“The Zar Tales”, Chapter VI.

September 18, 2014

crescent-moon

CHAPTER VI.

The heat of the day faded and the soft, cooling winds came down from the mountain, swirling around the trees in the woods. The village was high up the mountain, with pine forests peppering the area. Ali and other Zars met in a clearing, far up that mountain, hidden from any mortals who might travel up the steep terrain. It was easy for the Zars, for they could float upwards, where they would perch on tree branches. They gathered to smoke the sweet hashish together and discuss details of the mortals around them. They would fill the bowl at the top of a big hookah, light it with a little small magic, sit cross-legged around the big glass bottomed pipe and each take a hose and suck in a lungful of the potent smoke. After a while each Zar would float to a branch in a tree, until the trees surrounding the clearing were hung with glimmering Zar-fruit.

Most of the Zars were around the same age. They were transformed into Demons at a time of life when they were still full of the vitality of men, just not their mortal lives. However they became to be, and of course the reasons varied, they seemed to have mortal interests. They gathered to discuss the business and gossip of the villages, the politics, the secrets and rumours of the prominent. Like men everywhere, they complained and groaned about the women they possessed. If human ears could hear this Zar-talk, they would hear the common, everyday concerns of men. Alas, they would only hear the sighing of the wind, the rustle of leaves whirled by eddies of air swept down from the mountain passes. No language for mortal ears to discern, but a constant moaning in the woods, enough to make a man turn back and run down to the world he knew. The woods in this region were known to be haunted by spirits, and though they suspected there were Zars up there, no one had ever seen evidence. There was just the sigh of the wind and the sweet lingering smell of hashish.

This evening the Zar-fruit discussed the Shahnamah. For thirteen centuries this book of wisdom ran like a river through the minds of Persians to the ultimate ocean of life. The book spoke of wisdom, and to some of the men-spirits this was to know good from evil. To others, sitting on the branches, with eyes distant and unfocused by the hashish, wisdom was the dispensing of justice and fairness. Whatever an individual Zar thought, there was sure to be an opposing opinion. For Adil, Benan, Emir, Ali, Hasan, and quiet Derin, all were Zars of intelligence and former distinction. At one point, Emir, who was considered by some to be a poet, quoted an old verse he had worked upon for many centuries. He revisited the garden of memories to versify his experience and refine it now when mortal toil was beyond his reach.

“Take to delight the presence
from this two-way abode.
We would not meet each other
Once we pass through.”

Ah! To some of the Zars this was the sad essence of life. To others, it was not. Good they had taken of the pipe before they began to discuss Emir’s verse, for the argument could have grown fierce. Sadly, they were just spirits. Their impact upon mankind was long past.

But not in the plans of Ali.

In life, he had been a Berber chieftain of the Tuaregs tribe. He was a natural leader of men, had been known for his courage and fierce sword play. He had stood on the edge of the desert, robed in blue gowns and indigo veils, looking out from his encampment, and counted the horses grazing before him. He had raided other tribes, and the scars on his body were the badges of his courage. He was a tall man in life, with flashing dark eyes and flowing dark hair he wore braided with gold coins. Gold earrings glittered in his ears and a gold torque around his neck signified his status in the tribe. He came from warriors, and his young sons by his wives would be raised as warriors.

He was killed by a traitor while in the arms of his second wife, in the throngs of passion. When he was judged by the Mullahs in Paradise he was found wanting, for he had chosen to remain with the gods and goddesses of his ancestors. Plus he made the foolish mistake of not having his sword by his side. This condemned him more for they once had been men themselves. So Ali ben Gaia du Naravas, first son of the illustrious father of the tribe, and a new Berber poet, was cast out of Paradise, and condemned and branded a Demon. No longer would the smell of the wind from the desert fill his nostrils. No longer would he see the sun fall to the horizon over endless dunes. He would not hear the ney and soft drums played by Berber tribesmen around a fire at night, nor see the women dance, their hair swirling outward like black waves upon a roiling nighttime sea.

Ali’s fate was to roam the mountains far north of the desert, where other demons, some with similar crimes, some from countries unknown to him, shared their sad stories and their longings for home and family. Most had been wandering for thousands of years, taking residence where they could fine suitable quarters. Ali was fortunate in the choice of Shakira, for she was intelligent and comely. She was also passionate and demanding. Ali expected to remain with her for a long time, though it was a matter of opinion who was possessed by whom. Ah! That Shakira was a strong woman, and never boring. Sometimes annoying but all women were to some extent.

These mullahs would upset the apple cart in the name of their one God, Allah. He was a jealous god, no different from the Christian’s Christ or whoever the Jew’s God was when you thought about it. Ali missed the tolerant and easy gods of his youth. So, he had a reason for bringing together these Zars this fine evening. If he could get these hashish-sodden demons to agree, together they could have one sweet revenge on the Mullahs.

“Ali my friend!” Hasan , from a village across the great ridge, called out to Ali.

“We hear all over the mountain the Mullahs from Ankara are interested in our women. What do you my fine friend, know of these rumors?”

Ali smiled from his perch in an alder tree. His white teeth gleamed like bleached bones in the gathering darkness.

“Hasan, my brother! I hear the Mullahs have been warned by the mayor of our village that our women are holding zars. They must stick their narrow noses where the women are concerned.”

The sound of sighing wind was heard amongst the trees. This concerned them all, and they struggled to focus their attention on the words of both men.

“Ah”, chimed in Benan, from the village closest to Ali’s. “So that’s why those men were closed up for a day. Our elders went from the mosque to the home of Imam Kaleel and stayed there for hours. I only heard bits and pieces over the wind. May Ammon and Isis protect us!”

At the mention of these two earliest gods of the Berbers and their cousins, the Egyptians, the Zar Demons kissed their closed fist and touched their foreheads in the old Berber self-blessing.

Ali’s eyes flashed, his heart lept in his chest. Each Zar perched on a branch would have had the same reaction. Ah, thought Ali. Our Gods are forbidden to us. The religion of the Arabs has replaced the true religion of our ancestors. Ammon will have his revenge. The defeat of our culture has taken them ten centuries, but there still is resistance amongst our living tribesmen to the north and south of the desert.
.
Berbers still, and with this Ali concocted a plan.

Jane Kohut-Bartels
Copyrighted, 2010-2014

“The Zar Tales”, Chapters IV and V.

September 13, 2014
"The Zar Tales", published by Lulu.com, 2010

“The Zar Tales”, published by Lulu.com, 2010

CHAPTER IV.

Mr. Mazud Nageesh sat at his desk, pondering the information before him. His wife Leila, attending the Zar ritual at Sheikha Shakira’s house was a further complication.

Ah! Women and their issues certainly screwed a peaceful life! They were essential to men’s comfort, and they continued the bloodlines, but by Allah’s Exalted Name in Paradise…they troubled a peaceful man!

Mr. Nageesh thought through his options. If he ignored the activity of the women, winked at their Zars, his own leadership of the village could be called into question and he could be removed from office. Things could go worse than that for him.

Then, there was his marriage. Leila had been a good if stubborn wife for over thirty years. The man was supposed to rule the house, but any man married that long knew who actually ruled. It was always the women who had real power. At his age he longed for peace and quiet, and if at times he walked on eggshells around the women of his household, well, it was only because he was a wise man.

But Leila was at the zar, and playing her tamboura. It would not be possible to ignore her presence at Sheikha Shakira’s house. Perhaps there was a way around the behavior of the women, but at this time, he didn’t know what it was. The situation was like a sour pickle and however he held his mouth, it would be bitter.

There didn’t seem any way out. Sighing deeply, he resolved to contact the proper authorities in the nearest city for guidance. But he would sit on it for a while, think of some options, and as long as he did something, what was the reasoning to rush? Better to run into a lion’s mouth where religion and women were concerned than mess with the authorities.

Ah! Allah the Merciful! What was the difference between lions, women and religion? You got chewed up all ways!

CHAPTER V

Leila caught wind of her husband’s plans. It was easy, for thirty years of marriage gave sharp insight into the workings of any married man if you were paying even a little attention. A few questions, a few mumbled responses, a bit of shouting and Leila had her answers. Her stupid husband would meddle in women’s affairs for the sake of his position and now only grief and trouble would follow.

Ah! Allah listen to the women’s plight! Even if you are a Man-God.

Perhaps cousin Shakira was right. Perhaps Goddess Nut was where she should take her concerns. Allah seemed to be doing right well by the men, and the women’s suffering didn’t abate.

Leila went to Shakira and together they sat and drank sweet mint tea, Shakira pouring it high into the pot three times so it would foam properly.

“So, this is what I know, cousin, though it took a bit of work to learn Mazud’s plans.”

Leila sipped her mint tea, her eyes looking at Shakira’s face over the rim of her tiny glass.

Shakira’s concern was obvious, her brows crinkling with concentration. Shakira called upon Nut silently, for she was needed to address all women’s concerns.

Mother Nut? Help us!

“Leila”, began Shakira, addressing her cousin in a lowered voice. “Who has he talked to? Is it anyone local?”

“Ah….from what I could get from him, and what I heard through the wall when he spoke on the phone in his office, he first talked to the old mullah, that ancient fart in the next district, what is his name? Imam Kaleel? Yes, that is his name. He is half blind with age and clinging to life. Allah push him over the cliff.”

They both laughed. Allah could at times be reasonable.

“Then the Imam will go to others for advice.” Shakira sipped her tea, deep in thought.

Yes, there would be trouble, no doubt about it. The zars would be too much of a target for the men to resist. This would have to be addressed, and soon.

“Well, cousin”. Leila’s voice cut into Shakira’s thoughts. “What do you propose? Surely there is something we can do? It is too good a thing to lose to the men. What should we do?”

“Let me think a while, Leila. Let me think.”

Shakira knew how important this was. The zars must continue. But how? The mullahs had supreme power, but the women needed the zars for so many reasons. Things were worked out in the zars. Health was restored by the zars. Her precious Ali had come to her at a zar. Shakira shook her head to clear her thoughts.

Ah! Mother Nut! Come to me at night in my dreams! Come to me with some answers!

The Goddess Nut did speak to Shakira. She came to her in a dream but her answer was not in the form she expected. In her dream, a smiling Nut spread herself over Shakira, caressing her with her sweet breath, dripping the milk of her breasts into Shakira’s mouth, and perfuming her skin with the scent of her hair. Nut rubbed her strong limbs on Shakira’s and made her sound her joy cry in her sleep! Shakira awoke suddenly, thinking of Ali and his lovemaking! Ah! Ali was no where to be found, but Shakira was given a vision by her dream. Still, her holy place felt a faint sweet ache left over from her sleep, and she knew then Nut had visited her. She knew Nut was wise and would lead her in this troubling time. She would turn to Ali and confide in him.

So she did. As soon as she saw him, she decided to throw it all at his feet and implore his advice and help. Even though he was spirit, he still was a man, and men sometimes were wise in these issues. Well, at least she hoped Ali would know what to do.

But first she would make an effort to appeal to him. Ali, like any man, liked the efforts of a woman attempting to please. He may only be spirit, but he still was enough of a man to remember the old ways.

So Shakira made a sweet feast of stuffed dates, and Turkish delight candies, and sugared almonds and candied fruits and golden raisins stuck together in a rich nougat and roasted her best beans for coffee. She washed her long hair and rinsed in rosewater, and dried it in the sun on the roof of her house, where it sparkled like gems in the sunshine. She rubbed almond oil into her heated skin on the roof, and rubbed some into her bush of black hair beneath. She hennaed the palms of her hands with designs and the tops of her feet, and dressed in a white, embroidered cotton gown that was fine enough to show the dark rings of her nipples beneath. But just for good measure, she also applied the brick red henna to her nipples first to make sure that they looked like two eyes looking seductively out at Ali from beneath the thin lawn fabric. Ah! If this didn’t make his ney rise from his loins, then all the art in Persia was dead, along with its manhood!

*************************************

Ali sat on the low bed, in his usual position, hovering a few inches from the Turkish rug. He smoked his hookah, and the apple- dried tobacco floated out through the piping. Since Ali was mostly spirit, it circled in his lungs, visible to the eyes of Shakira. When Ali was pleased or aroused, he shimmered with a golden gleam, and Shakira did not fail to notice his interest. Ali never touched the food offered him, for he did not live on such substance of mortals. But his eyes widened when he saw Shakira standing before him, and she saw that he was pleased. Her nipples hardened and ached and seem to stretch their now reddened buds towards him sitting before her.

“Ya Habibi”, began Shakira, settling herself on a mound of pillows next to Ali. “There is talk amongst our mayor and men about the women’s zars. I have heard the old Iman Kaleel has been consulted by Mayor Nageesh.”

Shakira took a bite of a stuffed date, and looked at Ali siting next to her. Ah! He was handsome this morning, with his robes sparkling in gold dust and the sweet smell of the tobacco surrounding his head like a vaporous crown.

Ali continued to puff on his hookah, his face dissolving in the smoke. He did not look at Shakira, but with eyes half closed, seemed lost in his own thoughts. He did not immediately answer her, but continued to pull languidly on his pipe.

“It is more than just Imam Kaleel who has knowledge of what you women do.” Ali blew out a long plume of smoke.

“News has rolled like a stone from a hill down to the valley. Now the mullahs in the district know what goes on here, for your Mayor Nageesh is out to protect his good name.”

Shakira was surprised, but then again, Ali was spirit and would be able to gather information unseen. That was a definite advantage over mortals. He didn’t stand with his ear to the wall like Leila. She also knew Ali would not share how he obtained this knowledge. He was a spirit of mystery, after all.

And a man.

“Beloved”.

Shakira’s voice was sweet as mashed dates and cut through Ali’s smoke seductively.

“What do you think I should do? What should we women do to protect ourselves?”

Shakira could see a smile forming on Ali’s lips, even through the smoke. His smile broadened, but still he did not look at her.

“Ah, women! They do not change much through the centuries. They dig holes in the ground and complain when they fall in.”

He blew out a long stream of smoke, obscuring his face completely. Shakira could sense his mirth, for his spirit-body vibrated with his silent laughter.

“You should have asked my advice before you held your zars and I would have told you my opinion.”

Shakira’s mood changed from cajoling to anger.

Just like a man! Hah! He doesn’t remember the role his own zar played in his past. I could have left him in stupid Aya’s womb and he would still be unhappy.

Demon Ali must have sensed her thoughts for he changed his position slightly, and laid down the hose from the hookah.

“Look, Shakira. You have involved yourself and the others in a dangerous thing. The mullahs have cracked down all over the country on zars. This you well knew. Your rebellion against the men has been too open. Had you been smarter, you would not be so worried now.”

Shakira exploded.

“Alright, Mighty Zar! I have played the foolish woman and now you have your satisfaction! Your wisdom is more than my own, though I am called Sheikha. What can I do to make you help me?

“Ah! You want my help? All you had to do is ask.” Ali the Demon vibrated with laughter.

“I am asking, Ali, I am begging for your help. I am lost which way to go. I am lost.”

Now Ali the Demon turned to look at Shakira propped up on the rich colored cushions beneath him. His eyes softened and he folded his arms across his chest and golden stardust rose from his movements. His voice was serious but still a hint of laughter was there as he spoke in low tones to this woman.

“You and the others do nothing. Tell them to be obedient wives to their husbands. Tell them to act sweetly and talk in pleasing, melodious tones and not to challenge them. Tell them to act as white doves and bring honor to their house. I will do the rest.”

Shakira, being an intelligent and curious woman, could not resist. “What Ali, do you plan on doing?” As soon as the words left her mouth, she realized her mistake.

Ali the Demon’s eyes grew dark, and his face scowled with thunder. Shakira had never seen him in such a state, and shrunk back on her pillows. Her heart thumped as if she had seen a horrible jinn in the black of night, and sweat rose on her skin in fright.

Ali saw her fear, could smell it with his sharpened senses, and curbed his anger as well as he could.

“Woman, it is enough for you to know I will fix what you have broken. It is not for you to question what I do. I am not your husband, but you apply the same advice here as you tell the other women. Now, I desire soft music and the perfume of your body in my nostrils and my ney within your woman’s bush. I will play the flute and you will dance for me. But you take off that gown. I prefer to see your skin glisten with your almond oil, and to see your flesh roll in the morning light. This is what you will do for me and I will take care of your mess. But ask me not again my plans. You would not want to know. Have faith in your beloved.”

Ah! Shakira knew a strong and determined man when she heard one. And since she had no power against the mullahs, she was glad to leave it to Ali. There are times when a man is a necessity in life, and this was a prime example. He might be spirit, but there was enough man in that spirit to hide behind.

Jane Kohut-Bartels
Copyrighted, 2009-2014. “The Zar Tales” published by Lulu.com, 2009

“9-11″,….. a poem dedicated to my aunt Jean.

September 10, 2014

This poem was the favorite of my Aunt Jean Kohut, who died at almost 102 July 28, 2014. She was from Hungary and this courageous young woman at 24 years old, sailed back on the Queen Mary to Hungary to defend her parent’s property rights before the Hungarian court. In 1936 all state institutions, courts, etc. were already taken over by the Nazis. Of course she lost, but the miracle was her courage in facing these circumstances. She could have been jailed or shot.

Aunt Jean knew most of the Astronauts and had signed photos framed on her walls. To say that she was patriotic is an understatement. She was buried in her favorite lavender pants suit, wearing her USA tee shirt. She was a fierce intellectual, and a rare woman at that. She wrote extensively of her love for her new country.

Lady Nyo

 

Painting by Jane Kohut-Bartels, watercolor, 2006"Eagle" Jane Kohut-Bartels, watercolor, 2005

 

9-11

 

That beautiful morning–

Teasing taste of early Autumn

The unthinkable happened

And our world stopped turning

I saw the plane, I saw the fire

I saw the smoke descend like

A blanket of blinding grief

Too late to spare those on the ground

The sight of Armageddon.

 

 

Mortar-grey people transformed

Into gritty moving statues,

Holding hands, blinded by smoke,

Move down streets where

Paper, bricks, metal, glass rained down

Like the Devil’s Ticket Parade,

Walked in silence towards the bridges,

Barely a moan I am told,

An Exodus unexpected on this

Morning of such seasonal promise.

 

I saw worse.

I saw people jump

From the ledges, holding hands,

Some with briefcases

And all I could do

Was howl:

 

“I will catch you!

Jump into my arms

I will not drop you.

Do not be afraid,

Aim for my embracing arms,

With the last of my life—

I will catch you.”

 

That day of fire and ash,

Inexplicable funeral pyre,

Of brave souls rushing in

And frightened souls rushing out

And the ash, the ash, the ash,

Covered everything like a silent September snow.

 

Thirteen years later

Grieving when this day approaches,

I hear the words well up in me:

 

“We will catch you!

Jump into our arms,

We will not drop you.

You will not be forgotten,

With the last of our breath–

We will catch you.”

 

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 9-11-2011-2014

‘The Zar Tales’, Chapter Three…..

September 8, 2014

"The Zar Tales", just published.....will be on Lulu.com very soon.

-“The Zar Tales”,  published….. on Lulu.com.

 

CHAPTER III.

 

Shakira looked around at the women on the floor. Some were smoking, most talking and the sound of clinking bottles were heard though the women tried to muffle it with their robes.

“Aliya, don’t be so stingy with that bottle. Pass it over here, woman.”

“You will guzzle it, and we will have to clean up the mess.” Laugher sounded throughout the room. Some of the women sipped from the hidden and forbidden bottles of their husbands. They were not the young ones.

Give them time, thought Shakira, the wine will flow as easy as their tongues and their laughter.

It was not often they could gather, and each yearned for a time where inhibitions would lessen and gossip, the welcome companion of women, was allowed.

“Jassa”, called Shakira, “come spread the cloth on the altar. We must do this properly if

we are to catch a Zar tonight.”

“Perhaps cousin we catch two Zars tonight. My Farah has been complaining of stomach troubles and maybe a Zar has gripped her middle.”

Shakira shook her head and laughed. “Farah eats too many dates and she is fat as a ewe. No Zar would have room to lodge in her stomach. Too much food in there. 

Dried fruit, stuffed dates, nuts and sweet breads were passed around on large trays. A large brass one was placed on the altar, made of a high stool in the middle of the room. This was for the spirits who happened to come wandering in during the drumming. No mortal would dare touch that offering.

A number of women had dumbeks, brought to the house smuggled under their voluminous robes. The tamboura , an ancient lyre-like instrument, was already in the hands of Leila, and she busy tuning it to suit the mood of the evening. Leila usually started with sad songs, and as the wine made the rounds, the tempo of the tamboura , followed by the dumbeks, would increase and the women would make little effort to confine their happiness.

Ah! Life could be good! It was just a matter of side- stepping the men. 

Tonight Shakira had an idea, something she had dreamed of for a while. The festival of the Goddess Nut was approaching, and though no longer celebrated openly Nut was the Goddess closest to the heart of women. Protector of the dead, Nut was also beloved by the living, for she spread her body over the Universe and fed and comforted them from her teats. There was always enough milk from generous Nut and she was beloved by mothers, and most of the women in the village were mothers.

So many babies now in the arms of Nut, resting like stars in her bosom! She had lost her only babe, along with her husband many years ago. So Ali was both to her and tonight she would dance in celebration. Allah was the men’s god, but Nut had the heart and devotion of women.

Leila started to play her tamboura, and slow, sad chords and plaints tumbled from her fingers. Women around the room hushed, listened with their ears and hearts, heads nodding. This was the music reaching up to their wombs and lifting the sorrows off their bosoms. Shakira could imagine the ghosts of children and husbands long gone floating like wisps of smoke in the center of the room. Perhaps they would eat from the sacred tray of sweets. Tonight they would join together, still part of the village though no longer in corporal form. The magic of Leila’s fingers drew forth tears along, perhaps, invisible spirits.

Her playing changed after these sad songs. Gone was the mourning of the women, to be replaced by joyful tunes. Voices were lifted in song and chant, shoulders swayed and hands clapped out a counter rhythm to the drums.

Shakira felt the trance take over her body, slip up her loins and envelop her mind. 

Ahhhh!

It was a warm embrace, and it wasn’t Ali! Warm enough to make her move with an internal rhythm apart from any conscious intentions.

She was possessed by the Zar trance. 

Shakira rose to her feet and discarded her outer garment. She shook out her arms and rolled her head around.   Her white cotton undergown was loose over her swelling breasts and haunches. She kicked off her sandals and her long black hair streamed down her back, unplaited, flowing like dark waves. She paced around the circle, her body picking up the rhythm of the drums and tamboura, her hips defining a pattern of movement, her arms held out from her body. She was dancing the age-old dance of women, for women, to greet the cares and concerns of their tribe. For, men aside, women were the heart beat of the village, they were the blood coursing through the alleys and up to the well. They were the waters of Life .

Shakira stalked the room, now a tigress, the drums following her, she commanding the rhythm. Shaking, bowing, swaying, each movement mirrored in the watching eyes of the women. She danced alone, but the movements were blood, flesh and muscle of every woman who sat before her. Heads nodded in time with the drums, hands clapped, some women pounded the floor in counter rhythms, swayed with their own bodies in imitation of Shakira’s dancing.   She moved around the room, hips shaking, belly rolling, shoulders thrown back and forth, hair cascading outward like the whirling skirts of the Dervishes of Turkey as she turned in circles, feet pivoting beneath her body, those feet beating out an tattoo that went straight into the earth. 

“Ayaaa!”

“Sheikha Shakira dances in the river of life! The Sheikha captures our hearts and lifts them to the Goddesses’ lips!”

“Ayaaa! We dance with you, Shakira!”

Voices were raised in chants, joined together in different harmonies, rising up to the ceiling, taking wing in the nighttime air. Shakira’s feet pounded out rhythms deep, deep into the soil of the floor. Her hands and flinging arms commanded the winds, and the women’s chants rose to the ears of heaven.

Ayaaa! 

Sweat dripped on the face of Leila as she played the tamboura, her fingers flashing on the lyre-like instrument and the drums beat different cadences, creating multi-layered sounds. This drone of music underlay the vocals of the women singing in now- strange harmonies. Pagan magic filled the room and Shakira’s body radiated the energies of an older culture. Gone were the cities, the stuff of modern life, the mullahs, the chadors and berka that veiled the beauties of women and in their place was the teats of nourishing Goddess Nut, spreading her body over the universe, the stars coursing through her body, the planets, the moons, the comets, too. The sun crept up her holy woman’s place at night, to be born out of her mouth at dawn. The moon too, came forth from her body, and the passage of the hours were marked by her Houri, the original women of the night, dancing with lessening veils till they lay under her belly at daybreak, sleeping. 

Praise Nut! Goddess of women. Goddess of our own, time before time, Goddess before any God!

 -

 Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted 2010-2014, The Zar Tales published by Lulu.com, 2010

 

 

Life is Good.

September 5, 2014

My beautiful picture

Except for war, except for women in India and Pakistan…hell, all around these more ‘backward’ countries where the rights of women are non existent…..except for Ebola, terrorists, threats, attacks on the children and innocent.

Well, this summer has been quite an adventure.  It’s been a sharp learning curve but things are working out.  The blinders have come off my eyes on any number of issues, and for that I am grateful.  My dear Aunt Jean dying hasn’t really hit me yet, but it will.  I am slow on some of these things.

It was hot this summer at times.  But the good news for me is  I finally finished a novel…..”A Kapitany”…..a Hungarian themed….art thieves, insurance crimes, bdsm, redemption, etc.  LOL!  Not the novel I wanted to finish, but one that was most completed.  Spent the summer  changing tense and tightening up the book.  Will publish it next spring with Createspace….

Talked with my dear friend Bill Penrose last week.   He is well and silver smithing and rock climbing still.  Bill formatted the first three of my books with Lulu.com.  He is an amazing writer and man.  He believed in my writing when I didn’t have a clue.  You can’t buy friends like that and he will always be at the top of my list.

No cats or dogs here died, which is a very different circumstance than last summer when we lost three darlings to old age.  We have three more, a dog at 15 and two cats at the same age, but they are doing great.  We are preparing for winter this fall with a new woodstove:  it’s our 30th wedding anniversary, and we thought to go on a long vacation, but then decided that a new woodstove would last longer…and be more comfortable.  LOL!

I am planning a new and expanded version of “Boundaries, Setting them and meaning them”…..for the blog.  Things happened this summer that brought back to me the importance of such issues.  In particular, a meeting with a fool of a man after more than 40 years.  We will call this man Bubba, because he acted with all the finesse of a lout.  Bubba overstepped every boundary known to women, and he did it with glee.  Or perhaps thoughtlessness.  But I think he thought he could get away with a very self-centered and polluted agenda, so it was purposeful. (Though he couldn’t believe that I would ‘take offense.”  Hah!)   Boundaries are something that every one needs, and why is it so damn hard for most of us women to remember them and put them into action at the immediate time and proper place?  I think it is because our shock that the Bubbas Of The World  would violate them without thought or consideration. It’s because some very stupid men think that they can and it’s acceptable to do so.  Showing me a picture of his naked wife on his phone was just the beginning of the offense.  What a wanker! His poor wife.  And this man thinks he can be taken seriously???  Jesus, good thing this badly aging man didn’t meet my husband.  He would have summed up the offense to me and taken care of the situation, probably in the usual way men deal with insults.  With their fists. Primitive but effectual.  But we don’t usually travel around with our husbands so we have to be alert and faster on our feet. And depend upon ourselves.   Applying boundaries again and letting the chips fall where they will.

But the fall is coming and I love the change of seasons….especially this one.  There is expectation in the air, a cooling of temps which is welcome in the Deep South, and I am ready.  The garden gave a lot of tomatoes and that is about all, but I am planning next year’s garden already.  A better one.

Except for the writing, nothing really new here, except I have slowly gone back to belly dance and the feared flamenco …..mostly for exercise…..with weights.  LOL! Ambitious a bit,, but it’s working.

Life can be a sharp learning curve.  I guess the point is to keep learning and pushing forward.

Lady Nyo

-

DARWIN’S WORMS

 

The soil has lost its excellence.

Worms hide in the

Deep sullen earth

I imagine curled up,

Embracing worm castings

And each other,

Desiccated former selves

Pale little ghosts

Awaiting the fertility of spring

The watering of a hard rain.

 

I squandered the bloom months

Thinking paper and pen

Would bring its own blossoming

Scarcely seeing the vitality outside

Windows,

Allowing cabbage moths and beetles

To dominate

My nod to farming

To self-sufficiency,

My tithe to the earth.

 

The soil is hardened

By the sins of the season.

Sharp winds make

Furrows

The cold buries down,

Deep, deep down

Torments, teases life

Who would show a feckless head.

 

Especially those hopeful worms

Now bundled in worm-sleep.

 

The words, verse,

I chose to cultivate

Over cabbage, collards,

Failed to bloom.

Better I had plied the hoe

And bucket to that

Than a fevered pen to paper.

 

It is now winter

And the fallow earth

Plays a waiting game

Knows I have failed

In pulp and soil

And mocks with a barrenness

I feel inside and out.

-

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2014, from “Pitcher of Moon”, published by Createspace, Amazon, 2014

“The Zar Tales”, Chapter Two

August 31, 2014

Zar Dancer

A Woman possessed by a Zar……

 

Chapter II.

 

Of course there had to be a snake in this paradise.  It was the village mayor. He was not happy with the power Shakira had.  For Shakira was a Sheikha, a ‘wise woman’, trained from her mother’s line in the responsibilities of such a position.  Shakira was consulted by the women over many issues. Marriages, birth names, the problems women had over their troublesome men, all these and much more came to Shakira.  She was wise, and known for her sensible opinion.  She had power in her own right.

And this was irksome to the mayor.   Not enough issues came to his desk.  He was a man, and in this world, a man was the one to consult, not a woman!

No, the mayor was up against a force of nature disobedient to the natural order of life. And besides, he heard the women were having too much fun in the opinion of some of the husbands.  There was talk they were planning to meet and drink and smoke and drum and laugh till late at night, but that was just a whispered rumor.  Ah, life was not in the proper order at all!

He, by the authority of his office, would have to make inquiries into this matter.  The women were showing their heels and who knew what would happen next?  Perhaps they would roll their eyes at the Imam!  Perhaps the women would refuse next to go to the mosque!  Who knows with women?  They could create all sorts of mischief, and he, the mayor, would be called to account for it.  Ah!  He owed it to the men, his brothers under the sun,  to find out what was going on.  He owed it to his own reputation and his position in the village to investigate all rumors.  Perhaps if he put his foot down now, his own wife of many years would quiet her voice and heel to his command like a good Muslim wife.  But he had his doubts.  His wife, after all, was related to Shakira.  Ah! That clan stretched back into time, and making his own wife obey was like telling the wind not to blow.  It was the blood of Shakira that made ill in his own house.  Or, at least, it had a part in his problems. 

Well, whatever to come, he owed it to Allah, the one God!  And He was a Man! He would agree with the mayor. That was the natural Order of things.

So the mayor, whose name was Mr. Nageesh, heard that on a certain Friday, when the men were at mosque chanting their prayers, the women were making their way to Shakira’s house.   Mayor Nageesh sent a young boy, not more than twelve, to count those entering the house and see if he could hear anything of their plans.  This young boy lurked in the shadows of a doorway and watched.  At least twelve women had entered the house, some with bundles concealed under their dresses.  What they were carrying was not clear to the boy, but the sound of drumming and laughter and even the sound of suspicious clinking of bottles could be heard from this house after dark.  Worse, the women stayed there for hours. The sound of their ruckus was shameful, even the men could hear it through their snoring.

A Zar!  The women were holding a Zar! What else could it be?   Ah, this was very bad, very, very bad, for the Zar was now illegal. Everyone knew it was banned as pagan by the illustrious council of religious men in the cities.  This would be the end of his office if word of this spread beyond this village.  It was sure to reach the ears of the district and then he would have his hands full.  Or, he thought with a shiver….they could have his head.  It had happened before.  Allah have mercy!

 

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2010-2014

 

 

“The Zar Tales”, Chapter One

August 28, 2014

 

 

In 2010 I published the novella, “The Zar Tales” with Lulu.com.  It started out as a short story, but had it’s own ideas.  That happens when the characters have more life than was supposed.  The writer loses control and some times that isn’t a bad thing.  This is dedicated to my dear friend of many years, Bill Penrose, who is an excellent writer and believed in my own undeveloped abilities as a writer.

Lady Nyo

Shakira is Sheikha, Wise Woman, leader of the Zar ritual and general organizer of the women  and  women’s issues.  Previously, Ali the Demon has jumped from young Aya to the arms of Shakira, a middle-aged woman. (“A Turkish Tale of A Zar”)  Zars have been outlawed in most Islamic countries since 1983 as pagan worship.  However, it flourishes in rural areas and also in some big cities.  It is considered part of ‘women’s religion’ by the officials and yet it continues in spite of being outlawed.  It is one of the main mental health outlets for women in these countries.  Possession by a Zar usually is a woman’s way of sassing her husband and expressing her unhappiness with marriage and her life.

 

THE ZAR TALES

CHAPTER 1

Shakira, wise woman, daughter of the veil, Sheikha to the village like her mother and grandmother before her…. stood before the window of her small stone house. She could see to the village pump and watch dark clad women like so many black crows, fill their water jugs each morning and again in the afternoon. 

It was still early in the morning, but a sultry wind blew in from the south.  It would be no different than any other day of the season, for the rains would not return until late fall.

Mixing the humble mashed chickpeas, oil and garlic, she prepared the day’s humus. Not a task to try her powers, but one that fed her, important enough. The flat bread was already cooked, the yogurt curdling in the heavy glass jars sitting outside in the sun. 

 She wondered where Ali had gone so early this morning.  Probably lurking around with other Zars on the mountain, playing at knucklebones. 

“Shakira! Have you enough water this morning?  I will draw you some if not.”

A woman walked by the window, her black dress and head scarf no different from any of the other middle aged women.   Except for her voice and that limp from a club foot, she would not be distinguished from any other black robed woman.

“I have enough, Leila, enough for this morning.  Later I will go draw more.”

Leila was Shakira’s relative, their families as mixed as a bowl of wheat and barley. Not much had changed in this mountain village in centuries, except the convenience of electricity, a central, motorized village pump and a few motor cars that brought dignitaries from the far flung cities once a year.   New was old by the time it got to their village, for they were isolated in the mountains of eastern Turkey. 

Shakira’s Ali was a Zar, a demon who came to Shakira for a man’s comfort up under her dress.  He was young, younger than middle-aged Shakira, but he only appeared young. Ali was at least a thousand years old. He was killed by one of his tribesman around the age of thirty. Shakira knew very little about his circumstances, because Ali did not talk.  It was a man’s prerogative to keep secrets, and Ali, though a Zar, was once a man. 

Shakira first saw Ali when he appeared before her a shimmering, golden ghost at the Zar ritual a year ago. She struck a deal with the handsome devil and Ali was glad to jump into the welcoming and much more experienced arms of Shakira.  He had more room to sleep than in the womb of Aya, the young women he formerly possessed. He liked the strong thighs and women’s quarters of Shakira.

At times, when the weather was cooled by breezes blown down from the mountain, Shakira would close her door and draw the curtain over her front window.  In the other room serving as her bedroom she could watch the constellations revolve in the sky from a small window cut high in the wall.  There she would hope to entertain Ali, dancing the slow, sensuous movements, caught in the moonlight from that window. 

“Come, my Habibi, come and comfort me,” Shakira would call out, her eyes closing in expectation, her voice shaking with her need.  And Ali would magically appear, materializing in the room, glowing like a golden shower of tiny stardust. 

 Ali would then sit on her bed, hovering as demons do, a few inches from the woven wool covering.  He would smoke his hookah and his eyes would sparkle through the stardust  as he watched Shakira, now naked, seduce him with her dance.

“My Habibi, I dance for you, I dance with my limbs and my heart and my soul.  Do you like what you see, my dearest?” 

We must remember that Ali was a Zar, a Spirit, and there wasn’t much of flesh on him…or of him.

Somehow Ali would answer her, but not in words.  He would speak into her heart, into her soul and Shakira always heard this unspoken language.

“You are my heart’s delight, my beautiful and wise Shakira.  Your movements would inspire the dead to rise and dance in the streets, so lovely are you to my eyes.” 

 Shakira’s body was mature and ripe, her skin the color of turkish coffee filled to the brim with rich cream.  Her hair was still black as the night, with just a few strands of silver, and when she danced, freed of the day’s covering, it swung in waves down her back to her full, muscular buttocks.  Her belly was rounded and jiggled when she laughed, not like the slim, flat bellied girls like Aya before her baby, but full like the clay jugs made to carry the precious water from the village well.  Her hips were strong and fleshed out like ripe fruit from a sacred and ancient olive tree.  

Shakira had some vanity about her, and since Ali had appeared and taken up residence, she rubbed scented oils into her skin.  In the dim light of the oil lamp, Shakira’s skin rolled and wavered like watered silk.  She raised her strong and muscled limbs above her head, snapping her fingers like zils to her humming.  Her breasts swayed and pushed themselves out proudly, and if they sagged a bit with age, Ali didn’t mind.  She was a woman after all, and the scent of her body and the oils rubbed in her skin put him in a narcotic trance.  Her dark eyes rolled back in her head as her shoulders rolled forward, and her hips gyrated in the age-old movements of seduction. 

Ali was enchanted.  Their nights were filled with  strange lust and if Shakira woke in her bed alone, she was not deserted.  Ali had climbed into her woman’s garden to sleep, folding himself and resting in the warmth below her womb.  She would rub her belly, and say: “Good morning, dearest”, smile and start her day. Some mornings she would feel Ali rush out of her like a warm fart and disappear into the day, off to converse and argue with other Zars around their mountain village.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2010-2014

A Chapter from “The Zar Tales”……

August 20, 2014

*”All the carpets of Persia cannot match the softness of her hands

The roses of the Sultan’s garden have not the bloom of her cheeks

The trees blown by a gentle wind have not the sway of her delicate gait

And my heart travels with speed to lie at her feet.

Ah! She steps on my heart, invisible beneath her flowery foot,

And trots upon my senses, scrambling them like eggs for the breakfast.”*

…..poem of Ali, a former student of Rumi. A thousand years ago.

In 2010 I published “The Zar Tales” with Lulu.com.  This was a novella about women in modern Turkey who were bedeviled by ancient Berber (and Persian) Zars…..spirits who had done something to displease the mullahs of Paradise and were sent back to suffer for a thousand years or so in the form of spirits.  Now Zars are djouns….without material substance, rather like talking vapors.  They like to inhabit married women and they cause martial conflict.  In the form of the Zar ritual, they are also an important element in social and mental health for women in Africa and the Middle East.  Ali was the leader of these zars who have now (through a particular event) have become mortal men:  Spirit made into Flesh.  Ali is soon to be married to the Sheika Shakira. (Sheika is loosely translated as ‘wise woman’.)  The setting of this novella is in a mountainous village in Turkey in 1983.

Ali was sitting on the bench early one evening when the village men gathered outside the baker’s shop. They lit the hookah and passed the hoses around. He was enjoying the mixture of babble and smoke rising like spirits above their heads.  Eyes half closed against the blue haze circling his head, he basked in the fading sunlight.

There was a lot more energy needed to be a mortal, Ali thought.  Being a Zar was easier. That Shakira was insatiable.  Now she would grab his hand and lead him to bed, and she would stay there, full of demands and little shame for a woman!  On top of that, she was feeding him too much and he was getting heavier.  She told him he needed the weight, but he thought she just was in love.  Ah! Women acted differently in love.

This was something he had forgotten over the past thousand years.  He was adjusting to a diet of rich foods he had not tasted before.  The foods of his Berber clan were simpler.  The woman was making flaky walnut and honey pastries and stuffing dates with sugared almonds and tempting him with candied ginger, orange and lemon peel.  Also, wheat salads with golden raisins and garlic and herbs from her garden.

And he was eating too much meat.  This goat and lamb was not stringy, as he remembered in the desert, but stuffed with lard and fat and served with stewed apples and apricots and more delightful than even her sweetbreads. Ah, he was going to get fat and slow!  But he had a thousand years of nothing on his stomach, and Shakira was sure to kill him with all these rich dishes!  Or, he supposed, her demands in bed.  One or the other was going to shorten his life.

So, the smoke and silence this evening was a restful time for Ali.

But it wouldn’t last long.  The murmur of men made him open his eyes. Walking towards them was Emir and Hasan.  Ah! Two old Zar friends now as flesh and blood– thanks to mullah kabobs!

Hasan wore the indigo blue turban. There was always a kinship between them, and if nothing but their hooked noses and the colors of their robes and turbans showed this, well it was enough.  Emir was Persian; his robes were white and black.  Ali stood and embraced both men, and kissed each on both cheeks as was custom.  He introduced Hasan as a kinsman from a village in the mountains and Emir as an old friend.  How old, Ali didn’t reveal, but they had been Zars together for many centuries.  Ali called for more of the strong Turkish coffee and the baker came out with the tiny cups and the long ladled copper coffee pots.  The village men, as in all regions of Turkey, prided themselves in their hospitality, and welcomed the two strangers. Besides, they might bring gossip or news and that was better than reading weeks- old newspapers dealing with city issues and rarely those from the mountains.

Hasan and Emir were passed the piping of the hookah. They filled their lungs with the sweet scent of dried apple tobacco.  After a while, Ali mentioned Emir was a poet, and a wonderfully inventive one at that!  Emir beamed with pride and delight and looked at Ali, a broad smile wreathing his sun darkened face.

“Ah!  My Brother Ali here is a fine poet in his own right!  I cannot hold a candle with my poor verse!  I have heard Brother Ali expound at length and his verse is prodigious!  The angels in heaven get dizzy with the beauty of his lyrics. They spiral almost to the ground and Allah sucks them back up with his breath!  Ah! The Great Rumi would have treasured the verse of Brother Ali had he but heard it!”

Ali laughed to himself.  Emir knew well Ali had been a student of the great Rumi almost a thousand years ago.  It was not in his mortal flesh he sat as Rumi’s student, but a time when he was condemned as a Zar,  without purpose or a woman to possess.

When Ali was a young Berber chieftain, and still with mortal connections to this earth, he was taken by the beauty of verse and was a very good Berber poet.  This was unusual for his region, for the women of the tribes were known to be the poets and the literate ones.  But Ali was a favorite amongst the women, and they loved to have him around as a young boy, before he was of age where he would not be welcome company with the women.  His dark eyes shone hearing the verses the women chanted while washing at the river. He learned how they took from the beauty of nature and the joys, sadness of their lives and wove them into carpets of verse.  The knots and threads of these beautiful verse-carpets were full of color and the softness of dreams, not sheep wool.

He learned to stroke the phrases, to rise to the lushness of the Berber language.   When he was older, he would sit on his horse in the desert and roam the dunes until he lost himself in lyrics and sand.  His horse knew the way home, and Ali could compose his poetry away from the chatter of wives and children, growls of camels, the bleating of goats and the general noise of the camp.

Ali had a hunting hawk, as had most of the Berber men, and he would put his beautiful girl on the leather pad at his wrist, gently pull off the hood and launch her into the desert sky.  She would wheel and soar high and turn into the sun, and Ali would lose sight of her.  But before he did, he would compose verses in praise of his bird.  Her wings, her grace, her sharp eyes that saw from high on the wind.  She would fold her wings and plunge like a daytime falling star, and stretch out her claws.  Make short work of desert rats.

She was fast as the sandstorms that carried the wind up to the foot of the mountains, and a fierce as any warrior on his steed.  Her coat sparkled with a million colors, like a piece of bronze mirror, or like pearls glistening fresh from the sea.

Ali could never stop praising his hawks.  They lifted him into the wilds of their heaven and left his human travail behind.  Ah, his birds made his soul soar!

Ali was as proud of his hawks as he was of his poetry. His father and most of his kinsmen would sew shut their bird’s eyes shut and release the strong thread before they launched them. But Ali saw many hawks blinded this way, and what good is a blind hunting hawk?  So he patiently molded hoods of new lambskin, sewed and decorated them with dyed feathers.

Hasan’s voice cut into his thoughts, and Ali shook his head to clear.  He hadn’t thought about the hawks in many years, centuries actually.  Now, with his feet again mortal, he could capture and train young tercels and hunt again like his ancestors.  This promise brought tears to his eyes, and opening them, saw the compassionate gazes of both Hasan and Emir.  They had suffered as much as Ali, and now, thanks to the good mullahs, they had their chances at life again.

“Give us a verse, Brother Ali!” said Emir, with a broad smile.

The men of the village perked up with his words, for there was nothing that men loved more than the soft, lulling words of a poet.

Unless it was the soft moving hands of a woman.

The men had hard lives in the mountains, tilling the stony earth for their grain crops, but they made time for any poet.  It was music to their ears without instrumentation.  It was the fine music of human voice and colorful words.  It gave precious beauty to their routine lives.

Ali shook his head, and said for Emir to give them a poem, but Emir insisted Ali give them a verse of his own making.

“Ah! You ask the impossible, my dear brother.  It has been long since I thought of any verse. Life had glued shut those pages of inspiration.”

Ali smiled to himself and took up one of the mouthpieces of the hookah, sucking in a long plume of smoke smelling of apple.

“If marriage next month to the Sheilkha Shakira doesn’t open those pages, my friends, then all the poets of Persia have lived for naught!”

This from one of the men in the village made them all laugh.  They were curious how this stranger had been able to attract the affections of their desirable Sheikha. But their eyes, even the eyes of men, could tell he was handsome enough to attract a woman’s gaze.

Better he marry the Sheikha now.  The women would have no claim on him then.

Ali stared at Emir through half opened eyes.  They spoke volumes, were masked by the heavy smoke he expelled from his lungs.  Ah, brother Emir would push him, but perhaps he could think of something.  Surely the men would want a love sonnet or a verse of the beauty of mortal life.  Make that Paradise, for these men were jaded by their mortality.  It was new to Ali, Emir and Hasan, and precious and confounding to them daily.  After being a Zar for centuries, feet on the earth were heavy but strangely comforting.

*”All the carpets of Persia cannot match the softness of her hands

The roses of the Sultan’s garden have not the bloom of her cheeks

The trees blown by a gentle wind have not the sway of her delicate gait

And my heart travels with speed to lie at her feet.

Ah! She steps on my heart, invisible beneath her flowery foot,

And trots upon my senses, scrambling them like eggs for the breakfast.”*

At this last line, the men guffawed.  Even they, in their isolated village, could discern good verse from bad. Ali was having his fun with them.

“I warned you I had nothing to say,” he said with a bemused look on his face.

“Ah, Friend Ali!” said one of the men loudly.  “If you think you have nothing to say now, marriage will shut up your mouth then.”

The others laughed, for the truth of the matter was so.  Marriage changed both men and women.  It made one side more quarrelsome and the men more silent and fearful of the wrath of the other.  Ah! Men could not win in this battle.

Ali had been married, with a number of wives.  His eyes glazed over as he blew out more smoke from the hookah.  The first one was Lela, when he was 20 years old.  She was young and so shy, she wouldn’t look him in the eyes for two months after the wedding.  She cried most of the first month.  Ali was aware she missed her family, but a marriage is a marriage and it must be endured.  He would take his horse and his hawk and ride out and hunt.  Only when Lela had her first child, luckily for her a boy, did she perk up.  She became right bossy, too.  The older men would laugh when Ali made a hasty retreat from their tent, usually followed with a string of invective from his young wife, and sometimes wooden stirring spoons and knives.  Ah! This was not a good situation, and his father decided Ali had suffered enough and gave him another wife. Sela was a cousin of Lela and at first; she was as shy as Lela.  But she soon overcame that and became a favorite wife.  There were two more, but one died in childbirth.  All in all, Ali had four sons and four daughters. Sela was killed in the arms of Ali, when Ali was murdered making love to her.  Their second child died with them, for Sela was very pregnant.

“Ah, my wife will be angry if I don’t return home soon.”

The words of one of the men cut into Ali’s thoughts.   The sun was setting, and the sky was red from its fading luster.

“Soon, my friend”, answered another, putting his hand on the shoulder of Ali in a compassionate gesture.   “You will be yoked like the oxen in the fields to our Shakira and you too will watch the hours like the rest of us, knowing they are linked to the tempers of women.  Ah Allah! You had many wives, but we have just one each, and our lives are made miserable still!”

The laughter went around the benches where they sat in the fading sunlight. Men all over had the same issues, and now that Ali and the others were mortal again, they faced their own temperamental women.  Perhaps it was easier before as Zars, for they could just float out of earshot of women and gather in the forests in the mountains to share the hookah with other Zars. But the good outweighed the bad, for the cooking of the women went a long way in filling appetites that had been lost for centuries.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted 2010-2014

Defense of Lilith…..a continuing poem

August 17, 2014

"Viriditas", wc, janekohut-bartels, 2000

“Viriditas”, wc, janekohut-bartels, 2007

 

DEFENSE OF LILITH

From the beginning

You are defiled

By all who would

Call your name.

-

From Mesopotamia,

Between the two rivers

The Tigris and Euphrates,

Your two white breasts

That fed the soil between

The mountains and deserts–

You were demoness.

-

They gave you

The head of an owl

The feet of a bird,

But not just any bird,

But the malevolent Zu-bird

Eater of man-flesh–

A chaos maker.

-

In the Bible

You were Adam’s

First wife,

But he put you aside,

And you were deemed unclean.

-

In the Talmud

You fared little better,

Cast out into the desert,

Again a demon, a sorceress

Filthy,  to be shunned.

-

In Sumerian myths

You were a succubus

Sucking dry the seed of men,

Belaboring the birth pangs of women

Killing infants you caught unseen

From the birth canal.

-

Your breasts gave forth no milk

Nor your womb fruit

Your mouth gave off howls of obscenity

And your hair?

Serpent’s nests, foul.

-

Amulets and prayers were worn, exchanged,

Sacrifices made for your banishment.

Your name was whispered in curses and threats

By the insane,

And women were burned in your name

On bonfires of male and church vanity.

-

Enough, Lilith.

This madness will stop

Your worth and value has been weighted

Only by a part of humanity.

The rest of us know,

Embrace you,

Welcome you.

-

We are your inheritors

Without the deceit of mankind.

As you squat to the earth,

Your genitals revealed,

We know you strike fear

Into the faint hearts of men.

We know your beauty sullied,

Your power reached to the Sun

And your eyes reflect

The tides of the Moon.

-

You bear the hatred and fear of Men.

But We Women have opened our eyes

.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2014

How much of mythology is defined, written from a male perspective?

A Good Country Woman…a Short Story, but true.

August 11, 2014
North Carolina Stream, watercolor, Jane Kohut-Bartels, 2006

North Carolina Stream, watercolor, Jane Kohut-Bartels, 2006

I was born and raised in the North country. I came to the South after running away from home, and landed in a totally different culture. I was so ignorant of this region I didn’t bring a coat and the first week of October that first year, the temperature fell to 11 degrees.

I knew nothing about the south. I was fed on stories of the KKK, of lynching, of brutal police with billy clubs and water cannon during the years of integration. This was all we heard from TV news. I remember in the mid 60’s when a tall and exhausted black man came to our front door, quite a ways out into the countryside of New Jersey. He asked my mother to call the police. He had walked from Georgia. She immediately told me to go upstairs and hide in a closet. I was her only daughter and she was no racial liberal. I don’t remember whether she called the police or not, but I hope she did. He didn’t look like he would survive much longer as he sat quietly on the bottom front step. Blacks called Negroes then, were something we never saw much of out in the countryside. Those people were in the cities and this rural area hadn’t changed in over 300 years. Small dairy farmers, corn and soybeans, a river and a long Raritan canal built in the 1830’s was the staple environment of my childhood. The Dutch had moved over the land more than a century before the Revolution and any other color of skin was a rarity.

Years later I met a woman, an old white country woman in the mountains of North Carolina. She made quilts and lived in a three room shack in a pasture surrounded by rolling meadows and ringed by mountains. I remember the water barrel under a tin roof, and I remember her pointing a shotgun out of the door when two of us, a girlfriend and myself, came to see her. I don’t know whether it was proper to call her house a shack: The outsides were covered with tar paper and unskinned logs, the inside with tongue and groove boards. The entire structure rested on piled up stones and you could see through the bottom of the house down the valley. She had an old iron bedstead in one bedroom, with a red and white quilt covering the board wall behind it. She made quilts all around the year and women from Asheville and Atlanta would come and buy them for their boutiques. I doubt she ever got what they were worth, but it was a major part of her living.

Once she recognized my friend, she was friendly enough. It was rare she had visitors and Mary was hungry for news. Living up in the mountains, even if it was in an open meadow with spectacular views on all sides, was a pretty lonely existence for any woman. She had been to Asheville once, taken by her daughter, but she said it was too busy, too many people and she felt lost. There were beautiful mountains in Asheville, too, but she was glad to get home. Other than going down the mountain to the small town that sprung up against the banks of a river, she didn’t travel. Her needs were small, and those trips to the town below her mountain only happened a few times a year.

She boiled coffee in an old coffee pot on a small wood stove, got out canned milk and canned peaches. I had never met a woman like her and listening to her history, her stories, knew the Mary’s of the world were disappearing from the face of the mountains. She was welcoming, interested in what was going on in the world. Her hospitality was heart-felt, and I thought of other isolated cultures I had rubbed up against and recognized the pride she took in making us welcome. Whether the mountains or the deserts, the hospitality was the same.

She had been married, her children moving away for jobs into the cities that had nothing to do with mountain life. Her husband died one winter, there in the cabin with her. She rolled him outside in the deep snow and hiked down the mountain to ‘inform the authorities’. It took her two days to stumble down the mountain and another day for the police to get up to her cabin.
I asked to use her bathroom, not thinking. Mary was a bit embarrassed and said that she used a corner of the ‘barn’ for that business. The barn was an open shed, with a corn crib. Somewhere she had a few milk cows, but they were scattered down the cleared mountain side and would come home of their own accord when dusk fell.

I remember an ill-fitting back door, where she had an enameled basin and some yellow soap on a shelf above the basin. She saved cooking fat and ashes from the woodstove to make that soap. Money was scarce, in spite of her beautiful quilts, and making your own soap was easy enough. She showered under the gush of water from the eaves when it rained. In the winter I imagined she heated water on the woodstove.

It was beautiful out there, looking at the huge sky that would be unhindered by city lights: the stars would be in full possession of the night. Everywhere I looked was the complete isolation only possible in the mountains, now mostly abandoned by people. Land was sold off, or remained unused for generations. I wondered how long Mary would be able to live up there by herself. She looked to be in her early seventies, but it was hard to tell with mountain people. She was a thin old woman, and the winters were rough. I wondered how she managed to heat that woodstove. She said neighbors, men from around the area, would drop off fresh split wood, and this was how it was done up there. People took care of each other when they could. She had some aging chickens and though they were what we now call ‘free range’, she had found their nests and was able to get most of their eggs. I noticed a couple of rabbit skins hanging from the roof. Mary was a pretty good with her old shotgun, but picking the pellets out of the rabbit was a bother. Rabbits and some venison dropped off periodically by far flung neighbors was the meat she ate, but cans of spam were what she liked most. She suffered from the usual lack of dental care so spam didn’t bother her as much as tough meat. It was hard to grow many vegetables as the deer came right up to the cabin and cleaned out her patch. She bartered her quilts and eggs for vegetables and spent the summer months canning on that old wood stove. Years later I canned one summer on an electric stove, but with no air conditioning in the kitchen. You can go faint from the heat.

Mary had no electricity, so she had no refrigeration, except in the winter when she could put food in burlap sacks suspended on the roof. Raccoons were pests and would raid whatever stores she had. She could hear them in the night, climbing the water barrel to get to the sacks, their nails tapping a raccoon Morse code on the tin roof. She said she didn’t mind much, as over the years she had gotten to know generations of them. She would take her broom and go out there and argue with them, they chattering and cursing in raccoon talk. She didn’t mind, because the raccoons sometimes were the only things that talked to her for a month at a time.

It’s been three decades since I visited Mary on her mountain. I’m sure she’s long gone, and I wondered how a woman could survive the isolation of her existence. Her beautiful quilts, patterns passed down from generations of mountain women must have sustained her in the dark and lonely months of winter. She proudly listed the patterns she used: “Wedding Ring”, “Harvest Home”, “Grandma’s Flower Garden” were some of those I remember. But she was an artist, though she wouldn’t have called herself such a pompous name. She delighted in taking those patterns and sewing them with her own variations, as she shyly said. That red and white quilt behind the head stead of her iron bed is what I remember most. Although it was on a white, cotton background, the red swirls and leaves and birds were thickly patterned over its surface. It was a labor of love and must have taken a long time to sew; of course the sewing was all by hand and stuffed with boles of cotton, piece by piece. And done by kerosene light.

Her shotgun gave her a certain security I would imagine, but she faced bears and puma, mountain lions, rattle snakes, copperheads and water moccasins, those thieving raccoons, beasties we have no heart to contemplate, let alone face off.

We are overwhelmed by the frenetic pace of our modern days. Her life was full enough with the struggle just to survive in that cleared mountain meadow. When I think of how overwhelmed Mary would be today, I think of how overwhelmed I am also. Perhaps the solution is far from us, but I like to think that the lessons and memory of Mary gives a peace and an alternative to our existence. It’s out there, and is possible to touch.

Jane Kohut-Bartels
Copyrighted, 2014


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