by Chuck Rosenthal
Thelma and Louise head east, don’t they? Are they leaving men? I suppose I could Google the story, but though I prefer knowledge to ignorance (foregoing the pit of post-structural epistemology), I prefer imagination to knowledge (if Kant doomed Western metaphysics, he did wonders for Coleridge, who misinterpreted him), so Thelma and Louise are running, yes, running away, and so, aren’t we all? Two women running away; it’s the eighties and isn’t it about time? Louise is young, Thelma middle-aged. They pick up a sexy hitch hiker. Louise fucks him. They both fuck some men, they kill some men in self defense, kind of by accident, of course. On the run from the law, then finally cornered by an army of over-armed police led by a rough, handsome sheriff who in his deep and conflicted inner toughness sympathetically yearns for their rugged, female independence, both empathically and sexually (man vs. woman, culture vs. nature, civilization vs. the Wild); they drive their convertible joyously over a cliff and the movie ends with them flying, forever and forever in flight, not in death but in flight. So now that’s out of the way, or if in the way at least we’re not pretending it’s hidden.
Diosa and Kevorkian are about to head west. Diosa is twenty-six years old, Kevorkian forty-one. Diosa has cut her hair again, dyed it red, permed it into a curly mop; she wears big hoop earrings, ties a colorful scarf around her head. She’s got $300 and a trunk full of shoes, some tops and jeans, a portable cassette player and headphones – she plugs into Bowie, “Modern Love.” She wears too much make-up, as does Kevorkian, her hair a black explosion; she listens to La Traviata.
Neither of them has applied to the Ph.D. program at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. Neither of them has ever been there. It’s the dreamy West, redder than Mars, drier (dire?) and more golden than the moon; west of Kansas, west of Denver, south of Canada, a yawn from San Francisco in impossible California; in Salt Lake you can lie by a river in the valley, sunbathing, and watch it snow on the mountains beyond (that’s what Twain said), planning your ski trip to Snowbird the next day; that’s what Stephen M_____, the King of Poetry said, he said don’t bother to apply, he’d take care of it all. Could she bring Kevorkian? If it will bring you, he said. Do you know her work? I know everything, he said.
But before they took off, what did she do? Well, at first she ran away somewhere else. She met Ruth Sparrow who gave a workshop in Charlottesville and Sparrow invited her to flee to Vermont and take a vacation from the world of men. In Vermont, Ruth Sparrow taught her to tend a flower garden that lined the walk in front of her little house, to weed and water and prune the lilacs and lilies, the peonies and roses, hydrangeas, hibiscus, wisteria, tulips, daisies, daffodils, and gorgeous sunflowers raising their heads to the sun, and spices: rosemary, thyme, oregano, tarragon, parsley, basil, sage, catnip, and chives, all in their seasons, all in their balance, to watch and listen to the insects, the fertilizing bees, but most importantly to follow the birds, their perching, dance, song and flight, because everyone had a bird soul inside them, every woman at least, that must be freed and protected both, a task of depthful delicacy and, at times, grim determination. In the back of the house, of course, there was a vegetable garden that she and Ruth tended and harvested, cooked and canned for winter. They baked their own bread.
Ruth Sparrow and Diosa drank herb tea, lunched and dined, prepared food together and cleaned up together, because there was nothing like the music of women in a kitchen preparing and caring for each other. There were quiet times, alone, when each went off to write their poems, but for Diosa there was no creativity in bliss, and in those quiet moments she found her soul birdless, empty, her heart grasping for tense opposition, and she found herself filling her notebooks with the names ands smells of flowers, the songs and colors of birds, all to show Ruth, to please Ruth, the way she once wrote down the doggerel of the saints who spoke to her mother.
Then one day when Ruth was away, giving one of her many readings, Diosa looked up from a patch of blazing red gladiolas she was about to pick for the kitchen table and spotted a young woman watching her from behind a pine tree not far from the yard. Diosa went to her and the girl stepped out. She was small and dark, with wavy cropped hair, much like Ruth herself.
The girl put out her hand. “Has she named you after a bird yet?” she said. Diosa backed away. The air around them filled with voices, no, birdsong, though the twittering, the calls, seemed alarming.
“Girl poets,” said the girl. “One night you fall asleep and you wake up in a cage, flapping, twittering.” The young woman tilted her head and gazed at Diosa with one eye. She straightened. “The attic. Eventually she’ll let you out. You’ll be free, all right.” She put out her hand again. “Raven,” she said. “Her daughter.”
Diosa took the hand and held it. Of course, under the circumstances, it felt a little like a claw.
“Runaways,” Raven said. “Are you running away?”
“A nightingale who sits in the darkness and sings to soothe its own sweet sorrow,” whispered Diosa.
“You wish,” Raven said.
Diosa returned to the house and climbed to the attic where at the door she heard the tweeting and rattling of birds. The door was locked. Ruth Sparrow returned the next day with a new girl poet, Diana Trix, a heroin addict, who Ruth brought home to cure and save.
“Ruined by a man, a pimp and addict,” Ruth told Diosa. She locked Diana Trix in the attic for a week. She came out looking flustered, but she wasn’t addicted to heroin anymore, or poetry.
“Birds,” she stuttered to Diosa.
“Did they recite any poetry?” Diosa said.
Trix tucked her nose under her arm. She’d cut her light brown hair into a fuzzy helmet with a slight ridge like a Mohawk down the middle. She lifted her head again. “I wasn’t ruined by him,” she said. “Unless you call ecstasy ruin.”
“Ecstasy,” said Diosa. She’d known a lot of men, but never ecstasy.
“You ran from ecstasy?”
“You can’t possess ecstasy.”
“Are you turning into a bird?”
Diana Trix fluttered her elbows. “I have always been a bird,” she said.
Ruth Sparrow came into the kitchen. She went to her cupboard and brought out two ceramic bowls. She gathered some almonds, yogurt, strawberries, went to the cutting board and began slicing the fruit. “Blue Jay,” she said to Trix, “help me here.” Her dark eyes met Diosa’s. “Better this,” she said, “than devastation.”
Sparrow now doted on Blue Jay. She fed her and watched her as she ate, as she pecked at her nuts and fruit and seeds. Yet despite her apparent recovery it seemed, at best, that Blue Jay grew increasingly diminutive. And as Diosa went about her daily chores, it was almost as if she had disappeared from the household. When the three of them ate, Ruth and Blue Jay huddled together at the end of the table, sharing a plate, as Diosa prepared and served, cleared the setting as the two of them nuzzled and preened. One day, when Ruth took her station wagon to town to pick up supplies, Blue Jay disappeared. Diosa checked the garden, then the front yard. On the edge of the woods she heard only the soft ack-ack of a raven or crow. Back inside she found Blue Jay huddled, barefoot, at the top of the steps under the attic door. If now smaller than ever, her feet curled, and on her hands and face grew the intimation of soft down.
“I want to go in,” whispered Blue Jay.
When Diosa got done helping Sparrow unload and stockpile the groceries, she confronted her. “She’s at the attic door,” she said to her.
“It’s a process, my dear,” said Ruth Sparrow. “She’s finding her soul; not ready for captivity or freedom.”
“And me?” Diosa asked.
“You don’t realize how ruined you are,” said Sparrow. “Take sanctuary. Relax into it.”
Was that the choice? Diosa felt the base of her nose hardening into her cheeks. That afternoon, yearning for ruin, she went back to the woods, looking for Raven, but the air around her was filled with a cloud of flapping birds, with whistles, chatter, and twitter. She called for the girl, hoping for her to emerge, a single raven or crow, but there were dozens of them, not silent but screaming. She listened for voices beneath the cries, but there was nothing in them but the fears and desires of birds.