Susan Hawthorne

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unstopped mouths

we meet in the gymnasium not to huff and puff and sweat into wet towels (image of women in a gym) this is a gymnasium for women (image of Magaera's School of Women)

it takes into account all the needs of the body (a variety of lesbian bodies) the mind the wild spirit here lesbians read Sappho (Sapphic poem in Greek) in her original tongue we converse and share our memories of families of ancestors without issue we compare family trees where a single woman sits alone on the branch (image of a family tree) she is on the topmost bough (poem in Greek with English translation) with the reddest apple in her hand (image of the cervical apple, Eve's apple, Sapphic apple) she is about to take the first bite the final bite perhaps she will be cast off this bough not allowed to inhabit the ordinary society of people (cast out of Eden)

some of us come disguised we are hidden in stories of two women travelling across the land sharing their dreams
Wawalag sisters and others
we are called sisters we are hidden in ancient rituals of women's friendship where we share the same mango
Indian ritual, quote from Journey Home
its juices running along our fingers we lick our fingers and share a glass of rice wine we bend toward one another caressing and washing each other's feet in anticipation we work in the silk factories
image of Chinese women silk workers
where we tend the yellow worms their thread binding us together and in imitation we braid our hair
Images of women's hair styles from around the world - esp. different kinds of braiding
we brush the long strands with our fingers we work among books in musty libraries
link to Borges' story The Library of Babel, then to the Babel Building Site, Building Babel, also the sequence from Jeanette Winterson's Art and Lies on impossible libraries
our hair ceremonies have simplified a single twist of hair into a bun
above a bespectacled face you wouldn't know what we do with our fingers
photos of lesbians hands
and our hair when we desire we disguise our interest in other lesbian lives writing under pseudonyms about our forebears

each day we make rituals of food sucking at artichoke hearts
Willyce Kim poem “Eating Artichokes”
soaked in citrus
a lemon - see Tina Fiveashe
peeling avocadoes with four hands tonguing cherries
a quote from Sexing the Cherry by Jeanette Winterson
and berries of all kinds

some of us have left behind faint tracks which we follow into the labyrinthine
images of labyrinths, extract from H.D., Dorothy Porter's Crete and other lesbian authors’ references to it
hollow of memory a few words a few names Sappho foremost among them most remain nameless
a representation of this e.g. as a Chinese ancestory, back to the family tree etc
we search for the lives which may never have existed lives we know only from shards of pots
images of pots from Marija Gimbutas, Suzanne Bellamy
lives fragmented by time we pull at the end of tapestry
tapestry woven by women/nuns, Robin Morgan's poem
and the image vanishes at the touch of each human hand

in so many places we don't exist even when the exhumed remains are on show for all to see we are remembered for climbing mountains
photo of Freda
scaling octaves
photo of Joan, music - hyperlink to music
and living to a hundred and six
photo of Monte, link to Forbidden Love, Bold Passion tour dates and venues and catalogue)

we line the shelves of homes which keep our poetry
front covers of lesbian poetry books - hyperlink to Sappho
in special places where we speak of your jade body your limbs loosening and the longing which afflicts us all when love ends the silence is filled by the tremulous note of a bone flute
the sound of the glass singing at the touch of a finger
music - hyperlink back to hands
the whistle from the mouth of a woman
whistling woman's mouth - hyperlink back to unstopped/stopped mouths Is it because a whistling mouth looks like a kissing mouth?
who knows she can whistle up symphonies if need be

the gymnasium is a place where we can remain day in day out we can sleep there some of us sleep alone restless for a lover singing songs of loss
Why is the measure of love loss? Winterson
with black swans some sleep dreaming of azalea touch dreaming of impossible cities of lives not yet lived we roam the world's cities from Sydney to Venice Tokyo Prague San Francisco Benares Suva Shanghai and Firenze
images of these cities
where two women dream of third holding an ancient rose
image of painting
anywhere there are traces
Aimée and Jaguar and Wittig and Zeig's companions lovers and many other possibilities

some of us lie in the arms of lovers who no longer love us or entwined in love like an Indian miniature from Rajasthan
image of this miniature
some of us sleep from sheer exhaustion

the mornings are bright filled with the scent of women gathering flowers by the river
Delibes duet between Mallika and Lakmé
lesbians with their hair bound with flowers - hyperlink to hair rituals
it's our favourite season it could be the slow waking of a winter's day with muffled sounds and woodsmoke in the air or the hot north wind of summer with fire in the nostrils broken by a dive into the pool the season's come and go without rush

we withdraw from the world for a time we rest and feed our spirits our bodies are challenged by learning to work with other bodies creating human pyramids
image of POW
imitating the orang utan
on ropes and trapezes
learning to create the illusion of many hands or a body whatever its form moving with grace through space
dancer, Viv's photo of many armed woman, Indian goddesses with many arms

in this infinite sea of pleasure hearts are mended and broken we fill one another's mouths with words with ideas which might one day flourish we squander time in fruitless wishing and wanting we are not productive we listen to the wind we watch the movements of sun and moon we keep our eyes on the horizon

we unstop our mouths and we sing together words tumble from our pens crawl from our lips leap from our throats in a great conflagration of choruses

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unstopped mouths
This title was suggested by the phrase "stopped mouths" used by Page duBois in Sappho is Burning. Chicago, University of Chicago Press 1995: 37. Return to text

The setting of a gymnasium was suggested by Olga Broumas and T. Begley's Sappho's Gymnasium. Port Townsend, Copper Canyon Press 1994.
gymnasium also means school, and in Ancient Greece it often included a sacred grove. That women used a gymnasium is not outside the realms of possibility since the Herean Games, games for sportswomen pre-dated the Olympic Games, taking place around 1000 BC and earlier. Return to text

topmost bough.
Sappho Fragment 105a. See Page duBois pp. 31-54, Sappho is Burning; also see Judy Grahn, The Highest Apple: Sappho and the Lesbian Poetic Tradition. San Francisco, Spinsters/Aunt Lute 1985. Return to text

For more information see Giti Thadani, Sakhiyani: Lesbian Desire in Ancient and Modern India. London, Cassell 1996: 108. Return to text

silk factories.
See Janice Raymond, A Passion for Friends: toward a philosophy of female affection. Boston, Beacon Press/London, The Women's Press 1989: 113-147; Agnes Smedley, 'Silk Workers.' In China for Women: travel and culture. Melborne, Spinifex Press/New York, The Feminist Press 1995: 47-52; for a fictional treatment see Gail Tsukiyama, Women of the Silk. New York, St Martin's Press 1993. Return to text

M. Barnard Eldershaw - Marjorie Barnard and Flora Eldershaw - wrote a novel, A House is Built. Sydney and London: Australasian Publishing Company in association with George G. Harrap and Co. 1966. The novel tells the story of Mary Reiby depicted on the Australia $20 note. Rarely are these three women acknowledged as lesbians. She shared her later life with companion, Vee Murdoch. See the interview with her by Zoë Fairbairns in Writing Lives: conversations between women writers, edited by Mary Chamberlain. London, Virago. Return to text

Most lesbians' lives remain undocu-mented in the sense that either their names are known to us but their sexuality remains hidden or their sexuality is known to us but their names remain hidden. Return to text

shards of pots.
Many of Sappho's poems are known only from fragments some of which are found on broken pottery; this reflects the fragmented history of lesbians. Return to text

The Bayeaux Tapestry was made by nuns, the last section of it has been lost as visitors pulled at it, tearing it from the whole. On nuns as lesbians in the a contemporary context see Breaking the Silence edited by Rosemary Curb and Nancy Mannahan. Tallahassee FL, Naiad 1983. Return to text

to see.
Lesbians are most likely to recognise lesbian history. A great deal of lesbian history is denied by scholars wishing to maintain the status quo. Return to text

Freda du Faur (1882-1925) was the first woman to climb Mt Cook in New Zealand's South Island. The two peaks Du Faur and Cardogan are named after her and her lover, Muriel Cadogan; Dame Joan Hammond 1912-1996, the first operatic diva to sell a million records and golfing champion who lived with her partner, Lolita Marriott for 62 years; 'Monte was born in 1882 and came out publicly as a lesbian at the age of 104.' (Lesbiana No. 52. November, 1996. pp. 4-5) She died in 1989 at the age of 106. Her life was recently included in the travelling exhibition, Forbidden Love which began touring Australia in l996 and will continue to tour until 1998. Return to text

jade body.
Wu Tsao 19th century, China. In Chinese Women Poets. Translated by Kenneth Rexroth and Ling Chung. New York, New Directions Press. The poem ends with these lines: I want to possess you completely/Your jade body/And your promised heart./It is Spring./Vast mists cover the Five Lakes./My dear, let me buy a red painted boat/And carry you away. Return to text

limbs loosening.
Sappho, a variation on Mary Barnard's translation. See Mary Barnard, Sappho: a new translation. Berkeley, University of California Press 1958, poem 53. The fragment reads: With his venom/Irresistible/and bittersweet/that loosener/of limbs, Love/reptile-like/strikes me down. Return to text

In former times it was unladylike for women to whistle, only 'loose women' (link to Sappho's loose-limbed) behaved in that way. Return to text

A reference to a painting by Jacqui Stockdale, Portrait of a Woman Holding an Ancient Rose, 1995. Return to text

Gertrude Stein a rose is a rose is a rose. See Gertrude Stein, The World is Round. San Francisco, Northpoint Press 1988. Return to text

miniature from Rajasthan.
Reproduced in Giti Thadani, Sakhiyani: Lesbian Desire in Ancient and Modern India, opposite p. 53. Return to text

Lakmé and Mallika go down to the river to gather flowers in Lakmé by Délibes. This quintessential lesbian duet was sung at the First National Lesbian Festival Concert in the Sydney Opera House in 1990 to an audience of more than 2000 lesbians. Return to text

human pyramids.
A reference to the Performing Older Women's Circus, a Melbourne-based circus for women over forty which promotes lesbian visibility. Return to text

orang utan.
The mother orang utan raises her young alone; at birth the young cannot climb trees, they go on to learn everything from their mothers, they do not receive socialisation from any other quarter. The mother teaches the young to climb trees, another activity frequently pursued by tomboys. Return to text

not productive.
The poets/pangolins of Suniti Namjoshi's fable were not productive, and they survived. See Suniti Namjoshi and Gillian Hanscombe, 'The Lost Species' in Flesh and Paper. Seaton, U.K., Jezebel Tapes and Books, p. 37. Return to text

Vol 1 No 2 OCTOBER 1997
Editors: Nigel Krauth & Tess Brady