Daily Archives: September 22, 2019

He put the Belt around my life

Dante and Virgil before the Angelic Guardian of the Gate of Purgatory, 1820s, William Blake
Background Image: Dante and Virgil before the Angelic Guardian of the Gate of Purgatory, 1820s, William Blake

The opening image of this poem is hard not to read in the 21st century as it being almost violent, as if the gift God has given her (to write poetry) isn’t just a simple “Belt” she wears, but is almost a form of oppression. She equates “He” with royalty and power and she wears that same belt they do and so she is both victim of oppression and a practitioner, too.

John Ruskin writes in On Modern Landscapes about how modern art, unlike medieval art, focuses on “things which momentarily change or fade” (V3, Ch16), such as how modern artists depict clouds in great detail, unlike the medieval artists whose art depicted a world of “stability, definiteness, and luminousness”. Much attention is paid to “the service of the clouds” and thus modern artists are quite unlike Aristophanes who saw clouds as “great goddesses to idle men” and “that they are mistresses of disputings, and logic, and monstrosities, and noisy chattering”.

What Ruskin (perhaps inadvertently) illuminates is an embedded sexism. Aristophanes describes clouds as female and employs the tired tropes of women who argue, lack the capacity for logic, gossip, and turn men idle. Ruskin also seems concerned with our modern penchant for “speaking ingeniously concerning smoke” and that we are preoccupied with our “ignorance respecting all stable facts”. And so what Emily is doing in this poem is addressing these issues by taking them head on.

Emily has been accepted (in this poem) as “A Member of the Cloud”, she sees herself as part of that great tradition of artists and perhaps even philosophers who try to understand and appreciate the fleeting beauty of life. Yet she is also beholden to the powers that be – men – and nobody is more male than God, but she is also referring, perhaps, to the publishing world which in her time was overwhelmingly male. And so she exists in a weird transition phase in which she is modern in her desire to consider the clouds, but also attached to the old, medieval worldview of rendering all things in exactness because God is stable and therefore so must the universe and all of human experience be stable (somehow) too.

In Emily’s time she was expected to “do the little Toils” which were considered ‘woman’s work’, a life of domestic servitude in which the best a woman could hope for was to get married, something she explores in “I’m “wife” – I’ve finished that“. Yet Emily has been gifted the talent to create art, to contemplate the clouds and see in the most fleeting and insignificant corners of the universe the forms of beauty. And she doesn’t want to be stuck having to perform “little Toils” because, like a member of royalty, she’s better than that, unlike those of the rest of us “That make the Circuit of the Rest” (of us commoners). Our days may be dull, but her’s are filled with a beauty only she can see in the clouds while we still hold onto the medieval thinking in which the clouds are just the road to idleness.

Thus Emily is not content to “deal occasional smiles” like a good girl who is expected to do the housework for a man, she “must decline” the authority of the stable world and live for the clouds because God himself has accepted her into the ranks. Though the irony that only God (a man) could grant this to her is probably not lost on her either.

page 182 of 294 of There There

“We gotta pay for what we done to our own people”

“We got this old thing that hurts real fucking bad, makes you mean”

“It’s some old dark leftover thing that stayed with our family”

Blood, stories, the past, superstition, curses, violence, a lot of people carrying around a lot of baggage, just like the father whose clothes are stuffed into a bag and told to get out.

page 179 of 294 of There There

Are Manny and Daniel who Sixto got killed while drink driving? (No, it’s his mom and brother p.181 – why was this unclear)

Is it strange to hear a mourning dove in the city? I’ve never heard them anywhere except in the country, but maybe they can be in the city too? Or is this Orange playing with what we think of where Indians live (rural as opposed to the more urban reality of Oakland)?

page 178 of 294 of There There

Not to condone stealing cars, but it is a nice image of them in the stolen Lexus living someone else’s life in someone else’s car, smoking someone else’s smokes – like being part of the larger society for awhile, blending in as if they were white so being invisible in a different way, in a way nobody thinks about, not in the way that Indians are invisible in the city because nobody says anything.

page 174 of 294 of There There

Another image of bullets from afar, this time after he stole the plants and the owner’s came and shit up his house. It’s interesting to think that as I look at it it just seems like it’s vengeance for a stupid decision, but from another point of view it’s a curse, too – it all depends on who is telling the story, I suppose.

page 171 of 294 of There There

“A real curse is like a bullet fired from far off” which is to say that curses are, in a way, a real thing, that it’s not just superstition, it’s just that in reality a curse is often far worse than some magic which isn’t. Because the curse is real in the violence the Indians have endured, it’s just they have incorporated this into their stories unlike the oppressors.