[Author’s Note: This poem is written in honour of the work of Marija Gimbutas, archaeologist, linguist, visionary. I was lucky enough to hear her give a lecture one day in 1990 in Los Angeles. She had the audience in thrall to her ideas. I hope that one day her name will be better known than any other archaeologist. You can see by the bends and markers on her books that these are well-thumbed copies of just three of her remarkable books.]
The roses are in bloom. They are red and cool
and have a smell that makes me remember
my mother, cutting stems of red roses.
Cutting red roses
climbing the legs of the tankstand.
Mother. Roses. For how many millennia has this
association occurred? —in my rose-wet cave,
writes Adrienne Rich.
Milliennia ago women drew signs on walls in caves.
Signs resembling the leaves of roses doubling as vulvas.
Or stones, egg-shaped with a flowerbud
vulva engraved on one side.
What does woman want? asks the Freud who wrote
Totem and Taboo and didn’t think to include mothers
in his scheme of things. He seems to have a problem
with the mother. Is it womb envy?
Is it that he wants to be a hysteric?
Wants access to that mysterious state
that is specific to women? What he could
do with a floating womb!
We stand in a place where flowers cling to walls.
They have purple petals and we kiss beneath this wall,
remembering the women, the two women whose
names began each with a V,
who at some time kissed beneath this same wall.
Sissinghurst. Kissing. With a V like in vulva,
like the sign of the bird goddess from
the Upper Paleolithic.
It was women who determined the shape of
human development and of religious beliefs for
some 500,000 years, says Marija Gimbutas in a lecture
somewhere near Hollywood.
A spring day, a day that thousands of years ago
might have seen the performance of a ritual to bring the
world into being once again. The kind of ritual
that might have involved
Baubo lifting her skirts in joy to show her vulva to
the earth, to spill her blood on fields. The kind that
prevailed until they began killing the king and ploughing
him into the fields.
Men’s magic didn’t work. They never returned,
in spite of the stories. The woman does not exist,
says Lacan, who fancies himself a hysteric.
In fact, he goes on to say,
nothing can be said of the woman. Nothing.
Nothing? Why not? asks the young woman
in the front row of the lecture theatre somewhere
in a divided city.
Because, he replies, stretching out his
words to cover the entire history of man,
—for the girl the only organ, or to be more
precise, the only kind of
sexual organ which exists is the phallus.
Really? replies the young woman, perplexed.
in my rose-wet cave writes Adrienne Rich.
The young woman
has been reading poetry before attending
this lecture. She is puzzled by the
discontinuities of experience.
Lacan goes on,
not missing a beat. His history is his
history after all. He elaborates on his history
and gives an account of how the status of the
phallus in human
sexuality enjoins on woman a definition
in which she is simultaneously
symptom and myth. Like Foucault’s
distrust of lived
experience, Lacan does not, cannot,
hear the young woman speak. The woman
does not exist. There is no
She says, But what of those 500,000 years of
vulvas on caves and walls and stones and pot shards?
What of the ancient language of the body of women?
What of the body of knowledge,
the body knowledge? She shouts,
but no one hears her. —in my rose-wet cave,
writes Adrienne Rich. A rose is a rose
is a rose is a rose,
shouts Gertrude, climbing the hill.
A stone shouts as her belly lifts to the sky.
A stone is carved with the image of a
flowerbud on one side.
Gertrude runs her finger across the stone,
lightly. Primitive fantasies,
mutters Freud. Vulvas on the
walls of caves,
caves as vulvas, wet roses—
all primitive fantasies.
Only the phallus exists,
staring out the window to where
high-rise buildings dominate the horizon.
Not far away a high wall divides
an ancient city.
At the base of the wall, breaking through
the mortar, a flower grows. Its anthers exposed
to the earth just as Baubo did on a
spring day long ago.
“Hystory” draws on the following sources:
Gimbutas, Marija. 1990, The Language of the Goddess. San Francisco: Harper and Row. London: Thames and Hudson.
—. 1990, Lecture, UCLA, May 5.
Mitchell, Juliet and Jacqueline Rose (Eds.). 1982, Feminine Sexuality: Jacques Lacan and the École Freudienne. Macmillan, London. Texts referred to are: ‘Introduction – II’, Jacqueline Rose; ‘Feminine Sexuality in Psychoanalytic Doctrine’, Jacques Lacan; ‘A Love Letter’, Jacques Lacan.
Rich, Adrienne. 1978, ‘Twenty-One Love Poems’ in The Dream of a Common Language: Poems 1974-1977. New York: W.W. Norton and Company.
Stein, Gertrude. 1988, The World is Round. San Francisco: North Point Press.
—. 1971 ‘Tender Buttons’ in Look at Me Now and Here I Am: Writings and Lectures, 1909-45, Patricia Meyerowitz (Ed.). Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.
—. 1989, Lifting Belly, Rebecca Mark (Ed.). Tallahassee, FL: Naiad Press.
This poem was published in The Butterfly Effect (2005). Spinifex Press. http://www.spinifexpress.com.au/Bookstore/book/id=35/