kortina.nyc / notes
26 Nov 2022 | by kortina

Estes // Mother Night

I’m still trying to figure out where I heard about this book: Mother Night: Myths, Stories and Teachings for Learning to See in the Dark by Clarissa Pinkola Estes.

This book is a series of lectures that is a little new-age, a little psycho analytic, a little folksy – not really my standard fare, but I thought it was very good nonetheless.

It reminded me a bit of listening to Alan Watts’ lectures.

It’s worth a listen if you’re feeling stuck in a local max of high modernism or technocracy.

I LOVED this poem, included in the book:


It began before we went to school… we asked for live ponies, but received inflatable whales made of polypropylene instead. But it was okay. We waited and waited for April so we could dance can-can tournaments in the rain.

We wore eerie iridescent swim suits glowing like uranium. Our swimsuits were always too big and showed everything, or they were always too small and showed everything. But it was okay. We were happy drowned bird-girls with balding feathers.

We played with all those bright colored toys, So cheap in price, so rich in lead, those lead toy soldiers marched all over our bed clothes and we slept on the sheeted and pillowed battle field, night after night.

And our mothers were so beautiful… and the tobacco people ran ads showing happy pregnant women smoking and saying this was very good, and fathers brought love cartons of the stuff as special treats so mother-with-child would never run out of her ciggies.

In October we hid under leaves and stalks just beginning to rot, and shushed each other there. The silence made the wrinkles on our feet itch. The wet of the leaves washed the hyaline insect spray right into our skin.

It was such a time of dancing. We danced our feet on x-ray machines in shoe shops. What sport to see our own growing bones in those shadowy boxes. Hours we spent x-raying our feet for fun.

In January, in snow forts, our forefingers held endless ammunition. The winter wheat had power to heal any wound it was laid upon. We ate the snow that fell from the sky seeded and seeded with field chemicals.

Our dear mothers made snow cones for us with red dye food coloring, and the youngest Hérnandez girl fell through the pond, and was no more. It began to be not alright.

After five years in school we saw, too late, the road before us. Our hearts demanded all our attention. We built into the mountain, we dug grieving caves. We were in the cemeteries more often than in the wedding halls.

The cells of the stomach turned against the grandfather. The cells of the breasts made wildfire in the three aunts; the jitters came to uncle and two farmers to the west, falling down came to the farmer to the east, a child not formed came to the cousin, the loss of breath visited the dairy man, and there were many mysterious deaths of infants. We set up camp, but never slept. The animals began to speak in foreign tongues.

We were still children. We hid under our desks to practice for the bomb. We were pulled on snow sleds behind our beloved fathers’ big slope-backed cars with lead spewing into our faces from the mufflers’ smoke. We walked in the beautiful sunset haze left by the orchard crop duster canvas and leg-bone aeroplanes, and yet…

We still came out children, just children. As our breasts came on, No one offered happy red umbrellas against an invisible strontium rain, and we drank the white milk without knowing, anyway.

We continued to wash floors and doors with acetane, washed our nails with acetone, packed aniline dyes onto our freshly washed scalps, and drew coal tar onto our lips

Like good women everywhere, we daily washed the house and all the things in it, and outside it as well, as carefully as though these boards and tiles were our own bodies. We put our young hands into jars holding gudge and junk, held our heads into buckets and jars filled with the sacred fumes of cleanliness; ammonia, lye, butane, bleach, formaldehyde.

We visited doctors and hospitals hoping to hear the news. But so far, there were only bodies, no causes… except for these: They said we lived wrong at home… That we were ignorant… That we were sick because we did not exercise enough, the farmers, factory workers, dock workers, men and women who had no cars, those who worked from dawn to midnight, lifting, hefting, hauling everything hot and smoking, or else putrid or frozen in dry ice.

And in the creek, the animals grew bulbous eyes, their skin cracked off, and over they died. The oil tankers broke up in the Great Lakes, and yet we frolicked in the waves, but never came out clean as before. Instead, we rose up oil stained by the floating gibbets and globs of oil on waves, and those sunk into the sand. Our mothers scrubbed our bodies bright red, using turpentine to remove the black tar. Summer after summer we returned. The black tar always waiting for us… And the turpentine.

After a time, our wild gypsy-hair was too often covered with our white mantillas for the black Requiem Mass. And, it became worse as we got more years.

But even today, with all our hurts and haltings, April is still divine, And there is still a museum in the unconscious where September still carries the cargo of a decent childhood. No greedy bureaucrat nor lying politician has found the tree we once buried treasure under. It is still there… still mine, still yours.

Though the atomic age was mighty and 100 wealthy men had poisoned all the water and fish grew all crooked and too often the human babies beginning fine and by their eighteenth month could no longer speak nor relate to other humans… sometimes still, the trees come to the gate in the garden and ask can they come in and rest with us for the night.

Reason enough for some wild dancing. For the unknowing, and for those who knew, the destruction we were fed and immersed in, did not bring us down… And even the atomic wind unleashed Across the western states, blowing its poison all across the entire nation, did not blow us away. For reasons we cannot fathom, many of us are still here, living in the glowing cell of the life force that ever remains inside us.

No atomic wind can pervert or change this meaning that is ours. No commission or omission can destroy what we are making Though they have brought wild cells, we are the wild gods, and we are dancing, dancing… dancing the dance of the purest cell, and glowing– not from radiation– but from divinity, the divinity set into us, the divinity that has ever been ours, that ever presses us to live, to live more, and then more… no matter whatever else.

– Poem, “We are the Atomic Children and We are Still Dancing” ©1975, and collage,”Our Lady of the Atom” ©2009, both from the manuscript ‘La Pasionaria/ The Bright Angel’, by Clarissa Pinkola Estés, all rights reserved. May be shared for non-commercial use under Creative Commons Copyright, provided no words are added or taken away, and this entire attribution of author/artist name and full copyright notice is attached to all pages.

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