Showing posts sorted by relevance for query river earth sky. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query river earth sky. Sort by date Show all posts

Thursday, June 9, 2016

News from the Muse: The Muse of Gathering

The Muse of Gathering 


Beyond the open window
the edges of the leaves,
a river of earth and sky
spinning like Sufi women
surrounded by morning glories
and galaxies.
—Diane Frank


Lost and Found in Poetry Land

Once in awhile a book comes along that changes how you gather your life. The anthology, River of Earth and Sky: Poems for the Twenty–First Century, selected by Diane Frank, published in 2015, is such a book. Poetry is a solitary practice. I’m used to sitting alone in my study, talking to inner figures, listening to the intensities of my muse. But as I wound my way through this luminous, soul–stirring gathering of poems, I found myself in the company of so many kindred spirits—some I knew, most I did not— that it occurred to me, I had found my tribe. Perhaps this shouldn’t have surprised me, given that Diane Frank, the editor of Blue Light Press, had chosen my chapbook, The Little House On Stilts Remembers, along with Lucy Day’s Dreaming of Sunflowers: Museum Poems, to share the Blue Light Poetry Prize in 2015. But that welcome recognition is a different experience from the long meander along the river of poems Frank selected. Rounding each bend I was surprised and delighted, as earth met sky in many voices and moods, with striking imagery, musicality, sensuality and a flow of themes that resonate with my own passions. The poems are illuminated with striking artwork by Melanie Gendron, and a lush cover image of naked female figures among trees and birds, in shades of green, blue and earth tones, called “Nurturing Forest.” Under the spell of this collection, I found myself musing about anthologies, how certain of them can define an epoch, a poetic movement, a change in consciousness, how certain ones have been significant sign posts along my way.

It’s easy to get lost in Poetry Land. There are so many literary publications in print and on line, so many poets, well known and not, so many poetry readings in small cafes and big auditoriums. It’s easy to get confused about where you are, who your people are, who your ancestors are, as you wander through your years of apprenticeship—for poetry is a hard task master, requiring endless study and devotion. It never ceases to amaze me how many fine poets are writing today, and how many of them are women. In our wealth and celebrity mad culture they devote themselves to poetry for no money and little glory. River of Earth and Sky testifies to this brilliant flowering.

“Flower Mandala,” Melanie Gendron*
*Note: all the titled art in this blog is by Melanie Gendron, and was published in River of Earth and Sky. 
Art in color here appears in black and white in the anthology.

How did this happen? Three poetry anthologies mark the sea change poetry has experienced in my writing lifetime. They trace my long meander in Poetry Land, gather my songlines, trace my obsessions. The word anthology comes from the Greek, meaning flower gathering. Anthologies, also known as garlands, go back two thousand years, more if you think of the Bible as such a gathering. The fourth anthology, River of Earth and Sky, feels like a homecoming, a promised land. It gave me the gift of an epiphany: I saw my path in four anthologies. I want to share with you the fruits of this gathering.

The New American Poetry
What thoughts I have of you tonight, Walt Whitman, for I walked down the sidestreets under the trees with a headache self–conscious looking at the full moon. 
In my hungry fatigue, and shopping for images, I went into the neon fruit supermarket, dreaming of your enumerations! 
What peaches and what penumbras! Whole families shopping at night! Aisles full of husbands! Wives in the avocados, babies in the tomatoes!—and you, Garcia Lorca, what were you doing down by the watermelons?
—Allen Ginsberg, “A Supermarket in California”

If you’re of my generation, a fellow traveler in Poetry Land, you likely know this anthology, The New American Poetry 1945-1960, edited by Donald M. Allen and published in 1960. It gathered poems from what Allen calls the third generation of 20th century American poets. The first generation are the modernists—Ezra Pound, H.D., William Carlos Williams, Wallace Stevens etc. The second generation includes Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Lowell, Kenneth Rexroth, and Louis Zukofsky. The third generation, writes Allen, is “our avant–garde…Many are closely allied to modern jazz and abstract expressionist painting.” They include the Black Mountain Poets, the Poets of the San Francisco Renaissance, the Beats, the New York Poets, and assorted others. These poets cracked open the idea of the poem; they made a mash up of high and low culture, vulgar talk and high flown phrases. They believed that form and rhythm should emerge organically, that imagination was poetry’s chariot. Thus Allen Ginsberg meets Walt Whitman and Garcia Lorca in a Berkeley supermarket in 1955.

When I was an undergraduate in English Literature at Berkeley, lost and unseen in academia, this anthology helped me gather my influences. My father’s first job in this country had been at Black Mountain College, which hired many refugee German Jews like him. I was a baby, a toddler, a little girl in the heady environment of that radical school in the mid 1940s. The famous poets, Charles Olson, Robert Creeley, Robert Duncan, had not yet arrived. But there was an atmosphere of creative exploration and political courage. My parents led the effort to desegregate the college, the first school in the South to do so. With Allen’s exciting anthology in hand, I decided I was a Black Mountain Poet, though those writers were a generation older than I, their poetry was written during my childhood, and I met them only in their books, which still grace my book shelves and inform my work.

As a teenager in Berkeley, under the spell of Allen Ginsberg’s Howl, I wore black stockings, prowled Telegraph Ave.—a wannabe Beat—entranced by what Ginsberg, writing a statement about his poetics in the New American Poetry, calls the “Hebraic-Melvillian bardic breath” which inspired him. “The first section typed out madly one afternoon, a huge sad comedy of wild phrasing, meaningless images for the beauty of abstract poetry of mind running along making awkward combinations like Charlie Chaplin’s walk, long saxophone–like chorus lines…really a new poetry.” This was a poetry of music, magic, image, the collision and collusion of the quotidian, the taboo, and the sacred. That’s what I wanted to write.

I am struck, looking at my 50 plus year old copy of The New American Poetry—which cost $2.95—that the one poet I marked with an asterisk in blue ink in the Table of Contents was Denise Levertov. There are few women in this gathering of poets. I must have been so hungry to find a woman ancestor. I marked her poem, “The Goddess,” with a blue arrow.
She in whose lipservice
I passed my time
whose name I knew, but not her face… 
flung me across the room…
I did not yet know it, but that would be my story.

"Inner Glance"

News of the Universe: Poems of the Twofold Consciousness
Oh friend, we arrived too late. The divine energies
Are still alive, but isolated above us, in the archetypal world…
What is living now? Night dreams of them. But craziness
Helps, so does sleep. Grief and Night toughen us…
Poets…are like the holy disciple of the Wild One
Who used to stroll over the fields through the whole divine night.
—Friedrich Hölderin/1800
from “Bread and Wine, Part 7,” translated by Robert Bly.


The news from this far flung gathering, including poems from far away lands and times and places, was chosen and introduced in News of the Universe, by Robert Bly, and published in 1980. It shook the earth under my feet in Poetry Land. Bly has long been a passionate critic of the post–Enlightenment poetic stance in which “the body is exiled, the soul evaporated, the mind given executive power.” He has opened our doors and windows to let in the music and magic of poetries from all over the world. He championed language that “reaches outward to plants and metals, as well as inward to night–intelligence and sleep.” He brought me news of my German roots in poetry, writing of the importance of the Novalis–Hölderin–Goethe tradition:
Hölderin, whose poems have such immense sound, reported that the new had come; but to him the new is not irony and dislocation, but the awareness that the old non-human or non–ego energies the ancient world imagined so well were impinging again on human consciousness.
Bly notes that Freud and Jung grew up reading those German poets, which deeply influenced depth psychology’s “twofold consciousness.” Jung could have used the words of the epigraph above from Hölderin to introduce his life work. Bly uses an epigraph from Novalis for his anthology:
The seat of the soul is where the inner world and the outer world meet. Where they overlap, it is in every point of the overlap.
I did not know it yet, but it would be in that overlap between the worlds, which Bly calls the “twofold consciousness” that my poetry would flourish. What is twofold consciousness? Bly writes of how we have all, “since the rise of technology…been torn into parts so often that we can hardly grasp what an interior unity could be.” As a young woman I railed about that split between body and mind, human and animal. Bly, a prophet down from the mountain, expanded and deepened my understanding of the problem, railing that “the entire non–human world has been denied consciousness…” Twofold consciousness, then, is where inner and outer, male and female, human and animal, plant and mineral, night and day, sun and moon, heaven and earth—all the archetypal couples who lived among us before we exiled the gods and our souls—meet. Bly reminded me of what I had always known but easily forgot, that the animating desire of the poetry that moves me, the poetry I seek to write, is about healing that split—Bly calls it the “Descartes wound”— which privileges mind over body, soul and nature.

“Creation of Lovers”

The blue arrow pointing to Denise Levertov’s “The Goddess” in The New American Poetry, is the thread that gathers the three anthologies that trace my steps, for Levertov is in each one of them. In News of the Universe Levertov appears in magical abundance in several poems. In “An Embroidery (I), a fairy tale poem, we meet Rose Red and Rose White, sisters, who sing to the bear:
it is a cradle song, a loom song,
a song about marriage, about
a pilgrimage to the mountains
long ago.
The bear, we learn, is the bridegroom. Levertov draws from traditional forms a story that sings to the animal in us all:
Rose Red in a cave that smells of honey
dreams she is combing the fur of her cubs
with a golden comb.
She elegantly articulates Bly’s theme, that in order to be fully ourselves we must know our animal natures, or, to borrow from another Levertov poem, we must “Come into Animal Presence” for “Those who were sacred have remained so…”

“Moon Raven”

She Rises Like the Sun: Invocations of the Goddess by Contemporary American Women Poets

We are crying for a vision…
This is our day.
Your ancestors have all arrived.
The past has arrived.
                        Behold!
                               Listen!…

This earth is in our hands
Let it fly, bird of earth and light…
—Meridel Le Sueur, “Make the Earth Bright and Thanks”



She Rises Like the Sun, published in 1989, edited by Janine Canan, brought news that was dear to my heart and soul, news that the divine energies Hölderin lamented two hundred years ago, are finding their way back to us, especially in women’s writings. Meridel Le Sueur is one of a number of women poets with Native American roots who speak for the new/old consciousness of the goddess and the earth. It is striking, from this mountain top view of my lifetime, to see how rapidly the forgotten, neglected, taboo voices of women who write to heal the split in themselves and in the culture, have found their way into the plentiful harvest of this beautiful anthology. It includes the wild, mysterious invocation of the white wolf, the Loba, by Diane di Prima, who was to become my teacher:
Oh Lady
whose hair is the willow, whose breath
is the riversong, who lopes
through the milky way, baying…
—Diane di Prima, “ The Poet Prays to the Loba”
In She Rises Like the Sun, that blue arrow returns us to Denise Levertov’s prophesy of “The Goddess,” and once again we are “flung across the room.” The Goddess, of course, insists we live in “two–fold consciousness.” Jean Shinoda Bolen speaks of this eloquently in her Foreword:
In poem after poem there are moments of revelation, in which Goddess and woman partake of the same essence, when a woman finds the Goddess in herself… 
Poetry with its rhythmic cadence and imagery has a power, similar to drumming and music, to move us from ordinary reality and measureable time into that deeper place where we…have no sense of time passing.
Thus “two–fold consciousness” becomes an experience of the Unus Mundus—the one world—the divine child of all those archetypal couples—in which all things are intertwined. Janine Canan speaks to this realm of consciousness in a long, engaging Introduction:
We seem to find the poets turning Her around in their collective minds, viewing her from all angles; viewing Her from a great distance only to discover they are contained within Her. She is the earth, the grandmother, the mother, the daughter, the wife and the beloved. She is the snake, the scorpion, the dragonfly, the cat and the wolf. She is the wise one, evolution, mystery and the absence of mystery…She is all the arts…She is life and She is death. She is goodness and evil; the void and creation. She is us. She is all.

“Brigitte"

Canan sees her anthology as a gathering of “a new body of Western religious poetry,” contributing “to the creation of a new religious myth that revives a vast network of old ones.” I think she is right. In poem after poem we come into “animal presence,” we have direct experience of the divine in women’s ordinary lies. Di Prima addresses the Goddess as Loba:
Is it not in yr service that I wear myself out
running ragged among these hills, driving children
to forgotten movies?
                              “The Loba Addresses the Goddess or
                                The Poet as Priestess Addresses the Loba–Goddess.”
In Judy Grahn’s marvelous poem “The Queen of Wands,” we meet a spider:
On hot days
she pays out her line and
twirls on down
to the surface of the lake or pond
to get a little drink of water
and to wash her face. She’s such an
ordinary person…
And I am the Queen of Wands
who never went away
where would I go?
These poems are magical, incantatory, musical, mystical. They carry on the myths of the American landscape, of First People; they pray for us all, and make offerings:
In the first light
I offer cornmeal
and tobacco.
I say hello to those who came before me, and to birds
under the eaves,
and budding plants.
—Linda Hogan, “First Light”

“Isis”

River of Earth and Sky: Poems for the Twenty–First Century
The devil’s knitting needles,
these dragonflies, stitch the pond to sky. 
All magic transpires in this elemental mix.
When water or earth touches air or fire…
—Mailaika King Albrecht, “How to Kiss Fire”
"II of Wands"

We are gathered by the river, touching earth and sky, kissed by the fire of Diane Frank’s vision. She does not find it necessary to write a long Introduction to her selection of poems. Three short pithy paragraphs light our way, beginning with the condensed power of this opening sentence: “A poem is a parallel universe that creates an experience line by line.” That was certainly my experience of the poems she chose in this substantial volume, full of treasures. For me, it was as though the gifts of the three earlier anthologies descended from sky to earth in this new collection, bringing magic, music and vision into every day life. The poems “walk the medicine path” and “spin the invisible” in the words of Carre Connet’s poem “Blackberries All Dried Up Now;” they enter “The Inner Life of a Tree Becoming an Apple,” to borrow Kevin Farey’s title; they stitch two worlds together, as in Mailaika King Albrecht’s poem quoted in the epigraph above. They are musical, and often sing of music. Frank is a cellist, and many of these poems are soaked in music and dance:
Aching tones caress cheeks
curl like smoke around thick ankles.
Soaked in jazz, bodies drip
with something forgotten.
—Stefanie Renard, “Kind of Blue”
They speak for the natural world, especially for trees:
The cedar folds so many shadows
into its heart at night, yet wakes
green each morning
in a light that drops
through its stopped limbs
like a new soul.
—Alixa Doom, “Heart of Cedar”
“Tree Nymph”

The poems also speak to the agonies of history, as in Stewart Florsheim’s powerful poem. “Edith, Typing on the Balcony,” which describes a woman writing a letter to her family in America from Frankfurt, Germany, on a lovely June day in 1939, saying “today she just knows that things will get better.” Unspoken horror haunts the reader, who is also charmed by the details of Edith’s Sunday afternoon: “the piece of chocolate Herr Schmidt gave her,/who cares if he did it out of pity…” This is another way to stitch two worlds together, with “the devil’s knitting needles.”

I could go on and on, citing blazing passages from little known poets and well–known ones—Kim Addonizio, Jane Hirshfield, Thomas Centolella, among others. I want to focus on the less known voices, for one of the gifts of this collection is this offering of wondrous poems by so many amazing poets you’ve never heard of. Maybe that religious awakening Janine Canan wrote of is happening right here among us in Poetry Land.

Frank’s dedication is evocative: “For the poets of the future to discover what we saw, felt and knew during these times.” It got me wondering what a future poet might gather about our inner and outer lives, about what kind of people and poets we were. I started a list. I’m sure you can come up with many more examples and their poetic illustrations.

We love to make love:
I dreamed that the only way to heaven
was to kiss.
Kiss wide and soft lipped.
Kiss with your nose inhaling
the delicate scent of warm rice.
Don’t expect to be able
to distinguish God from your lover.
—Robin Lim, “Applying Joint Compound”
“The Kiss”

We live in the Anima Mundi, the animated world where we honor the life in all things:
Tomorrow I will be ordinary again,
but tonight my hair is made of moonlight.
—Judy Liese, “Moonlight Hair”
We love to laugh:
                                                                   my breasts
are at the breaking point, I must get them home soon,
they are starting to rebel, don’t look at them please,
alright, go ahead, but I’m warning you they’re hungry,
tired and pretty cranky…
—May Garsson, “My Unruly Breasts”
We live in a world of hurt:
White buildings mirrored in the Tigris—
damp air stagnant with derision…
This was said to have been the cradle
of civilization, where some believe
the garden of Eden flourished…
The fable interrupted now…
by the flash of Howitzers…
Palm trees toss shaggy heads and teeter.
Goats shiver in suburban yards…
The full moon rises red as a pomegranate,
aloof and indifferent to the bombing.
—Christopher Seid, “Full Moon Over Baghdad; March 19, 2003”
We suffer the degradation of the earth:
I know this grass, fashioned when the forest
was a Paleozoic maid.
Now she is crone,
taken, cut so that men can raise corn
and do a thousand hard–edged things.
—Diane Porter, “To Aranyani”
We contemplate death:
I rest my head on my own skull at night
and sleep not an inch from my death…
—Nynke Passi, “Bones”
We find divinity in the ordinary:
You like being married to a priestess?
A woman who worships all objects
that breathe light.
Starfish, plankton, holy temples.
Cracks in the sidewalk. Cracks in the heart.
—Nancy Lee Melmon, “I Want You to Know”
Mystery stings us:
The bees say the erotic is in the shadows, and nobody can love without the wound. They tell me we all need to be pierced by the mystery.
—Diane Frank, “Parachute”
The unknown, the uncanny, speaks through us:
something is watching you
from inside or out, you don’t know.
All the hairs of your body stand
at attention… You would bound away 
but there’s a feline in you
who’s caught a scent…
—June Rachuy Brindel, “Writing’s a Scary Business”
We believe in angels:
This is a poem for the angel
Who was given the privilege
Of naming the color of grass
And who jumped up and down
Waving his hand and shouting,
Green! Green! Green!
Oh! Green! Green.
—Daniel J. Langton, “My My”

“Buxom Angel”

We believe in the magic of writing, for a good poem is like:
A sturdy chest–like magic box
where a witch must have kept
mouse bones, owl feathers, vials of red
or a single shriveled left hand…
the hallowed relicts of my walk upon this earth…
We are vessels,
vaults of the vanishing underworld.
—Kim Niyogi, “Yard Sale, Venice Beach, California”
So come all you poetry lovers, readers, writers, turn off the news of our frightening times and gather by the River of Earth and Sky. It will sing to your senses, water your soul, fire up your feelings for our Mother, the earth. Tell your friends about this epoch making anthology; get the word out. The poets of tomorrow will urgently need wise words from their ancestors. Take, for example, “Artemis,” by the late June Rachuy Brindel:
You must learn to hear
           rock growing
           and the flow of sap.
Mount granite
           clutching tight with your thighs
           tremors will jet through your life channel. 
Wrap your arms around the trunk of the rowan tree
           the bark will speak to your cheek
           the forest will hold you in its breath. 
Even the ice
           of the year’s death
           can’t stop these songs. 
There is no healing
           so whole
           as this earth murmur. 
You are this moment’s daughter
           the voices of this hour
           are for you.

“Butterfly Woman”

River of Earth and Sky: Poetry Reading
A Great Good Place for Books
6120 La Salle Ave, Oakland, CA 94611 
Montclair, Oakland CA 

June 22nd, 7:30 pm

Marianne Betterly, Stewart Florsheim, Diane Frank and Alison Luterman will read.


Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The River Muse

High in the night sky your bright boat
hung like a smile. I saw your reflection
shimmer in the river…

from “The Needle and the Thread” in Dark Healing (p. 94)


On the Big Rivers

In the spring of 1962 Richard Messer was living in Boulder Colorado. He was in Graduate School studying English Literature, and engaged to be married to Gloria. His Wyoming buddy, Jerry Deacon Sanders, proposed a river trip, down the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, paddling a canoe. For Richard, better known as Rich, this was a “no–brainer,” even though the trip was 3,800 miles, even though no one had done it before in a canoe, even though Gloria wondered if she’d be “demurely waiting” when he returned.

More than fifty years later, Rich, with the help of his buddy Jerry, better known as Deacon, wrote a book about that journey: On the Big Rivers: From Three Forks, Montana to New Orleans, Louisiana. Dan and I have both read it. It’s a page–turner, a soul stirrer, an American Odyssey haunted by Huck Finn and Jim, by the painful histories of Indian tribes and slavery, a buddy story, an initiation saga. Dan loves history. I love psyche. We both felt nourished by this wise and compelling story.

Rich, now in his seventies, is a poet whose work I love. He and I are poetry buddies by e-mail; we show each other drafts of our work. Rich has a strong background in Jungian psychology and his writing shows it. This trope of the river is of course both literal and symbolic. Reflecting on one’s young self in the context of a river journey is a way of coming to terms with one’s life journey, and in the case of this book, with our country’s journey.

Missouri River

To Stumble After Vanishings 
Isn’t the soul always back there, fumbling
with old photographs, going down worn paths
that lead to weedy vacant lots? It doesn’t do any good
to stumble after these vanishings—yet I do…
never mind my bruised knees and the cobwebs across my face.
I have to know: have I spent my life trying to wake up?
Or go to sleep?

“Trying to Get Home” in Dark Healing (pp. 65-6)
Part of the task of aging is to “fumble through old photographs,” trying to make sense of what our life has been about. On the Big Rivers is, among many other things, an initiation saga about two soulful, adventurous and/or foolhardy young men, as seen from the mountain peak of late life. They were initiated by the powers of the river gods, by wind, by dams that weren’t supposed to be there, by sudden storms that almost did them in. They were humbled and made wiser by the unknown and the unexpected, by “sheer drudgery and dismal hardship” (p. 63) and by the fortuitous kindness of strangers.

Carrying the Queen

Here are some glimpses of their ordeal from a section Rich calls “Initiation:”
The wind…turned vicious, ripping at us full blast…There was no sky, only massive low clouds and horizontal rain and whipping wind. The waves, driven from the distant shore…mounted quickly to four and five feet high…The piney shore looked as if it were receding into the small end of a telescope. 
Jerry yelled a string of obscenities and we both pitched into our paddling in deadly earnest… 
My lungs were on fire and my heart was pounding harder than it ever had. To quit paddling was not an option…
We were just beginning to understand why the Missouri is called, Ol’ Misery. (pp. 13-15)
Initiation, from the Jungian point of view, serves the function of transformation of the individual so that he or she may function at a higher level of consciousness. The water initiation, as distinguished from the fiery initiation, is, according to my reference book, Archetypal Symbolism, about renewal within the earthly context. It is about the necessary loss of innocence that prepares one for reality. Deacon and Rich lost many kinds of innocence on this journey—their innocence about nature and the river, their innocence about their own nature and that of others, their innocence about fate, their innocence about the nature of America.

Rich’s optimism gets sorely tested:
Ever optimistic, I had reckoned that most of the water in the heavens had already been dumped on us. It couldn’t get any worse. But it did. (pp. 73-4)
His endurance gets sorely tested:
…enduring mid–point blues, also known as “halfway–there–let–down”…We had been on the river for fifty days and nights and we were worn down…threadbare of spirit. (p. 90)
Weather is a dominatrix:
On the water in a canoe you are at the mercy of the weather; it plays with you, dominates you. The wind…is always poised to spring some new attack on you…It seems like a trickster spirit…allows you a day, or even tow, of fair passage. Then sneers and pummels you with six kinds of misery… (p. 68)

Fate is a trickster. They learn, the hard way, that “luck is nothing if not fickle.” (p. 112) Their canoe, the Afrigin Queen, with its droll nod to Bogart and Hepburn, disappears one Sunday in June. Deacon has a theory:
See how red and muddy the water is—and all these god damn sticks and crap along the bank?… When we pulled in none of this shit was here. A cloud burst must have hit back in the hills during the night…Christ, the water level is up by at least two feet—so the canoe just decided to float right up and take off downstream. Son of a bitch.” (p. 51)
They learn about Fate’s beneficent side, “otherwise known as the kindness of strangers.” (p. 91) A kind stranger helped them find their canoe, kind strangers helped them throughout their ordeal.

Deacon and Rich lose their innocence about America as they travel down the Mississippi in the South, stopping to eat at the Riverside Café in Vicksburg:
It was a little Greek place, a diner….Approaching it, I noticed there were two doors to the place, but made nothing of it. We stepped through the right hand door, and I came to a sudden halt…Before me at the counter sat only black diners who turned and stated. I stared back. Then one of the black men motioned us across to the other door. We had entered the “Colored” section of the café… 
On that September day in 1962, Jim Crow was alive and well. 
…[We] were shocked and left feeling threatened. The dehumanizing and pernicious nature of what we had just witnessed couldn’t have been made any clearer… 
I was a tourist in the land of racism. (pp. 154-5)

They paddle through reservation country, the Sioux and Assiniboine peoples, “the ninth largest reservation in the United States.” When Rich walks into town for supplies, an Indian in a pickup gives him a ride. The men in the back share their beers with him, tell him he looks like “Nature Man.” He knows his appearance is unkempt and wild, and takes their remark as a compliment. (pp. 69-70)

“Sitting in the bow of the Queen, paddling for hours on end,” (p. 89) Rich ruminates about Lewis and Clark, about Sakakawea, the mythic Indian woman who guided them though she was sick and pregnant during the journey.


As they paddle into the lower Missouri and the Mississippi they begin to be disturbed by the environmental degradation they see. Rich quotes the Earth Day website to describe what they saw:
At the time, Americans were slurping leaded gas through massive V8 sedans. Industry belched out smoke and sludge with little fear of legal consequences or bad pres. Air pollution was commonly accepted as the smell of prosperity. (p. 98)
Rich writes of his “simmering resentment for the ‘Dump it in the river and forget it’ attitude.”

But despite all the difficulties, despite swarms of mosquitoes, which Deacon dubs wickerbills, despite quicksand, a lost canoe, sudden storms, environmental degradation, the intimidation of the tiny Queen by great seafaring vessels on the river, despite losing the hat Gloria had sent him, worrying about how she was doing and if he really wanted to tie the knot, Rich and Deacon came through their ordeal, changed men, matured, deepened, sadder and wiser. Rich writes: “I was not the man Gloria had waved goodbye to.” (p. 169) Dear reader, you will be happy to know that Deacon was the best man at Rich and Gloria’s wedding.

In Memoriam Jerry Deacon Sanders
Who was the first Neanderthal to scatter
flower petals on a grave? Memorialized
in that moment, love entered the world.

“Excavations” in Dark Healing, (p. 9)
Deacon died on this past June 5th. Dan and I both felt his passing as a personal loss. We feel we know him, because Rich relied on quotations from the Deacon’s journals to fill in context and feeling in his book. They make vivid that long ago river journey. Deacon was a great spirit and Rich has given us the gift of knowing him. Deacon took the lead in the original journey. Rich took the lead in gathering their river stories much of a lifetime later. Among many other things On the Big Rivers is a buddy saga. Deacon is the planner, the one with the maps. Rich is the feeler, the worrier. Rich writes: “He didn’t have to tell me his plan. We had been together twenty–four hours a day for weeks and I knew what he was thinking…” (p. 51) And yet their roles were fluid. “We kept getting confused,” writes Rich, “about who was Huck and who was Jim.” (p. 114) For this city girl their adventures were astounding, wild, often foolhardy. And yet they seem exactly right in the light of this late life retelling. Toward the end of his story Rich writes:
Surely, the voyage wouldn’t have meant as much if we didn’t do it the old–fashioned, Huck Finn way. More than once I repeated that to myself. (p. 151)
The Huck Finn way. That about says it. It names the integrity of a ritual that stems from the depths of the American cultural unconscious, a powerful ritual informed by Mark Twain, American Indian tribes, Lewis and Clark, segregation, the wilds of the natural world and of fate, providing two young men with the lived experience of becoming themselves in an initiation by river and by storm.

Rest in peace, Jerry. You get the last word, from your journal of July 10th, 1962:
It must have been about noon. Rich and I were in no hurry. We drifted through some deep green cold water…Slow current, there were many white sandbars there. The river banks were covered with heavy undergrowth, the draws filled with choke cherry trees, junipers, lots of berries to eat, bramble patches; the bottoms along the river were weedy, with tall cottonwoods and sandy shallows… 
I am beginning to solidly enjoy this type of life—except for the wickerbills. We went into the little village of Washburn, S. D. Giggling waitresses. Black label beer, people on street eyeing us, suspicious of two bearded, shabby, river rats, wearing cardboard nose shields.
Then we floated two and a half hours. Drank & sang. Rich jumped overboard and right back in boat. Water still cold. Saw badger coming down for a drink—couldn’t get a picture. (pp. 77-78)

Check out Richard Messer’s blog: http://www.richardmesser.com

Saturday, December 17, 2011

News from the Muse: The Muse of the Dark




The Muse of the Dark

For Behold, Darkness Shall cover the Earth
(Handel's Messiah)

We are approaching the winter solstice. I always fight the dark—resisting its dark embrace. I don’t like getting up in the morning when it’s still dark. I don’t like going home from work in the evening when it’s already dark.

And yet, if I slow down and listen more deeply to myself, there is a yearning to descend into the dark—to crawl into a cave and ruminate, to vegetate. After all, I love the night. I love sleeping, dreaming. I wrote a poem about longing for sleep.

Sleep

I am crawling around the edges of you
longing for you
sweet sleep
that my grandson fell into this evening
as I walked him and sang
and his head hung heavy
on my arm

sleep
why do you hold yourself back from me
you were my first love
you wrapped me up in my mother’s dark
knew me before I knew light
filled me with all I’ve become

sleep
my oldest familiar
open your doors to the streaming stars
let lions loose to dance in the sky
and those who are gone
let them return
to speak my name

for everything that’s lost
is found in you
and everything changes
its shape

rock becomes a giant lizard
flame leaps from the rock
becomes word
becomes snake
becomes backbone
mine!

sleep
only you can wash away
the day’s bile
this one I’m arguing with
that one who rubbed me
the wrong way

lead me down into your secret pools
rub oils into my body
take my muscles in hand
and smooth them out

O sleep
lay your big blue weight
upon me

(first published in crimes of the dreamer)

Sleep is a god, a healer, a magical realm. Then why is the dark time of the year so difficult?

We are a culture addicted to light—the sun’s daily cycle no longer controls us. We live in electrical light, fluorescent light, virtual reality, on Facebook and Twitter, we work, shop, answer e-mail 24/7. We are lost to the wisdom of cycles—the cycle of the day, the cycle of the year, what Bear knows when she crawls into her cave. Of course, I’m no more interested than you are in giving up my illuminated nights. I love watching “Mad Men;” I love reading in bed.

However we pay a heavy price for all this light. How do we get our down time—time for our thoughts to meander, time to play, to pray, to muse, to remember, to forget, to re-create ourselves? How do we nourish the cave dweller in our souls, the moony dreamy eyed poet? Here’s a poem about that.



LET NIGHT BE FOR SLEEP

You can’t trick gold
out of the Black Sun

Nor diamonds
out of virtual space

Your wild ride
from coast to coast—

over dayglo towers
that know no night
that see no dreams
that limit you to what
can be found
on a laptop—

has screeched
to a halt:

Snake on the trail!
Is it a rattler?

You must shed old skin
Rub your irritation
all over some big rock

Sit in the dark
not knowing
your next life

When she comes around that mountain
Will you sing?


It is so hard for us to sit in the dark, not seeing, not knowing our next life. It is, however essential. When Jung built his tower at Bollingen he wanted no electrical light. And at Tassajara, the Buddhist retreat, there is no electrical light. I was at Tassajara once. I remember the dark pull of the night—so grounding, so profound. I felt attached to the earth and to myself. Daybreak was an epiphany. Trees, flowers, our cabins, the river, emerged into being as if for the first time. The world was reborn.

In Grace Cathedral to hear the Messiah I am pulled into the dark of that deep cavernous vault, pulled by the music I’ve known since childhood and its magical evocation of the Christian mystery.

The Cathedral is filled with people. They’ve added rows and rows of metal folding chairs behind the pews to accommodate us all. We’ve turned off our cell phones, disconnected ourselves from hectic brick and mortar shopping, from manic on-line shopping. We sit together in that dark cave, yearning for something ancient and sacred. Human voices call out to the divine for comfort, for meaning, for illumination as they have since the Shaman chanted.

Behold, I tell you a Mystery....we shall all be chang'd...
(Handel's Messiah)

Approaching the winter solstice I am glad to be among others engaged in this ancient ritual of the dark time.Below the Judeo-Christian strata we find the Old Religion—call it Pagan or Goddess religion—we find the myths that honor the natural cycles of sun, moon and earth, the myths of descent. Persephone went down into the underworld. So did the Innana. Betty Meador, a Jungian analyst who has devoted herself to Innana titled one of her books Uncursing the Dark.
In it she writes:
The myth discloses an archetypal pattern of opposites. On the one hand, the woman descendant is the highly civilized culture bearer; on the other hand, at the bottom of the underworld, she is the single human animal, separate and alone...

I hope in this season you'll take time to tend your soul and your animal nature, that you'll burrow down below the noise, the endless demands for activity and consumption, the addiction to light of our culture. I hope you'll find your own way to pay homage to the cycles of the natural world—the power of the night, the cave, the dream, the moon. Do so and you'll glimpse that mystery of transformation; perhaps you'll feel changed, reborn. Here’s a poem about that.


PANTOUM FOR A WITCH’S SABBATH

Long ago when night was your familiar
You knew the moon and the moon knew you
I mean carnally
Those stories about sex with the devil are about this

You knew the moon and the moon knew you
Joy from the sky made a music in your body
Those stories about sex with the devil are about this
Moon penetration stars awakening

Joy from the sky made a music in your body
Lion arose horse flew
Moon penetration stars awakening
Something from forever loved you for a night

Lion rising horse flying
Roots of the tree reach up into the sky
Something from forever loves you for a night
And the moon sings

Roots of the tree reach up into the sky
Branches touch down into earth
The moon sings
Naked you are and flying

Branches touch down into earth
I mean carnally
Naked you are and flying
Rooted in the night your familiar
(first published in The Pagan's Muse)


Saturday, June 15, 2019

The Muse of Red America

You cannot grasp these things unless you stumble over them.
—(Daniel C. Matt, The Essential Kabbalah, p. 163)

Spiritual Exile

Spiritual Exile

          One who descends from the root of roots to the form of forms must walk in
          multiplicity
. —(Daniel C. Matt, The Essential Kabbalah, p.117)


Tucson, AZ

An invitation to speak to the Jung Society of Tucson was the inspiration for a trip to the Southwest. Neither Dan nor I had ever been to Tucson, a desert town, whose terrain makes a sudden leap of mountains at the horizon that takes one’s breath away. Everywhere the giant Saguaro cacti loom, like silent elders of some mystery tribe. The ordinary life of streets and houses is carried on in the presence of the extraordinary—the wild overwhelm of the sacred. It seemed an appropriate landscape for my talk on spiritual wandering, taken from my book The Rabbi, the Goddess and Jung.

I had imagined that being a Jungian in a red state like Arizona must feel like being in spiritual exile. It didn’t seem that way among the people we met. On our first evening we had dinner with Sylvia Simpson, a Jungian analyst and psychiatrist, originally from Canada, and her colleague, Charles Gillispie, author of The Way We Go On, who turned out to be a poet whose work I have chosen for publication in Psychological Perspectives. He uses poetry in therapy with addicts and others. He told me that the poetry in Psychological Perspectives’ is a rich resource; he can always find a poem “to read to a suffering person.” This unexpected feedback made my spirits sing. Sylvia and Charles turned out to be spiritual and political kin for whom Tucson is a sanctuary, close to the natural world, away from the fear and loathing dominating so much of America these days.

On the next day I gave my talk; the audience response was moving and soulful. I was among people who were at home in the realms of the symbolic and the sacred. I told them about a Jewish legend which says that before we are born, an angel, whose name is Lailah, tells us all the secrets of the cosmos, all the mysteries of being and non–being. Then she places her forefinger on our upper lip and says “Shhhh.” She wants us to forget all she has told us, but she leaves her mark—a sign that we have been touched by divinity. Over our lifetimes, if we are open to spirit, to dreams, to the living symbol, we may regain some small portion of what we knew before we were born.

Lailah

I read them my poem in her voice:

Lailah Wants a Word

          Lailah, the Angel of Conception…watches
          over the unborn child

                                        Jewish Legend


You were not born for traffic
Not released into day for hustle

and drive.  I did not send you past moonstone
past glow worm, to ignore the light.  I did not touch

the soft spot on your crown, nor seal
my blessing on your upper lip, to be a slave

to acquisition.  I sent you into the company
of frogs.  I sent you to commune with willows

with oaks.  Pay attention—
the frogs have stopped wooing

the oaks been sold down river
Grandmother Spider   Brother Rabbit

are losing their worlds. You have ears —
Hear them.  You have a heart—feel them

You have two lungs—breathe
I give you the wind

in the grasses. I give you the sight
of Coyote.   She’s meandering up

the mountain.  Follow her.  Perhaps she will throw
your shoe at the moon.  Perhaps the moon

will fill your shoe with shimmer—
Sail it back down to you—Then

will you remember
                                Me?

Sophia

We spent a lot of time talking about Sophia who showed up in my dreams years ago and has become my spirit guide. She is beautiful, dark, wise. She creates a glowing bridge between the Goddess realms and Judaism. She is Wisdom in Proverbs. She is the Shekinah. According to Philo, God creates the world by means of Sophia. (Caitlin Matthews, Sophia, p. 97.) According to Jung, she is an “independent being who exists side by side with God.” (C.G. Jung, “Answer to Job,” CW 11, ¶ 619.) According to Jeffrey Raff, she is the Tree of Life, also the light of the divine. (Raff, The Wedding of Sophia, pp. 54-5.) Perhaps she is the dark Shulamite, that “Priestess of Ishtar,” (C.G. Jung, “Adam and Eve,” CW 14 ¶ 646.) of whom Jung writes in Mysterium Coniunctionis, that she longs to “become like Noah’s dove, which, with the olive leaf in its beak, announced the end of the flood…and God’s reconciliation with the children of men.” (C.G. Jung, CW 14, ¶ 625.) In Tucson we marveled at the fiery serpent around her neck, the glowing egg in her hand, the inward and outward intensity of her gaze. Someone said: “She’s telling us we have to deal with things as they are; we have to deal with unbearable realities.”



It turns out that the Jung Society is not the only oasis of the symbolic life in Tucson. The University of Arizona in Tucson has a well–endowed poetry center, and well known poets come to read there often. We had stumbled into a treasure of a town. On our last morning, on our way out of town, we had breakfast at the Blue Willow, a charming restaurant, where I overheard: “After I’d lived here a year I’d bought 13 guns.” I guess that’s the other side.

Road Trip

          There is a secular world and a holy world…In our limited perception we cannot
          reconcile the sacred and the secular, we cannot harmonize their contradictions.

          —(Daniel C. Matt, The Essential Kabbalah, p. 153.)

Driving out of Tucson we found ourselves in high desert, peopled only by those silent Saguaro elders. The mountains leapt up—exclamation marks, or were they earth giving the finger to the gods? The road hash knifed through a runaway herd of galloping hills as we ascended to Flagstaff, where we spent the night. The Little America Hotel surprised us with its calm beauty, its meditative garden with water flowing over rocks as we ate a fine dinner.

There was snow on the mountains, and hail beating our heads as Dan brought our suitcases out the next morning. Hail rattled the rented Sentra as we drove North. The landscape was as changeable as was the weather. We descended from 7,000 feet to high desert. Snow and hail were gone. The sky was huge, full of white clouds that seemed to brood over the land like an enormous chicken. As we ascended into the belly of the clouds Dan pointed out the Vermillion Cliffs, part of The Grand Staircase, where earth reveals her changes and transmutations in a stair–like formation. We were in an ancestral sandstone dream driving into another cloud burst of hail beating the windshield of our sturdy Nissan Sentra. The dashboard flashed a warning: “Cold Temperature outside.” The temperature had plummeted from 60º to 36º in ten minutes. Vermillion? A fancy word for bright red, but I saw purple orange pink fantasies of mesas rising to the sky as the hail stopped. Dan remembered the road trip he took with his parents when he was twelve, in 1951—no air–conditioning, no freeways, no passing lanes. No big sign on the side of the road as there is now, inviting us to “Shoot a Machine Gun.” We drove through a valley, which Dan guessed was once a riverbed, into Utah. Otherworldly formations greeted us as we turned off into the Lake Powell Resort and Marina, hoping to find lunch. The Driftwood Lounge was a welcoming oasis with good food and wonderful views of sandstone erosion creating wild shapes and colors that dazzle us.

Formations seen though the window

We saw the Hopi and Navajo presence in the faces of many who greeted us with warm smiles, brought us menus and meals, in the signs on the road announcing handmade Indian jewelry up ahead, or the occasional Hogan we passed. Dan told stories of his 12 year old self and his father, who loved to stop and look at Indian handiwork. His father, a refugee from Poland, had a word for sudden rainfalls—a “plughh”—with a guttural growl at the end—an onomatopoetic word he had made up to express the sound of sudden rain, which had just “plughhed” on us. We were in a ghostly scene—shades of gray ringed with spectral mountains—and up ahead an opening to bright sky. Then suddenly we were in the clear and the heavens were full of drifting white clouds, like the boats we saw moored at Lake Powell.

This part of Utah is literally a red state—full of red cliffs, coral and pink sand dunes, peekaboo trailheads, rock formations like ancient castles in some fairy land, long stretches of road between small towns and National Parks, vast valleys inhabited by forests and ancestral rock mounds. We were headed to Zion.



The Promised Land

          Nothing is devoid of its divinity. Everything is within it; it is within everything
          and outside of everything. There is nothing but it.

          —(Daniel C. Matt, The Essential Kabbalah, p. 24.)

I have longed to go to Zion. Dan had been there, once, many years ago. The very name of the park tugged at me. Wikipedia explains:
The Jewish longing for Zion, starting with the deportation and enslavement of Jews during the Babylonian captivity, was adopted as a metaphor by Christian black slaves in the US, and after the Civil War by blacks who were still oppressed. Thus Zion symbolizes a longing by wandering peoples for a safe homeland.
I had told my audience in Tucson of my longing “for myth, for mystery, for those moments when the veils thin, and something uncanny, wild, awesome enters.” I told them that I had “glimpsed it in Hindu temples, in Catholic churches, in Pagan rituals, in poetry, everywhere but in the Jewish world I knew as a child.”
How does a Jew to whom God never spoke in a synagogue, who has wandered the world and the paths of other religions seeking direct experience of the sacred, stumble upon it in her own tradition? How does a spiritual exile, whose life was transformed by the Goddess, get past her issues with the patriarchal God of the Jews?
I told them I had found my way back to Judaism, to my inner Zion, with Jung’s help, because Jung steered me to mystical Judaism, where the uncanny and the awesome are alive and thriving. Now here we were in a difficult time in American history, two children of refugee Jews, seeking an external Zion in the red state of Utah. We learned that to get there we had to pass through dark tunnels, past towering piles of red rock bedecked with pine shrubs, cascades of shale, clusters of cars gathered at trailheads. A queue of cars awaited the first tunnel, which is short and straight–forward once you start moving.

There was a second tunnel—a longer, darker, swervier one. The queue seemed to take forever. We had thought we were making good time. Now our afternoon was being eaten up by long lines of cars. We didn’t come all the way out here for a traffic jam. That mood lifted when we finally made it through the dark passages into a glowing realm of tall stone gods whose ancient bulk, curves and pillars, made us crane our necks, exclaim in wonder. Or perhaps they were ancient temples, where the gods have withdrawn in silence, as they count the species that are disappearing from our earth, allowing us mortals only glimpses of their stony walls. There we were, in our metal Odysseys, our Voyagers, Vagabonds, Land Rovers, Rogues, Mustangs, Wranglers and Quests meandering the slow spirals of this other world until we were released into big sky, tall outcroppings touched by late afternoon’s last light, the town of Springdale and the Desert Pearl Inn.

Desert Pearl Inn

The next day a shuttle bus took us into the park. Another shuttle bus carried us through the park. We were in a crowd of people from myriad cultures speaking myriad tongues with myriad complexions. They had all come to red America—despite our xenophobic president— to see its marvels—to see the Tower of the Virgin, to hear the Piute elder tell us that Zion was called “straight up land” in their language. He said: “Our creator placed us here to care for this land…We are taught that everything has a purpose—rocks, plants, animals, people.” He sounded much like Lailah, the Angel of my Conception. Here were all the graces, in the form of red rocks, rounded female forms, hefty masculine forms, angular, tumbled, pointing at the sky forms that look like temples, like cathedrals. There were hanging gardens, nurturing baby trees as the Virgin River rushed below. “Listen to the rocks, perhaps they’ll tell the story of our people” said the Piute elder. Soft red slopes harbored cottonwoods and box elders, fierce gray rocks hash knifed the sky. This is the land of flash floods. Beware the sudden rain. Beware the long winding path—people have fallen to their deaths.

Beware the Long Winding Path

We were on the bus among so many people in their Patagonias with their phallic camera lenses, their backpacks, their fold up walking sticks, their young. Some got off to see the Court of the Patriarchs—Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. I’d had enough of patriarchs. We stayed on the bus until the end of the line—The Temple of Sinawava—Piute for Coyote—a vertical amphitheater nearly 3,000 feet deep, used by the Indians as a meeting place and a sanctuary. We were among the hordes of the awe struck, throwing back our heads to see the high red cliffs open their thighs to reveal a long, lovely strand of waterfall. The return of the condors was nurtured in these high rocks. They are sanctuary for the peregrine falcon.

At the Temple of Sinawava

The river spoke of rain and so it rained. The river spoke of rock and we saw the rock weep—rain had seeped into the sandstone. This is how hanging gardens are watered.

Our heads were turned by the “Great White Throne.” Whose throne could that be? The gods spoke in the faces of the red rock, in tongues of falling water, in cacti and cottonwoods, in slot canyons and layers of Old Navajo Sandstone, and in the softer Kayenta formations below. “History is written vertically” said Dan.

Weeping Rock

On line for the shuttle bus back to our Inn, I overheard a mustachioed old timer in a cowboy hat tell an urbane forty something couple from California that he’s from Alaska, where fires are taking the forest. “When I was a kid the forests were so dense, so beautiful. Now they’re cut up by swatches of burnt orange.” The couple from California had their own stories of fire. The well-kempt man said “What happens next?” “I hope I’m not around to find out,” said the Alaskan. “I can’t take much more of this.”

The Virgin River from our Balcony

Virgin River

I sat on the balcony of our hotel room listening to the river carry on as clouds gathered and the cotton woods leaves rustled in the breeze. It had been sunny and warm and now it was cloudy and cold——forever changing weather in the company of the high red cliffs and the Virgin who has created all this glory. Is there anything better for the soul than a river running through it?

I sat with my fears and my pain about America. I imagined the homeless, the hungry, the terrified fleeing their dangerous home countries looking for sanctuary, looking for Zion. I imagined the children separated from their parents, the people whose roots go back to primordial times in this land who have lost their cultural roots, been cut off from their ancestors. I thought of the people whose politics may be different from ours, who have been so kind to us travelers, and who take such good care of this sacred place. I remembered the humor in Porter’s Smokehouse and Grill, a place we loved to have breakfast, where there were signs that read:
“No dancing on the tables with your spurs on!”
“Unaccompanied children will be sold to the circus.”
Holy Zion

I called on Lailah, the Angel of my Conception, and on Sophia, my spirit guide, to advise me. They told me: You’ve come to the right place. Red America has returned you to the Goddess in a place called Zion. What casts your head back is the holy—makes no difference where it happens or in what cultural context. What towers over you, millions of years in the making, tells you how small your place is in the presence of the eons. What is it about the rush of water falling over rock that makes human faces glow, lifts spirits, soothes fears? It is the flow of eternity, the rock of ages.

Rock of Ages

What is it about the busy hubbub of babies in snugglies, toddlers proudly pushing their own strollers, the vibrant mix of many tongues: you heard German, Dutch, French, Spanish, Italian, Hindi and many more you could not name, that gives you hope for your land? It is the living experience of diversity, among peoples and species, states of mind and places of sanctuary; it is the hope for continuity, for courage in the face of catastrophic times, and for the glowing egg of rebirth.

Family of Geese

On our last morning I sat on our balcony by the river, sad to leave all this enchantment. I watched pollen floating in the air. I’d seen girls chasing after the white fluff in the meadows, laughing. The family of geese who have charmed us for days arose from their resting place. The five goslings meandered down to the river; their parents kept a close watch. All this was so delicate, so strong, so eternal.

Constant Flux

But the news began to seep into my consciousness. The latest mad kerfuffle: the President walked out of a meeting with the Speaker of the House. They had agreed to work together on mending our torn up infrastructure. He was angry that the democrats are talking about impeachment. She said she was praying for him. He said “She’s losing it.” Doctored fake news videos showed up on line, which made her look drunk. The news, like the weather, is in constant flux. Driving out of Zion we heard that women associated with the unions have taken over the legislature in Nevada. We cheered.

At the Moapa Paiute Traveller Plaza I felt compelled to buy a dream catcher. The young woman with bright orange hair at the register pointed out that a feather had fallen off. She suggested I get another. I thanked her and said: “I don’t want to lose my dreams.” “Right,” she says, “No broken dreams.”

Goddess of Our Dreams


Monday, October 20, 2014

Owl as Muse and Medicine

                                                           Haven’t you stood . . . naked
                                                           in the gaze of the Great Horned One?
                                                          —Naomi Ruth Lowinsky




Owl Medicine

Dan gave me an owl carved of black rock by a Cochiti Pueblo Indian. It fits perfectly in my hand, just the size of my palm, like those little clay goddesses ancient women held onto when in labor. It is clearly carved by a master—a few deft strokes release the spirit of owl within. I hold the owl in my hand while I meditate. It is good medicine. It calms me, reminds me it is my totem. When I go off into catastrophic thoughts about climate change and fractured ecosystems, about melting glaciers and loss of species, owl speaks to me. Owl, after all, not only sees in the dark, owl knows how to live in the dark.

Owl says:

If human hands can find my spirit in a rock, then human hands can remember what they knew in ancient time, about healing Mother Earth, cultivating her creatures, bringing people back to their senses.

Owl revealed himself as my totem after Dan and I moved from a big urban home, where we had lived with our children, to a house on a ridge for just the two of us. The experience of living in that house cracked open my citified consciousness. It taught me the ways of the sun as it moved from summer to winter and back. It gave me a bird’s eye view of the fog flowing over the Berkeley Oakland hills. Trees were our companions, hawks and falcons. Once an eagle visited with me, sitting on a nearby power pole. I dropped down to my essential nature as a poet in that house. My inner life opened and my Muse began to speak. At night we often woke to the uncanny sound of owls calling across the valley. One night I saw him, the Great Horned One, perched on a corner of our roof. Ordinary consciousness cracked open and I was in the ruthless grip of that raptor’s fierce gaze.

The time came when we had to leave that house. It was too expensive to maintain and not fit for aging joints. The house had a hard time letting me go. It spoke to me in a poem:

Lament of the House

Haven’t I stroked you with fingers of light?
Haven’t I gentled your eyes?
Haven’t I filled you to brimming
with the green world?     How it goes
golden and brown     How it loses

its leaves and goes bare?    Haven’t I shown you
the setting sun     streaked
purple and orange
while white fog     like sea foam
flows over the western hills?

Haven’t you stood on my deck
poured red wine on the earth
said praises?     Haven’t I held
your clay goddesses     your dancing
Ganesha     your Zuni frogs?

How can you tear me apart     empty me out
get me staged to be god knows whose
fantasy house on a ridge?     I who’ve been source
of your source     sacred seat
as clouds form     hawks dive

Haven’t you sat     on that old yellow chair     visited
by poetry?     Haven’t you stood in me     naked
in the gaze of the great horned one?
Will you send your gods into exile
in cardboard boxes?     Will the soles of your feet be gone
                                                          from my spiral stairs?

Where will your enthusiasms go     your wrestling
angels     your love cries?     “Nasty” you called me
when I thrust that redwood splinter under your nail
How else can I say it? You and I
                                                         are inside one another


That house and the Great Horned One, are in me still. Owl medicine speaks to me in the townhouse I’ve come to love.

Participation Mystique

               We have lost our sense of unitary reality, our experience of identity and of
               the sympathy of all things, and as a result we have fallen into solitude of a
               dead and empty cosmic space.
                                                     —Erich Neumann

My stone owl is a creation of a kind of participation mystique, the radical empathy of a maker who can see owl emerging out of rock. This requires a profound “at oneness” with the natural world. A new book of essays from Fisher King Press takes on this rich topic. Shared Realities: Participation Mystique and Beyond is edited by Mark Winborn. On its cover is a powerful painting by Susan Bostrom–Wong of the San Francisco Jung Institute. Winborn has given us many gifts in this volume, not the least of which is the above quote by Neumann, which he cites in his Introduction.


This book helps me wend my way through the confusion of a Jungian conundrum I have long pondered: If we are focused on our own separate path of individuation how do we soften our differentiated edges to feel the pulse of the anima mundi—the world soul? How do we listen to Pachamama—our Mother Earth—and respond to her suffering? How, as climate changes and species disappear, do we deal with our own “solastalgia” (pain caused by the state of one’s home environment), and our collective “nature deficit disorder?”

Jung wrote powerfully about experiences of oneness with the natural world:
At times I feel as if I am spread out all over the
landscape…and am myself living in every tree, in the splashing
of the waves, in the clouds and the animals that
come and go, in the procession of the seasons.
But Jung was deeply conflicted about participation mystique. He understood that western consciousness was limited, and he was influenced by Indian, African and Native American forms of consciousness. Yet he often wrote of participation mystique as a regressive, infantile state in which one is not differentiated from others or from objects in the natural world. This point of view is still dominant in the Jungian world. Jerome Bernstein writes an illuminating essay about this, “Healing Our Split: Participation Mystique and C.G. Jung.” Bernstein argues that despite himself, Jung was trapped in the lens of the Western psyche, its cosmology, its logic, its language. He didn’t understand the world view described by Sioux Indian author Vine Deloria Jr.: “that although the Native feels communion and relationship—even soul connection—with the tree, he does not see himself literally as the tree.”

Bernstein traces Jung’s struggle with this conundrum and his growing recognition of what Native people understand, that we are intertwined with Nature. Jung, after all, was eloquent in his lament of modern culture’s severance from its "primitive" roots. Listen to Jung words:
Man feels himself isolated in the cosmos. He is no longer involved in nature…Thunder is no longer the voice of a god, nor is lightening his avenging missile. No river contains a spirit, no tree means a man’s life, no snake is the embodiment of wisdom, and no mountain harbors a great demon…
Bernstein is graphic about the danger we are in. We are “being threatened with species suicide as a result of over–specialization of our inflated organ of consciousness. Global climate change, weapons of mass destruction, rape and pillaging of the earth as if it didn’t matter…are the result of that creative genius.”

Owl Transport

On a writing retreat on Kauai Dianne Braden had a terrifying middle of the night experience that knocked the wind out of her “inflated organ of consciousness” and rendered her as “small as the most vulnerable creature on the forest floor.” She woke to the feeling of a strange presence. In her essay, “Songs Never Heard Before,” she writes:
I was suddenly completely taken up by a strange awareness that there was life teeming out there around me, life that was simple, wild, and on the hunt just outside my window…at least I hoped it was outside…The intensity of this awareness was only outdone by the simultaneous understanding that I was surely losing my mind.
Braden was given a dose of owl medicine. In her powerful essay she tracks the effects of this dose of nature on her life and her clinical practice. She comes to understand that “losing” her mind cracked her open to an experience of participation mystique which revealed new territory in her thinking. She writes:
I was unprepared for…the power of such a “spirit of place,” an energy belonging to the land and its creatures. It’s clear that the spirit of place seeps into consciousness through psychoid gateways opened for us, or left unattended, luring us deeper into the dark tropics of soul.
With Braden, I believe that we need to “lose” our minds, take owl medicine, know we are prey as well as predator, in order to find our way back to our senses, to our place on earth.

Theodore Roethke, the father of ecopsychology, understood that our psyches are organized around a core “ecological unconscious.” So did Jung.
We have increasingly divided our consciousness from the deeper instinctive strata of the human psyche…Fortunately, we have not lost these basic instinctual strata. They remain part of the unconscious, even though they may express themselves only in the form of dream images…
Roethke and Jung show us how to awaken the inherent sense of environmental reciprocity within us. It is our task to bring our native gift for participation mystique to consciousness. One practice to support this is the poet’s path. We write our way back to our senses, to our ecological unconscious. David Abrams, the philosopher and environmentalist, author of The Spell of the Sensuous, understands, as poets do, that poetry reaches down to the carnal nature of language, to the physical ground of our being, through the way “words feel in the mouth or roll off the tongue…—the taste of a word or a phrase, the way it modulates the body…” Poetry, says Abrams, weaves together poet and listener/reader in a sensuous web of mutual experience. Poets are the makers of “wild, living…language.”
Actual, living speech is…a vocal gesticulation wherein the meaning is inseparable from the sound, the shape, and the rhythm of the words…It remains rooted in the sensual dimension of experience born of the body’s native capacity to resonate with other bodies and with the landscape as a whole.
What Abrams understands is that poetry is a kind of participation mystique. The poem, says poet Charles Olson, is “energy transferred from where the poet got it…all the way over to the reader.” Don’t forget, poetry begins with the chant of the shaman. And Owl was the shaman’s familiar.

Owl is a good familiar for an aging poet with an arthritic neck. Owl has a neck than can whirl around and see behind, above, below. Owl can see the big picture, can see other worlds. Owl vision helped with this poem, in which I wrote my way out of my grief for the house on the ridge, and into the wisdom of the ancients:

Where Coyote Brush Roams

Well they’d made up their minds to be everywhere because why not.
—W.S. Merwin

We were high on the sky when we lived on that ridge   high
on the red tailed hawk    high
on the long green rumps of the hills going yellow
while the sun did its dance from winter to summer and back   high
on our ridge after work while the fog flowed over
the darkening hills we poured red wine on the earth   high
on escape from the city’s exhaust   high
on the song of the frogs in the pond
some man had made
                                                 never mind

that the pines and the cottonwood trees
knew they didn’t belong up there     never mind
that electrical towers asserted their rights
that coyote brush said the land was its own
that the ridge wanted fire and we did not
we weed whacked    cleared    cut down those pines    never mind
that we heard their cries in the night
though they never belonged up there    never mind
that the frogs went away one day and so did we…

The ancient ones who walked these lands
who made their arrows from coyote brush
knew not to make one’s home on a ridge
for a ridge will insist on fire

            home is in a valley
            by a river among cottonwoods

We live in the valley now where once there was a river
                                        where frogs once sang in spring

                                                                                                     never mind

(This poem was published in The Book of Now: Poetry for the Rising Tide)

Yogine Riding Owl
Owl, like any good muse, is a mode of transport. Here is the South Indian version—a yogini riding her owl. She has her fingers in her mouth because she is about to emit an ear splitting shriek. Her name is “She Who Makes A Loud Noise,” rather a good name for any visionary artist riding her night visions. We all need to be making a loud noise speaking for Mother Earth, her creatures and what the ancients knew.

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Owl invites you to a daylong writing workshop in the spirit of Owl Medicine: “Wounded Earth, Wounded Psyche,” at the Jung Institute on November 15th 2014.

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More News from the Muse

Naomi’s paper “Self Portrait with Ghost: The Art of Lament and Redemption” with glorious photos of her grandmother’s art, taken by Ryan Bush, has just been published in the Jung Journal.

Naomi has two poems in the current issue of Ginosko, online.