it flees from me
Unfortunately, submissions of epithalamions for lesbians did not flood my inbox. How could they? Marriage is so new to us, we don’t even know what to call each other - wife? partner? spouse? lover? A few years ago, I was asked by a lesbian who got married in California to think of a word; here is my introduction to the word RAE. It hasn’t caught on yet; perhaps neologisms take time.
While historically, lesbians once enjoyed some freedom of affection in romantic friendships, the turn of the last century dealt a terrible blow to the possibility of lesbians spending their lives together. So while I had hoped to find poems for this issue celebrating lesbian marriage, the poems I received show lesbian (and gay) relationships in limbo, not quite in hell, not quite in heaven; still tormented, but with pockets of triumph.
The positive and negative sides of lesbian history have been rigorously investigated and clarified by Lillian Faderman in Surpassing the Love of Men: Romantic Friendship and Love Between Women from the Renaissance to the Present. When lesbians like Renée Vivien were doomed to hell by the likes of Baudelaire, our love became a sickness we were “stricken with,” and if we survived, we became artists of “being lonely.” In this issue, Mike Alexander translates poems by Vivien and Baudelaire; Anna Evans envisions “Ivanhoe” with a lesbian slant; and Rose Kelleher shows compassion for “the awkward and unlovely.”
Descend, descend, lamentable victims,
descend the path of everlasting hell.
You who judge me, for me you are nothing.
and I was stricken with a strange desire
years / of practice in the art of being lonely
Being a lesbian in the past century has been a terrible, bitter, humiliating struggle. Poems in this issue by Judith Rechter, Morgan Hunt, Flower Conroy, Marilyn Hacker, and Sarah Sarai express some of the torment of trying to live and love as a lesbian: endless searching, being unacceptable, bearing a stigma, losing hope, constant longing, and observing the institution of marriage from the outskirts.
I search every nook for your countenance
Was I bitter? Beyond! Beyond! Ridiculous
The music of flies in gray gardens.
You’re gone, you said so.
My mood is London longing for a blue sky.
Thanks to pioneering scholars, lesbians know so much more of our history, but we’re still outsiders in society, without our own wedding and marriage traditions. In this issue, Jane Cassady’s lovely poem lesbianizes wedding anniversary gifts; Alix Greenwood makes nature a beautiful lover; Minnie Bruce Pratt creates a special place in a lesbian bed; and despite all kinds of “vain travail,” R. Nemo Hill, Timothy Murphy, and Brooke Bailey offer glimpses of happiness.
Never mind the leather hearts that voted against us
The night is full of promise.
Our ribs make a boat of the bed to carry us
Minnie Bruce Pratt
Late in a season whose sole warmth is you
R. Nemo Hill
My love (once such a darling) / is now a wintry spouse
In my reign, this is still a place no man / has been.
In this issue are four poets who understand the lavender sweetness of courtship and giving gifts. Gail White speaks in the voice of Sappho’s daughter; Eleanor Lerman gives us everything we’ll ever need; Caridad Moro lavishes gifts on Stacie; Shirley Pulido tosses the moon and accepts the sun; and Brian Carr, in my favorite translation of this poem by Sappho, captures a lesbian’s passion unsullied by centuries of hateful discrimination.
they fan it with their kisses and their eyes,
letters and sweet words and honeyed looks
Ribbons of / light, ribbons of clouds: all this is for you.
the essence of French lavender in a cobalt decanter for your vanity
When Moon spilled silver on my head
Didn’t like the gifts? Then she’ll give them.
It was extremely exciting “matchmaking” art with the poems. Thanks to Birthe Havmøller for her treasure-trove of Feminine Moments, and to lesbian artists Cassandra Langer, Anna-Stina Treumund, Louise Fishman, Irit Rabinowits, Carrie Moyer, Liz Ashburn, Sarah Lucas, Emily Roysdon, Leslie Satterfield, Rolande, Jemma Watts, Lydia Daniller, Vivienne Harrison, and Daisy Eneix for their dazzling contributions, which became an art show in itself for Issue 2. I love all this art, but Lydia Daniller’s portrait of a lesbian wedding is a miraculous vision of epithalamion.
Please click on the Contents link below and take a close look at the poetry and art. From U.A. Fanthorpe's “Idyll” in this issue:
Maybe, heaven. Or maybe
We can get so far in this world. I’ll believe we can.
This issue is dedicated to my muse, Lillian Faderman, who more than anyone, shows us how to love ourselves and each other.
Mary Meriam, Editor