Women, I


Harjo, remember me the alphabet, “the blanket around” me that is the “whole earth.” My people think women cannot be clothed in birth-death-wind-sky-earth, they cannot be Digambara. Their bread hurts, Levertov, this bread hurts. The girl who was banished must eat loaves of iron and wear out boots of metal before she will be recognized. But it is not recognition that you want your daughters to seek, is it? It is knowledge on the other side of the looking glass. Is this really how souls are made? Levertov, teach me to step westward. The sun points me to my shadow places which I lose if I worship Him too much. I am done with “second-hand experience.”


Joy Harjo. “The Blanket Around Her,” in That’s What She Said: Contemporary Poetry and Fiction by Native American Women, ed. Rayna Green (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1984), p. 127.

Denise Levertov, “Stepping Westward,” in Norton Anthology, p. 1951.


Why must a woman die twice and a man only once? She dies when she is given away, changes name, gotra, network, location, world, stance. Man takes her life when he marries, and woman takes his to nourish. Perhaps. A man might be considered twice-born when he attains adulthood and sexual maturity. And woman?

No, she is thrice-born, she of the force that wends its way through the architecture of the world. And not just because she has three fruitful phases in life–childhood, sexual maturity, barren old age–but because she becomes each time something new and fearful. This is the Triple Goddess, and the Nine, whose meaning must not be confined to two (Kumari and Sati).

Verily, she ‘is’ the moon to the hunter, the changing, waxing and waning half-known, that must be worshipped and harnessed, for something in the conquerable world moves in accord with her. She is the seasonal, the homely water, whose force must be mediated in life and overcome in birth. She presages events, and is banished thereafter. She is worshipped in ‘barren childhood,’  for the Kumari promises fruition; it is that auspicious promise which is revered (by religion and fetish alike) and whose ending is punished when she enters puberty and becomes ‘shameful.’ As bride/mother she is in harness, as whore she is irreplaceable, eternal promise without fruition. As crone she is feared, for she has attained to something close to the sage but in ways of her own, and banished because she might have powers that threaten the old Man’s world.

She is transit, she holds and bears, she is the Vessel. All is inscribed in her. And because she thus controls Life (she incarnates, that is what we worship as Shakti) She cannot be borne, nor really attained by effort (‘She’ is inviolate), ‘she’ must be sublimated.

Thus she is honored. Protected. She becomes “A Woman.” Is that what women are?