Alice Walker, in her wonderful essay In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens, reminds us that for many women the only creativity they could manage was useful. A garden — like my grandmother’s, like my great-aunt’s — of fragrant sweet pea and Peace roses and okra and potatoes and green beans. Mostly things you could eat. Or a ‘useful’ quilt — like my mother’s, like my grandmother’s — carefully sewn from colour-matched bits of dresses, shirts, blouses and rags. Nothing going to waste, ever. And maybe — but only if you had time, rare as money — a window full of African violets, a border sprawling Missouri primrose onto the walk beside.
This was the art of women for centuries, at least the women I come from. We were never ‘someones’; we were always worker bees, not queens. Perhaps ladies of leisure embroidered, penned a courtly sonnet, painted w/ a sumie brush on rice paper. We were not those women. We had to make bargains fro the crumbs of time that allowed us to create oases of beauty in our ordinary lives.
I wrote a poem about the forces that conspire to keep us — women, and sometimes men — from creating art. In effect, we sell our souls to the devils who need us. Those incredibly seductive infant devils, who reach up their tiny dimpled arms to us. The blue-eyed devils who beckon when we’re in our 20s. The devils of clean and care for and smile and nice. The demons that cultures around the world — and throughout time — have turned loose on women who presume to create anything other than children.
So when the insistent inner voice that is the nascent poem whispers, and I succumb, I sometimes — even now, years later — feel guilty. Feel for all the women before me, the women in my line who had no choices. Although honestly? They’d probably be dead by now — victims of childbirth, childbed fever, violence of one sort or another.
Still, my gut insists, art does not feed us. It does not clothe or house the child, nor set the table w/ meat and potatoes. None of these does my putting pen to journal page, or fingers to keyboard, accomplish.
What it does do is open a kind of skylight — a round hole that lets light in to the dark places inside me. Those corners of an ostensibly curvilinear beginner’s heart. It swirls like fresh autumn air through cobwebs, fills me with light as ripe as pears, and it really does feed some almost-always hungry part of me.
That’s a lot. And today? It’s enough.