Ruth Barker

Demeter Song

Korean Cultural Centre, London
Demeter Song Demeter Song Demeter Song video image Demeter Song video image

Demeter Song

Performance, 20 minutes approx. The script was memorised, and recited as a spoken word performance by the artist. Garment design and production by Lesley Hepburn. Photography used with permission from Bea de Sousa.

 

Demeter Song was developed as part of the exhibition 'Theresa Hak Kyung Cha (1951-82): A Portrait In Fragments', curated by Bea de Sousa for the Korean Cultural Centre, London. The exhibition presented a loose 'portrait' of the late Korean born, USA based artist Theresa Cha, with archive material from the BAM / Pacific Film Archive at Berkley University including a selection of Cha's film works, notebooks, and photographic contact sheets. This was brought together with new performance works by myself, Sujin Lee, Jefford Horrigan, and Bada Song.

Demeter Song was developed after reading Cha's posthumously published semi-autobiographical novel Dictee. Theresa Cha was murdered in New York at the age of 31, just prior to Dictee's release. The exhibition was accompanied by a catalogue.

 

SCRIPT

 

1.

Yet again, and the same as always

Yet again, and the same as always

We stand here together. You and I.

As the light of the late afternoon

Slips away behind the window

(Slips down behind the window),

So the last day of summer has slipped out, unobserved,

While we were doing something else, not

Watching, but only speaking to one another,

And breaking bread,

Or sipping wine.

 

You were not waiting for the night, tonight, but it has come.

It is night-time now.

We stand at the hinge of the year.

And so we feel the equinox,

Tonight: we can hear the autumn calling,

Like a girl with soil in her mouth.

 

Tonight, something is summoning the winter cold from the last days of the sun.

Tomorrow I will bring you the autumn.

 

Today I pushed my two hands down into the earth. I closed my fists upon the roots and the tubers, and I pushed them down. Here they will wait.

Tomorrow I will bring you the autumn.

 

I will bring the gold back to the trees for you. I will sallow their greens and pull the sap from their leaves a little. Tomorrow they will turn rich and red as wreaths beneath a winter sky.

Tomorrow I will bring you the autumn.

 

I will bring you the restlessness of nightgales. Today I smoothed their tongues and put the thought of travel back into their minds. Tomorrow they will be away, tracing their folded wings to Senegal, and the Harmattan Wind.

Tomorrow I will bring you the autumn.

 

I will draw your curtains against the early nights, and I will give you candlelight and wine glasses raised in a toast between lovers and friends.

Tomorrow I will bring you the autumn.

 

I will bring you the first cold night of the year, and the lace of thin rime across the window pains, the wet gutters, the car bonnets; and I will bring you a mental note to buy de-icer in time this year.

Tomorrow I will bring you the autumn.

 

I will bring you the council workers sorting out the Christmas lights already. Men and women in stockrooms and storerooms, who are making plans, and untangling, and deciding who will push the sacred button.

Tomorrow I will bring you the autumn.

 

I will bring you the tooth-yellow moon, fat and waxy, swelling luminous above the clouds in a pale rainbow of glittering frost. It is yours.

Tomorrow I will bring you the autumn.

 

I will bring you the harvest festival of another god. I will bring you the urge to make plaits out of dough, and to weave corn dollies with your unpracticed hands.

Tomorrow I will bring you the autumn.

 

I will bring you Hallowe’en and bonfire night. I will bring you witches’ hats and bin-bag cloaks and sparklers and toffee apples and the smell of gunpowder on the wind as the rockets pop and shatter green and red across the rainy night.

Tomorrow I will bring you the autumn.

 

I will bring you the first day of the new school year. I will bring you a new school bag with a plastic smell, and a pencil case with all the elements intact.

Tomorrow I will bring you the autumn.

 

I will give you the salting of the pork, and the taking in of the crop, and the spreading of seaweed, and the days of cabbages and curly kale. I will give you a chance to rest, and the easing of the work of the year. Yet again, and the same as always.

Yet again and the same as always.

 

Because tonight my daughter is going back.

Tonight she will pull herself down, deep under the soil,

Where I cannot go. She will be lost to me,

Gone cold and lonely down, into the dark earth.

She will lie in the land underground.

And she will lie with the blood of his pomegranates wet on her lips.

Tomorrow I will sing only to mourn her.

Yet again, and the same as always.

Yet again, and the same as always.

Yet again.

 

 

 

2.

I’ve been looking for you,

Beneath the paving slabs, and the bellies of parked cars

Beneath the manhole covers, and at the bottom of drains

Beneath the dandelions and in the sandy soil\I’ve been looking for you.

For You, my hands are soiled

My finernails are bleeding.

And every time I look, you still aren’t there.

 

Yesterday, I walked through New York

And I saw men in yellow jackets lifting up the pavement,

Showing the bones and the cables

In the flesh of the city’s red mud.

And I looked into their pit, and you weren’t there.

 

And yesterday I walked through Rotterdam

And I saw men in yellow jackets digging up the streets

Gouging the sand with mechanical fingers

As an absent hand scratches an itch.

And I looked into their pit, and you weren’t there.

 

And yesterday I walked through London

And I saw men in yellow jackets opening a sewer

Tearing the wet and living bowels of the Tyburn

In brutal plein-air surgery.

And I looked into their pit, and you still weren’t there.

 

Now I am tired.

My hands are marked from digging.

but in the blackness, under the ground,

You are somewhere.

Your eyes, Black.

Your hair, Black.

Your skin, Black.

Your lungs, Black.

Your mind, Black.

Your teeth, Black.

Your mouth: Open.

Open and full of light, still singing.

 

 

 

3.

Now, after all the darkness, something is summoning the green stems from the black of winter.

Tomorrow I will give you the spring.

 

Today I pushed my two hands down into the earth. I closed my fists upon the roots and the tubers, and I pulled them back into their proper place. And now they will grow.

Tomorrow I will give you the spring.

 

Today I took the daffodils and propped them up against the grass. Tomorrow I will colour in their petals with butter, and wax their leaves, and pull out their stamen pricks so that the bees can find them.

Tomorrow I will give you the spring.

 

Today I found the winding keys for the birds, and tomorrow they will be off and flying, flyting their songs across the lawns and the gravel and the car parks and the gardens.

Tomorrow I will give you the spring.

 

I will give you the tugs of lamb’s faces on their mother’s bellies, and the just-born colt fixing his feet to the earth for the first time. I will give you the black lab pups and their golden dam, nursing in a blue blanket by the radiator in the living room.

Tomorrow I will give you the spring.

 

I will put the buds onto the trees for you. I will cast them in sticky rubber, and I will fix their tips to the twigs, and you will see their bundles burst with leaves.

Tomorrow I will give you the spring.

 

I will give you the snow-melted streams swelling to new brooks, and the smell of clay-soil under thick-soled boots. And I will give you the first good walk of the year, up to the top of the seat, and looking out at the morning.

Tomorrow I will give you the spring.

 

I will give you the tentative flight of the first insects, shy and cold and uncertain, tracing circles in the blue. I will give you the tangles of bird’s nests, the steadfastness of caterpillars, the multiplicity of frogspawn and the joyful shedding of winter coats at last.

Tomorrow I will give you the spring.

 

I will give you the changing of the light, and the lengthening of the days, and the singing of the blood and the feel of ‘let’s take the day off’, and the old horse kicking up her heels for the suddenness of it.

Tomorrow I will give you the spring.

 

I will give you the cleaning of the house, the Mr Muscle and the drain cleaner and the Windowlene and the shiny black bin bags and the stack of stuff for the charity shop.

Tomorrow I will give you the spring.

 

I will give you eggs if you want them. Hen’s egg yellow or chocolate brown, and you can paint them or eat them or roll them, and I won’t care which.

Tomorrow I will give you the spring.

 

I will give you two weeks off school.

Tomorrow I will give you the spring.

 

I will give you the planting of things so that they grow, and I will give you the knowledge of the future, and the surety of the beginning of a cycle, yet again, and the same as always.

Yet again, and the same as always.

Because tonight my daughter is coming home.

 

Tonight I will push my fists back under the sod where she has gone

And I will find her fingers like brown tubers reaching,

And I will clasp them,

Fist to grasping fist,

And I will pull her up.

And she will come to me.

She will come back from the land underground.

She will come home to me.

She will come safe.

And she will come with the blood of his pomegranates still on her lips.

And tomorrow I will give her to you.

 

Yet again, and the same as always.

Yet again, and the same as always.

Yet again. She is here.