How I Encountered A Coven of Lesbianated Wild Nuns and What We Did Then
Mu Beach is not the name of any real beach, and yet we were there. In September 1976, on the coast of California, it was there, a strip of sand and sea seemingly shorn from the main, a lesbian landscape, pregnant with what women know when left to our own devices. Twenty-one years ago: time to seek its meaning, to remember its being at least.
. . . I was at a hinge-point of my life just then. After fourteen years of marriage, I was beginning life on my own as a lesbian. I’d moved to Eugene to escape my home-town identity and to find, as my eight-year-old daughter had wished me, “someone to be lesbians with.” In these few weeks, I’d been lonely, unsteady, and scared of a great many things, including the strange, short haircuts of the lesbians I had met.
Treelight, a woman I knew, was leading a meditation retreat for women in the hills of Santa Rosa. Maybe that would help, I thought, maybe that would be a way to get in touch with the other levels of reality which seemed to have sent me off on this quest or goose-chase as the case may be.
So I packed up Anna, my car, my sweet orange station wagon who had carried me faithfully to so many places, from the family victorian house, to the houses of my friends, to the ocean at the center of the world. Had carried so many I loved, the seat beside me holding my daughter, my husband, my mother, my friends, my first woman lover, and, even once, Holly Near. (How strange it had been to hear that voice coming from there.) Anna was far more a home to me than my empty new house. On the passenger’s seat I put a tape-recorder with women’s music, and, up on a pillow so she could see out, Raggedy Ann. The first day I drove as far as Castle Crags. It was fine to be camping on my own, under the stars; life was beginning to feel like an adventure again. Next morning through early light and sharp shadows Anna, Raggedy, and I rolled on to Santa Rosa.
* * *
The women’s guided meditation retreat is in a house on the leafy green side of a canyon. There are four leaders and about twenty women. Margo Adair talks about what we will be doing in the next few days. Through guided meditations we will make our way to that state of consciousness characterized by alpha brain waves, “that borderline between the conscious and the unconscious mind”, and, once there, explore, and, well, to say it plainly, begin to work magic. In other times, she says, this surely was part of what was called “witchcraft”, finding this power within ourselves.
It’s time to begin the first meditation, though four women from Oregon aren’t here yet. As we settle in to begin without them, they arrive. They are introduced: Thyme, Kau (Cah OOH), Greenbo, and Lucy Seaweed Sapphofire.
I’d seen that name before: “That certainly says it,” I’d mused. “Sappho. . .fire. . .” It had been occurring to me that it was not particularly appropriate to go on with either my husband’s or my father’s last name. I day-dreamed going to the 18th and Oak branch. “I’d like to open a checking account.” “The name?” “Well, uh, Tangren Sapphofire.” I never could imagine the teller’s face.
And now here is Sapphofire herself, wrapped in a sarong, a tall woman in her thirties, already silver-haired. Her face might be called “ravaged,” as might my own. Thyme, with dark, curly hair, wears ragged shorts; a red crocheted halter rocks her swinging breasts (like mine) inside a flannel shirt. Greenbo, short and blond, wears surplus-store camoflage, boots. She and Thyme must be in their thirties as well, while sandy-haired Kau, by her bouyant flesh, is younger. All are tanned, lithe, and very short-haired. I’ve always seen short hair as mannish-looking, never understood why women would want it. Yet these are clearly women, with soft, mobile faces, strong and graceful. Someone says they are on their way to Hawaii, from there to look for an island on which to build a matriarchal culture. I can’t tell whether to take it seriously or not.
We settle into meditation, counting down the levels: 3, the place of physical relaxation, 2, the place of mental relaxation, 1, the state of alpha, “your creative and self-restoring center”, “your point of power.”
In the alpha state we were taught and guided in meditations. We created a mental screen and practiced filling it with colors, watching scenes occur upon it.
There were three sessions a day, times of concentrating on the imagination, on the inner world, of opening to the subconscious. It brought up powerful feelings. I remember one afternoon when, for hours, the canyon was filled with a woman’s heartbroken sobs; friends were with her. Before we began our work, the rest of us sat in a circle, listening, unafraid, to the sobbing, tears on many of our own faces, knowing how all right we are, sometimes, when we cry.
An alpha exercise I especially remember was creating for ourselves a sanctuary, an ideal place to feel at home, however we’d like it to be. Mine was quite from fantasy, yet in the next years I would build a house that translated much of that vision into the real world. One thing we had in the sanctuary, that I wish I had in my real world house, was a sort of mental trash compactor or garbage disposal, a sort of vacuum cleaner for the mind into which we could feed anything we didn’t want to be bothered with. For my real house I suppose my compost heap is a more appropriate image; and for me, too, keeping things, turning them over in my heart. . .
I was curious about the Oregon women. The first day as we sat eating fruit, I mentioned my recently come-out state, and my hope to be a writer some day.
Thyme smiled to herself. Her eyes were blue, and round. “I found,” she said, “I had to come out as a lesbian to be able to come out as a writer; for me they had to be together. . . . It’s funny, when I was a heterosexual, I always wanted a poet to fall in love with me and be inspired to write wonderful poems about me. Now it is clear to me that what I really wanted was to be a writer myself; but back then that was not a thought I could think.”
Thyme had brought with her a more-or-less autobiographical short story.
We went to get it from her pack. The four Oregon dykes had set up sleeping quarters on a hilltop in a circle of large oak trees.
Her story was of a Jewish childhood on an egg ranch in New Jersey, of secret writings, and dreams of eggs whose shells were soft, of a grown up lesbian and her old family and her new. I loved it. Too, I’d always had an impossible wish, to meet a character out of a story. And here she was!
Once in meditation Margie took us to meet our spirit guides. “A spirit guide” she said “may manifest as someone you know well, or as someone you have never seen before. You can let the images come to you, or you can make it up as you go; it’s all the same source.” Guides some of us would meet with were old wise women and glowing spirits, sages and friends. Someone encountered Holly Near.
To meet our guides, we returned to the sanctuary we had made. My guides manifested from the interior of a closet there. “Open the door now and greet your first guide.” “Well, if I’m making her up,” I thought, “I might as well make her my perfect wish-fulfillment. At first she was a beautiful stranger with long hair, but when I looked at her feet she turned into Thyme-as-Pan, oak leaves at her feet and in her hair, wearing ragged blue shorts, brown and grinning. As I went to welcome her, she became my old friend, Sue. We bowed to each other, as we have loved to do; as we smiled again, she was another friend, and then another, and more, and was all friends in all times of kindliness and delight.
Then it was time to go to the second door. Who, then, could this one be? “Oh, dear, I hope it’s not a man” I thought. I opened the door. It was a man. Then the face changed; it was Dianne (Dee ANN), my first woman lover. Our affair was over by now, but the depth of our love-making had convinced me that, for me, love between women held an unmatched magic. But now, as my second guide, the Dianne I met was in pain, far away, unreachable, as she many times had been . . . and then rapidly became, flash after flash, the other side of the first guide, times of unmeeting eyes, cold, afraid faces, touchings forever lost.
“This is my Guide?” I cried. “How can I speak with this? How can it teach me?” And immediately knew, by my love for that guide, my deep honor for loss, for sorrow. As I looked to the guide’s legs and feet, the coldness materialized into death, decay. “Remember” said Margie, “you can send the guide away if you want to. This is your space.” But I didn’t want to. I just let myself feel the grief, and found it was not pain, but a sharp dark red love that poured between our bodies.
Margie Braun, one of the four workshop leaders, was the first person I’d met when I arrived. I’d been immediately attracted to her, felt a sense of recognition. Her voice seemed to me to tell of sorrow held back by a thin meniscus. She reminded me of Dianne.
One evening we talked together. She had been a college teacher; at the moment she was learning to live in her truck. She said it interested her that an anagram for her name, Margie, was Imager, and again Mirage.
Snuggled in the back of my car, I thought about her. Finally a mad recklessness impelled me out of bed to find her again, and to ask: “You spoke of boyfriends. . . .Are you completely straight, then?” “Yes,” she smiled, “completely” “Oh. . .well. . .um. . .goodnight.” I was surprised to find I was perfectly all right, as she had seemed to know I would be.
Falling asleep, I looked on a circle of cherubic small women wearing green garlands and white dresses, passing glowing globes of light from hand to hand. It was the giving of gifts.
Another night I walked the fields with Thyme. I talked about her name, about “Thyme” and “Time.” “Yeah,” she said. “There was this other woman named Space. For a while we were lovers.” She reflected, “We explored the limits of Thyme and Spes.”
I remember closing my eyes and running pell mell down the meadow, shouting “The gait of power!”, sure enough in my trust to know I would encounter no potholes.
I took off my clothes to run in the wind. “Be careful” said Thyme, “you’ll get moonburn.” That night I slept within the circle on the hill. We didn’t make love; it seemed it would happen sometime.
The next night I found the women around a campfire. I joined them and after a while read them something that had come to me that day:
The Reasons For Lesbians Being Separate
As the artist isolates herself, to prepare,
to make ready the space for a poem
to come, or a song,
so we, the life-artists, we women.
to find that woman’s gift, that woman’s
vision, we retreat back in together.
And if all my life is spent in this turn
of the dance, well, there might be more
to want, but I, I do not even want
to want it.
Thyme smiled into the firelight, began to sing; others joined her.
One bright mornin’ when my work is over
gonna fly away home. . .
Fly away home to Lesbos
Fly away home. . .
The closing night there was a circle, the first women’s circle I’d ever seen. Such creativity! Such trust as each woman held the rattle and spoke or sang to her circle sisters.
Forest sat next to me, another of the leaders, another ex-professor. I’d been watching her earlier in the evening, finding I could imagine her perfectly as a ten-year-old camper. Now she was singing about the birth of her youngest daughter twenty-one years ago that night.
Seaweed chanted a little rap about a lady named Alpha, “Least that’s what she calls herself just now. You know these uppity women, always changin’ their names.”
I sang them a simple line from Sappho that had been on my mind,
“You know the place, then?”
Afterwards there was dancing and a party. I was seized by a mad impulse to cut off my hair, but could find no scissors in the house. Then things began to dissolve into a sort of body pile. I remember Seaweed offering me with both hands a wooden bowl of wine, “You are a Goddess. May you never thirst. Pass it on.” I remember looking up into someone’s eyes, a woman I scarcely knew, and finding her smiling at me in that treasuring kind of way.
* * *
It’s turned out to be the wrong time of year to work passage across the Pacific. But the ocean is calling. The Oregon dykes and I, with Treelight and her lover Rebecca, decide to spend a few days on the beach together before heading home.
We drive to the ocean, in three vehicles, Thyme’s “White Light,” my “Anna,” and a big Landrover named “Rig Veda.” On the way, Seaweed brings out a book about Mu, a Pacific counterpart of Atlantis. I swallow my skepticism and shift into “as if.” Mu, she says, was a great matriarchal civilization. It was destroyed by an unknown cataclysm, but left colonies at some cradles of civilization.
“Do you know the Zen koan?” I ask. “ ‘Does a dog have Buddha nature?’ The answer is ‘Mu.’ It means ‘Not this, not that.’ It means ‘Your question does not compute.’ It means ‘Look to the third alternative; transcend the bounds of your question.’ ” The third alternative: neither illusion nor disillusionment. The third alternative: Mu is true.
So, they are on a quest for Mu, for a fragment of the Motherland, where we can rebuild our women’s culture. And I have somehow joined them. (Though I only said I’d go camping.)
In the parking lot, a sign:”Day Use Area Only. No Camping.”
“You know,” I venture, “if I were by myself, I probably wouldn’t do this.” “Probably neither would we,” laughs Greenbo. “That’s why we like to do things together.” Kau suggests someone could come out each day and “move the cars around.” “What good would that do?” I scoff. “It wouldn’t make them invisible.” We cast a little spell around the cars to make them hard to notice, and leave them to their fate.
Someone is singing:
It’s a long road travelin’
And it’s still unravelin’
to my eyes
Nothin’ behind me
Nothin’ ahead of me
just beauty where I walk instead.
My bedroll plops against my knees. We straggle along the path. It feels we have always been walking through these mists. This is a bird refuge; we are coming here to hide from the world. Grey, green, mists, hills. Bumping our luggage, we walk, it feels, the paths of Wales. The wind blows. It is cold. I am happy.
Where to start about the next few days? It was as if. . . as if we had summoned each other up, in order to come together here.
Occasionally in the day there were other people on the beach — but toward evening the place became our own. We lived in a culture of our own making on a shore unconnected from the rest of the world.
I think of the first night as we lay together remembering the retreat we’d come from, and all the women there. How good it felt to hear them talk of absent women with such goodwill, such enthusiasm. I remember Greenbo’s dimpling smile.
I think how often eyes looked into eyes. How gladly we were all discovering how to be loving to each other.
“Thyme,” I’d said. “Tell me who in this group are lovers with who.” “Well,” she said, “the boundaries are a little hard to define.” But she answered my question, too. It was true; the boundaries were disappearing. You might never ‘make love’, still you could touch each other tenderly, symbolically, dearly, you could kiss on the lips and enjoy it however you’d like.
How did we live? Here is a letter Thyme wrote to her niece Eleven, who was seven.
I’ve been thinking about you this morning. I am camped out with my friends on a beach in California. We have been on this beach for a week. We sleep in sleeping bags on the dunes. In the morning we meditate and do yoga. We are starting to do it together. We cook over a fire we build with driftwood. There is loads of wood on this beach. Some is piled up together to form a little lean to or hut where we go for shade in the heat of the day, or just hang out. It has a shelf for our library and shells and interesting bottles and pieces of wood. The kitchen is up in the dunes, a walk from the hut, which is down on the beach. It is a secluded campfire spot between two dunes where no one can see us at night. It has a wooden crate for shelves for the food. We eat lots of oranges, apples, bananas and pears. At night we have cooked millet and artichokes and oatmeal over the fire. Our spoons are long blue shells. We haul in fresh water from our cars which are parked about a mile away. It’s a beautiful walk over sand dunes. The ocean, as you know, is all salt water. You cannot drink it. It is warm enough to go around without any clothes, and we usually do. No one else is here. We swim in the ocean a little. But the tides are very rough. Lots of pelicans and seagulls. We sing a lot and make up new songs. We hug and kiss a lot. We want to be a traveling tribe and have a lot of fun.
We sang camp songs and hymns, often changing the words. Once Thyme repeated a prayer beginning, “Our Mother who art within us. . .”
I remember Kau cresting a dunetop in her young, brown body, a white fringed scarf round her hips, knotted at the belly.
I remember Seaweed transforming scarves like a magician from skirts to tents to turbans.
And the Temple of Artemis someone found in the sand, a great tree stump upright on her roots, room between her several legs to come into her sanctuary.
Seaweed had an old movie camera picked up at a garage sale. She invited us to use it — so there are a few minutes of film.
In one scene women are running in the edge of land and water, breasts floating and flapping before them. Someone is coming up from behind, running like a sprung gazelle, her long curls flying behind her. Is this the woman who disdains exercise? This hypoglycemic who suddenly hardly needs food or sleep?
A puppy-pile of women building. I am the last. I ease carefully into the mass, my arm flutters round their shoulders. The camera sees, though no one else knows, the tenderness, the longing.
Footage of hands, hands touching arms, hands touching shoulders, Kau’s hands weaving rushes.
“And will the world we’re building eventually include men?” someone asked from the dark into the fire.
“Yes, but they’ll be very different.”
Seaweed had spoken earlier of the dialectic, thesis, antithesis, synthesis.
“If man is the thesis, then, and we are the antithesis, will there then be something further, a synthesis?”
“It will be something new. Something very different.”
And yet, I wanted to say, as usual, something very familiar. I played with two of them on the beach today. We said “Hi” as many times as we wanted. They were one year old apiece. The synthesis is the child. Unprogrammed, unprofaned, free.
I walked away from the fire to pee and headed out across the dunes, chanting, requesting vision, striding the white-pebbled dunes, singing the song of the moon flying down yellow cloud-caves. The song held something of Mahler, I believe. I asked for remembrance, centering, vision. My song was a song of prayer.
Had a hard encounter with Thyme, didn’t sleep too well, sorry, no dreams, oh well.
While peeing in the dunes next morning a little vision flashed across my mind: a community of women dedicated to changing the rules towards minimum paranoia, bound by a love that includes loving one another’s kind bodies with our own. The Community of Contemplative Lesbian Nuns.
How much love there was. How happy we were to find that we could be so kind. How nourishing was the food we fed each other with our fingers, round the fire.
At one point worrying about some interaction I’d just had, beating myself for something done or not done, feeling confused, I realized that my actual motive had been love and respect. How much clearer I could be, I thought, to realize how often my motive is love.
How we circled! How we sang! In our world, singing was at least as natural as speaking. Oftentimes a little chant, a little riding with rhythm, a little melody helped us speak our hearts. (With Dianne, sometimes poetic, heartfelt words had come; how stranded they had sounded when I spoke them. Some feelings are much better sung.)
How much we were silent. “Treelight,” I’d said, “It would be so nice if we had a sign to say ‘I’m keeping silence’ in a loving way.”
“Well,” she said, “this is the Ameslan sign for ‘I love you.’ We’ll just add to it by forming the fingers into a circle. It will mean ‘I love you. I am at home here in alpha, in zero, in the circle. I love you!” Amazon Ameslan.
Treelight had told me “It would be good to cut your hair. It would probably open your crown chakra. There’s a full moon in two days. That would be a good time to do it, if you want to.”
I’d liked my long hair. Like wearing pink and swirling skirts, it had not been for me a sign of oppression, but of the specialness of being a woman. I liked the feel of it brushing my shoulders, falling on my face. I specifically intended to be a long-haired lesbian. But if I cut it, it would be as a sign unto myself that all this had really happened. I could even make a little ceremony; I knew they would help me play.
Tomorrow is my dancing day
And sometime, I wanted to mention
some Thyme for other
will come to me
in her own sweet Thyme
will come in her own sweet time
Meanwhile I find myself talking to her about questions, confusions as to what is ego-love in me, and what is. . .(Western Civ. Class, 1958, tosses up a word) and what is agape. (AH ga pay)
I slip in and out of “being her”, realizing I suddenly have her face for a second, am walking across the bridge with her body. “That’s good” she says. “You’re coming into me early.”
Thyme at Mu Beach
“It almost seems that I could fly.
“I nearly can do it,” she said.
We jumped for a while, then I left her,
hurling herself from the sand dunes,
catching at secrets in the air.
Three of us share a meditation, then pass a sacramental smoke. We sit in triangle, our legs open to each other. Treelight reaches between Seaweed’s legs to where the blood is running, with her finger marks her own third eye. Seaweed does likewise. I wish I could know it is all right for me to do so too.
It is easy to imagine we are in Greece. My thoughts run to “the Mother Cult” and to orgies of women in the hills outside the polis, thoughts of Lesbos, of three women on a timeless shore bouncing high a golden astrolabe.
An academic note: we seem to have overlooked the category of ‘the temple prostitute’. A little chant comes to mind: “Oh, my, how prim we’ve been about religion.”
Funny that Treelight should happen to mention Greece this morning, and the clarity of its light, and how she’d spent two weeks there once, meditating, living simply, reading Kierkegaard. . .
. . .For I find myself poised on the point of the strangest leap of my life. Sometimes there comes over me the oddest sense of the film’s having been switched in the middle.
. . .The real secrets of life cannot be told and are told all the time. For their meaning lies not in words, but in our ability to imagine that the words are true. There are so many astounding secrets afoot in the world, and so few ever hear them. They stay secret, in a way, like dreams do, tending to vanish quickly behind the curtain of the consensus world. So it was with the secrets we sang to each other that night, the secrets we knew together under the Moon.
Just before moonrise we came to the fire; the last light of sunset was still on the sea. In a pot, water simmered; someone added Mu tea.
“Well, if this is my birthday,” I said, “guess I’ll get into my birthday suit.” I took off my clothes.
We passed the pipe, filled with sacred herb and a few dried flower petals. Seaweed drew on a mask of black cotton, a mask with no eye holes, but stars embroidered there. “I’m closing my eyes with stars,” she said.
I planted my feet then. I looked to my friends, and over the fire to the Moon as she rose. I began.
“Hello, hurray, let the show begin, I’m ready. . .Ready for a woman to be born only to be born again. . .and again. . .and again. . .and again. . .”
I knelt in the sand. Thyme and Greenbo began to plait my hair, making small, long braids. I would give the braids to them and to other friends in sign of trust saying, “I ask that you will take this, and that you will bury it sometime when I am not with you, in some sacred spot that
you find, and that you will remember me then with kindness, and with alpha.” We were silent as they wove. Around us soughed the sea. When they were finished, they showed me on their fingers; there were twelve.
They placed the silver scissors in my hands. We began chanting:
I am a woman giving birth to a woman.
I am a woman giving birth to myself.
Round and round the song resounded,
I am a woman giving birth to myself.
I held the scissors to the Moon. I sang a wordless prayer.
What happened then? as I fitted the scissors to a braided forelock, as I felt the ripping, irrevocable sound? Was the world cut open before me? What happened then? as one by one the women and I cut away all the braids from my head until I knelt round-headed and new in the moonlight? Someone gave me a wooden bowl full of tea. “Hello, Mutti,” I smiled.
I saluted the Moon. “You are a Goddess. May you never thirst.” I poured the libation to the earth.
I saw my face reflected in the surface of the tea. I held it to the Moon. It held the Moon reflecting. She was a Pearl. A pealing perfect Pearl of light she was, the Goddess was a Pearl.
Before them all, then, humbled, with everything that was in me, to everything I trusted, I asked the Moon: to my lips came an old camping song. “Peace I ask of Thee, oh Goddess, Peace Peace Peace.” I knelt. Thymes’s eyes were shining past the fire. “Tangren, tribal woman, my heart goes out to you” The others took it up; forth and back we chanted love.
(I saw my shadow on the ground, so round. And my face, well, to speak it truly, I suddenly was feeling just like Gertrude Stein.)
They sang out :
Women who cut their hair have strong faces
Women who cut their hair have strong faces
Women who cut their hair have strong faces. . .
Women who cry have strong faces. . .
The songs went on, wonderful, wise songs I’d never heard before, and others like white coral bells ringing wiser all the time.
There was the giving of braids, the offering of petals to the fire, and other such ceremonial play.
Then they hugged me goodnight. “Tangren is the flower girl,” Greenbo said, “and her own dear beautiful bride.” Thyme stayed last; then she too left me to the fire.
All night I sat there watching into the coals, thinking, feeling, watching visions, watching the worlds of my life wheel by.
I’d thought perhaps that night a name would come. There came a hundred names, a hundred understandings.
. . .And what had happened? That moment, the scissors, hair by hair, the sound, and what had been sheared open then? A darkness? Yes — It almost felt as If I woke to know us in a cave — a mystery rite? an initiation? A death and rebirth simulation that actual moves magic and opens up the world? — As if in darkness I woke to know the light of fire within — necessary death making room for newborn understanding of how near is miracle. Snip. The blackness softly closes and I am on the other side, bareheaded, naked, singing to the Moon.
When the light began again I covered coals with sand, breathed in the paling morning. I took up my journal and followed the swelling Moon. I moved between the woman-mounds, down the sands and grasses of Her body, issued out between Her thighs, spilled down onto the shore. I knelt before the water, watched in longing as the Moon ponderously lowered Herself beyond the rim of the planet. But she threw me another silver name to distract me; Moonsdatter, it was.
I wandered down the sand. In the rose light of morning, a stick came to hand. I wrote where the water would wash it away
Lesbians Practice Agape
On those sandy walls of existential despair, on that very wall the material world presents, I held out my hand, with my stick on the sand on my mental screen I wrote out the words of the secret.
Lesbians Practice Agape
I watched the water come. I watched it slip behind the shifting curtain of time. I found a log to sit on. I opened up my journal. I began to write.
Names for the Dawntime
I am Aurora Daybreak
You are Princess Charming
I kiss away your long sleep
We smoke dried roses
from the thorn hedge.
Love in the Visionary Position
We are the synthesis
of solitude and togetherness
of the sacred and the profane.
Our name is Lesbian.
We are the sin-thesis
Loving, once, Dianne, I knew
your secret name was ‘Singer’. . .
“When the singer’s gone, let the song go on.”
Yes of course. But somehow
it also meant the sewing machine. . .
with no buttonholer
“I was stuck as fast as – as lightning, you know.”
“But that’s a different kind of fastness” Alice objected. The knight shook his head. “It was all kinds of fastness with me, I can assure you!”
“. . . Well,” she said later, to Gertrude, “I don’t know if it was, though. There’s nothing quite like the quickening of Greeced Enlightening.
I’ll Feel You
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme,
Let’s see now, said Alice.
Thyme, she was a true love of mine
And Parsley, that’s just the trimming
in the beginning.
Sage, well, it’s the spice of life,
Exactly so said the egg.
It had a soft woman shell.
And Rosemary, of course is Ophelia.
Mad, lost Ophelia, she defers no more
to the great Dane.
Coming home now, strewing braids and flowers
down the river of peace,
she smiles to you,
I’d broken my glasses, and was doing without them for the first time in years. . . .I’d been about ten when my eyes began to fail their tests, a common pattern in girls, they said. Every two years I’d be tested and always needed new glasses. For a short while everything would be clear and sharp, but soon I’d be seeing the same as ever. As if, I thought, staring at the patterns of the waves and light, as if I really weren’t meant to have the external world so sharply in focus. At age ten: you’ve become double-digit, one of the first signs that you’re going to have to turn into a grownup, let go of magic and face the facts about dolls and pretending and all.
Where I studied philosophy, it was fashionable to argue that there could be no puzzle as to how we know the external world from our sense data. Because we don’t see sense data, we see tables and chairs and people. I never could convince them they were missing something . . . the internal life, the level at which it can be seen as a movie played on the screen of consciousness. I left them solidly seeing their tables, but I was not convinced. I think that one of the reasons was that whenever I looked at the moon without glasses, I saw a shimmer of seventeen moons. I couldn’t help but notice the sixteen that were not there.
Sight Without Glasses
Myopic Margarets of the World!
Made to move from childhood we
began to lose our vision.
Sight without glasses is
meditation on the mental screen.
Watch for sights without glasses.
You are not blind, Teresias, Teresa,
You are not blind Tangren
You have 20-20 vision
You see all you need to see
They were wrong.
There was no eyehole,
Only a star stitched there
Only the star pupil
Only the star student
Only Miss Fitch, the mad astronomer.
Once I was sitting in the driftwood, smoking, knowing how everything in my life in a way was me, and I was everyone and all, when a small plane came flying low, buzzing up and down the beach. Looking for illegal campers? A spy plane in the sky? Another U-2? Of course! Even the spy plane in the sky is “you, too”! I had to laugh.
Lost and Found Poetry
Kau has come to me to see my hair,
to say “Tangren is a wise woman
rising up among us.”
The aim of Artemis, the art of Ms.
Time and time again
my eyes are Thyme’s.
Margie, Margie, Normal O Brown
Manifold metaphors multiply
Pollyannamorphously for you.
You are beautiful, Kau,
And I am Nancy Drew.
This is the country of the contraries
The home of shamana
and pinioned in the leap of faith
I mother land.
Stranded on the Walk
The Walls-R-Us and Carpentress
went walking on the strand.
They wept like anything to see
such quantities of sand..
(They were Manicheans.)
“If this were only cleared away”
they said, “it would be grand.
If seven maids with seven mops
would work here for a year,
do you expect,” the Walls-R-Us asked,
“that they could get it clear?”
“I doubt it” said the Carpentress,
and shed a bitter tear.
Answer: She was wrong. It only takes
to make a clean sweep,
inscribing on the walls of sand
“Lesbians practice agape.”
It only takes seven:
Lucid Lucy Treelight,
Rebecca of Moonybook Farm,
Greenbo, the rushes, oh,
Kau is weaving you,
sweet Thyme, and Sapphofire,
and you, Tangren, too, Tangren II.
“So the answer I get is from when it
began until now, that cosmic
housecleaning of the seven maids.”
“You can be what you wanna be”
sang Maude, disappearing on her mop
around a dune top shoulder.“
Contrari wise” said one of them.
This is the country of the contraries
the home of shamana
The countee down in Alpha
The countee down to the Moon
Patty cake, patty cake
Mary Baker woman
Edifying to meet you here.
Mary, Mary, quite contrary
how does your garden grow
With choral bells
and the singing of fairies
With wise women all in a circle
With wise women all of a glow.
“Counting” said Gertrude
“counting and religion,
religion and counting”
Quantities of Cassandra
No one will understand. No one
will hear me. I am a terrible
two. You think it’s hard for you,
Mama, I’d rather be at one
I am two.
You are new.
Through the bars
on my bed
I reach to you.
I hold your cotton hand.
“What is real!?” said John Austen,
“Is it a duck or a decoy? It’s all
a dodge of some sort anyway.”
“What is real?” said Wittgenstein,
“Is it a duck or a rabbit?
Do you cut or run?”
“What is real?” said crazy Jane.
“Listen to your senses, your sensibilities”
Alix whispers in her ear
Liza garlands her daughter.
Mu-T is for Courage,
for the courage of gay lions.
Dorothy runs to Ozma,
they seek out Glinda.
Mu is the answer. “She’s black, you know.”
I am the alpha and the ozma.
I am the Ozmazon.
I’ve come through
the dilemma’s horns to you.
It’s Annanias Nun!
It’s the Coates and Clark Correspondence
coming clear. O N T, Our New Thread,
it said, and Only Notice Time.
It rhymes with ‘star’
Said L.B. Mayer
Ravishing Kerr, I played
tabula rasa to you.
Oh, Deborah, of the
Mu tea and sympathy
are waiting here in me
In my high school years in Ashland, I played tiny parts at the summer Shakespeare Festival: a page, a fairy, part of a crowd. I loved a red-haired actress:
Marjorie was an English teacher:
nine months of the year she labored,
and in the fullness of time bore Titania,
defying her lord for the love of her
Oh Titania! Fairy! Queen!
Lets not play with Oberon
for a while!
In another play she was a nun.
The king, in secret, lusted after her.
In secret, I knew how he felt.
All women were nuns to me.
I am the circle I am the home
I am the clear void. I am the none.
Lesbianism: The love of those who first were friends
Lets go back to Sapphofire. It burns right through
ego too. I want to love you
and you and you. It’s ok,
you can do it, too. I can watch
the two of you. It’s not a secret anymore.
I knew you knew.
We touch, we lie with our legs open
then we have to decide if it’s all right to look
all those lovely breasts
all those interesting nipples
Here is my body. Here is your body.
I always wanted to look at you.
I always wanted to lie with my eye
looking through the jungle of your hair, there,
seeing the sand like colored
pearls on you.
A song /chant to a strong rhythm:
Lesbians Practice Agape
Lesbians Practice Agape
They go down
They go down
They kiss you on the mouth,
they touch you on the boundaries of your being
On all the boundaries of your being
Lesbians Practice Agape
Lesbians Practice Agape
They go down
They go down
She trusted light to Adam
to the atoms to light the way
they did anyway,
they go down
(it’s called the law of gravity)
they go down
they go down
Sparks are hidden in our world
Not all of us behold them
But the proud and the contrary
with her head bowed,
she sees them.
Oh, Lesbians Practice Agape
Lesbians Practice Agape
They go down
They go down
The shattered light of atoms
it scatters down the light years
it’s in the dawn of evening
I am that dawn
I am Doña Juanna
Donna, don’ ya wanna
wanna come down
I am down below the ground
Oh, Lesbians Practice Agape
Lesbians Practice Agape
They go down
They go down
On the beach, another day, Thyme and I smoked to the departing sun. A solemn sense of beauty overtook me as I watched the pearly, fiery scene, the sun setting over the planet, all on my mental screen, the yin and the yang resonating into each other, manifestation and beholder revealing each other. Thyme in one corner of the screen whirred the camera toward me, murmuring something about “pinups.”
Later she rose to go fix dinner. “I’m sorry,” I pleaded, “if you don’t mind, I can’t come help just yet.”
“That’s ok. You look pretty in religious ecstacy. Really pretty. ….I mean it,” she laughed. “It becomes you.”
That was the night I spent wandering the beach by myself, as if on the path in some children’s game, being led here and here to certain driftwood sticks. When I found one I would smooth the sand and draw there, as my grandma and I used to do. I was given a sign, the “Moonspeaker” symbol: I’d draw it, then muse and dream over the particularities of each image till I understood what it meant, then walk on, adding the stick to my collection. I still have the “writing stick,” the “Mother Kali” stick, and the others whose names and missions I have forgotten.
Those nights gave me a taste for writing by moonlight. I learned it’s not always necessary to be able to see what you’re writing; you can probably figure it out in the morning. Meanwhile, there’s what is gained by writing in the dark.
. . .One afternoon we almost had an orgy. In the driftwood shelter, out of the sun, they asked to hear what I was writing. It precipitated Greenbo’s deep crying, and then a zestful consideration of the possibility of carrying our mutual openness to that erotic level. But one of us wasn’t comfortable with it, needed to at least go for a walk and see how she felt, saying, “Now, I don’t want you to ‘do anything’ while I’m gone.” By the time she returned, the moment had passed, as moments of erotic possibility are so wont to do. … I wish it had happened.
I find what I said in my journal a few days afterwards is that we had a “love orgy.” Yes, it was like lovers being together, touching, eyes smiling into eyes, all of us a little in love with each other. A sense of meeting with spirit guides, with witches on a golden shore.
As for the name I’d hoped for: The night I cut my hair and sat staring into the fire, keeping watch, there had come a myriad of names, which was a sweet shower in itself, a good understanding. But no one came to be “My Name”.
A few of days later I was lying on Thyme’s thigh, with a close-up view of the diamond patterns of her skin. The grains of sand on her pubis looked like cubes of jasper, garnet, jade strewn on a forest floor. I sighed and slid down further, saw the lips of her doorway, framed by giant thighs.
“I feel like your baby, Thyme,” I murmured.
“Time’s Child,” she smiled.
And so I became Time’sChild.
One of the billions of beings cooked in her belly, mortal, as are all her children. Always a child, compared to time, no matter how long I have lived.
Too, my presently-new-born self had been quickened by my having been granted certain visions, certain states, understandings concerning time, certain cherishings that come from truly knowing that things don’t last.
. . . Reader, it ended. One day, when Greenbo and Kau came back from a water run, there in the parking lot sat a policeman. “I believe you’re camping here illegally,” he said. “Those other two cars haven’t moved in at least three days.”
The women agreed to come tell us we had to leave now. They were in such a peaceful, open state that the policeman amicably only issued a token ticket.
We’d hoped for another day, but we could rise cheerfully to going now. When we got to the cars and I found the ticket, for $15, I offered with a laugh to pay it, considering it well worth the lesson in not scoffing at intuitions.
We drove first to a restaurant. Greenbo was in the washroom when the waitress came for our orders. Of Greenbo she asked, ”Has he decided yet?” It was true: Greenbo, in her cap and gold-rimmed spectacles, with her short-cropped blond hair, looked like a boy, though never before had she seemed so to me. Looked like a boy, even as a few minutes later, she spoke of taking in the side-seams on some garage-sale pants, and, sensing my confusion, flashed a dimpled smile.
Later, at the laundromat, I began to make friends with a little girl, then stopped, sensitive that her parents might feel suspicious of me, with my short, short hair, clearly a dyke among dykes. Being who we are, out in the world, is so strange.
We drove to a big yellow house in a nearby town where several women lived; one, Greenbo’s friend. We stayed there two nights, most of us sleeping on the wide front porch. Greenbo needed to earn some money; her friend, a mechanic, offered her $30 to disassemble, clean, and reassemble a carburetor.
“Had you ever done anything like that before,” I asked her afterwards.
“Never,” she said. “I just paid very close attention to how it came apart, and remembered.”
One night on the porch I was seized by a fit of writing. Having no paper handy, I began to write on my sheets. I covered both sheets before the first signs of dawn, then crept into them and slept. The prose would prove quite mortal, and gradually fade in the wash.
When I woke again it was to the gold light of full morning. Out in the street sat shining the beloved orange car who had brought me all this way. As I raised my eyes to her, it was as if I heard, without surprise, an off-stage voice announce her secret, her true name: “Deborah Carr,” it said. And so she ever has been.
* * *
Of course we wanted to hold on to it. We found some land, a farm near Cheshire, where friends of one of us offered a barn and tiny cabin. For several weeks that fall we lived at Mu Farm, using my house in Eugene as a town base. Thyme slept in a tent; I used the back part of Deborah for my writing room and office; Seaweed set up housekeeping within the branches of a big fir tree. We meditated together, had circles.
But life is not a beach just after a meditation retreat. There was all the gritty work of fixing up the place to be habitable. And the composition of the group had changed — one of the original women wasn’t there, a new one had been added.
Some lovely things happened, and some very, very hard. I needed my own bowl, cup, spoon; belief in the germ theory varied among us. Once we contracted scabies; we got rid of it by showering, treating with Quell, washing everything we owned. But I couldn’t help imagining what my family would think if my daughter, who visited me some weekends, were to go home with scabies.
And I needed to talk with myself. We hadn’t a real visit in fourteen years of marriage. I was often by myself, writing, talking to a tape recorder. “It’s good to be one of your characters,” Treelight complained, “but the characters would like some attention from you.”
Mu Farm is a story in itself; but by its conclusion we had a more sober assessment of the difficulty of creating lesbian nunneries for any length of time. And we all had other calls, and obligations. Mu dispersed with a vow to meditate at sunset and remember each other, which some of us kept, now and then, for a while.
My continuing link to like-minded women came from connections made through my Mu sisters to the creative land-dyke communities that flourished here in the seventies. Our re-gathering to begin Mu Farm was at (I believe) the first circle at OWL.
There I met Jean and Ruth Mountaingrove, and through them, the writers and artists who came to work on WomanSpirit Magazine, to be in the Photography Ovulars, and the women who became the Southern Oregon Women Writer’s Group, Gourmet Eating Society and Chorus, for 17 years both audience and inspiration for me.
One thing I see: deep as the bonding was between us at Mu, I was even more deeply hurled into a communion of all my selves. The woman who sews laughed with the analytic philosopher, Dianne’s wonderstruck lover chimed in. The woman who read fairytales to her daughter made a crack that sparked a glint in the physicist as she knitted. They all listened to the child. I felt more intelligent than ever before or since, free to call on all my selves and everything they knew. And all were needed to solve the code, for the messages came from within.
Who we are now:
Tangren Alexander / Jean Fitch / Pearl Time’sChild:
Time’sChild as a last name would prove unwieldy for the world of banks and career. But I have often used “Pearl Time’sChild” as a writing name, especially during the seventies and eighties, when the climate of the times dictated keeping my extremely personal writings unconnected to Dr. Tangren Alexander, Assistant Professor. My many writings in WomanSpirit Magazine are under that name, as is my self-published memoir The Auto Biography of Deborah Carr. Pearl Time’sChild also wrote on-the-edge lesbian erotica for three of Tee Corinne’s anthologies, two of which feature anonymous author photos, thanks to a wide-brimmed hat. By now it’s safer to be openly lesbian at my school; and I’ve realized my colleagues are incurious about my writing, so Tangren Alexander gets more of the credit nowadays.
I hope for a return to wild mind when my job is finally over, when I retire. For now I must keep my mind within range of my students; it will be fine to fly free again someday.
Lucy Seaweed Sapphofire became Musawa, creator, editor, and producer of the We’Moon: Gaia Rhythms for Women calendar by means of whose art and writing thousands of women carry lunar women-energy into their scheduled lives. She went on from Mu Beach to journey to Hawaii, (where she lived for a year and a half) looking for the land of Mu. She has 25 years experience (before and after Mu Beach) of living in community with women on the land. She currently lives on We’moon land where she is writing a non-fiction novel about where Mu Beach took her.
Thyme S. Seagull / Tzippy Siegel went on to be a writer and life explorer. The last time I heard from her she was teaching Jewish Women’s History, writing a book called A Brief History of Thyme, and working on lesbian archives.
Greenbo / Zarod / Fran Rominski’s book of short stories, Seven Windows: Stories of Women, was published by Crones’ Own Press, Durham, North Carolina, 1985. She now works bridging the world of street kids and what everyone else thinks is “real”. In her art she aspires to meld word and image and is currently creating collage. She lives, plays, and loves in Oregon.
Kau / Kris Rogers–I have no idea.
Deborah Carr after nearly 200,000 miles rests in well-earned retirement on my land.
Mu Beach: The geographic place was the bird refuge at Point Reyes, north of San Francisco. . . . I am all for a policy that keeps bird refuges for birds and not for anybody who feels like camping there. On the other hand, there need to be places in the world where things like Mu Beach can happen. We took the means open to us.
In later years, in the eighties, I think, Point Reyes was stalked by a killer. I’ve heard nothing for many years now; perhaps he was caught. I hate writing this, hate knowing how many times women’s “going to ground,” seeking out nature for healing and sacredness has been cut short by threatening men in the wild. . . .I think of the stories of women’s rites in the hills of ancient Greece, and later the accusation about witches that they danced naked in the woods. I have a feeling a civilization might profit from for once leaving its women free.
And what of the the Land of Mu?
Were we ahead of our time? Or too much of it? (Or Mu?)
We were of our time, the seventies, shaped by the larger culture’s growing openess to sexuality made possible by “the pill”, and many of us, too, imprinted by the sudden intimacy marijuana could bring, leaping over day-to-day protectiveness, confessing regard and desire, making the most of the moment, leaving the future to itself, inspired by a vision that there could be enough loving touch for all.
In the seventies, the second wave of feminism was cresting; there was a vibrant, empowering culture with its own songs and record companies, its own writers, presses, and tiny lending libraries. It was a time when “woman” meant “ally” and “dyke” meant “capable and free”. Naive and hopefilled, we made lots of assumptions we would trip over later. Something has survived; much is lost to Time.
Still I hope that Mu is of the future, too, that one day our granddaughters, or theirs, will play together on the earth’s bosom, naked and unafraid, treading women’s mysteries.