Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Gris-Gris, Revisited

© Margaret Bowland


Gris-gris
(Revised August 2012)


Rising with the night wind, 
Legba’s misused servant sculls her makeshift boat
across the jagged template of the swamp 
looking for a sign, a water mark of Li Grand Zombi,
His serpent Self fat with knowledge
she must borrow from black night.

The humming song on her peach lips
is deep with the umber pulse of Africa,
in a language no one knows here. It
builds magic out of bondage, grows charms
from fear and want, weapons from shed blood
that turn against the holding hand.

The gris-gris sack around her neck
ties the struggling spirit to her body
for the will to resist is strongest after all;
it chills the child away from her womb,
the child she can’t keep or bring herself 
to give her master

no matter how often he comes 
like a levee breaking in the muddy dark,
hard fingers prying her open like a mussel
sharp teeth seeking
her wide mouth thin as a knifepoint,
tongue tied tight as a noose.

In time she finds it all, here and there, from
rummy sailors off ships stinking death,
from altar boys bribed with her breasts.
She mashes the small bones of a lizard
caught by a seventh son in a graveyard 
under a full moon

and all the other secret things, 
each one just so
stirs them together 
with a broken crucifix
to the singsong mantra of
the Lord’s prayer

and older prayers in her honey voice, calling
the spirits of air, crooning to the Snake of
heaven and earth, arched as a lover.
Under her bed the curse breathes, newborn in a bag
slung round the neck of the vacant doll
with the lock of yellow hair.

On that black night of endless nights,
blowing into the hut with the rush of storm,
the master is surprised and pleased
to see for the first time
she is smiling 
really smiling at him.


~February 2011
(revised August , 2012)


 
Posted for   OpenLinkNight   at dVerse Poets Pub




Process Notes: I originally had something else in mind for tonight, but recent political events in this country brought this old poem to mind, full as it is with the issues of absolute ownership and power over women's bodies, what people will do to each other when they can, and voodoo as science.

If you'd like to hear the poem read by the author, with apologies for sound quality, click below: 




Image: Another Thorny Crown, painting by Margaret Bowland
All copyright remains with the artist. The picture is reproduced here for non-commercial purposes only, for sake of the art, and with all respect to the creator. If there is any objection by the copyright holder to this use of the work, please contact me via email (see profile link) and it will be withdrawn immediately with full apologies.

42 comments:

  1. Yikes. I haven't put mine up yet, but it's on a similar theme if nothing like so powerful and magic. (No comparison! But I'll still have to go ahead at this point.)

    This is a poem deserving of your moniker. Pretty amazing, sad, lyrical, incantatory, witchy - the doll with yellow lock, lizard seventh tongue, all that tongue stuff, prying like mussel, on and on - just great. The tongue no one knows - in terms of language, a sense of burnt umber, reddened-- Really excellent work.

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    1. Thanks, k. I just now notice all that tongue stuff--you have a great reader's eye. I just couldn't get over the parallel between a so-called 21st century educated male of the privileged elected class having basically exactly the same sort of superstitions as an 18th century illiterate slave girl that I made use of in this piece. (that part's accurate, btw, the gris-gris bag was supposed to prevent conception, and is still used that way in some parts of the world.)

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    2. Yes- you use that beautifully in terms of the distancing from the possibly child. It's also such a great word - I don't know what it was supposed to mean but the idea of gris-gris as grey-grey, that is an area between black and white definitions of right and wrong - of course, rape being wrong, but the woman's response -whether literally rooting for miscarriage or revenge - slung into this very different nether place - k.

      (Ps - thanks for kind words re reading; I'm a bit sick today and so just respond from what sticks in head without taking direct quotes--this has a great deal to stick.) k.

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  2. i love the magic this poem emanates, and thanks so much for sharing the recital - that's absolutely enchanting~~

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  3. Great lines...no matter how often he comes
    like a levee breaking in the muddy dark,
    hard fingers prying her open like a mussel
    sharp teeth seeking
    her wide mouth thin as a knifepoint,
    tongue tied tight as a noose.....
    Painful and heartbreaking. Appropriate for the recent events. Sigh.

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  4. this leaves me just speechless...just learned at k's place about the topic..and really don't know what to say except that i think it's terrible.. your poem hits the bulls eye and is extremely powerful written hedge

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  5. Ow, Here's a suspense film I would look away from but cannot. Her desperation is palpable, even in the smile when you say it ". . . really . . . . . . . . smiling." I prayed for her in the swamp, knowing she will succeed, she must succeed:
    The humming song on her peach lips
    is deep with the umber pulse of Africa,
    in a language no one knows here. It
    builds magic out of bondage, grows charms
    from fear and want, weapons from shed blood
    that turn against the holding hand."

    Yet, her charm, will it do all that? Or just help her prevent the fertilization so she need not "lose" so many babies? She is the image of today's awful "republican belief" yes--but I want more:I want the power to rip the idiocy from the brains of the offenders, to rip away offending body parts, to force these oddities to turn and see mothers as women, women as people.

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  6. The piece itself is magical. It pulls you in and holds you there--fabulous write!

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  7. love your style of writing! nice work

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  8. Quite a write! That 4th stanza chills. Impossible not to "see" these stark raw images. Especially affecting is the contrast of that "lock of yellow hair" with the depth of violence. "deep with the umber pulse of Africa" is a wonderful line.

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  9. oo hedge....voodoo...got the nawlins feel too in your words....ugh on the topic...i seriously dont know what we are coming to either....ugh on the grit in this as well, you get right in it...

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  10. "no matter how often he comes
    like a levee breaking in the muddy dark,
    hard fingers prying her open like a mussel
    sharp teeth seeking
    her wide mouth"

    I can well imagine the power imposed on women folks who can only squirm with reluctance.Nice write Joy!

    Hank

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  11. Damn this is well written! You have created a fully rounded character in verse. Powerful and moving.

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  12. Wow--these lines--The gris-gris sack around her neck
    ties the struggling spirit to her body
    this whole piece is so powerful. Going to listen to it now.

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  13. God, this is good! Oh, yeah, I know that stuff works...if you believe...

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  14. Wow, now this is a well thought and well researched tale and no mistake. You have really got under the skin of this and shown fantastic understanding and knowledge which comes across and educates the reader, excellent as always!

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  15. Oh, my. This is so powerful. I love the song on her peach lips and the umber pulse of Africa. The whole 4th stanza blows me away. I don't know what to say.

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  16. I have always thought this poem was one of your ten best, Joy. It's chilling, it's human, and it's supernatural too. You are a past mistress of such potions, dear.

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  17. You painted her very well Hedge, with her chanting ~ The fourth stanza just rips the page...Lovely share Hedge ~

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  18. I think this she be a performance piece. All I can really say right now is wow!

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  19. Crazy Hedge - the background and all - - - truth and fictio and all that . . . you spin it to the wicked though and as ever i love your style . . . a real dose of the underworld rising through the words/voice . . .

    and hey - if i'm not in to it when there is bondage, weapons,
    a lizard and a crucifix then its time to call the poetry police!!!

    my regular rave about your atmospherics!!! and as ever the reading takes it to the next level but its the high grade
    writing that springs the sheer chill factor up my lumpy spine
    and out the silver bullet hole in my head (y'know - the one in the middle - the one i see out of)

    Beaming!!!

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    1. Thanks, Arron. I love the way your mind works-it's a perspective that never fails to send me. And don't get any gris gris in that third eye...it smarts.

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  20. Magnificent write - really, really good (and thanks for the process and background etc. - I love the context mad as I am about the goings on ...) A perfect poem for the situation or for any reason really ...

    http://seingrahamsays.wordpress.com/2012/08/21/every-now-and-again/

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  21. i like the imagery in the second stanza a lot!!

    but there's a lot of powerful imagery, and the last stanza just kicks ass



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  22. Your writing is stunning. I am so enjoying having discovered you. There is much about this I love, including what process you went through in its creation.

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  23. excellent piece Hedge. Love the way you built the piece, really in a wonderfully told manner. lots of exceptional choices, all leading to both vivid and powerful imagery. Great read. Thanks

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  24. As always Miss Joy, your writing is superb... It's actually musical. The subject matter is a bit off for me..... Black magic, voodoo? Somehow mixed with Christianity, broken crucifix, broken hymns? I don't know the culture, it appears as a Hodge-podge of many cultures, probably influenced by the early French settlers? She is a prostitute, by need, possibly? She gave birth to a baby, put it in a bag with a lock of blonde hair. Or the baby has blond hair, making it the Master's child? I think I get the gist of it, but not important. Listening to the symphonic nature of every syllable is absolutely beautiful.....

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    1. She is a slave. The West African natives imported for slave labor on the large plantations brought voodoo with them as a pagan religion--specifically to Louisiana(where this is set) They also were exposed to Christianity here, and incorporated it into their belief system. She has no baby, because she has used the gris gris to ward it off, and the ending describes a curse she is putting on her rapist/owner(the doll) as the only sort of fighting back she can do. Hope that helps.

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  25. Love the language of this. So many tasty things for the tongue!

    The anger, the black magic, the way this slave smiles at the end because she may be owned, but she is never truly mastered by such a man!

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  26. That painting is a poem in itself! What art to capture the look in the young girl's eyes.
    Your poem is a portrait in itself, and I am in such awe of the art of turning words over in a line, knowing the exact position for maximum impact, and what a story....
    Yes, the convolution of sex, magic and bondage go way, way back and far, far forward.

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  27. What an amazing piece! You're right about the jaw-dropping reality of an educated man in 2012 spewing the lies he did without respect for the facts and the shattered lives of so many women. She was a child who couldn't know except what she'd been raised with, he has no excuse other than his own hateful and deliberate ignorance. This poem conjures her world in such a graphic, lyric way.

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  28. What a strong story, beautifully done. The curse of the ending is magic.

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  29. This is really good HW, so much to like. a harsh, horrible story beautifully told.

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  30. Joy Ann, this powerful and dark, much like what is going on right now in the political arena. People are not evolving, they are devolving in so many ways. A beautiful write with your exemplary use of language.

    Pamela

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  31. The imagery, the details . . . this blows me away, Hedge.

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  32. Surely you possess a literary degree or an MFA or something. You poetry is just too good. I love your diction. Your word choices are magical and appropriately place. The syntax of your stick read like the smooth taste of scotch on a parched tongue. I failed to read a piece of yours I have not said within myself wow!. Great work here continuously.

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    1. Thank you very much, Emmett. I just read a lot. (I hold no degrees whatsoever, though I have 16 college hours in horticulture.)

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  33. "'Legba'? Where you been, slick? He done changed his name to Scratch!" - from the movie "Crossroads"

    Nice allegory and great feel!

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  34. This conjures up so many images. I see a black cauldron of mystique within your voice and the magic of your guided imagery!
    I hope you will write a book...I love your words, your voice!
    You painted a vision of what was and what still lurks behind closed doors~ I loved it! :D

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  35. What a fantastic write this is. Harks back to the way of things not very long ago, and ties in to the discussion in the news of late. Powerful writing, kiddo.

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  36. This ran like a movie in my mind. The sights the sounds! Although to compare this, in my opinion, to the political scene today is quite a stretch, I think it paints apt and haunting picture of the past. Well done!

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'Poetry is an echo asking a shadow to dance' ~Carl Sandburg