeezed out of my heart, grew big as a mountain, swallowed me for dinner, held me in a sucking grip until I crooned lullabies. I've washed a thousand bathtubs and watered a million geraniums with the fallings of my dreams, and the knight, the Knight, the night, never comes riding never comes riding never comes riding except to admonish me for vanity he creates in me or to drape a heavy blue robe around my shoulders and rest his crucified body in my soft and tired lap.
WARM KEYS A lost love leaps from the fire of my brow. I zipper him away. I can't feed bears to angels. Angels are not there. Goodbye, my friends, you've all turned into keyholes. I'm no different than a camel or a tiger. My ears bark at candles. I try to burn all of Keats in the ashtrays. Though I remember only the rhythm of his speech, I carve a pear from memory trying to bite his face into it. Somewhere sand curves down into the pampering sea. I think of all the rain falling backwards toward the birth of money. Chopin's Nocturnes bind my chest with wires. A true lover that doesn't exist tiptoes toward me, a thousand genitalia protrude or gape from it. It raises its head. Its eyes are mirrors arranged to reflect mirrors in me. It opens its mouth, revealing glass tongues coated with silver. I feed it spittle from my mouth and it sings an ancient lullaby audible only to the trees.
VACANCY Faceless, I chase you frantically through the museum begging you to paint eyes on my face. You slip away disgusted by my whining need of you. I ask the guard who looks like my father the way to the powder room. He pulls out his shining tube, smears a lipstick mouth on my blank face and says: "Speak!" I try, but my red mouth slips down my chin, staining my collar. I rush into the street. The crowds stare in horror at the naked oval of my head. I attempt to unscrew it from my neck and stuff it in the first litter basket I meet. Waking far outside myself, I find I lie beside you. You do not stir in your sleep or feel the darts, questions I fire at your numbed head. "Am I all right this way, headless without a face?" I say. "Shall I be plump or thin, intelligent, dumb, bold, demure, famous, obscure, sister, wife, mother, thief, giver, jealous, indifferent, poet, madman or lover, or just work in the Five and Dime and cook your supper?" You tell me, father, husband, I can be anything I will myself to be. I spend all my time willing, willing to be what always I am about to become.
SEQUEL Each day ends, a record left turning. I lift the needle, place it back in its cradle, not to end sound, but to end silence with silence. When prayer-plants fold their leaves together like hands at dusk, a smiling corpse rules twilight, smuggles the sun beneath his cloak. At sunset, I talk to myself as if to God, hoping for an answer. I watch bees swarm, and view the city from rooftops, see points of light, ideas set afire, dot the skyline. The copper sun dips into the harbor to bathe itself, then sinks beyond the curve. In the middle of the night I wake, listen to silence, and think there must be someone there waiting who listens to me here in the dark and thinks there must be someone there waiting in the silence.
III. The Vases of Wombs "Physical or `real' birth is really rebirth, a repitition of an archetypal birth of the cosmos from the cosmic egg." - Norman O. Brown Love's Body "I understand the tree, it does not reason....Fawns you have had your day: the poet now wants to talk to the tree.: - Jules Renard "The Woman-Soul leadeth us...on!" - Johann von Goethe
THE LONELINESS OF THE PREGNANT WOMAN A kick at her inner walls, a thud rising in her throat, half wakes her in the dark. Her hand slides beneath cloth over smooth stretched skin. Another kick, flesh against flesh, tingles her palm. She pushes back blankets, feels a mound of earth rising from her womb. She dreams trees push limbs up through her belly; her body is an oven baking bread, a moon presses from between her lips, floats, a loaf of sun in winter light. In mourning, she buys red apples in place of roses for her mother's grave. She carries them like eggs through marching throngs, gliding carefully between man- made objects, bringing apples to the cemetery. Knives and guns sticking, poking out from windows, doors, alleyways, might burst the delicate dirigible, her hope singing earthy songs in her.
THE VASES OF WOMBS - for The Venus of Willendorf For a long time, I've thought about this body of mine with agony, with curiosity, and dreams of caressing lovers and children. I've thought about these arms as if they belonged to an Etruscan priestess raising them over her head to pray or protect hunters, or were handles on the hips of an ancient Greek vase pedestaled in the still light of a museum. I've listened to the blood flowing through them or crossed them over my breasts to imagine rest. I've thought about these buttocks, how they've held me to the earth while others fly and inhabit the high shelves of libraries. I've thought about these peering nipples, feelers on a cat's face sensitive to night. Men accept mead, soma, nectar from my hands, blood from my womb, fish from my eyes, crystals from my eardrums, food from my glands. In return, they try to pierce the heart that ticks between my thighs pinning me to the bed like a butterfly. These arms fly out of themselves to talk to you. This head becomes small and sightless. These breasts and buttocks swell until they're all that's left of me, until I'm melted into earth and planted as a garden.
CAVES At the hour of sleep a woman enters her own body through mouths hidden beneath the skirt of night. Inside the darkness, moist and quiet, she dreams of all the cavernous wombs of nature hidden from the light: Caves, temples for gods or monarchs' chambers, chandeliered with stalactites formed drop by antique drop, underground streams worn through limestone; caves from which we first yawn awake pressing out between lips, exits from, entrances to death, arched by thighs like swords at a wedding; caves haunted by sibyls, nymphs, cyclops; deep hollows in the sides of sea cliffs battered in by tides, blown open by eruptions of hot lava; galleries, sink holes reaching up to earth like open drains; ears vibrating with music, sighing with sea sounds of shells; nostrils breathing rose, sage, sandalwood; stomachs churning food to pulp, echoing with hunger; mouths sucking, swallowing, biting kissing; womanly caves to which men return again and again to burrow back into earth, to curl up in like bears, squirrels, bees, hibernating through winter, safe with their acorns, honey, semen, sleeping snugly in the belly of a tree, waiting like eggs to begin.
THE SEA HAG IN THE CAVE OF SLEEP "For all the bold and bad and bleary they are blamed, the sea hags." - James Joyce, Finnegans Wake Words whirl her round in pools. I cling by my teeth, grinding mountains. She floats. I scream. She drops through an eternity of light. I float again. I fall calling for animals to warm her, pleading with trees to feed me. Darkness fills her like a carbohydrate. Ponds ooze; crickets drone in black space. A snake slides over a rock; a seed is dragged to another grave. Human voices hum behind the stones; a vast, lonely conscience strains to give itself a name. The cave of sleep opens as she spreads her legs. The father enters the iridescent dark from which he came. Blocks of ice fall from his aging flesh. She turns to him to marry him and be his mother again. When she turns again she is his son. The shine of his skin slides down her throat. Seaweed glides through my limbs. Kisses. Kisses. Land and water come together in the mud of our lips crawling with tongues that give touch to words. He swims into me in clouds of semen. Babies cry in our mouths. We float from the warm well in aboriginal kisses. Lizards nestle in bushes hurting and loving the leaves; landbirds peck at tortoise shells. She feels how wet the earth is, nearly all water. Since she first bled there has been a passion finer than lust, as if everything living is moist with her. She knows the language of leaves as an animal blessed with it. In the trees is a clue to everything and a happy one, like the genesis of estrogen. Ever since the first woman bled, plants cry when animals are murdered; hands think as bees emoting sweet sweat; apples are made for eating; even mathematics is glandular; an algebra of feelings. Only wars are waged in the guise of pure perception as though flesh were an alloy of aluminum, or an isolated element. She takes off her dress; she lifts off her breasts; she has a talk with the sparrows who inhabit my chest. She is divided by contrary loves I have taken in. When I open her legs a river of contradiction flows from me. Her limbs are estuaries rippling toward my stomach. She drowns inside myself longing for a god to speak to her from her lover's tongue, as they explode together in whirlpools of sperm and ova spinning against the silence. When the baby came down out of her, it felt thick between my lips, squeezing out erect life. Its belly passed her clitoris as it came with its cries of semen squirting from me. As its toes slid out I was female again . . . A vast landscape accepts her with silence as if it were my private garden to gather stones from her sleep. The phantom of age descends the staircase! In the middle of the afternoon, when light is blinding, I am looking for a man with arms, tree- trunks, fingers, branches to turn her nipples green as spring buds. She waits outside my- self, for him to welcome her in. Or is it sleep, a peace deep as death, she wants from him? She puts on feathers like a bird or a chorus girl. He can't know which. If he comes to her bed, she will be an orgasm of birds singing in wet leaves. The mouth of my dream will be open forever. I'll burst with a child, time hurdled from her throat. She will paint a song beneath my eyelids to sing into his sighs: Down by the water silver-haired witches are dancing, down by the water, tossing their curls. Their breasts are eyes . from which the sea rises. In their mouths the sea cries. They are kicking the sand made from our bones. Silver-haired witches down by the water, singing and dancing, playing with bones. We take for each other the place of absent gods. We bargain for the eyes of fish to swim in an underground stream longing for no death. These are our plum pits, petrified and strung These are our beetles gleaming in the coal. We have come shining in ice from the mud trailing seaweed in our wings of bone. We read; we write books; from the deep spring of orgasm flowing in the flesh, we erupt in cataleptic fits as faith from the insane. We will invent love until the sea closes in. The phantom of age ascends the staircase; a vast landscape accepts me with silence; I gather stones from her sleep. She has knitted him a shawl and come to the frayed ends of history. His fingers are no longer primal myths kneading her. Sea and shore mix in one giant sex. In the index of my womb, I find her face . . . She is no spider queen after all, She is a green beast with arms of sorrow . . . Her whole body is a phallus . . . I come out from between my own legs into this world.
BELLY DANCER An Etruscan priestess through whom the earth speaks, enters veiled; a mystery moves toward the altar. Unknown features, shadow of death, of brows, of eyes, mouth, lips, teeth of the night, jaw thrust forward like a pelvis, navel hidden, mysterious circuit, electrical wire of the first cries thrust from the womb. The silk covering hovers over her, turns with a whirling gesture round as the moon that glows in her belly. Her navel winks in a quiver. Amazing belly that stretches large enough to let a life grow. She glides, dips, shimmies, thrusts one hip, then another. The music breaks. Pain fills the drum. She falls to her knees, doubles over, leans back on her heels as her stomach flutters, rolls with contractions, upward, down- ward, sinks her head into the floor, raises her pelvis, arching, widening. Arms rise like serpents from a flesh basket, beat, caress, nip, shimmer the air with rhythmic pulse. At last the bloody mystery emerges, inch by inch the head presses through the lost hymen. Her pain works into a smile. The decked and bejeweled mother pushes out her ecstasy. The formless fluid shot into her, molded, fired in the secret oven, emerges, a child crying: it lives! Its voice rings in her finger cymbals. She rests her body, slowly rises from the earth. Her breasts fill with milk. She shakes them: this is food, I am food. Woman, whose nerve-filled clitoris makes her shiver, ecstatic mother, dance with a fury around your circle of women. Spin out the time locked in your own womb, bloom from your uterus, Lady of the Garden. The moon pulls you, crashes waves on the shore. Undulate the branches of your arms in the wind, Goddess of Trees, of all living things. Your flesh is not defiled by men who can't contain your mystic energy of woman. Belly that invites life to sleep in you, breasts of mortal ambrosia, Amazon groin that lit the hearth, altar, oven, womb, bread table, Earth Mother, pagan witch of magic birth, from whom all suck leaves that flow through the body's blood, cave of your sex, our home, moon of earth, Great Mother.
THE PEACH THROUGH THE EYE OF THE NEEDLE I. The peach is a belly dancer's fruit. It, too, possesses a navel for seeing the world through the skin, has rounded buttocks, good to place against the hand the way earth reminds flesh of its being. II. Through the eye of the needle, death is a country where people wonder and worry what it is like to live. The sullen wish to live and live soon, to be done with death and the happy want to stay dead forever wondering will it hurt to live and is there death after death.
NIPPLED TREES OUTLAST AN AGE OF STEEL Lawn mowers and can openers hammered into arks as cradles for bread will float because She made the tower lean after you built it. Blizzards, gale winds, tidal waves, floods, sleet, hail, tornadoes, fish frozen in the lake of Her mouth! And you thought to tame Her, to hold Niagara by the waist. To keep Her from eating kings' eyes you built pyramids against sand storms. To span Her rivers, you threw legs of steel over Her thighs, gathered her fury like roses, scoffed at the vulturism of the sea, took what you wanted from Her, and refused to give back what you threw away. You dreamed of keeping her, a wife in a pumpkin shell, but no cage holds the sea. When you tied down Her hair with steel cables, She sent up a hurricane, smashing concrete. Her necessity is your peace, Her mystery, your gospel. You shall climb mountains in search of berries. You shall walk through the forests to suck Her breasts, cling as children at her skirts. For every leg of a bridge thrown over Her, she changed the course of a river, and so you shall build your houses where She chooses in the midst of wild grasses.
THE EARTH IS FEMININE IN MOST LANGUAGES: A PSALM (From an Essential Libretto for a New Age Symphony) - after a passage in the Taittiriya Upanishad 2.2. From food comes all, all that lives upon the Earth. All is food, and to food it shall return. Food is the only goddess among the living. They are blessed with food who worship earth, for the Earth is food and goddess among the living. All are born of food and by food they grow. The Goddess is Earth and food her panacea. All are born of her food and to food they shall return. All eat Her and she eats all. Food we are and to food we shall return. That is why She is called Sugar! Blossom! Honey! The Great Mother gave milk in the beginning. She arose as a dream from mud but from Her comes food and from food: breath, spirit, truth, worlds, and in works, immortality.
IV. Peace Prospect "That unity of culture and nature, work and love, morality and sexuality for which mankind is forever longing...will remain a dream as long as man does not permit the satisfaction of the biological demands of natural orgasmic sexual gratification...Until then, the extinguishing of life will prevail, be it in compulsive social institutions or in wars." - Wilhelm Reich The Discovery of the Orgone "Of physiology from top to toe I sing, Not physiognomy alone or brain alone is worthy of the Muse. I say the Form complete is worthier far, The Female equally with the Male I sing." - Walt Whitman "I Sing the Body Electric"
MAJOR SURGERY My dreams rise, a twist of smoke. Spirits hammer at my throat or sleep like pig iron in my belly. I resolve to leave this hospital renewed. An antique bird will fly on metal wings changed to feathers. What is made of wood in my life remains fresh, unvarnished. All stories close like cupboards, cracked teacups line up on shelves. I lick ether from my fingers, roll my eyes back in my head. There were houses, many photographs in albums. Ants crawl toward a hill to be crushed when the shoe descends into evening. Cars buzz in the walls.
FALLING INTO SAND Yearning rests in the sea: a bottle floating messages answers to the secret future. We talk of the end as the driest thing there is. Forests burn into their clearings: a sense of dread, flags of an age of huge weapons, poison gases, nitrates, analysis. Angry factories send the day into smoke. Minerals are asleep in their caves. Someone is deciding to disturb them. I retreat into a green library, explore the garden of your body thinking it can make me free of mine. We might touch each other into peace, a private evolution. If we build a fire at all entrances to the dawn, we can kiss the red mouths of graves, or change books into nipples.
YOU ARE A MEDITERRANEAN Nerves can't reach passion that spills on floorboards. You are a wild insomniac and want a warlock to come to you in the night with evil magic and say stop trying to do what is right. You are a bat who clings upside down in a corner of the daylight and flies in the dark while the rest are asleep. You want to assassinate memory, but you need rest from this body which offers no ecstasy except through clenched teeth. No purity to reach, no virginal dawn to wait for and rape, you pace in a ferment, you take your voice in your arms and rock it to sleep.
BICENTENNIAL ANTI-POEM FOR ITALIAN-AMERICAN WOMEN "You are one of only two or three Italian-American women poets in this country," said the professor. "You are a pioneer. There are fewer of you than Black women poets." On the crowded subway, riding to the prison to teach Black and Puerto Rican inmates how to write, I think of the fable of the shoemaker who struggles to make shoes for the oppressed while his own go barefoot over the stones. I remember Grandma, her olive face wrinkled with resignation, content just to survive after giving birth to twenty children, without orgasmic pleasures or anesthesia. Grandpa, immigrant adventurer, who brought his family steerage passage to the New World; his shoemaker shop where he labored over American factory goods that made his artisan's craft a useless anachronism; his Code of Honor which forced him to starve accepting not a cent of welfare from anyone but his sons; his ironic "Code of Honor" which condoned jealous rages of wife-beating; Aunt Lizabetta, Aunt Maria-Domenica, Aunt Raphaela, Aunt Elena, grown women huddled like girls in their bedroom in Newark, talking in whispers, not daring to smoke their American cigarettes in front of Pa; the backyard shrine of the virgin, somber blue-robed woman, devoid of sexual passions, to whom Aunt Lizabetta prayed daily before dying in childbirth, trying to have a son against doctor's orders though she had five healthy daughters; Dr. Giuseppi Ferrara, purple-heart veteran of World War II, told he couldn't have a residency in a big New York Hospital because of his Italian name; the mafia jokes, the epithets: Wop, guinea, dago, grease-ball; and the stories told by Papa of Dante, Galileo, Da Vinci, Marconi, Fermi and Caruso that stung me with pride for Italian men; how I was discouraged from school, told a woman meant for cooking and bearing doesn't need education. I remember Grandma got out of bed in the middle of the night to fetch her husband a glass of water the day she died, her body wearied from giving and giving and giving food and birth.
MY VENUS FLY TRAP IS DYING because it frightens me. I've tried to remember to water it. I keep saying I'll buy it a new pot, furnish it with fresh earth. After all, it is a plant and I do love greenery. But it's carnivorous, ingesting raw meat, living insects, engulfing them in heart- shaped leaves. Other plants wait for death to give flesh to roots. I resolve to become a vegetarian. I've loved and envied plants for their peacefulness, their quiet conversion of the sun, that first all contingent link between solar energy and animal. But this Venus Fly Trap is too much for me. It will have to die tossed into the waste can with the bright red lipstick, the blood red nail polish. I no longer wear. This Venus Fly Trap doesn't photosynthesize peacefully. It's trying to become an animal and I trying so hard to be a tree can't bear it.
PARADISE IS NOT A PLACE The poets of the future will come when the infinite servitude of woman will be broken, when she will live for herself and by herself . . . she will also be poet! Woman will find the unknown. "The Great Androgyne will be created . . . Humanity will be woman and man, love and thought, tenderness and strength, grace and energy." - Arthur Rimbaud The Voyant Letters Bread in our mouths, lightning in the belly of a whale, oceans to slice through with steel fins, rocks to plant as roses . . . We drift together on a mattress into the sea of early sunshine. Our mattress, Love, floats off to a deserted tropical island, glides past battleships, over submarines, through the tentacles of giant squid. Tourists turn to look at us floating on our mattress -- you pressed between my legs over your shoulders, my hair in your mouth, your fingers in my ears. They are amazed at our sailing by on our saffron mattress of mulberry leaves. We undulate up to the Statue of Liberty. The old girl winks at us and lifts her skirt to reveal her hefty pubes. We float past the wedding cakes of presidents' daughters as we cruise the Potomac shocking Washington ladies. Our bodies melt into one huge rock. We are a Magritte Mountain floating out to sea, victorious in our battle of the sexes. One day, sailors point and say, "There's Great Mount Androgyne, once a fornicating woman and man!" Missionaries plant a neon cross on top, enshrining the place where penis merged with clitoris, and we are at peace in the clouds with gulls flapping gently around our peak.
LADY GODIVA'S HORSE She rides me tamely through the town, seated daintily, naked legs side-saddling me, a proper lady. Silk hair covers her shoulders. Townspeople bow in reverance as we pass challenging her husband's greedy taxes, saving Coventry with her nakedness. Triumphant, we reach the gates of the city and she swings one leg over me, grips my bare back with her soft thighs. Her bootless heels kick my sides and I run, her hands loosening my reins, her body bending close, her warm weight upon me, her breasts galloping with my hooves. And we are one, beast and lady fused, one body. She pressed wet to me, my mane, her hair, our tail flowing out behind, the force of her moon-blood coursing through us, fierce umbilicus of the moon pulling us toward the sea.
PEACE PROSPECT Too many people scribbling on each others' tongues gagging the cities. Politics muddle the nature of bodies. Sexual energy, a force confused, wasted. While sleep plays out the pain in me, I have a pleasant dream, a land inhabited by bright animals who refuse fire and eat nothing but leaves. I count the people I have tried to touch; my hands melt sand into glass. We can't manufacture food like vegetation standing in the light. Photosynthesis is the trees making love with the sun. A vague intuition blossoms in my stomach, a chance for a finer love. We are a mind-ridden race, incompatible with earth. A better race will come. I feel bright animals waiting for the right genetic moment.
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