The Orchard by Drusilla Modjeska
In the light of darkness, in the sound of silence...
The stories of women's souls - an alchemy
What a woman must risk in her pursuit of self?
in the studio
where Eleanor Dark
herself once worked,
into the orchard,
Eleanor brought to life.
The enchanted place,
neither in, nor out
looking trough strands of jasmine
on the great expanse of sky
it held so many possibilities
and excluded none.
Drusilla closed her eyes,
and the present
became woven together.
She saw four women
from a secretly dreaming place.
One of them
wearing her own face.
The oldest one, Ettie
a nearby tree.
Her eighty years old face
reflected the calm of age.
Under the guise
it is a wisdom
that is trimmed
The other three
sat in its shade
Her aged voice rose and fell
just out of the earshot
in the shaded lounge
of the verandah.
The story of the first woman,
the story of all women,
the story of love
the integral part
of our quest
to become fully ourselves.
In 1925, the year Ettie turned 12,
the loopy girl next door
buried her baby in their garden.
who kept an eye on the girl
and taught her
how to prune the trees,
should have noticed.
Instead she found the dead body.
Her hair went grey
The only possibilities
for a girl like that
the lunatic asylum
or the jail.
In 1937, not long
before the war,
Ettie fell in love
with the painter,
his talk of free love,
and modern art,
lying for him,
listening for steps
of his wife.
When the war came,
that life snapped shut
with the swell of her belly.
The only possibilities
for a girl like that
and far away place to hide.
She gave the child to the painter's wife.
After her return,
after the war,
she felt as much a refugee
she worked among.
The story of Gerhard's ship,
and the children who stumbled of it.
None of them hers,
none of them his.
Gerhard was also a famous painter
and she married him
of necessity, not love.
He died soon enough.
The garden became her sanctuary,
and her friends called it 'a work of art'.
“ In gardens where everything is real,
the uncontrollable forces of weather and season
have the upper hand,”
“ Control is always temporary.”
took her place.
Clara was Ettie's grandchild,
but she didn't know it
and Ettie wouldn't tell,
she just gently brushed her wrist
while passing the gardening tool
into her youthful hands.
Clara looked down at the wrinkled fingers
touching her own skin
and started her own tale of betrayal.
On a cold night splattered with rain,
just few weeks back,
Clara went to the exhibition of the female artist
from the past,
with her boyfriend,
who took notes of everything she said.
Clara studied this artist
at her University class
and she stopped
mesmerised before the painting
of the female artist's hand
magnified by the beauty it creates.
Clara turned to her boyfriend,
if he could see it,
if he understood,
then she explained:
“In her self-portrait dated 1630,
nearly 20 years after the rape,
she raises her hand to the blank canvas,
in a gesture that will bring herself into being....
she is struggling to know who she is...”
“I don't think we men understand how women feel about their thoughts,” he said.
She looked up at Ettie with a disappointment in her face: “ Some advance, if it turns up
in the weekend papers as his own words.”
Drusilla watched Ettie and Clara
from her verandah.
It was, as if,
past and future stood outside each other
and unsettled her own present.
It was a moment
the complexities of her own life
were poised between both possibilities.
Borderline of becoming
between youth and age.
Clara was young enough to believe
she will never give in to compromise
and old enough to know she probably will.
Then Clara said secrets should always be told.
How else do you know who you are...
Ettie said there were secrets that in honour we must keep.
“These days nothing seems to hold,
everyone speaks too much
saying too little or nothing at all.”
45-year-old Louise moved towards them
with slow and certain movements
leaving the space under the tree
except the lonely woman with Drusilla's face.
When Louise told two stories bound together
by the secrets and lies,
they all listened,
through the lens of their own experience.
The act of telling can evoke
confession in a woman,
the story she doesn't yet know,
the image and narrative
she struggles to bring like herself into being.
So listen if you recognise yourself in it:
They lay still, their head turned towards each other,
their fingers linked.
Such harmony they felt, their amazement amazed them.
They doubted that ever either had felt so received,
so held, so accepted.
They planned a future which, just for that moment,
both of them believed.
They exchanged breath,
they exchanged secrets.
He left in a hurry. She felt envious, sad, resentful, resigned....
In the taxi crossing the city to the house where his wife and children
he felt a curious sense of nothing
it was an emptiness, a release of all feelings.
“You are late,” his wife said.
“ I am sorry,” he bent to kiss her.
She turned her head from him and at once regretted it,
turning back to receive the kiss that had been withdrawn
as deftly as it had fleetingly been offered.
Louise said women read for comfort,
Anna Karenina had given shape to her life.
During that winter of loneliness,
when she was
a wife without a husband.
From that story you could observe
the complex dance between man and woman
could only end in death,
for although we named it passion
every step could kill,
the dance in which domination and submission
exhausted their possibilities.
Louise's husband eventually
found his way back home,
without leaving again.
“And what happened to the mistress?” Clara wanted to know:
“These days they go to the gym
and under the scalpel
to remain young
as if that alone would guarantee
their renewed currency
in a world which trades in people.”
Ettie pointed out,
being one once,
that any woman
in the role of mistress
who remains there
the death of her soul.
Clara was lost in her own thoughts:
“With a shift in the viewing lens
from the firmness of the breast
to the fullness of the being,
it seems as if everything ends
with the arrival of the first lines on your face.”
“On the contrary,” Ettie laughed,
“it is just beginning, for it takes time
to come into one's own life,
to know one's own strength
to develop the flexibility
not the domination
but a mutuality
those we love
with the truth
She smiled at Clara
creasing her wrinkled face:
“ Mine is the golden age.”
“ Do you know the sombre burden he carried,
loved by two women and satisfying none?”
Loiuse's face creased too
when she smiled.
It is then when her years showed.
Such lines should be prized
as a map of a woman's life.
In the coming of age she grew into herself
with a hard won wisdom playing on her lips.
One of the best portrait artist,
born in 1895
wrote in her memoirs: “Why are people allowed
and women encouraged
to stake their lives,
careers, economic positions
and hope of happiness
You must stand alone.”
Clara exclaimed: “ She was a woman,
who struggled to name herself
as an artist
while her partner
was in love with
“The truth you are all resisting,” Ettie said,
“is that some women do not survive.
They never lift themselves out of their submission.”
“What is it we hope to see in the eyes of our lovers?”
Louise asked: “Is the cruel truth
that we seek in love not a loved other
but our own heightened selves?”
Clara was falling out of love
and Louise was falling in love,
Louise's slowness met Clara's restlessness
in a graceful lope.
Ettie was the first one
following the path
with its twist and turns
they walked behind her
taking whichever direction she took
it was as if they traced the course
of their own interior lives
meandering through their dark corners
and spectacular views,
their dangers and comforts,
their losses and withdrawals.
Until Drusilla could barely see them,
just a glimpse of Clara's golden hair
and they were gone.
Drusilla left the safety of her verandah
and approached the lonely woman
with her face
under the tree:
“Will you tell me the truth?” She said.
“You know that sometimes we have to wait
to the end of our lives,”
she smiled at her with her own smile,
“before we know the first thing abut its meaning.
People think they can buy everything
what they don't know is that there are times
in every person's life when what they need is nothing.”
“Nothing?” Drusilla looked back at her own face confused.
“ A time of darkness and nothing,
of being alone with the emptiness and the fear
and the tears and the loss.”
“You know about the breakdown of my marriage,”
Drusilla started to sob: “ You sense the collapse,
you feel it with your body while all the time
being reassured of the security that is daily
“Divorce is about the change,
you should teach your children
to move with change when it comes,
to stretch and grow,
to understand the flux of their own emotions,
to love without fear...”
and looked around
the orchard with the apples
coming into blossom,
across the lawn to the trees,
blue gums shading their bark
and banksias buzzing with bees.
She turned her head to see Mount Solitary
and then she turned it back
to the folds of the range stretching into a distance
where the buckled earths smoothed out
along a road as thin as a string.
“ This orchard is a transition,” she finally said,
“a place that lets you move between other places.”
“Or somewhere that allows all the parts to meet,” her face answered back,
“ Just walk along the line of the fence and you will be safe.”
“Alone?” Drusilla sounded suddenly scared.
“There is no such thing as 'belonging' to another person,” her face responded,
“for in the last resort you must be responsible for yourself,
just as you must prepare to die alone...”
The Orchard by Drusilla Modjeska
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