Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Muse of Mandela

If there are dreams about a beautiful South Africa, there are also roads that lead to their goal. Two of these roads could be named Goodness and Forgiveness.
—Nelson Mandela
The Muse of Mandela

In the wake of Nelson Mandela’s death at the age of 95 I find myself musing about how much his life story has meant to the whole world and to me—living so far away from his South Africa, on the left coast of the USA. I am a member of the generation that came of age in the 1960s. Like many my mind was blown, my life was changed by that great crack in the zeitgeist through which flowed the civil rights movement,  the anti-war movement, women’s liberation, environmentalism and psychedelic drugs.

 We saw ourselves as part of a great awakening. We understood that “War is not Healthy for Children or Other Living Beings,” “Black is Powerful,” “Women Hold Up Half the Sky,” and “Earth Is Our Mother.” We had seen molecules dance in the branches of a tree; we knew magic was afoot. 

We were young, idealistic and naïve. We thought we were crossing over Jordan on our way to the Promised Land. What happened? That sense of loss and confusion is a theme in my book, The Faust Woman Poems.

Here’s a poem:

Crossing Over

We thought we knew where
we were going the songs spelt
it out drinking gourd, no moon
night. Didn’t we sneak
past that overseer’s dogs, find
the silent boatman, listen to
the soft splash of oars on the way
to the other side ?

did we think we were headed
on board that train?
We sang the songs, imagined
country lives, city lives, switched
partners, took another toke
                                     of Acapulco Gold…

Long gone what you promised me
under the fig tree. And that key

                                          did I lose it? 

The key got lost, our faith got smashed, by terrible events—the assassinations of President Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Robert Kennedy. Many of us bent our heads down and pursued the hard, important work of our ordinary lives. Reagan was elected. We lost our larger vision, our hopes for a future without war, poverty, racism, sexism or environmental degradation. What would our world be like if Martin Luther King had lived to be a wise old man with a sharp and witty tongue?

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Muse of November 22nd

Late November tugs at me, reminds me of a painful moment that changed my consciousness. A dark bell tolls. Like everyone of my generation I can tell you exactly where I was on November 22, 1963—I was in the kitchen with my baby on my hip. My upstairs neighbor, Andrea—a friend and fellow student at Berkeley—came slamming through my back door in a tumult of voice and feeling: “The President has been shot!” She had just been on campus where everyone was dazed and no one knew what to do. Go to class? Go home? Call Mom and Dad? I remember my own confusion, disbelief, fear. How could this happen in America—my family’s sanctuary from the terrors of the Nazis? I remember my own internal incoherence: I was so mad at Kennedy for the Bay of Pigs—his invasion of Cuba felt like a personal betrayal. Could I mourn him? I remember hours in front of our enormous old black and white TV, watching the recital of catastrophic events. I could not then imagine that this would become a collective ritual—over and over we’d sit in front of all the TVs of our lives, watching the aftermath of assassinations, church bombings, school shootings…

There was a lot I could not yet imagine. I was twenty—too young to be a mother and a wife. My too young husband was in medical school. We lived in the downstairs apartment of my Oma’s duplex in Berkeley. Until recently she’d lived upstairs, in the rooms she painted in that lovely watercolor that would much later grace the cover of my poetry book, Adagio & Lamentation.

In her eighties, beginning to fail, Oma had moved to a sanatorium in Saint Helena, the closest thing she could find to the sanatoria of Europe, where, before the Nazis came to power, people like she would “take the waters.” Once a month, as regularly as a ballad, we’d go to visit Oma in the wine country, my husband, my baby and me. She and I would take walks. She’d tell me, in German, the stories from the long arc of her life. She spoke to me of the changing light. Years later I would remember this scene and put it in the opening poem of Adagio & Lamentation:


I wish you could stop being dead
so I could talk to you about the light    so we
could walk among the vineyards    as we did
forty years ago     near St. Helena    and you

could tell me    again        how the light of late
afternoon is so different from the light
of morning     I was too young
to grasp your meaning    but I believe

you said     it is all about the fall of shadows
that when you paint    it is not light that streams
from your brush but deep purple    violet      blue
you shaped emptiness      and there was light

Oma    come visit me   sit at your easel as you always did
your brush poised    your eyes as fierce
as a tiger’s    show me how to create
the luminous moment     among so many shades

of sorrow   so many dead     how to gather the light
of all the windows    from all the houses of our lives
to make this bright trail I still follow     along the gleaming
floor of the room in which you showed me how

to draw    out the french windows to the unseen
garden        a river of light that lifts
                                                        the Persian carpet into the air 

My Oma, like Rose Kennedy, knew what it was to outlive three of her children, to be given the gift of a long life shadowed by unbearable loss. Jack Kennedy never got to walk with his grandchildren, telling them stories from a long rich life. Neither did his brother, Bobby.

I see myself sitting in front of that old TV, as if in one of the early tree rings of my life, surrounded by the many greater tree rings of who I have become. I had no idea, that day, that Jack Kennedy, though dead, would soon change my life. He had given my generation a treasure—the Peace Corps. Many of us would be shaped by it, becoming world citizens, with an international sense of kinship and responsibility and a passion for travel.

In a later tree ring I’d find myself in India, with two young children and my husband—the Peace Corps doctor for volunteers in Hyderabad. In the next tree ring—consciousness blown wide open by the beauty, the color, the soul of India, amidst so much poverty and suffering—we’d adopt a third child, our Indian daughter, Shanti. I could not then imagine that years later, when that child was in her late twenties, my second husband Dan and I would take her to India. Dan had also been shaped by JFK’s gift—he had been a consultant to Peace Corps in Kenya. Our pilgrimage was powerful for all three of us, and I came to recognize that Old Mother India was an early muse who shaped my essential being. She insisted on a chapter in my book: The Sister from Below.

Old Mother India remembered my time with her as a young woman, when I was younger than Shanti was at the time of our trip. Here is part of what I wrote: 
We opened our house in Hyderabad to Peace Corps volunteers. There was always someone sleeping on the floor, always several of us around the dining room table talking American politics, Indian politics, philosophies of life. We were there when Martin Luther King was assassinated. We were there when Robert Kennedy was assassinated. 
India held us young Americans with curiosity and compassion and deep kindness. She mourned our fallen leaders with us. Sheela, who washed my floors every morning, and sat in the kitchen deftly removing rocks one by one from our daily rice, had lost three of her five children. She asked me about Rose Kennedy—how many sons she had lost. Three I told her—one in the war, two by assassination. “Abah!” Three grown sons! And she wept with me. She told me she had a photograph of JFK in her home, next to her photograph of Mahatma Gandhi. Now she would add photographs of RFK and MLK. 
Jack Kennedy never got to look over a long life and trace the tree rings of his development. Neither did his brother, Bobby. It was Ted, who got into that trouble early on, Chappaquiddick and all, Ted, who never became president but did become the Lion of the Senate, the beloved voice of us aging liberals, who was granted the gift of a full life, and was able to bring forth what was within him. In the end it was he who spoke for the values of so many in my generation—healthcare reform, civil rights, social and economic justice. 

In a recent tree ring of my life, I found myself at my mother’s home in Chicago, glued to the TV. It was Ted Kennedy’s funeral. He had died of a brain tumor. I was filled with grief for this survivor of so much horror, so much personal tragedy, so much self–destructive behavior under the pitiless gaze of the TV cameras. For haven’t we all been self–destructive? I was filled with grief, also, for my mother, who, after years of living a full, creative and independent life, playing the violin and viola in chamber groups and orchestras, giving music lessons, and working with poor young children and their often too young parents, had begun to lose her way. This was revealed to us, her children and grand children, in a particularly painful and humiliating way for her. She got scammed. It made me furious to see the tree rings of her life—which had expanded so gloriously after she ended her marriage to my father—dented so violently and cruelly. It made me unspeakably sad that she should feel so diminished, so shamed.

It was a typical magazine sales scam. She thought she’d won a lot of money. Offshore con men sweet talked her on the telephone, got her to send them money. Luckily, the manager of her bank, who knew her and her cautious spending habits, got suspicious and called my brother.

As the tree rings of our lives get larger, they gather all our themes— our contradictions and complexities—wisdom forged in the School of Hard Knocks. For some of us, at some point, that richness of personality darkens, falters, loses its way. Here I was with my sweet, competent, funny mother, tracking her anxiety and her confusion amidst a gallery of her mother’s—my Oma’s—paintings. They track the tree rings of Oma’s long, difficult and creative life. As I watched the TV coverage of the death of another Kennedy I began to realize that the twang in my mouth was a tooth going bad. The pain grew and resonated like the dark bell of November. If physical pain expresses emotional pain, my tooth was eloquent, and led me to a poem which gathered many of the themes of my life. My Oma, my mother and the Kennedys are among those who have shaped the tree rings of my life. This November, as we passed through the fiftieth anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination, I found myself musing about how the Kennedys are intertwined in my life. I want to share the long poem that came out of that visit to my mother. It expresses my gratitude and my grief.

Root Canal

1. Security Line

We are pilgrims on our way to see Mother   among travelers
in flip flops     with bluetooths     carrying babies      We walk
in our radiant bodies     One of us is about to crack

a tooth     Only the babies can see     old light
from past lives    Only the babies can hear
the song lines     We are pilgrims passing through

the metal detector      We remove our shoes     remove
our coats and shawls    Some of us will be hand wanded
silver bracelets    seven quarters    three dimes provoke

the security gods     The Kennedy who just died
is speaking thirty years ago on TV     His assassinated
brothers still bleed into our lives…

2. Retirement Living

In Mother’s eighty-eighth year she got scammed     Sweet talkers
from the islands poured delirium into her ears     drained her purse
A Great Lake swimmer lost face     A late Beethoven violin

bowed to the gods of security     We’ve come
to see her new place among the formerly eminent
Hyde Park intellectuals     We walk the round of her days        She

gets lost     forgets her song lines    wants to sort through
scores of Mozart Bartok Bach. What goes where?     The Kennedy
who died
is talking on TV     It’s his funeral     His widow pushes back her dark

hair    She’s known him on her belly, in her thighs     She knows
his secret smell     When is it my tooth cracks?
When does that big bully nerve take over?

3. Roots

Oma’s paintings dominate this place     She painted
herself painting all her ages      painted herself losing
her grip     She looked straight into her own mirrored eyes

and painted the edge of her nerve     We make a pilgrimage
to see her painting of German snow on roofs in 1931
The naked larches scrape the sky     Her sons are dead

Her sons are dead     Her sons are dead     Trees
save her     Trees leave     Trees bud     Trees flower
Trees know her secret smell      They cleanse her dreams

Trees grow by rivers     by canals     by lakes     They reflect
on themselves in oils     in watercolors     They burn orange
in the deep wood     They burn gold under water     Mother loses track

of the song lines of her Mother     Her brothers bleed
into brothers not yet born     Mother says we live
too far away     that we’ve been swallowed by the State of California

4. Going Home

I am losing my own grip     My finger prints fade     I forget
your name     All I know is the scream of a nerve     I’ve no idea
how the widow got into Mother’s TV     no idea

how an endodontist removes a dying nerve     no idea
how a plane leaves this earth     no idea
how I’ll live in the State of California
                                                    while Mother loses track of herself
(first published in SierraNevada Review)

Watercolor by Emma Hoffman

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Muse of Tomb Envy

“It might make one in love with death, to think that one should be buried in so sweet a place”
—Percy Bysshe Shelley

The Non-Catholic Cemetery in Rome

Three Dead Poets

The Day of the Dead is approaching, and I find myself musing about the gravestones of poets. I had an experience with three of them recently, in the lovely cemetery for non-Catholic Foreigners in Rome. Keats is buried here. Most of Shelley is buried here—though it is said that his heart was snatched off the funeral pyre by his friend, Edward Trelawny and given to his widow, Mary. To my surprise I found the grave of Gregory Corso, the beat poet, who is of Catholic extraction, buried here as well.

Gravestones used to be a high art form. Dan and I wandered among impressive busts and marble ladies lying in eternal repose, past a stone Psyche divesting herself of her mortal coil—high on a pedestal—to mourn a woman whose husband wrote: “Her loss is as that of the Keystone of an Arch.”


Dan took photos, I mused and took notes. As someone whose plan is to have my ashes scattered on my favorite mountain, I surprised myself with a fit of tomb envy. Imagine having a large angel slumped over your tomb, devastated by your death. 

Slumped Angel

Or imagine being immortalized by an angel with magnificent buttocks standing on a pedestal in some sort of triumphant commentary on the loss of you. I don’t care what your sexual orientation—this angel is an erotic fantasy.

Back of Standing Angel

You have to wander around to the front to be sure of his gender.

Front of Standing Angel

Eros and Thanatos seem to have been on close terms in the nineteenth century. Here a naked couple, looking as though they depict a Greek myth, stand in bas-relief on a tomb. Their little boy grasps the halter of a horse. What story are they telling about the dead Austrian gentleman here memorialized?

Tomb with Naked Couple

Goethe’s only son is buried here. So are professors from America, ladies from Australia, the Fischer brothers (I assume)—one with a cross over his name, the other with a Star of David. Therein lies a story, I’m sure.

Fischer Brothers Tomb
One with Nature

Death, like love, is a great theme for poets. What I’d not considered before is the power of a poet’s gravestone. Keats, who died at the tender age of 25, of tuberculosis, wanted the most modest of gravestones, with no name or date, but only the words: “Here lies one whose name was writ in water.” However his friends Joseph Severn and Charles Armitage Brown, angry at the critical reception Keats work had received, added the words: “This grave contains all that was mortal of a young English Poet who, on his death bed, in the bitterness of his heart, desired these words to be engraven on his tomb stone.” They also added the date.

Keats' Gravestone

That wasn’t enough for Severn. He had to add his own commentary, writ in stone:

Response to Keats' Gravestone

Later in life Severn and Brown regretted having disrespected Keats’ last wish.

Shelley, who knew and valued Keats, was one of those who believed that the critical attack on Keats had hastened the death of the young poet. In this lineage of sorrow, Shelley memorialized Keats with his long and passionate elegy, Adonaïs. Here are some of my favorite passages:

Peace, peace! he is not dead, he doth not sleep—
He hath awakened from the dream of life… (stanza 39)
He has outsoared the shadow of our night;
Envy and calumny and hate and pain,
And that unrest which men miscall delight,
Can touch him not and torture not again… (stanza 40)

He is made one with Nature, there is heard
His voice in all her music, from the moan
Of thunder, to the song of night’s sweet bird…(stanza 42)

That sweet bird of course, is a reference to Keats’ “Ode to a Nightingale”
in which the poet, addressing that “immortal Bird,” longs for death:

Now more than ever it seems rich to die,
   To cease upon the midnight with no pain,
      While thou art pouring forth thy soul aboard
          In such an ecstasy! (stanza vi)

In a strange variation on this lineage of death, Shelley became “one with nature” just a year later. He drowned in a sudden storm while sailing along the coast of Italy. A volume of Keats’ verse was found in his pocket. His gravestone bears the Latin Inscription: Cor Cordium (“Heart of Hearts”). His gravestone, referring to his death at sea, bears an inscription from Ariel’s song in The Tempest: Nothing of him that doth fade/But doth suffer a sea–change/Into something rich and strange.

Shelley's Gravestone

Corso, who described himself in a poem (“I Am 25”), “With a love a madness for Shelley,” made complicated arrangements and pulled powerful strings to get himself into this cemetery, just footsteps away from Shelley. Corso had had a harsh early life, been abandoned by his teenage parents, gotten into trouble with the law, done time. While in prison he read and began writing poetry. He found his tribe, his kin, when he met Alan Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac. He became an important voice among the beat poets. He, like Ginsberg, was a master of the long line list-rant. In a famous poem called “Bomb” he rants about death.

Some die by Swamp some by sea and some by the bushy haired man in the night
O there are deaths like witches of Arc Scary deaths like Boris Karloff
No-feeling deaths like birth-death Sadless deaths like old pain Bowery
Abandoned deaths like Capital Punishment stately deaths like Senators
And unthinkable deaths like Harpo Marx girls on Vogue covers my own

How I love that last line with its sly glide from “girls on Vogue covers” to “my own.”

In an amazing turn of events Corso was reunited with his mother late in his life. They formed a strong bond that also tied him to Italy, her country of birth. I imagine that being buried near Shelley put him in the company of his soul kin, in the earth of his mother country. 

Corso's Gravestone

I am dazzled by the poem on his gravestone—one of the most perfect poems I know—9 short lines that say it all, about life and death and being “one with nature.” 

is Life
It flows thru
the death of me
like a river
of becoming
the sea

I sat on a bench in the cemetery, amidst cypress tress and palms, pansies, begonias and violets, in the shadow of the Cestius Pyramid—an ancient Roman tomb. In the presence of a mysterious woman’s bust in stone—she seems to be listening to music—or is it poetry— from another realm, I wept for a poet I hadn’t read since I was young.

Listening Woman

I won’t ever have a prostrate angel mourning on my tomb. But I’ve got poems in the tradition of this lineage of poets who understand “the death of me/like a river/ unafraid of becoming/the sea." Following is the final poem in The Faust Woman Poems:

When I Die

I want the window’s yellow rose
To kiss my eyes goodbye—before
Green sisters do their rattle dance—before
I’m drunk by sun and swallowed
By the moon before the earth
Starts chewing on my bones— and you

To whom I leave my words—listen
For me in the grass— If I can lick
Your lips and steal into your ears
When I am long past breath I’ll borrow yours
And swing into your beating heart
Where I will sing a beat or two before
You breathe me out again—
                   Into the hungry sky
(First published in Reed Magazine)

Prostrate Angel

Monday, September 23, 2013

A Catholic Muse?

in the city where the music began
i hear the song of my life in your voice
yours is the clamorous “te deum” of the bellsyours the fingers of the early morning suntouching my face and the crown of my head  
—Lowinsky, “to the lost nurse of a childhood in Florence”
in red clay is talking p. 30

A Secret Catholic Soul

For a Jew, I have a very intense relationship with Catholicism. I find myself mesmerized by news of Pope Francis, the new Pontiff who castigates the church for being obsessed with people’s sexual behavior, forgetting love, mercy and social justice. Why should this make me feel so glad and hopeful? Why should I get all weepy and emotional? 

Maybe it’s because my childhood was steeped in Catholic church music. My father, a musicologist, focused on the music of the church in the Renaissance. My young sense of the sacred was shaped by Gregorian Chant and the Stabat Mater of Josquin des Prez, Pergolesi, Palestrina and Scarlatti. I experience the holy in churches, mostly when in Italy. When there I light candles for my beloved dead, and for friends and family who are suffering. Dan and I have just returned from a trip to Italy. My favorite church on this trip was the Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere, in Rome. This medieval church embodies, in image and architecture, my experience of inwardness and interiority.

The Basilica feels deeply feminine to me and I love the animal presence. It’s strange to feel so at home in Italian churches. There is a family story behind this. I wrote about it in The Sister from Below:
The Lady of Florence is in the sound of the church bells. She is in every glimpse of the church of Santa Maria del Fiore, as I turn the dark corner of some narrow street and see her radiance anew.…She draws my eyes to Brunelleschi’s great red Duomo and suddenly I feel alive, full of inexplicable joy, as though I’ve come home after a long journey. Do I hear a voice say: “You can never get lost, as long as you keep sight of the Duomo.”
The Duomo, Santa Maria di Fiore, Florence
The Lady of Florence appears to me like the virgin of the annunciation in the painting by Fra Angelica, surprised out of some deep place, and at once disoriented by the news the angel has to tell her, and strangely calm…
Annunciation by Fra Angelico
The Lady of Florence is a graceful Italian woman, walking down an old cobbled street in a pair of elegant shoes, or buzzing about on her Vespa, trailing a lovely scarf…I feel quintessentially myself when I am here. Familiar. Beloved. Yet who is the one who loves me only in Florence. Who is it I seek whom I cannot quite touch?…
In the family stories there was a nursemaid, or was she a neighbor, Lydia…How can one touch the one who formed you when you can’t see her face, can’t understand her language?…Perhaps I should invoke the Lady…It seems too simple. And yet, when I sit down alone on my poetry porch, wrap myself in my red and purple shawl, and focus inward, she appears. I feel as though I am a child again. Her eyes are green and she looks at me as though I am the world’s most beloved child…I say, You are here. You remember me. 
Of course, because you remember me. I told you I would always be with you. You were so young, I thought you wouldn’t understand. But you did. You’ve come back.
We had a special bond, you and I…There you were, so delicate and small, so burdened with your mother’s heavy load. You looked more like me than you did your own mother. People thought you were mine as we wandered the piazzas and you dashed into flocks of pigeons, proclaiming your magical powers. Your Italian ass so good you could have been mine…I liked to dress you up. You loved this…I liked to take you out to see the saints, the Madonna, to pray in the churches…I understood you better than your own parents did. You were so relaxed with me, so playful. Around them you turned into a little grown up. I couldn’t bear the fact you had not been baptized, that you’d not go to heaven. Here in the city of Dante, I wanted you to be baptized so we could be reunited in Paradise. You were all excited about it. You loved the ritual, the Latin prayer, the priest. You told your father, how could you not? You were his child. 
He flew into a fury. How could I do such a thing? It was a violation! A desecration! How absurd! I was consecrating you forever. And in any case your father spent more time in churches and knew more about Gregorian Chant and the mass than do most Catholics. I suspected he had a hidden yearning, a secretly Catholic soul. But, as you know, there was no talking to your father.

A Secret Jewish Soul

Fast forward a number of years, from that active imagination which brought me the voice of my lost lady. It is 2013, the International Association of Analytical Psychology Conference in Copenhagen. Fisher King Press (FKP), a Jungian press, has a big presence among the book tables. Publishers Mel Mathews and Patty Cabanas, who have published five of my books in the past four years, are present. I feel flooded with my gratitude to them and with amazement at what they have accomplished. They now have 41 psychology titles, 8 poetry titles, 15 fiction titles plus books on creativity, astrology and ecopsychology.

I had shopped The Sister from Below around for seven years with no luck. Even Jungian publishers seemed squeamish about taking on a book that was essentially a series of acts of imagination. Synchronicity and my friendship with the Israeli analyst, Erel Shalit, whom I met at an Expressive Arts Conference in Bulgaria, led me to Fisher King. Erel has published many titles with FKP.

At the book launching party for three new Fisher King titles, Mel Mathews told his origin story—the short version. He’d been a tractor salesman. He had a big dream, got into analysis, and understood he needed to write novels. Then he couldn’t find a publisher. In the way of synchronicity he happened to rent a home from a man who knew the book business inside out. So Mel started a publishing house. He was drawn to Jungian writing and ideas and decided to make that his focus. As I listened to him I thought that his story followed the archetypal pattern of the “Jungian Way—” big dream, synchronicity, listening to the inner voice that tells one to change one’s life.

In the way of synchronicity I learned that Mel too had a love affair with Florence. In fact, he was in Florence when working on the cover of The Sister from Below.

The three titles that were being launched that day, to a pleasingly large crowd, were The Dream and its Amplification, edited by Erel Shalit and Nancy Furlotti, which I wrote a blog about last month, Marked by Fire: Stories of the Jungian Way, a book I edited with Patricia Damery and have written about frequently on this blog site, and a play, On the Doorstep of the Castle, by Elizabeth Clark–Stern. Both Elizabeth and I, in speaking of our books, expressed out gratitude for (at long last) finding a publisher open to the creative imagination. FKP is a haven and a godsend to many of us Jungians who write out of our subjective experiences, dreams, conversations with inner figures and wanderings in the irrational. Strange to say in the Jungian world, but it’s taken an “outsider” with his own compelling “story of the Jungian Way” to open up the publishing world to us.

Elizabeth and her colleague, the wonderful dancer Lindsey Rosen, performed the play one evening. In the way of synchronicity I found myself weeping, not only because the play is extraordinarily moving, and Elizabeth and Lindsey are fine actors and movers, but because it hit on of so many of my obsessions:
The Jews in Medieval Spain
The Inquisition
Conversos who are secret Jews
Kabbalah and the Feminine Face of God
Active Imagination and its earlier incarnation as mystical prayer
The conceit of the play is fabulous. A young converso, Alma de Leon (Lindsey), who is a descendant of the famous Kabbalistic rabbi Moses de Leon, applies to become a novice under the tutelage of Teresa of Avila (Elizabeth), a Carmelite nun said to be “the most awake woman in Spain,” “a woman who receives raptures from God.” Alma is suffering from an “aridity of soul.” She wants to learn how to receive the divine. She also clearly needs a sanctuary from the dread hands of the Inquisition.

Teresa, as she is played convincingly by Elizabeth, is able to convey to the audience the experience of being answered by an inner voice, by an other who has a different point of view, a larger wisdom. I identified with Teresa, though my inner figures are very different. That look of listening, on the face of a Saint deep in prayer—hearing the voice of the divine—or on the face of the poet in reverie—suddenly hearing the voice of the poem begin to sing—or the face of one engaged in active imagination, when the figure in a dream begins to speak—voicing a wisdom unknown to the conscious mind—that feeling of wonder, delight, awe—is one I know well. This mystic, this saint, who, it turns out, is a converso herself, gives me a sense of lineage both as a Jew and a Jungian.

In the way of synchronicity, wandering through museums in Italy on our later trip, I saw that expression on the faces of many saints. Here's an image by Rubens of Teresa of Avila.

Teresa prays to her God for counsel about whether to take in this young converso who knows Teresa’s secret and could betray her to the Inquisition. Should she take this risk? We watch her face light up, listening:” You want me to fight for her…You know what it is to be an outcast Jew?”

With Alma’s encouragement Teresa has the courage to write down her encounters with the divine, risking the fires of the Inquisition. With Teresa’s guidance Alma finds her way into her own Kabbalistic vision of the feminine face of God. The two women struggle with each other, support each other, go out into the world to touch the lives of the poor. By the end of the play the whole audience was in tears, and Elizabeth and Lindsey got a much–deserved standing ovation.

Elizabeth has the courage, the creative freedom, to bring together a historical figure, Teresa of Avila, and a fictional figure, a creation of her own imagination, Alma de Leon. She says:
I was aware of the twentieth-century Jewish philosopher, Edith Stein, who chanced to read Teresa’s autobiography and realized it was what she had been searching for all her life. She converted to the Carmelite order, yet could not curb her criticism of the Pope, who turned the other way while the Jews were being led to the death camps from Italy. Her public denunciation eventually resulted in the Gestapo escorting Edith and her sister, Rosa, to Auschwitz, where they were exterminated in 1942. 
I was so moved by this story I began to imagine a young Jewish woman, living in 16th century Spain, who, like Edith Stein, was searching for something to feed the longing of her soul. “What if Teresa and Edith met?” I thought, with a sense of great excitement. I did not transpose Edith directly to the 16th century, but began to research the story of the Jews at that time. The character of Alma, Spanish for soul, emerged in vivid dreams and images from the dusty plains of central Spain.
She describes her creative process, very much like active imagination, requiring inward listening, allowing her characters to lead:
I tossed out my preconceptions and ideas about the story, and just let the characters guide me. Alma had Edith’s courage, but was not a philosopher. She was a woman of the senses, the earth, the arts.
The figure behind the play, Edith Stein, struggled and died in the breach between her Jewishness and her Catholicism. In the way of synchronicity, I hear from Elizabeth that she and Lindsey will be performing the play in their home town of Seattle, in a church which houses a Jewish congregation in the basement. The minister and the rabbi are excited, because they have been looking for a way to bring their communities together. Elizabeth and Lindsey have created a bridge between the Jew and Catholic, the mystical and the quotidian. I felt my soul and my imagination reflected throughout their performance.

Later, in the Italian part of our journey, Dan and I walked across our beloved Ponte Vecchio, in Florence. We had not been here since the late ‘90s—the trip I wrote about in The Sister from Below. I thought about the new Pope, that the word Pontiff means bridge-builders. I remembered what the Sister had said to me about the bridge:
Look at the Ponte Vecchio, the only bridge over the Arno that survived the Nazi bombings in 1944, with its elegant jewelry shops and its arches. You can see that it is actually two bridges, especially at night. There is the flesh and blood bridge, full of tourists…There is the other, deeper bridge, insubstantial, with its reflected arches and yellow shops on the dark waters of the river. They touch each other, these two bridges, reflect on each other, can’t be without each other, and yet are inhabitants, like you and I are, of different realms.

Dan took this photo:

Ponte Vecchio, Florence, Italy

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Celebrating the Harvest: Reading for the Earth

An Invitation:

Harvest is an ancient and sacred ritual, marking the year’s cycle, expressing our gratitude for the fruits of the Earth. In these dangerous and fragmented times how do we give thanks to our Mother Earth and to the farmers who feed us?

We are three poets and a novelist, who engage passionately with ecological issues in our work. Please join us for a harvest of earth-centered writing at First Light Farm Stand.

When: 2:00 pm, Sunday, September 29th, 2013

Where: First Light Farm Stand, 4588 Bodega Avenue, Petaluma

Who Will Read: Novelist Patricia Damery and poets Frances Hatfield, Naomi Ruth Lowinsky and Leah Shelleda

If you’re worried about Monsanto and the loss of species, or want to know more about the poets who will be reading, check out Sharon Heath’s blog posting On Butterflies and Men http://www.sharonheath.com/2013/08/of-butterflies-and-men.html.

A Publication

My poem “Lust and the Holy” is featured in the on-line literary magazine Wild Violets, http://www.wildviolet.net/2013/07/28/lust-and-the-holy/#.UgPLcHBDXJw accompanied by a delightful image. I hope you’ll check it out.

Monday, August 5, 2013

The Muse of Dreaming

Dreams are the guiding words of the soul. 
                —C.G. Jung, The Red Book 

Follow the Track of the Dream

The dream is the muse of my muses—my portal, my guide, a letter from the gods. Sometimes it is a terrifying soothsayer of catastrophe, sometimes a wild animal that slashes old ways of being, insists I become myself. I can tell you my whole story in dreams. I can read you the stepping stones of my path in poems sparked by dreams. My poetry collection, crimes of the dreamer, is full of poems that began as dreams. Here’s part of one:

if you follow the track of the dream

from life to life one     planet blending into another     in the company of the man
who reads stone          maybe you’ll find yourself
                                    on a boat in the ocean                       chasing a whale

or in the middle of the woods        startled by a fox with turquoise teeth
he grins at you      then dashes off into the undergrowth

Those of us who follow the track of the dream have been given a gift. The Dream and Its Amplification, with that magical sleeping giant on its cover, has just been published by Fisher King Press. Edited by two Jungian analysts, Erel Shalit, an Israeli and Nancy Swift Furlotti, an American, it is a treasure trove for the dreamer and the dream interpreter. For me, The Dream and Its Amplification is a dream come true. I am honored to have a chapter in the collection. To find myself in the company of an international group of Jungian writers who tell spellbinding stories of the inner life and the power of dreams, writers who move seamlessly between the conscious and unconscious realms, who take our hands and lead us into the deepest mysteries, is a harvest of my life as a dreamer, a Jungian and a writer. Their writings open doors to realms that amplify my own dream life.

Some writers lead us into ancient religious views of the dream. Ken Kimmel tells us a story of his youth, studying dreams of divination among Maya–descended shamans in the Highlands of Guatamala. Henry Abramovitch guides us into the complicated world of Jewish dreaming—dreams told in the Bible and Rabbinic views on their interpretation. Nancy Qualls-Corbett invites into the feminine mysteries. Ronald Shenk considers the dreams as gnostic myth.

Some writers reveal the story of their own lives in dreams. Tom Singer gives us an overview of his entire life through his amplification of a snake dream from his youth. Gilda Franz reveals the powerful dreams she and her husband had before his sudden death.

Some writers invite us to follow the track of their wandering in worlds unknown to most of us. Kathryn Madden introduces us to the 17th century mystic—Jacob Boehme. Christian Gaillard invites us to follow his intricate amplification of an ancient fresco from Herculaneum. We meander with Gotthilf Isler among Alpine legends. With Erel Shalit we enter the inner life of an Israeli dreamer at a time of great collective upheaval—the beginning of the Intifada.

Wild Cat Familiar

In several pieces we find ourselves in the consulting rooms of fellow analysts, following the track of powerful dreams. With Nancy Swift Furlotti we follow animal tracks in the dreams of a woman who is visited by wild cats and crowned serpents. Furlotti writes:
Dream animals lurk in the background of our psyche, growling, barking, hissing from our deep, dark recesses, reminding us of their presence and the fact that we, too, are animals.
I identify with Nancy’s patient, whose dreams of wild cats “brought attention to an unknown part of herself and facilitated a reconnection to the instinctual world of the feminine in her, which was strong, self–determined and spiritual.” I have often been visited by wild cats in dreams, by lions—I am a Leo—by tigers that have changed my life.

These cats leap into my poems. They show up when my muse is feeling neglected, demanding attention. Once the children were grown up and gone a lion showed up in the Jung Institute library, said he loved me so much he would eat me. This image leapt into a poem. The poem spoke to my fear of “my hottest familiar/true cat/of my birth…”

…maybe you’d leap
through the library
sever my head
from my body
crunch bone
feed on what’s soft
maybe you’d burn me up
in your yellow
maybe you did
(published in red clay is talking)

In later dreams the wild cat becomes a tiger. Tigers are said to be more solitary than lions. As the mother, stepmother and grandmother of a large tribe I’ve needed to learn to honor my introversion. Tigers show up when I don’t. Tiger poems show up in The Faust Woman Poems—poems about my generation of women, released from millennia of shackled lives by the emergence of the Goddess and the upheavals of feminism. In one poem, “Your Familiar,” I describe the conflict of leaving a marriage with young children in the ‘70s and being visited by my muse in the form of a starving tiger. In another, a sonnet called “Mystery,” a tiger is the answer to my wish for a dream. Here’s the sonnet:


I ask my dream to tell me a story, show
me an image, send me a message, anything to free
my trapped spirit —caught in some old woe.
Dream gives me a tiger. I can see
he’ll hurl me to the ground. Am I his meat?
Is he the essence of that girl
who prowled the woods, talked to the trees
watched the river swirl?

O tiger it is spring! Wisteria
and mountain laurel bloom. I have this only
life but you appear in many forms—mystery—
familiar. Last night you lurked about the center
of the town. Am I supposed to wake from sleep
                                       and let you enter?

It’s not just wild cats that have shown up to alter my life and give me poems. Snakes are frequent visitors. So are whales, goats, wolves, a fox with turquoise teeth and a horse from the Paleolithic. These visitors enchant me. So do the wild creatures in so many of these essays. I am charmed by Tom Singer’s snake, and his life long devotion to its amplification. I appreciate his elegant summing up:
I think of the realm of the snake as offering a bottom–up, non–rational center of consciousness rather than a top–down rational view in which the mind orders everything.
I am delighted by Monika Wikman’s dream in which the animals are given the right to vote. The animal spirits take their seats at a round table.
They had out their voting ballots, and each was actively voting with its fins, paws, hooves, etc. One of the animals there, a female dolphin, looked at me as she voted and gave me a smile that radiated happiness and some spirit of recognition between her and me.
That smiling dolphin stays with me, makes me feel hopeful about our planet.

In my own chapter, Muse of the Moon: Poetry from the Dreamtime, I tell two big dreams— muses that revealed essential poetic landscapes and changed my writing life. In the first, I am standing with my poetry teacher, when “a horse, straight out of a Paleolithic cave painting, gallops across the meadow. It is so beautiful, so vivid; it takes my breath away.” This dream came before I had my first appointment with the woman who would become my poetry teacher for a decade—an initial dream showing me exactly the nature of the work I’d be doing with her—finding my roots as a poet in the shamanic realm.

In the second dream a “woman from long ago who is also me, is met at the door of the church [the Santuario at Chimayo] by a priest, who gives her a brooch in the shape of Mary—carved in amethyst. He pins it on her shawl, at her throat. A voice from the altar calls out: “Faust Woman.” This dream totally bewildered me. I had no idea what it meant. But it stuck to me, worked on me for years until the track of my associations and amplifications led me into The Faust Woman Poems—my fourth poetry collection.

That Storied Dark

I am grateful to Erel Shalit and Nancy Swift Furlotti for this remarkable collection of essays. They open so many windows to the soul and bring light to such mysteries. They remind us that the ancient practice of dream work is alive and well among Jungians.

I wrote a poem, years ago, to honor my second analysis, which describes the power of dream work for me. Here it is:

in her chair

   SHE    in great heaven
      turned her ear
         to great earth

she combs through your dreams
braids your thought
ties a purple ribbon on them
                                            remembering pieces of how
                                                                  you came in

                                                                  head of a girl
                                                                  in a tower

                                                                                foot stamping

                                             your grandmother’s
                                                                 lost silver

hour after hour she followed you
                     into that storied dark
                                                      cave eyes
                                                     hollowed out ear

                                                      tracking the fox
                                                                        with turquoise teeth—

she was there in her chair
when the great snake wandered away
from the center of the earth
                                                      your back went out
                                                     there was something wrong
                                                                                     with your guts

she was there when the bomb blew up
                                                      in the oven
                                                      she heard the howling

she was there
when the tower fell

and when the woman in a red sari
                           gold coins in her belly dancer’s belt
                                                      tucked you into
                                                                         told you
                                                                                the real story

(published in crimes of the dreamer)

Two Invitations

If you will be at the IAAP meetings in Copenhagen later this month, please join us for the book launching of The Dream and Its Amplification as well as Marked by Fire: Stories of the Jungian Way, which I co–edited with Patricia Damery. Both essay collections invite us into the inner life as Jungians know it.

If you’ll be in the Bay Area in late September please join us at the Friends of the Jung Institute book event for The Dream and Its Amplification [dreamsamplified.eventbrite.com]. Erel Shalit and Nancy Swift Furlotti will be present, as will Tom Singer and I.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

The Muse of Elders

I wish you could stop being dead
so I could talk to you about the light… and you

could tell me   again      how the light of late
afternoon is so different from the light
of morning

from “Oma”
Naomi Ruth Lowinsky
Ancient Ways -by Diana Bryer

To be blessed by an elder, especially an admired one, one whose wisdom and accomplishment one wants to emulate, is a gift. My Oma, a painter, gave me the gift of her blessing, opening me to my own creative path when I was a girl. Her spirit has illuminated the long spiral path of becoming myself—what Jungians call individuation—often a lonely business.

On the way to being an elder myself, hopefully a giver of blessings, I am amused to notice that receiving the blessing of elders continues to matter—a lot. I find myself musing about my Jungian tribe and the elders who have illuminated my way. The Jungian way follows the archetype of initiation, in which elders bring the young into the tribe in many ways: analysis, consultation, the reviewing and certifying committees of the Institute. I was lucky in my mentors on the way to becoming a Jungian analyst— I felt understood, supported and appreciated.

But I’ve been musing about the unofficial forms of initiation, which by their unplanned and spontaneous nature may have more to do with the peculiarities of one’s path. Though my memory is nothing to brag about these days, I have a stepping stone path of memories of elders who have blessed me.

The story I want to tell is about Elizabeth Osterman, she of the intense and piercing eyes, the fierce no nonsense way of leaping from unconscious to conscious and back. I had no official relationship with her, but she was a powerful presence for me. Osterman happens to be my Oma’s maiden name, so I considered Elizabeth a grandmother, though I never told her this.

I also never told her that she had changed my life, years before I knew her, years before I thought of becoming an analyst. I was lost in my life. A friend invited me to a conference called The Forgotten Feminine. I had no idea what that meant but it tugged at me. Elizabeth Osterman was one of the wise older women who spoke at the conference about women’s psychological development, about the importance of supporting a woman’s creativity. She made a deep imprint on my soul, gave me an image of what a Jungian analysis could do. I found myself an analyst.

Fifteen years later, when I was a new candidate at the San Francisco Institute, Elizabeth placed herself at the bottom of the steps as I descended, glared at me and said in a voice of great authority: “You are a poet. You must honor that path.” I’m not sure where she got her certainty. Perhaps she had seen some of my writing. But her voice rang loudly in my head for years during which I ignored the call of my Muse. I remember feeling much more guilty toward Elizabeth than I did toward my Muse.

When I gave the paper that became the beginning of The Sister from Below: When the Muse Gets Her Way, in which the Muse asserts herself in me, a paper that included my poetry, Elizabeth sat herself down in the front row, her cane erect between her feet, her short white hair bristling. When I was done she rose, gave me that intense glare, and said: “Now you’re doing it. It’s about time!”

That was many years ago. Elizabeth is long gone. But her blessing feels vibrant and alive in my soul. Here is part of a Dirge I wrote at the time, some fifteen years ago, when many beloved Jungian elders of our Jungian tribe died, including Elizabeth:

There are those whose words
change the course of the river
before we ever meet
their eyes

On the day you died
I was writing a poem
about the great green frog
that jumped into my reverie—
the frog that wonders in
and out of women’s wombs
tells the story
of the old she god
you were the first
to bring me news of—

You stood
on a university platform
in Wheeler Auditorium
where I had heard
many famous professors
but no one had ever told me—

that a woman
writing down her dreams
can spiral inward
to her dark center

and come back out
with flaming colors
and her own wild tongue!

(published in red clay is talking p. 97-8)

Marked by Fire

When Patricia Damery and I began working on our collection Marked by Fire: Stories of the Jungian Way, we knew we were working in the tradition of a lineage of elders. We dedicated our book to the late Don Sandner, who had been a significant elder for both Patricia and me. But when Suzanne and George Wagner agreed to review the book, neither one of us was prepared for how much their response would mean to us.

Matter of the Heart, a film created
by Suzanne and George Wagner

Suzanne and George are our forebears in the endeavor to give voice to the Jungian worldview. They brought the inner life as we Jungians understand it into films such as Matter of Heart —a portrait of Jung, The World Within, which provided glimpses into Jung’s Red Book decades before it was published and the Remembering Jung Series in which the Wagners were blessed by elders who shared memories of their experiences with Jung.

Patricia and I had been moved and delighted to find colleagues who could express their experience of living in relationship to their own inner lives—dreams, synchronicities, active imagination. I was moved and delighted all over again to read George and Suzanne’s words in their two separate reviews just published in The Jung Journal (Spring 2013 Vol. 7, #2).

George wrote:
Readers will be moved, saddened, and challenged by the notion that to strive for individuation is truly difficult, heavy, hard work. But it appears to be worth it—not only for yourself, your colleague, and your family, but also for the planet…. 
In these true-life adventures in the search for soul, these “lucky 13” individuals provide living examples to assist us in conquering our own fears. The fire that ignites in the soul can be formidable. These stories give us courage and guidance….

Thank you, George. Gathering stories that would support others in their search for soul was exactly what we hoped to achieve. Suzanne wrote:
Reading such rich, self-disclosing material…we are left with no doubt that a truly transformative power that is both dangerous and beneficial resides in the unconscious psyche…. 
Clearly the path of individuation is a demanding adventure that involves suffering.…Jung often appears to these writers in dreams and active imagination as a guide who both challenges and supports the process. It seems he has become an active ancestral presence in the soul of the next generations!
Thank you Suzanne. It is hard to express how moved and delighted I am by your words: It seems [Jung] has become an active ancestral presence in the soul of the next generations! You and George have worked hard to make Jung’s ancestral presence and influence available to future generations through film. I am so grateful to you for that. I don’t think I got it until I read your words— Patricia and I, in our way, have been carrying on your work. We have gathered a tribal record of Jung as ancestor. To have you recognize that is a profound blessing.