Celebrating women, with pieces by Wilderness Sarchild, Gilbert Arzola and Joyce Abell.
At the beginning of her book Old Women Talking, Wilderness Sarchild says, “In our culture, old age often indicates invisibility, but the old women I know are far from invisible. We have honed wisdom over the years, developed resilience, learned to accept what is, and are not worried about what others think of us.” In this episode for Women’s History Month, snapshots of two women. And we’ll wrap those snapshots in two of the “Hags and Crones” incantations that Wilderness intersperses through her book. First, “Hags and Crones II.”
I join with the ancestors in the circle round
they’re watching my back, these souls in the ground
they lived through the fire because they are bound
to come back again until I am found
they will not shut up, they’ll push and they’ll pound
until they see my power come back around
into my dance and into my sound
around my soul their love is wound
these many in me, they do astound
they teach me to believe I do abound
My power I’ve found! My power I’ve found!
Here’s the first snapshot: “At a Rest Stop” by Gilbert Arzola.
The floor groans with each stroke of her broom.
The cleaning woman, head wrapped in a scarf,
pokes the bristles deep, stabbing at the floor,
as if she can sweep
away circumstance, tidy up dumb luck.
Noticing nothing else around her,
the labored breath
of some assistant on business, the glassy gaze of
a husband with hundreds of miles to go. The work
before her all that matters, she keeps her head down as if praying
to a god only she would recognize,
or hiding her face from the glare of an unreasonable sun.
Sweeping one end to the other
day after day after day after day.
The chore follows behind her.
And will need doing again.
“At a Rest Stop” by Gilbert Arzola from his book Prayers of Little Consequence.
Joyce Abell said that when she was growing up in Ravinia just outside Chicago, her parents joined the Communist party. Here’s an excerpt from her memoir Prickly Roses.
My mother possessed a kind of fragile prettiness that led men to want to protect her and invariably underestimate her stiletto intellect. She would first flirt with her friends’ husbands and then challenge them in her politically provocative way that almost always ended with her besting them. I remember one of the husbands once exasperatedly saying to her, “Tell me, Hilda, since you think we’re all a bunch of awful capitalists, what the hell are you doing here in the middle of the enemy camp? Why aren’t you marching with the workers of the world?”
“Why, Henry,” my mother replied, with a tiny smile, “don’t you see? I’m marching toward you in this battlefield and aiming right for your enemy heart,” and then blew him a kiss.
My mother started a radical book discussion group and a current events discussion group. She organized trips into Chicago to see left-wing plays. And finally she suggested her friends take the devil by the horns and accompany her to a Communist party rally.
The particular Communist rally my mother had in mind was no ordinary one. This one was going to showcase the great Paul Robeson giving a speech and singing a new song, “Ballad for Americans.” Apprehensive as my mother’s friends might have been, most of them also wanted her approval, so all but one of them went…
And then, when at last Robeson filled the hall with his deep and powerful voice singing “Ballad for Americans,” all of us in the audience ecstatically swayed and cried and cheered so hard Robeson had to sing it again. And my mother’s friends declared it was one of the most splendid evenings of their lives.
“Yeah,” my mother said later to my father with her usual cynicism. “They were so relieved I hadn’t made them swear allegiance to the Communist cause.” But I could tell she was pleased.
An excerpt from Joyce Abell’s memoir Prickly Roses.
We’ll end with Wilderness Sarchild’s “Hags and Crones III.”
I call on all the ages inside me to awake
maiden, mother and crone for goodness sake
come out, come out please do not forsake
all that is female is what is at stake
we must gather our power, we must make the earth quake
and use it for justice, no room for hate
my bones may carry years of heartache
but I will not break
I tell you, this old gal’s
To buy Old Women Talking, Prickly Roses, or Prayers of Little Consequence, or to subscribe to, or learn more about Passager and its commitment to writers over 50, go to passagerbooks.com.
You can download Burning Bright from Spotify, Apple and Google Podcasts, Audible, and a host of other podcast apps.
For Kendra, Mary, Christine, Rosanne, and the rest of the Passager staff, I’m Jon Shorr.