Queen of Cups Issue Twenty-Seven (Martha Silano and the Death Card)
by Queen of Cups
La Miseria by Cristobal Rojas, 1886
Welcome to Queen of Cups Issue Twenty-Seven featuring poet Martha Silano and the Death card. When I pulled Death for QOC this week I had to look back and see if I'd pulled it for a past issue. I hadn't, it was The Devil card I remembered writing about. Looks like we're confronting the big themes one by one. Death is certainly one of the most feared cards of the tarot. I think it's the most apt and powerful card we could have gotten this week and I hope I do it justice.
I would like to thank all the readers who contacted me through Queen of Cups, on Facebook, or on my doll blog post with kindness and in the spirit of shared humanity, the readers who are also FB friends who have been speaking out against hate speech and hate crime and sharing information on next steps, and finally the young people around me who seem to have been advocating for equality all their short lives and still manage to be positive, creative and silly. You've all made a dark week brighter, thank you!
Tarot Card of the Week: Death
Death, General Reading and for Writers and Artists: I don't usually shuffle the deck and pick the weekly card feeling like I need some kind of guidance or a relevant message. I usually just shuffle and pick, take what we get and set to work. This week, however, I found myself shuffling slowly, heavily. After several stressful, anxious, angry, post-election days, a torpor, a complete lassitude, had settled over me. I shuffled absentmindedly and picked a card about three or four from the top of the deck, without much thought. I was surprised to see the Death card and immediately recognized it as appropriate and powerful. I'm not going to be able to help putting this card in the context of recent events. I would like QOC to be as much of a haven as possible, where we can all think about art, focus on art, read good literature, write a little and have some spiritual/philosophical fun with the tarot, a place to be introspective and centered. But..... Sometimes the complicated and challenging aspects of life intrude, and art can't really be separated from life anyway, nor would we want it to. Many of us have been knocked off our centers and spiritually dislocated, come face to face with our own fear, anger, and helplessness, and, sometimes even more painfully, face to face with the fear, anger, helplessness and suffering of those around us who we love, respect, and wish to support. Although the appearance of the Death card in B films always portends doom, Death in the tarot doesn't signify literal, physical death, but a powerful metaphor. Metaphor is another reason I love the tarot. The Death card can be read in both positive and negative ways depending on the context but also because the idea of death as change contains both positive and negative elements. Both readings see Death as an ending, an inexorable force which may feel overwhelming, a time of significant transition and transformation. If we accept this analogy, there is also likely to be struggle, fear and pain. The idea of denying death or forestalling it isn't really relevant. Literal death is not swayed by either denial or reasoning. This card is certainly speaking to what many of us lived through on November 8th. The election of any new president and handing of power from one to the next is always a mini-death in the metaphorical sense. There's trepidation as we watch this fragile construct called America enact its every four-year ritual. This year there's a sense of dread in half the population, and the very fact that the population of our country is literally split in two over its beliefs, ideals and direction is heightening this dread. Half of us are mourning the impending loss of advocacy and care for our environment, health, education, religious freedoms, equal rights, tolerance, liberty, and moral fiber. Many of us feel afraid for ourselves and even more afraid for friends and family who, because of their skin color, or sexual orientation, are more vulnerable to being targeted when hate speech incites violence. I have taken comfort in friends telling friends 'I've got your back'. Not a cliche in this context, but a real promise that's not easy to make. I've got your back, as in: I will call out racism when I see or hear it. I've got your back, as in: I will call out misogyny and homophobia when I see or hear it, I've got your back as in: if a Muslim registry is established we will all register as Muslim, I've got your back: I will use my talents, my energy and resources in the fight against fundamental injustice, I've got your back: I will stand beside you because, as many of us know from experience, we're stronger and safer in groups. We, writers and artists, are in a unique position to use our work on behalf of humanity, for equality, fairness, integrity. Art-making is truth-telling, which in itself is a powerful and subversive act. You don't have to write activist or political poetry for a poem to send a profound message about the human condition. And it's also desirable for art and craft to sometimes be a balm, an object of beauty, joy, and gratitude, that allows its viewer to breathe deeply and feel, for a moment at least, that life is going to be ok. It's alright to feel that in the presence of death. We should offer each other, our readers, our viewers, and ourselves, that empathy. I felt this as I worked on the doll I donated to the Standing with Standing Rock fundraiser I told you all about last week. I created her in the days leading up to the election and half of election day itself. The blog post I wrote with photos of the process received a powerful response. People need art in dark times. They need to make art and interact with art. Some of the warmest, most genuine, and bonded groups I have spent time with were informal ones come together around art, craft and writing. We need to keep doing these things on small and large scales and count whatever good results as more light in the darkness. An ancient and enduring ritual of death is that of sitting vigil, from the Latin wakefulness. A loved one commits to sit, awake, beside the bed of the dying for comfort and to bear witness to the life and death of this one individual. It is a commitment to being present, seeing what has to be seen, feeling what has to be felt and staying put. Sitting vigil occurs in non fatal struggles too, as when we sit with a person severely depressed, heartbroken, in physical or emotional pain, the woman in labor, the loved one betrayed or spiritually bereft. It's one of the hardest roles to fill and one of the most basic. It is a job that has often been taken-up by women. I have sat vigil in nearly all of these ways in my life. I like to think of sitting vigil as the act of space holding, one person holding a forcefield of safety and love around another who is too devoid of lifeforce, weak, or in pain to do this for herself, but also holding a space of reverence for the hard work of suffering, letting go, being human. I think this is what the Death card is calling us to do. There are days of action ahead, they're knocking at the door, right now we take time to sit vigil for each other and for the loss of something greater.
Introducing Martha Silano!
The same old story. He met her
on the Internet, took her to McDonald’s
where she asked to use the restroom,
stuffed her newborn in the trash.
The gun in a paper sack, demanding cash.
Same old decomposing body beside
a puke-green river, the killer losing his way
between Walmart and Dollar General,
heading for a tricked out van. She wore
purple flip-flops, an orange dress. Always
a pink bow in her hair. By the time they found
the bodies, the bruises on his arms were gone.
By that time, a plea bargain: tell us where
you stashed them; we’ll save you from the chair.
That he had lost count; that he’d held on
to their severed heads as if they were trophies,
that they found human flesh in his pipes.
The same old limbs beneath the floorboards,
skeletons clichéd with overuse. Out there
on what they call the Interurban Trail,
where the souls of the most unlucky rest.
My eight-year old stole
my Lady Schick
shaved her forearms
When I accuse she denies
as if I’d accused her
denies though I feel her guilt
with my fingers
a prickly back and forth
I know all about
but she is bolder
a good child liar
her father warns it will only
grow back thicker
than Joyce Carol Oates
a coarse-haired Dostoyevskian
door-stopper course in coarseness
like Raskolnikov’s guilt
hairs that could kill
an old pawnbroker woman
walrus hairs of shame
offending follicles obscuring
the smooth absconding
with the glabrous
a girl (thanks Barbie) feels entitled to
Lie back lie back
yet another form of lying
between a razor and a wax pot
between the stinging needle
and a beam of searing light
a forest’s grooming a baron’s
greed for girth as we hoof it up
the Wild Side Trail imagining
the men who felled them
burly beards denuding fecund
brawny monsters of swagger
no longer a virgin this girl
this girl no longer giddy
just practicing mindlessness;
just, as Svenja’s mother would say,
squeezing my jelly sacks. Three-legged
dogging it out of my brain, into my mula bundas;
because the instructor suggested it, pressing and loosening
inner thighs like the rise and fall of the virgule, intertwining
elbows till the o in show becomes the o in howl. Yes, this crescent lunge
breaking down the inflectional system of gluteus minimus, an Old Woman’s
half-buttock-ed attempt at aiming what she’s got at the wall, her gaze
not drilling a chasm but softened like a poached double yolk.
In Eagle, in Tree, in Mountain, striving toward the push me/
pull you, also known as the Great Vowel Shift. Because I’m
fragmented like Sappho (my legs won’thold me) heading
into Shiva Sana, sliver by sliver, shard by shard,
bone of my bone of my bone.
Martha Silano’s books include The Little Office of the Immaculate Conception, Reckless Lovely, and What the Truth Tastes Like. She also co-edited, with Kelli Russell Agodon, The Daily Poet: Day-By-Day Prompts For Your Writing Practice. Her poems have appeared in Paris Review, Poetry, American Poetry Review, and elsewhere. Martha edits the Seattle-based journal, Crab Creek Review, and teaches at Bellevue College.
Weekly Writing Prompt: The poet Carolyn Forche coined the term poetry of witness. Discussing the difficulties of politically-engaged poetry, Forche said: “We are accustomed to rather easy categories: we distinguish between ‘personal’ and ‘political’ poems…The distinction…gives the political realm too much and too little scope; at the same time, it renders the personal too important and not important enough. If we give up the dimension of the personal, we risk relinquishing one of the most powerful sites of resistance. The celebration of the personal, however, can indicate a myopia, an inability to see how larger structures of the economy and the state circumscribe, if not determine, the fragile realm of the individual.” Her solution was a new poetry invested in 'the social'. Forche's poem The Colonel, from her collection The Country Between Us, reads almost like reportage (she calls it documentary) and, to my mind, defines 'poetry of witness'. The Colonel recounts Forche's meeting with a Salvadoran Colonel who displayed his disdain for human rights by emptying a bag of human ears onto the table in front of her. The poem appears in full below and with audio at the link above. I highly recommend listening to Forche read the poem, it's a quiet, subtle reading seething with danger.
This week, use the tone of reportage, the style of moment to moment witnessing employed in The Colonel in your own poem of witness. Poetry is particularly suited to 'witness' because of its brevity and the ability to make leaps and juxtapositions. We accept these things as poetry, so when Forche jumps from the bag of ears being swept to the floor, a literal action happening in front of her, to: 'some of the ears on the floor caught the scrap of his voice', we understand that these human ears symbolize so much more than one man's cruelty. Poetry of witness written in this masterful way is accessible to and easily understood by people of all backgrounds and levels of education, and therein lies its power.
What you have heard is true. I was in his house. His wife carried a tray of coffee and sugar. His daughter filed her nails, his son went out for the night. There were daily papers, pet dogs, a pistol on the cushion beside him. The moon swung bare on its black cord over the house. On the television was a cop show. It was in English. Broken bottles were embedded in the walls around the house to scoop the kneecaps from a man's legs or cut his hands to lace. On the windows there were gratings like those in liquor stores. We had dinner, rack of lamb, good wine, a gold bell was on the table for calling the maid. The maid brought green mangoes, salt, a type of bread. I was asked how I enjoyed the country. There was a brief commercial in Spanish. His wife took everything away. There was some talk then of how difficult it had become to govern. The parrot said hello on the terrace. The colonel told it to shut up, and pushed himself from the table. My friend said to me with his eyes: say nothing. The colonel returned with a sack used to bring groceries home. He spilled many human ears on the table. They were like dried peach halves. There is no other way to say this. He took one of them in his hands, shook it in our faces, dropped it into a water glass. It came alive there. I am tired of fooling around he said. As for the rights of anyone, tell your people they can go fuck them- selves. He swept the ears to the floor with his arm and held the last of his wine in the air. Something for your poetry, no? he said. Some of the ears on the floor caught this scrap of his voice. Some of the ears on the floor were pressed to the ground.