ZiN writer-in-residence for May of 2017 is Donna Glee Williams. It is with pleasure that we present her poetry and parts of the journal she wrote in Ližnjan.
Donna Glee Williams is the author of two second-world fantasy novels, The Braided Path (Edge, 2014) and Dreamers, (Edge, 2016). As a short-story writer, she’s made something of a specialty of winning Honorable Mentions: three from the Writers of the Future contest, one from anthologist Gardner Dozois’s The Year's Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Fifth Annual Collection, and one appearance as a finalist for the Roswell Award, which allowed her to go to Hollywood and experience one of her stories as a staged reading. The world-building in both her novels and her short stories owes a lot to the time she’s spent steeping herself in other cultures all around what we laughingly refer to as The Real World. She’s traveled a LOT—including to Pakistan just days after Benazir Bhutto was shot—but now she's rooted in the hills of Western North Carolina, though the place she lived the longest and still calls home is New Orleans. These days she earns her daily bread as a writer, editor, and creative coach, but in the past she’s done the dance as a seminar leader, turnabout crew (aka, "maid") on a schooner, environmental activist, registered nurse, teacher, and professional student. Her stay at Zvona i Nari was her first time in Croatia. But she hopes it will not be her last.
The very first night I arrived in Croatia, while Ognjen was bringing me from the bus station to Zvona i Nari, he gave me a little briefing on how to find my way around. "Just look for the church," he said. "It's always built on the highest spot. It's all downhill from there." And he was right; the whole time I've been in Ližnjan, that church-tower and the twin spires of the Medulin church, in the next village over, have been my most important navigational aids, even when I'm miles out of town and get bewildered on the curving country roads. And it's not just spatial orientation--it's temporal, too, with the hourly church-bells that refuse to allow you to pretend that time is not passing.
So in this landscape where the church is such a powerful presence in telling us where we are in space, time, and politics, I thought I might share a few of the poems I've written over the years in conversation with my own religious past.
Could she really tell? Don't most trees look pretty much like all trees?
Did He take her by the hand, walk her to the Tree of Guilt, and show it to her, with instructions
about noting the scaly bark and how it's leaves were serrated and opposite vs entire and whorled?
And, in that new and trackless world, was there some landmark nearby, some mnemonic alarm?
"Not this one, kid. Any one but this one."
Did He put a warning label on it, or was she supposed to just remember?
It was a setup.
We all know that.
We've known that since the Sunday School teacher first let us in on the story--that's not the thing.
Neither is the "why" of it--that seems pretty clear when you look at history--
millenia of women scrubbing the dishes after that one meal.
No. What is the thing is that we still, some of us, name our daughters Eve.
And we still eat fruit
When you nail yourself to that cross,
don’t mess around with your palms.
Those are just for papier-mâché statues
and showy stigmata. When gravity comes,
a spike through the hand just rips
right out between your metacarpals,
leaving a mess and the crucified one
free to walk away. Expect some scarring,
of course, but you’re free to walk away.
On the other hand, a stake through the wrist—
bones, nerves, and arteries all involved—
now that crucifixion holds fast,
and when your weight drags you down, by God,
that nail will take it. Hurts either way, of course,
but if you’re going to do it, why not make it last?
Enemies of God
My people are the enemies of God,
Fought him off for generations in long
Bloody guerrilla confrontations ‘til
He captured the high ground—Mount Sinai and
the Mount of Olives—and whipped our asses
good: killed the best, castrated the strong, then
Enslaved the rest. Some of us remember
How he laid us down to sleep. Some forget.
The ground is holy ground,
and you have your instructions,
so you take off your shoes,
but then your feet are cold,
even though you can’t swing a cat here
without hitting a burning bush.
It’s a conflagration,
a god-damned forest fire,
driven by high winds
and dry conditions in the desert,
but you have cold feet
and you really miss your shoes.
The Three Marys
We are the three Marys
we are the ones
who wash the bodies of the dead
after the soul has ebbed
and the mechanics have retreated.
Close the door
close the eyes
open the window
flush away the soiled air
pull aside the linens
and bathe the barnyard foulings
it has left
the stained sheets
hide or bury them.
The ties cut
the head lifted from the arch of passion
and laid on a clean pillow
there to mimic rest
the fresh coverlet tenderly tucked
pulled up to the chin
the bloody telltales scoured from the floor
everything is ready
wash your hands
let them come in.
Open the door.
Go to your house, woman.
Take off your clothes and burn them.
Once for sorrow, once for pain,
and once for horror,
bathe three times in water
and once in milk, for anger.
Rake cut lemons across your palms.
Sharp brushes. Sweet lotions.
Secret scrubbing. Hand-washing
is a private thing;
you can do it all you want.
But tonight, in your bed, restless
brush back the hair from your eyes
and you will still smell it.
You’ve touched this thing too closely;
your hands do not smell of life.