Thursday, January 10, 2013

Crossing the Blue Bridge or Navigating by Mermaid

"Human soul, should it dream of me / Let my memory wakened be. / Moon, moon, oh do not wane…do not wane…” From Song of the Moon, excerpt from Dvorak’s opera Rusalka (notes by Martha Kate Lind)

I miss blogging here. Been meaning for weeks to write a transition post. But couldn’t, especially on the home site closest to my heart, during the deluge of physical and psychic details it took to uproot ourselves from our Sonoma County home. I managed a couple goodbye posts, one over at The Fertile Source, and again, another laced with what it meant to homeschool my daughter the last four months, over at Mother Writer Mentor.

New Year’s day we left the amber browns of our lime mottled redwood trunks and the perpetually damp earth beneath for the bright sand bordered rind of land housing Coronado. In the u haul, my husband, the boys and the Husky drove ahead of my daughter and I, our van overflowing with coolers, pillows, socks and a case of wet dog food to the dueling yowls of the two house cats overlaid by the calm and mystical voice of  poet / priest John O’Donahue on CD (Anam Cara, Wisdom from the Celtic World), parting gift of my writing collaborator Elizabeth.  

O’Donahue’s protracted r’s and the way he holds a syllable on the tongue mid-word takes the edge off leaving behind four feral cats renters have promised to feed, but when the sun sets, the tears come. My favorite of the cats, the older male with his gorgeous uneven throttle of a purr, is now likely rubbing his thick chin against the back door glass, one ear torn but intact, brown gold eyes scanning for us as he stands on his back legs and rests a paw on the second tier of door-panes.

My daughter notices I’m crying, so I admit it: I miss my ferals. Wish we could bring them. But it would be cruel. The woods are all they know. I’m trying to be bigger than that, reassure us both that though the woods are all we know, we’ll come to know the new city. Elizabeth, (play with her over at Perhaps Maybe—she’s still looking for prose poets) with her poet’s heart and acuity, reminded me before we left to take in the surroundings no matter what went down, notice the sun, sky, lay of the land.

Her advice comes in handy during our five long minutes of crisis the last leg of our adventure crossing the blue bridge into Coronado. Even as the u haul stalled and sputtered to a dead stop a mere 200 yards onto the bridge, I noticed less the panic and steady throng of cars streaming around us, more the red tip of sun plummeting past the Pt. Loma lighthouse. More the boats with their triangles of white sails, less the winking of the u haul’s hazard lights. Eventually the u haul started back up, we found our way to Orange Avenue, and the realtor kindly unlocked the door for us so we could sign our new lease and fumble our way through the maze of new rooms in the dark (without power).

If trees were king at the old home, water reigns queen here at this farthest tip of California. Since our new home won’t be ready for two weeks (we learn when we arrive—though we are happy to wait for new carpets and paint and tile), we take by day to the sea. I’m thinking of the round stained glass window that hung in our home in the trees featuring a mermaid whose hands cup the largest of a set of escaped bubbles of air--stand-in for her mirror.

Without a physical home and for the duration of this transition, I’m navigating by sign. Following on the heels of the image of the stained-glass mermaid, I find just outside the kitchen door garden of the new house a beautiful six inch metal mermaid, rusting a beautiful green bronze, left behind by the last tenant.

Here she floats in her own starfield, symbol of where air-line meets water-line. An entity that thrives in both domains. Symbol of decisions of maturity on the horizon. Threshold between girlhood and womanhood that we cross once ourselves and once again when our daughters cross it. Maybe once again when we lose our mothers; I don’t know. Tell me if you know.

I’ve often thought about the little mermaid (Hans Christian Anderson) and her infamous trade—the voice for legs, made a collage book once about it titled "Army of Lovers," wrote a bit about it in relation to raising a daughter earlier here and tangentiallly with regard to sirens in relation to marriage (Deciphering the Siren) here. This time I’m thinking about her infatuation with the prince, goaded by something I came across when scanning a summary of Ambiguities in HCA’s The Little Mermaid by Jacob Boggild and Pernille Heegaard (Andersen og Verden, Odense 1993). On their way to discussing the complexity of HCA's ending for the tale and wieghing the little mermaid's spiritual vs. sensual motivations, the authors remind us she falls in love with the prince because he reminds her of a statue she keeps in her garden.

soap by Cazgirl; see below for contact info
So I take up the thread: if she’s enamored with a statue, maybe she’s not really ready for the full blown flesh and blood human male, nor could he be ready for the girl with the sweetest voice (remember the mermaid hears the prince’s bride-to-be singing and it hurts her to know she could sing far more beautifully, if she hadn’t given up her voice). What would that relationship be like, say she kept her voice, and lured the prince with song.  Would he be able to see past her siren self, ever fathom her as a whole being?

Both prince and mermaid strike me as vulnerable. And The Little Mermaid wouldn’t be a fairytale without the sorrow of near-miss, the longing of separation, without which we’d miss the chance to fully contemplate the distance the pair would have to cross to coexist in mature relationship. And thus as readers we fall in love with yearning, its purity of impulse, unmarred by actuality of day to day relationship.

The new mermaid I found in the new house is not glass, but substantial, elemental (metal). Which brings O’Donahue to mind and his musings on the way our bodies are made of particles with memories of their own, earth memories from other times and peopled with other people from long ago so that sometimes we are swept with emotion the mind doesn’t understand.

Which also aptly describes my experience of listening to the San Fransicsco based vocal women’s ensemble Kitka. As we walked between our new home and the kids’ school along the waterway, bordered by ocean and harbor, I finally bought, downloaded, and listened to The Rusalka Cycle: Songs Between the Worlds, drawn to the image on the album’s cover of a woman cloaked in blue, rising towards the faint reflection of her face marking the water’s lid.  

Notes for the album read: “In Slavic folklore, Rusalki are the restless spirits of women who have died unjust or untimely or unnatural deaths. They inhabit the waters, forests, and fields, luring people to them with their mesmerizing songs and wild laughter.”  Titles from To the Lake to Awakening to River Rose to Sirens forewarn of the supernally gorgeous field of lament one is about to enter.

Here far voices, jubilantly macabre, swirl as if from down a long silver hall with unparalleled simplicity to the lilts of cello. Phantom criers rise and fall in the background, garlanded by the voices of sisters. In the sweet high notes and later powerful guttural chants, one senses reproach beyond confrontation: a complete mirror and witnessing to the suffering of not only the Rusalka but those left behind and those later ensnared by her state.

Songs like Siren or Wave might frighten a male audience (and some female), but a preverbal part of me felt soothed by the force of group lament. You get the feeling that when something is known it is known forever, fathomed in the survivors’ eyes. Debts remain to the living and the departed. I read that a Rusalka’s state can be transformed if her death is avenged; Kitka, with sound, has so delineated the sorrow of untimely death that it it feels an avenging, via song. 

When I asked permission to run the album cover, longtime Kitka singer Shira Cion directed me to a beautiful background article about the process of making the album, "Singing Shapeshifters in the Shadow of Chernobyl: Kitka Ignites the Embers of a Disappearing Song Ritual" which details the journey the group took to the Ukraine (where rusalki rituals are still practiced) with singer Mariana Sadovska as their guide.

Reading about an early morning experience the group had in a village near the Belarusian border, I felt humbled once again by synchronicity. Though I have never traveled to the Ukraine, my ancestors hail precisely from that region. My father (who introduced me to Kitka when I was in my early 20s) taught me that our name loosely translates to "one who is of the marshes"). No wonder I wrote for pages in my journal while listening to The Rusalka Cycle, at the mercy of a cellular recognition beyond my control or immediate ken.

Those pages of raw writing ended on the asssertion, "you can't take the girl out of the girl" and the question, "how can such joy coexist with such sorrow?" I only know Kitka pulls it off, presenting the emotions as two halves of one sphere.  Just as promised by Shira in the article: “We hope that the songs invite the reckless spirits of the Rusalki into the imagination of each listener, opening portals into haunting and beautiful realms between the worlds.”

Sculpture by Ananda Beattie
To balance out the foray to such harrowing depth, I return to the lighter and equally necessary wisdom of John O’Donahue’s words. In the chapter, Your Solitude is Luminous, O’Donahue implies if we can stop thinking long enough to feel, the opportunity beckons to cross over to rapture, inhabiting the moment with multiple layers of the little self we know so intimately and the big self we aspire to encompass comprised of earth, sky, water, and the scale of human experience across time.

In June of 2010 when we were first contemplating moving, I found solace as well in the words of poet Robert Haas. Prior to reading from his Whitman series (Song of Myself and Other Poems by Walt Whitman, edited and annotated by Haas and Paul Ebenkamp), Haas spoke of the fertility of border zones, how deer like to graze at the edge of the forest where they can see the meadow and the stream; fish, in similar fashion, are drawn to water transition zones, finding at such merging locales rare and rich nutrient exchange. I’m trying my best to occupy the internal zone with grace--picturing wingbuds between the shoulder blades, thinking of butterflies and mermaids with wings.

 Related Mermaid musings:
Ananda’s line: Ananda Beattie's mermaid sculpture; poetry set to the photograhs of Robyn Beattie, including the one above Robyn took of Ananda's sculpture.

 Mermaid soap (see middle photo in this post): a xmas gift this year from my mother-in-law, of sandalwood, I found her on top of one of our packed boxes when looking for two CD rental movies we accidentally packed and brought with us. Heavenly scent of sandalwood, the label reads: cazgal [at] comcast [dot] net, out of Cazadero California, the sweetest smelling bar of soap I’ve ever had, with a stunning mermaid sculpture on top. I can't imagine ever using it.

Dvorak solo, Rusalka: (Anna Netrebko 2007): a beautiful performance, Netrebko, in shimmering gold, channels pure Rusalka.

See also fantasy writer / blogger T.F. Walsh's rich list of the appearance of the Rusalka across mediums; I learned about Dvorak's work here; hope you'll also check out her mythology manual.

Related fairy tail musings (The King and The Corpse) and first crossing of the blue bridge into Coronado: A Summer Solstice Promise.



Liz Brennan said...

"A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions" Oliver Wendell Holmes.

Tania, your post had such tenderness - the excitement of a new beginning, yet not without its ghosts (the image of the feral at at sunset with a paw on the door, possibly hungry, certainly missing you).

I also love your focus on the transitional, with mermaid as your guide - a being in between the worlds, as human beings are (the focus of Kitka). I wonder what prevents us from entering into the next world? What ever it is, when might it become as visible as a fish tail?

I miss you , of course, and now more than ever eagerly await your blog posts!

love, e

Tania Pryputniewicz said...

Thank you Elizabeth...I wonder too, once we cross over in dream, what keeps us from sometimes not wanting to come back...I'm sensing a perhaps maybe riddle in your response. I miss you too, and am so glad we are still wordsmithing together despite the miles.

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