Article 25

Uneven Surfaces

In Uncategorized on 04/12/2016 at 1:52 pm

Uneven Surface sign

Death Mother Meets Apocalyptic Mother

By Mary Pierce Brosmer


Inspiration for my Article 25 column came from a simple sign on the elevated walkway to the garage outside Cincinnati’s Music Hall warning of “uneven surfaces.”

For me, a reader of layers of meaning in most things, the sign triggered the pattern of this column, a pattern I hope to be able to live into in successive editions of this human rights paper.

We live in an era in which everything is breaking down, creating uneven surfaces that challenge us to walk in new ways. There is, of course, the truth that things are always falling apart and coming together, but it’s a time when the too-muchness of human occupation of the planet is evident. I shuddered to hear the head of U.S. Fish and Wildlife on PBS referring to the “sixth great extinction.”

In an article documenting a conversation between Jungian analyst Marion Woodman and evolutionary anthropologist Daniela Sieff in which they contrast “Death Mother” with “Apocalyptic Mother,” Woodman says:

“Change is fundamental to being alive – to remain fixed is to rot. If the Death Mother archetype is part of our body-psyche, the profound fear means that we try to destroy anything that might precipitate meaningful change. We will do anything to ensure that our life feels safe and secure, even if it is static, rotten and dead. Our way of relating to the world is written in stone.” (The Psychology of Violence: A Journal of Archetype and Culture, Spring 2009)

Sieff later coins the term “Apocalyptic Mother,” saying: “The word ‘apocalypse’ derives from the Greek word meaning ‘to reveal’ or … ‘to uncover that which has previously been hidden.’ ”

In my last column I wrote about the “death-life” or zombie life created by the most successful among us, those with the most access to levers of power, people guarding the stone on which the rules were long ago written, while desecrating the lives and spirit of those the rules were written to protect – people such as the man in my poem “Uneven Surfaces” who abandons his less hardy wife to the treacherous walkway:

a man,

already arrived at end of the walk.

He is impeccably dressed in the old way

as well: gabardine suit, rep tie,

an elderly gentleman, presumably husband,

hardy and handsome.


He is neither looking for her

nor at her, impatient, so it seems,

for what is to come next for him.

People such as those “fathers of the church” held up again for scrutiny in the film Spotlight, leaders who surrendered children to pedophiles as a way of keeping the institution, and their allies within it, safe.

In addition to observing what Apocalyptic Mother is revealing about how we have created culture, I try to imagine and tell stories about ways we might re-create it (as opposed to defending it to the last child, the last vulnerable species).


In a recent front-page article, “Bucking the Trend,” the Cincinnati Enquirer told the story – stories, really – of women in Clifton who had lead an effort to manage deer population in the area through sterilization vs. sanctioned bow hunting. Chris Lottman and Laurie Briggs raised $40,000, to sterilize 40 does in a local herd. It was complicated, from inception of the idea as less cruel (though more unusual) than herd culling by hunters, to fundraising, to finding a garage to serve as a surgical room and many, many more steps on the uneven and slippery surfaces of our relationship with wildlife in human-habited spaces. I was struck by the sub-headline: “Deer Sterilization: When compassion, sport, need, and science collide” and by this phrase later in the article: “becoming more aware of a swirling chorus of viewpoints and values along the way.”

I sent the article to my grandson, Max, who at age 14 is imagining veterinary science in his future, and who had been very disturbed when he witnessed wild pigs trapped in cages next to his grandfather’s home in Tennessee. He told me how horrified he was by hearing the gunshots when the pigs were dispatched. “It wasn’t fair,” he said. “It was more like murder.” I love his innocence and his sense of fairness.

If I were to say what I hoped he might learn from this experience and from the article I sent him, it was how to think and feel across what I call a spectrum of truths (many of them equally valid) and possibly grow into someone able to bridge either-or thinking and acting. When we talk more about this, if we do, (as I don’t believe in pushing something when a young person is not ready), I’ll be making evident to Max our own family spectrum in this universe. My father was a skillful hunter who scoured the hills of Hocking, Athens, Vinton and other counties for game during the Depression, or as I put it in a poem, “Enough,” I wrote to Max when he was still in utero:

I would not sentimentalize.

            I still carry the body memory

            of my father’s hunger, his pushing

            in ever-widening circles from home, trying

            to flush a rabbit, a squirrel, a groundhog: any

            taste of meat in a beans-and-bread boyhood.

 His sons, my brothers, are hunters who taught my son, Max’s father, to hunt when he was a boy. Moreover, we all eat meat. We eat pork that might have come from the Tennessee mega-farms from which those pigs, or their forbears, escaped and became feral, threatening the landscaping and gardens of Max’s grandfather’s neighborhood.

How then to walk on the increasingly uneven surfaces of the world with integrity and not hypocrisy? Too much for 14-year-old Max, but oh how I pray his heart-brain grows capable of this elusive awareness of which I speak and write. There IS right and wrong, and right action, and yes, evil, but knee-jerk reactivity and certainty that I am right (good) and you are wrong (bad) is the source of the evil!

To hear and hold the “swirling chorus of viewpoints and values along the way” and then to step out into the actions you hope, as do the Clifton women, might (or might not) create a better way, knowing you will be a target for the binary thinkers, ideologues – those terrified of complexity, those who rage against change. These are the all too common “Death Mothers” – more often, in my experience, “Death Fathers” like Cardinal LAW, whose religion is not Christ-ism (at least as I was taught his story) but exceptionalism, which is just another name for narcissism:

Mychurch (the true church)

Mycountry (right or wrong)

Myrace (superior to yours)

Myway (because I hold the levers of power-over).

I described in an earlier column my up-close observations of Death Mother while living in a condo community complex rife with boosterism, exceptionalism and the psychological violence and divisiveness these attitudes spawn. Narcissism so breathtaking and so cavalierly expressed by the “leaders” who run the place – and I do mean “run,” as opposed to “serve” – that I gather evidence of what these people say and do to prove to my friends and family that I’m not making this up. One insider with a much vaunted Ivy League education actually described two octogenarians as “irreplaceable,” arguing that “term limits are a shame because we lose good people.”

(One of the irreplaceables has been on the board since 1987.) Asked, “Would you support town hall meetings before making major decisions?” the same “leader” replied, without elaboration, “No, I don’t believe in town hall meetings.”

My fervent wish for 2016 is that Apocalyptic Mother is revealing to us that all beings, all truth, all reality exists along a spectrum. The hard-edged, competitive boxes we protect with our blood and treasure and hate all too easily become cages in which innocence and fairness is murdered.

New Neighbor Love Poem for College Hill

It’s not my way to love a place

by pretending it’s better than any other place,

and, to be my kind of neighbor here

I will try (I could use your help)

to not go to war with

with what (or whom)

I can’t yet bring myself to love .


(war on anything

makes more war)


It is only left for me to do love here,

(a tall order – will you help me?)

love LaBoiteaux woodland, feeding us green

love the Farmer’s Market, feeding us more green

love the chain stores, love the churches

love the blind curves, the congestion,

(I can’t love litter, but I can pick it up

will you help me?)


Doing love is looking at everything –

(another tall order – I could use your help)

Look close-up, look standing back,

I promise to look at you,

even if I’m afraid of you

(as you may well be of me).


Doing love is thanking everyone who lived

here before me, is believing

they were trying to do love here in

their way, in their time, (another

tall order: I find it so much easier to judge).


Love is remembering

(oh, Lord help me!)

            that I am not the center

of this or

any place.

 (Will you help me?)

Mary Pierce Brosmer is a poet, a whole-systems thinker and founder of Women Writing for (a) Change.



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