Asphodel P. Long,
Athene Revisted
(Writer's Workshop, 1999)

Once in a great while I find a book that seems to have been composed just for me. Usually, it's poetry. Most often, it's poetry by a woman. Right now, this is that book, a book of fine poetry by an accomplished poet and scholar who has been traveling, if not my roads, at least parallel and often tangential roads, and always just ahead of me.

Asphodel Long, often called the grandmother of the goddess movement, wrote what I call the ovumal (as distinct from seminal) book in my spiritual quest: In a Chariot Drawn by Lions. Merlin Stone, When God Was a Woman, was the aunt who visited and showed me the bones in the closet. But Asphodel Long was the grandmother who sat me down and showed how it all made sense, or didn't, as the case may be. And here she is making sense of it again.

After having read Athene Revisted through once, I gave it to a friend for her autumn birthday and ordered another. After having read the second copy a couple times, an analogy came to mind of that dried apricot paste available in eastern markets. Peel off the cellophane covering and bite into the stuff and at first there's a slightly bitter taste of the cellophane. But chew it a little and soon your mouth is full of the sweet, juicy nectar of remembered, or anticipated, light.

This is a winter book written by a woman who has seen many winters, Januaries, rejection, despair and leaf buds swelling red. It's a book to get you through a winter, whether it's the storm outside the window or the winter of your soul.

The poems are gathered into five groups: The Past is Present, Goddess Day, Moon Cycle 1978, Dedications and Four Orphic Hymns (Translations).

"Travelling by Silver City," the first poem in the book, works for me on several levels. It reminds me somewhat of C.P. Cavafi's "Ithaca," only it holds more promise. When I read it the first time, I had to smile because it describes so well my trips down the mountain in April.

"...and as you travel
Buds break on the branch, and flower, as you travel
Hedges spring, petals open. Behind you that same day
Frost grimed roads...."

The poem describes in plain terms an April trip south from England to the Pyrenees at Easter but it's a lesson in life as well.

"If you want a release, use it as therapy
Against the dark, the tight breath, the pain and anxiety
And day after day the fight with the minute.
In good time you will get good weather."

The Goddess Day section begins with "If Women Could Speak, What Language Would They Choose?" which I read as a canticle in three parts giving praise to the goddess and the women who have carried her through time. "Chant for Women Travellers" in the same section, written in 1980, echoes my own hungry searching at the time.

"Women travellers, women travellers
Seek her patterns, seek her temples,
Stand on stone and make your offering,
In her bowls that wait to greet you.
Bring back news."

The repetitions in "Healing Spell, for Earth" have the hypnotic sense of a Navajo Blessing Way chant.

"As she comes with the spring
Let her bring pure water to you,
Pure water to you from the depths of the mountain
As she comes with the spring
May she carry the mountain water to you."

The poems gathered into the Moon Cycle section of the book can be read, I think, as a chronicle of an ill-fated love, a love that it seems never should have been. In January, the lovers come in out of the snow to a warm room, In February there is uncertainty but, "In the end, you came and were there. We stood, fingertips interlacing." But he slips away too soon and by March, "who knows what to do when the heart breaks?" and with each moon we are given a description of the grief, the longing and finally the healing and self-recognition. From the self-recognition comes the ability to reach out in a new way and learn to love again.

The Dedications handful contains a grateful ode to Robert Graves.

"Who cleared shit and bramble for Her,
Who shouted for Her in the darkness,
Who swam in the reeds and currents and found
Lost pearls and gave them to us."

In the susurrations of "Threnody for Jenjoy" I read absence and a great longing. I see women whispering in the dark, searching through dangerous terrain for one who has gone before and looking for signs that they will merry meet again. The pledge contained in "When the Thunder Broke" makes me very happy for Danny, who seems to have been very brave and very determined.

The final section of the book, the Four Orphic Hymns, "To Artemis," "To the Mother of the Gods," "To Persephone" and "To Nature" (the last translated with Diana Scott), are hymns we've read before. These are translations done by women who understand the subtleties. There are no glosses here, rape is rape, the gods have a mother and in good season, she will lead us to peace, health and increase of prosperity.

In the end, this would not be a complete review without a review of the book itself. Hand constructed, bound in sari silk and printed by hand under the direction of P. Lal of the Writers Workshop and the Book Nook, 162/92 Lake Gardens, Calcutta, 700045, India, this is a gem of a book. The Workshop is nonprofit and nonpolitical. They have over 3,000 titles brought out over a period of 40 years. Like this book, they are all hand printed and bound by hand in handloom cloth. As I hold this book in my hand and turn the pages as I read, I keep thinking of Menocchio, poor Domenico Scandella, the 16th-century miller from northern Italy who was tortured, imprisoned and finally burned at the stake for continuing to read books. The books he searched out and read in secret would have been like this.

[ by J. Higgins-Rosebrook ]
Rambles: 1 December 2001

Order it from Luna Press.