Valiant Women: Extract from The Wren in the Ash Tree
Today I heard that Senator Elizabeth Warren was silenced during a debate ; that the White House has said it will denounce anything it chooses as ‘fake news’ until media outlets realise that it is wrong to criticise the President; that the Dakota Pipeline is to go through after all; that the President has publicly threatened to break the career of a lawyer who opposed him.
There isn’t much I can do about any of this, and anyway there are plenty of Americans dealing with it (otherwise I wouldn’t even have heard about it). And Trump, although he is the comic-book coloured archetype of all the things that threaten decent human life on earth, is not the only villain, nor even the most dangerous. Our own government will bear close watching – a more polished demeanour and the trappings of an ancient parliament is a good camouflage for behaviour that is remarkably similar to the US colour-me-melodramatic destruction of the environment, social services, working conditions and respect for equality and diversity.
But what I can do is share a bit of my long poem which deals with women’s resistance to injustice. I started it when I found stories of feminist activism that somehow got edited out of public history – especially here in Scotland. In the last week or two my list of valiant women has got longer, and I’m going to have to exert some control before it overwhelms the whole poem. It’s interesting how often women have found that issues which start as one thing rapidly become connected. The personal is political – and so is the environmental, and the economic and the historical.
I’ve put links to information about these women on this page, which is a nice thing this blog lets me do (might have to put a notes page in the book!)
The air is cold towards dusk, and
the quiet lanes and curtained homes
are haunted by grief, rage, isolation
poverty, loss and fear.
But in the gloom there are lights
shining as women kindle fires,
put lamps in windows, look out
for the lost, the returning family,
the friends in need of shelter.
Every writing, cooking, walking,
protesting woman is a signal tower,
creates a net to catch us when we fall.
The voices of the dark will say
A whistling woman and a crowing hen
Will drive the devil out of his den,
But still the signals go on. There are voices.
There are lights. ——
But who will now praise famous women?
Who will remember Joanna Macy,
Elizabeth Warren, Mhairi Black,
Kathy Ozer, Rachel Carson,
Josephine Bacon, Malala Yousafzai,
Dorothy Stang, Berta de Caceres
Wangari Maathai, Mary Barbour,
Big Mary Macpherson of the Songs,
or Mary Brooksbank of Dundee?
Women whose signals were sent
through poetry and politics, songs
and planted forests, women whose voices
cry out for the poor, for democracy,
for the life of women, for the earth.
And who will praise the women in their millions
Who walked in pink hats, under rainbow flags
on January twenty-first, on seven continents,
And not one arrest anywhere on earth?
Women from the CND, from Jeely Peace,
the greens,the ones who fought
for fair trade,for women’s refuges,
Equality,or welcome for the stranger,
All walked and sang, spoke out for truth.
This will probably have to be revised quite a bit, because you get to a point where people then start asking why this woman and not that, and I want a range of the different ways significant women have inspired me. But here’s a start. All the valiant women of the world, I salute you!