(Poem) Hystory by Susan Hawthorne

[Author’s Note: This poem is written in honour of the work of Marija Gimbutas, archaeologist, linguist, visionary. I was lucky enough to hear her give a lecture one day in 1990 in Los Angeles. She had the audience in thrall to her ideas. I hope that one day her name will be better known than any other archaeologist.  You can see by the bends and markers on her books that these are well-thumbed copies of just three of her remarkable books.]


The roses are in bloom. They are red and cool

and have a smell that makes me remember

my mother,  cutting stems of red roses.

Cutting red roses


climbing the legs of the tankstand.

Mother. Roses. For how many millennia has this

association occurred? —in my rose-wet cave,

writes Adrienne Rich.


Milliennia ago women drew signs on walls in caves.

Signs resembling the leaves of roses doubling as vulvas.

Or stones, egg-shaped with a flowerbud

vulva engraved on one side.


What does woman want? asks the Freud who wrote

Totem and Taboo and didn’t think to include mothers

in his scheme of things. He seems to have a problem

with the mother. Is it womb envy?


Is it that he wants to be a hysteric?

Wants access to that mysterious state

that is specific to women? What he could

do with a floating womb!


We stand in a place where flowers cling to walls.

They have purple petals and we kiss beneath this wall,

remembering the women, the two women whose

names began each with a V,


who at some time kissed beneath this same wall.

Sissinghurst. Kissing. With a V like in vulva,

like the sign of the bird goddess from

the Upper Paleolithic.


It was women who determined the shape of

human development and of religious beliefs for

some 500,000 years, says Marija Gimbutas in a lecture

somewhere near Hollywood.


A spring day, a day that thousands of years ago

might have seen the performance of a ritual to bring the

world into being once again. The kind of ritual

that might have involved


Baubo lifting her skirts in joy to show her vulva to

the earth, to spill her blood on fields. The kind that

prevailed until they began killing the king and ploughing

him into the fields.


Men’s magic didn’t work. They never returned,

in spite of the stories. The woman does not exist,

says Lacan, who fancies himself a hysteric.

In fact, he goes on to say,


nothing can be said of the woman. Nothing.

Nothing? Why not? asks the young woman

in the front row of the lecture theatre somewhere

in a divided city.


Because, he replies, stretching out his

words to cover the entire history of man,

—for the girl the only organ, or to be more

precise, the only kind of


 sexual organ which exists is the phallus.

Really? replies the young woman, perplexed.

in my rose-wet cave  writes Adrienne Rich.

The young woman


has been reading poetry before attending

this lecture. She is puzzled by the

discontinuities of experience.

Lacan goes on,


not missing a beat. His history is his

history after all. He elaborates on his history

and gives an account of how the status of the

phallus in human


sexuality enjoins on woman a definition

in which she is simultaneously

symptom and myth. Like Foucault’s

distrust of lived


experience,  Lacan does not, cannot,

hear the young woman speak. The woman

does not exist. There is no

feminine symbolic.


She says, But what of those 500,000 years of

vulvas on caves and walls and stones and pot shards?

What of the ancient language of the body of women?

What of the body of knowledge,


the body knowledge? She shouts,

but no one hears her. —in my rose-wet cave,

writes Adrienne Rich. A rose is a rose

is a rose is a rose,


shouts Gertrude, climbing the hill.

A stone shouts as her belly lifts to the sky.

A stone is carved with the image of a

flowerbud on one side.


Gertrude runs her finger across the stone,

lightly. Primitive fantasies,

mutters Freud. Vulvas on the

walls of caves,


caves as vulvas, wet roses—

all primitive fantasies.

Only the phallus exists,

adds Lacan,


staring out the window to where

high-rise buildings dominate the horizon.

Not far away a high wall divides

an ancient city.


At the base of the wall, breaking through

the mortar, a flower grows. Its anthers exposed

to the earth just as Baubo did on a

spring day long ago.


“Hystory” draws on the following sources:

Gimbutas, Marija. 1990, The Language of the Goddess. San Francisco: Harper and Row. London: Thames and Hudson.

—. 1990, Lecture, UCLA, May 5.

Mitchell, Juliet and Jacqueline Rose (Eds.). 1982, Feminine Sexuality: Jacques Lacan and the École Freudienne. Macmillan, London. Texts referred to are: ‘Introduction – II’, Jacqueline Rose; ‘Feminine Sexuality in Psychoanalytic Doctrine’, Jacques Lacan; ‘A Love Letter’, Jacques Lacan.

Rich, Adrienne. 1978, ‘Twenty-One Love Poems’ in The Dream of a Common Language: Poems 1974-1977. New York: W.W. Norton and Company.

Stein, Gertrude. 1988, The World is Round. San Francisco: North Point Press.

—. 1971 ‘Tender Buttons’ in Look at Me Now and Here I Am: Writings and Lectures, 1909-45, Patricia Meyerowitz (Ed.). Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.

—. 1989, Lifting Belly, Rebecca Mark (Ed.). Tallahassee, FL: Naiad Press.


This poem was published in The Butterfly Effect (2005). Spinifex Press. http://www.spinifexpress.com.au/Bookstore/book/id=35/

Meet Mago Contributor, Susan Hawthorne.