Martha Courtot, 1977
We give each other stones, shells, feathers, and amulets made of herbs. This is for safety in travel. We have many journeys ahead of us. The stones come from the ocean, from ponds where we swim naked, from creeks near houses we are building. They have interesting properties. On the desert the stones if placed on certain parts of the bodies of the women, such as the forehead, just between the eyes, on either cheek, at the base of the throat, emit cooling tones, as if the stones could hold within their granular veins the memory of the cool waters they come from. However, when the women are in the mountains, huddled against the cold, the stones placed against belly or thigh are as warm as the August sun they once sat under, as if they remember…
The shells: round shapes, hallowed out, pink, white-shaved. When the women run their fingers down the insides they remember their own labial insides; heat flows from their spines upward until their faces become soft and pink, shell-like.
Amulets made of velvet, made of corduroy; filled with Rosemary and Patchouli. The women say Rosemary will keep them safe on their journeys, of which there are many.
We give these things mid-way, connecting. We meet in dying cities, passing through, on the steps of museums. We exchange directions, tips for keeping safe and fed, amulets; love. We meet in temporary country homes, sing some songs, exchange stones, shells, feathers, stories, and then we leave, going in different directions.
Our directions are five, to begin with: North, South, East, West, Center. When we pass through the center it is usually night—a new moon. We are surrounded by the dark. All other directions are lit by some kind of light: the South by sunlight, the North by firelight, the East by candlelight, the West by moonlight. We pass each other so many times we develop ways of knowing when someone we love has just been through, or how soon they will come, just by the way the air smells, or a tree feels. Sometimes we can wait for them or try to catch up, and then our celebrations are joyous. Usually this is not possible. We content ourselves with the smell, or a piece of bark from the tree, and we leave secret messages in the ground.
You say to us: if this is a tribe, why do you never stay still? Why do you meet only long enough to exchange stones, shells, feathers, amulets? Why can you pass through the center only alone and in absolute darkness? You say, if this is a tribe, what is the given language? What is its name, who belongs? You challenge our assumptions. You say, what kind of a people is always on the road, alone, only speaking to each other in crisis, at connecting points, in crowded intersections in dying cities, in drugstores in small towns where no one knows your name, and then dispersal?
This is our answer: our language is poetry. Do you understand? Our language is signs, symbols, sacred objects; we are a sacred people. We have magical properties. There are many things to be done, people to be healed, houses to be built. It is not time to be together. It is a time to be separate, to learn what it means to be alone.
We tell you this: we are doing the impossible. We are teaching ourselves to be human. When we are finished, the strands which connect us will be unbreakable; already we are stronger than we have ever been. The fibers which we weave on our insides will be so tight nothing will be able to pass through them.
We tell you this: when we are finished, we will be a proud people. We are making ready, as we send ourselves out separately across the dying continent. Holding on to shells, stones, feathers, amulets, we are taking on their properties.
Thus we move: silently, separately; our name is buried in various sacred spots all over the land. We are waiting until it is safe to claim it. Though we move silently, separate, can you hear our joint voices singing, singing our women’s songs in ever-widening circles?
Listen. We are making ready. Hear our music across the dying land.