Acutely Personal, Eerily Collective
In early autumn of 1985, I had been living for four months in a Studio of One’s Own, a beautifully airy structure built by women for women artists on Ann Stokes’ land, a low wooded mountain-top in New Hampshire across the river from Brattleboro, Vermont. It was the first time I’d lived alone and the first time I’d lived in the woods. I was there to write a serious book of prose and to chart a new direction for my life. Instead, I’d been getting up at the crack of dawn to write in my journal, walking the trails all over the old mountain, and skidding wildly from ecstatic vision to paralyzing despair. My journal entry for 1 October 1985 reads: “11 a.m. I am EXHAUSTED. 11:30 a.m. Well, shit, I just wrote a poem.”
It was, astonishingly, a real poem, one of the first I’d written since childhood, but there was a tongue-tangle, marking a conceptual muddle, in the second stanza that I couldn’t for the life of me disentangle. Eventually, I put the poem away and even forgot I’d written it. Twenty-six years later, in the midst of an e-mail to a friend about something else altogether, the lines as they were meant to be surfaced in my mind.
Why did it take so long? Well, I’ve come to think that humankind has a species-soul, a deep current that courses invisibly beneath the surface of our individual lives. When that soul is in trouble, we can feel it. In the mid-1980s, it was clear to any witness of my life that I personally was in trouble, my past gone and my future unknown. But I couldn’t altogether articulate what that felt like. By the summer of 2011, though, human beings were clearly and collectively in the same kind of trouble: past gone, future unknown. And suddenly, with so much company, I could say how that feels.
Have human beings already precipitated the final decline of our mother the Earth? If not, how far will she need to go to restore balance and renew life? Will humans become extinct in the process, the way we’ve sent so many other species into extinction? These are the questions I ask myself, but I don’t know the answers. I only know how it feels now to be human, and on the brink.
ECLIPSE OF HOPE
A moon blots out a sun.
Darkening silence comes between us.
In place of my house,
stands a tower of stone.
At its crown —
the lightning catcher,
she who writes on the blank rune.
Below, my departing selves
wait with their boats.
I mark in sand
the sign of migration.
My eyes sting.
At my wingbones
four winds rise.
– Harriet Ann Ellenberger
Note: “Eclipse of Hope” first appeared in the Spring 2012 issue of Trivia: Voices of Feminism