GAIA | In Chariklia Martalas’ fiction, a young woman finds comfort in Mother Nature.
by Chariklia Martalas
I reach into the soil to sanctify myself. I mark the earth on my cheeks as if they were ashes at Holy Communion and I was both priest and parishioner. I am at the bottom of my garden, where the sun never reaches and the soil has become rich and dark. I lie down with my face pressed in the ground and my back against the wall laced with ivy. I weep because that is what I do most of these days. But today is something new – I pray to the Mother Goddess, the Goddess of the earth, of life, of me.
Gaia without another. Gaia unwed. Gaia who birthed the mountains as they rose from her skin like jagged selves with other names. Gaia who birthed the sea that churned within the spaces between her womb and heart. Gaia on her own. Gaia as one self. Gaia before the heavens. This is the Gaia I pray to.
I reach into the earth to anoint myself. Feeling the sacredness of the soil on my lips. I know it is only a garden and not the wide expanse of the natural. It is neither the jagged mountains of Gaia’s skin nor the limitlessness of trees in random disarray. But somehow this overgrown and wild garden feels like nature’s home, the trees bending into each other as if they are embracing, the flowers that coat the earth in their splendor. A bit of nature that is my own and I belong to it even more so that I am breathing into the ground. I needed an escape that is not running away and so I find myself by the ivy and the old tree roots that cause marks against my cheeks.
Me, without another. Me unwed. Me, who has not birthed mountains from my skin. Am I worthy? Me, on my own. Me, as one self. Me in the shade of a tree I cannot name. This is the me that is praying.
Loss is a strange beast. I would say that I am hollowed out and empty but that is only one cheek of the beast. I am filled too – with the memories that cover my mind like weeds. The flashbacks of beauty like those flowers that disguise the weeds as something true. I am filled with the colour of the lost for how to explain the relief that I feel? Wandering in a forest trying to catch the moment when the sun will break through the canopy giving me clarity and light. But I still choose the shade. I could be lying in the sun but the heat would crisp my skin and I wish to lie in peace. The dark corner of the garden rests my mind so I can pray without being blinded. I am very deliberate to who I choose to pray to. God as a man feels impersonal, distant, I don’t want omnipotence I want truth. And truth needs to be a mother. When I was young I had paged through mythology books because the stories seemed alive. The stories grew in me like seeds planted in the depths of my belly to sprout out my mouth to anyone who would listen. Stories are the only thing I wish to grow inside of me. In the face of confusion, the beast that feels undefeatable, I turn to these stories again, the stories where nature and the human are not separated but conjoined in nymphs and gods. Where if I walked in the world outside the city, I could be spoken to and understood.
“I pray to the Mother Goddess because she contains multitudes and I wish to contain multitudes as well.”
Gaia and her kindness. Gaia and her vengeance. Gaia and her emotions running hot like her core bumbling and spitting. Gaia is nature. The giver of life and the one who could take it away. The hand that grows and the hand that kills. Gaia can devour. Gaia can love. Gaia as cruel and Gaia as compassion. Gaia as nature and nature as Gaia. Nature is always going to be a mother.
So I pray to the Mother Goddess because God as a man doesn’t seem powerful enough. I want the full breadth of nature to come to my aid. I want the trees to curl around me and hoist me into their branches, cradling me. I want the flowers to brush up against my arms and legs, caressing me. I pray to the Mother Goddess because she contains multitudes and I wish to contain multitudes as well. That will allow me to feel so many contradictions, the loss and the relief, the questioning of what was best. So I pray to the Mother Goddess because of what nature was to a woman. I want to go back to the ancient ways where women were the spirits of trees, the laughter of the stream as it dances on the stones and the moon that glows in its luminescent changeability. Maybe that will give me purpose again, or at the very least some comfort.
Me as pathetic, me as strong as old roots. Me and my kindness, Me and my vengeance. My emotions churning like thunderclouds. Me and my cruelty. Me and my compassion. Am I worthy? Gaia, the power, the beauty. What is nature to a woman but the divine?
After I pray I sit up and notice that my nightgown is smeared with blood again. My legs wet and sticky, coloured with the brightness of the red. It was not long ago when my womb emptied but that time I was on the bathroom floor. Now I am in the garden when my womb empties again but at least this time there is no potential being lost. I need to turn to Gaia because she hurt me. She is the hand that gives and takes away. And I didn’t want to be gifted at all, I didn’t want to be the one who had to take away. I am like Gaia, I think. She probably emptied her own womb out, just like I did. Did you feel relief Gaia? I am praying because I did too.
Chariklia Martalas is a Philosophy, Politics, English and History graduate from the University of the Witswatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. Her work has been featured in Rigwelter Press, Isacoustic, The Raw Art Review, Loch Raven Review, Bending Genres, Drunk Monkeys and the undergraduate literary journal The Foundationalist, among others.