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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


Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Muse of the North

The region to the north…is the seat of the highest gods and also the adversary…
—C.G. Jung

From the North comes the power to keep silent…to keep secrets, to know what not to say. The Goddess as Dark Maiden, the new moon that is not yet visible, and the God as Sacred Bull are the totems of the North…
—Star Hawk in The Spiral Dance
I can remember, decades ago, a parade of my elders heading North to Alaska. They took cruises, or traveled on Elder Hostel journeys, returning with a new light in their eyes; they’d loved it. I never understood exactly what it was they loved. I was in my busy mid life. I didn’t really listen, didn’t really take in, what their joy was all about. Now I know. Dan and I have recently returned from such a trip to Alaska, and there’s a new light in my eyes.

We left in the middle of June. I was feeling disoriented in life and in our country, devoured by the daily news cycle, unable to see what kind of drama we are in. Is it a farce, a tragedy, a soap opera, a crime drama, a reality show, a vast right wing conspiracy? Are we watching “Saturday Night Live,” “The Sopranos,” “House of Cards,” “The Americans,” “The Apprentice?” My Muse complained bitterly. She felt hijacked by the manic spirit of our times, unable to dive down into the depths where She usually lives. It was time to take my Muse on vacation. Dan’s Muse came along too. She’s the one who takes photos.

At the airport the TV screens were all about the Warrior’s victory, which cast a glow on people who, even in endless lines at Starbucks, were good humored and kind. This seemed a good sign as I tried to shake off the Senate Intelligence Committee hearings, the Attorney General claiming not to remember anything at all about his associations with the Russians.

I thought of my paternal grandparents, who fled Russia in the early years of the twentieth century to escape Russian pogroms and the dread twenty-five year draft for Jewish men. The Russians were stirring up a ruckus in my heart. I can hear my father’s voice: “Russians are passionate, they are wild, they are profound and mystical, they are wily and can’t be trusted.” I am descended from Russian Jews. I spent much of my adolescence engrossed in Russian novels. My ideas about life were shaped by Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, Anna Karenina and Crime and Punishment. Is Russia my “old country”? Are the Russians ancestors, enemies, or both? In the grips of a culture complex inflamed by our dangerous times, I was haunted by the catastrophes my family had escaped. Our trip to Alaska snapped me out of it! So did a dream, in which I found a carved wooden Buddha—about the size of a chess piece—amidst the vegetable parings I was throwing away. The little Buddha’s right hand was holding his head in a look of amused dismay, as though to say, “Oh my, oh my.” I understood that this was the attitude I needed to cultivate.


What the Traveller Brings
I’d grown up fearing the coming hordes of Everything-Wanters.
Ordinary Wolves
 by Seth Kantner
Another helper was a novel, Ordinary Wolves by Seth Kantner, set in the Alaskan backcountry, among the Iñupiaq Eskimos. The narrator is a boy, Cutuk, who becomes a man in the course of the tale. His father, Abe, is a white guy from Chicago who has gone native. His mother, a native, has abandoned the family. They live a subsistence existence in the wild. Their home is an igloo built by Abe. Cutuk, whose tribal name clashes with his blond hair and blue eyes, gets picked on and scapegoated in the village where they go for supplies. The novel introduced me to a world I’ve never experienced, in which so little goes so far.
Abe had taught me to skin and dry foxes…And though we often used only the thick warm fur for mittens, he made me skin to save the toenails, tail, eyelashes—out of respect for the animal we’d taken.
Cutuk’s world is stark and wild and tender: “Our dogs raised their nuzzles to inhale the sweet scents of love, food and fights.” The story begins in the ‘70s, when the natives were entirely dependent on their sled dogs for transport in the cold North. In the isolation of such a life, the traveller is a welcome break from the every day, bringing news of other realms, and companionship. Enuk, an elder of the tribe, is a frequent guest in Cutuk’s childhood; he is the great hunter the boy longs to become.
My mother…was a fairy tale that kept fogging over, while Enuk, even vanished down river, stood in my life as sharp as a raven in the blue sky.
Cutuk showed me my shadow as a white person from the native point of view:
It was annoying and white to talk too much or ask questions, especially when a traveller arrived. Shaking hands, also, was a sign of being an outsider.
I was living a double life. One life happened in Cutuk’s world, in which everything he wore and ate was carefully taken from what the family hunted. In the other life—my “Everything–Wanter” life—I inhabited the glamour of our cruise ship—a magical vessel with beautiful staterooms and common areas. We sat in the aft of the ship, watching our wake, as the little yellow Pilot, our tugboat, pulled away, leaving us to the gray blue waves.

Seven Seas Mariner
Saxman Village Woods
Our first stop was in Ketchikan, Alaska, where we were transported by bus to the Saxman Village, home of a group of Tlingit people. They welcomed us travellers, made us feel valued, and showed us a video about their tribe. I remember the strength of the people’s faces, especially the women. The narrator thanked us for coming, said by doing so we helped them claim their heritage. Tears sprang to my eyes. Maybe there was a good side to being an Everything–Wanter. Our hosts were gracious, but they also teased us. They taught us a Tlingit phrase, an answer to their question, “How are you?” which we, being mostly old folk, promptly forgot. We were the slow children and they the authorities in their own ways and language. In Alaska, there are no Indian reservations. I could feel the difference. We were guests in their house.

We were guests, also, on the lovely forest path we walked to see the totem pole collection. We were guests in the Beaver Clan House, made of red cedar, smelling like the forest—a sacred space painted with animal faces and a dark doorway like a vulva. On either side a beaver totem looked as though it was giving birth to a human.




An elder in a red and black costume, with beautifully stitched leg warmers and an impressive staff, introduced the dance, performed mostly by children. They were all decked out in their red and black tribal costumes, with their different clan totems on their backs: Eagle, Raven, Beaver, Halibut, Whale, Wolf, Frog. I had the sense they knew they all belonged to one another, but had plenty of room to be different from each other. I paid special attention to one boy, perhaps 12, who, like Cutuk in the novel, had blond hair and blue eyes. He sang and danced as passionately as did the others, and looked like he belonged to the tribe, or so I hoped. Dan and I were charmed by a toddler, who wandered around in her tribal finery, pacifier in her mouth. We learned that the Tlingit are a matriarchal culture, not surprising, given the quiet authority in the women’s faces and the values of Potlatch, expressed in a dance in which whites were invited to dance with the tribe, and honored by being wrapped in tribal robes.

Mother of the Forest
It felt strong and good to be near mountains without names.
—Seth Kantner Ordinary Wolves
Our ship slipped through gray waters, past dark green forested shores, hills fingered by mists, mountains streaked with snow, sudden waterfalls. There was something at once breathtaking and mesmerizing about the ship’s slow passage along steeply wooded cliffs and rocky shores, as the waters glided away from us. My Muse had made a full recovery, and was busily writing down images phrases for this blog about voyaging north. I had cut myself off from the news. There was space in me, and silence.


We made an excursion to the Mendenhall Glacier. This was important to us. Though we had liberated ourselves from the Washington drama, we were still reeling from our President’s decision to pull out of the Paris Climate Accords. I wanted to pay my respects to the glacier, while it still lived. I was amazed at the power of its presence, glowing blue and white. It has been retreating for hundreds of years, going back to the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. Behind its great mass arose an unnamed mountain range, which looked like a fairy tale city.

The story of the glacier was more nuanced and complex than I had understood. It was told to us by a Forest Ranger, a young woman who improvised a charming story about the sick glacier and the black bear who loved it. She spoke in the voice of the dying glacier, getting weaker and slower. She spoke in the voice of the black bear who was grateful for the life the glacier gave her. She spoke of the love between them, the interpenetration of species at all levels of being. For the glacier creates new life as its retreating weight grinds rock into silt, which flows into waterways and provides nutrients for fish and other creatures. In its dying the glacier created the Tongass National Forest, a vast temperate rainforest, luxuriant with hemlock, yellow cedar, alder, pine, and Sitka spruce—known by the natives as “The Mother of the Forest.”


The forest as a whole is a fertile mother, a generous mother, producing flora and fauna in the cyclical dance of death and rebirth. I said to the Forest Ranger, “that’s a more nuanced story than the one we hear in the lower forty-eight.” She nodded. “The glacier is not just about death. It is a creator of life. But,” she added, “what will happen when the glacier is gone?”

The Mother of the Forest, as Sitka spruce, provides food and shelter for the bald eagle family we visited in a small boat. These impressive birds mate for life. They stand three feet tall and have a wingspread of six to seven feet. The pair we visited were protecting their enormous nest, in which, we were told, there were three chicks. To see our national symbol in the wild, as such a stirring, devoted creature, shifted something in me.


The Mother of the Forest, provides nourishment for the humpback whale. We were part of a gathering of strangers on a catamaran, bonded in awe and reverence as we watched the great whale blow, breach and dive, displaying her black flukes with distinctive white markings. Every whale, we were told, has different markings. Her name, the naturalist told us, is Flame. She comes every summer to the feeding grounds of her youth, and spends the winter near Maui. Some years she has a calf with her. Not this year. These whales had been on their way to extinction. But since industrial whaling was forbidden in the 1970s, the population has come back dramatically. “Thanks to you,” the naturalist said, “who make seeing whales a profitable business for Alaska.” Again, as when we were thanked by the Tlingit people, tears sprang to my eyes. Compared to Cutuk and his people I was certainly an Everything–Wanter. But perhaps maybe there is something to be said for us Everything–Wanters, at least those of us who want to see whales, grizzlies, wolves, to engrave them in our psyches, to shoot them with our cameras, instead of wanting to shoot them dead.


As our ship took us through the Inside Passage we saw more dazzling scenery created by receding glaciers. We sat in the aft of the boat, sipping an aperitif, and watched the glory of all this creation pass by us—a surround of jagged mountains rose above the rainforest. It was almost summer solstice and the sun stayed up late with us. In the long, long evening the waters were smooth and blue gray. The first growth forests gave way to saw tooth mountains behind silent mountains beyond silent castles of rock and ice—a parade of odd angles, askew ridges, jagged mystery. I knew I was in the presence of gods that gave no thought to human concerns. I watched my fellow passengers put down their iPhones and gaze at the mystery. The sun dreamed on through an endless twilight, and finally called it a day long past 10pm.


In Sitka we saw the Russian influence in architecture and history. The Russians came two hundred years ago to hunt sea otters, whose beautiful pelts were used to make expensive fur coats. The otters were hunted almost to extinction. Thanks to a ban on hunting them for all but native Alaskans, the charming creatures have made a remarkable comeback. We were delighted to see one, floating on his back in the middle of Sitka Sound, admiring his webbed toes. We learned his fur is so dense that he can float, effortlessly. He has an opposable thumb and uses tools to open clams. Somebody said, “Hand him a martini!”


The Great One
That wolf—how many miles and years had he walked under this smoky green light? Walked cold, hungry, in storms, wet under summer rain, walking on this land I’d always called my home…How was it that I’d never considered carefully that an animal could know infinitely more about something than I could?
—Ordinary Wolves by Seth Kantner
On the Solstice, we arrived at Seward. Here we had to say goodbye to our lovely ship, and clamber unto a tour bus, which would take us to Denali National Park. The mountain, Denali, was named by the Athabaskan Indians, “the high one,” “the great one.” We were blessed. Denali revealed herself again and again as we were driven from Seward to Anchorage. This doesn’t usually happen. Only 20 % of visitors get to see the mountain, which is over 20,000 feet high, the tallest mountain in North America. We saw her again the next day, on our bus tour of Denali. Our eloquent bus driver/tour guide said: “You never know when she’ll show up, or not.” He said the same thing of the animals. We were blessed again by the sight of a mother grizzly, playing with her two cubs. She lay on the ground and pawed at them. They climbed all over her.

A Park Ranger had climbed unto our bus to greet us when we first entered Denali National Park. She got political. She told us the park was celebrating its centennial this year. She said it was a treasure of a park, an intact ecosystem—no invasive plants or creatures—one of very few left in the world. Protect it, she said. And please tell your congress people to support it. The bus full of strangers applauded. We were all on a pilgrimage to see wildlife. We were in the company of people who yelled “Moose on the Right!” “Eagle in the pine tree to the left!” “Caribou in the ice fields!” Poor caribou. They are created for weather that is 50 degrees below zero. It was 60 degrees above zero and they sought out what ice was left to lie on; they are suffering climate change.

Our time to return home began to loom. My dreams expressed alarm. In one dream children were being hit over the head with two by fours, which was how I imagined I’d feel returning to my life in the “lower forty-eight.” Obama showed up in another dream, his back to me, piloting a ship in dark waters. Back in the Eskimo world of Cutuk, things were terrible. He was a young man now, who had become a fine hunter. But, influenced by his sister, whose life expanded when she went to the city, he made the journey to Anchorage, and suffered profound culture shock:
Hotels with a hundred windows loomed. The roar was constant. Nothing at home was this frantic…Everything had words. As if someone had cut up a magazine, glued it to the sky. No reading the river, snow, ice, tracks—the city took it literally; reading signs meant reading signs.
He felt the suffering of trees: “Trees stood alone, dreary and dripping and surrounded, roots weighted under heavy stone.” He was mad at the city “for taking the animals’ beautiful land and turning it into ridiculous things: parking lots and strip malls, pensions, section lines and new hair styles.” He realized something that I was beginning to understand: “more than in wind or cold or [spring] Break up, the power and absoluteness of wild earth resided in its huge, uncompromising silence. Anchorage conquered silence, left not a trace.” Cutuk returned home to the backcountry, but home had changed. Sports hunters used snow mobiles to murder wolves. The village where he got supplies was not what it had been. Electricity and machines changed everything.
Suddenly, the past was over. It would never come back to protect us. We’d been pretending as well as any actors. The chasm between legends around the fire and surround–sound TV, snowshoed dog trails and Yamaha V–Max snowmobiles was too overwhelming, and no hunting, no tears, no federal dollars could take us back across. I felt an avalanche of grief…
The land of Cutuk’s grief, a land of ruined lives and many suicides, is “as haunting and beautiful as it had been ten thousand years before the introduction of sports hunters.” For Dan and me, who are city dwellers, livers of fast, noisy lives, it was a life altering experience. Now I can see that the light in the eyes of my elders, when they returned from their pilgrimages North, was the gleam of the silence of mountains, the mystery of wild landscape and wild creatures, a spiritual experience they would have called “Mother Nature,” a blessing whatever you call Her, be it Silence, The Great One, the Inside Passage, sea otter, Mother of the Forest, bald eagle, grizzly, or a whale named Flame.

The Great One

Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Muse of Catastrophe

The Sister from Below Announces a New Series: 

The Poetry of Resistance

Hermes, Greek God of thievery, writing, roads, and more
                            
                                     The way of women     is our way   The moon swells
                                     the moon goes dark   pulling the tides    in and out
                                     The way of the trees     is our way   So raise up
                                     your branches   sisters   for we are one   gathering
                                     Soon sap   will rise   apple trees flower

                                     We’ll weave us a canopy    all over this land
                                     It will be uprising time    once again
                                                      in America
      —Naomi Ruth Lowinsky
      “Wishing in the Woods With Hillary”


The Muse of Catastrophe 

But who can resist this all–engulfing force…? Only one who is
firmly rooted not only in the outside world but also in the world within.
—C.G. Jung

Thoth, Egyptian God of Writing

In early 1933 Jung gave a lecture in Germany. He spoke of a “feeling of catastrophe” in the air. We are in such a moment in America. How do we withstand the “all–engulfing force” of chaos, hysteria, terror, and rage which rampages the land? How do we stay connected to our inner life, our deep natures when we are assaulted and over–stimulated by outrageous events and disturbing threats, haunted by ancestors who were slaves, refugees from catastrophe, stateless, disenfranchised, oppressed? Catastrophe, it turns out, can be a muse. That is what the Sister from Below whispered in my heart one day when I was feeling overwhelmed and impotent, struggling to find my mode of resistance. She said: “You’re a poet. You know many fine poets. Do what poets do. Use your blog to post resistance poetry. In times of catastrophe, the people need poetry.

But, you may ask, as did the poet H.D., “What good are your scribblings?” H.D. answers herself, in her great poem written during the catastrophe of the London blitz, “The Walls Do Not Fall:”

this—we take them with us

beyond death; Mercury, Hermes, Thoth
invented the script, letters, palette;

the indicated flute or lyre–notes
on papyrus or parchment

are magic, indelibly stamped
on the atmosphere somewhere,

forever; remember, O Sword,
you are the younger brother, the latter–bon,

your triumph, however exultant,
must one day be over,

in the beginning
was the Word.


H.D. is claiming the power of the Word over that of the Sword, the power of Creation over that of Destruction. And yet we know she wrote this during wartime, when all she held sacred was threatened and her city was in ruins. When our souls are battered, our hearts broken, is often the time when we open to the deep river flow of poetry, when we find words to “translate the dry rattle of the newscast into image and myth. Poetry says the unsayable, bears the unbearable, speaks for the voiceless, transports us into the spirit realm, the ancestor’s lodge, ushers us, in Jung’s words, through the “small and hidden door that leads inward.”

A Poem by Daniel Polikoff
The first Poem of Resistance came to me by synchronicity. It was during the recent storms which caused flooding, mudslides and other disruptions in Northern California. The national news was disturbing, causing political storms and public displays of resistance all over the country. At the time I was in dialogue with the Sister from Below, about catastrophe as muse, about poetry as medicine for the soul, about devoting my blog, for the duration, to Poems of Resistance, when a beautiful poem showed up in my e-mail, by Daniel Polikoff. I knew when I read it that I wanted it to open this series.

The weather and the news remind us of Biblical stories of catastrophe as an expression of God's wrath. This is where Polikoff goes in his poem, only his focus is on a "heavenly mother...weeping/for her lost children." The poem's speaker voices our grief and disorientation, and names our collective shadow, for we have "gone forth and built/sky-scratching cities," and we have "forgotten/her name." This is the voice of the prophets--those ancient poets of resistance.

Weeping Icon


Flood
February 7, 2017

Rain floods the streets and overflows
river banks and inlet sluices,
pours from the water-bearing sky
as if a heavenly mother were weeping

for her lost children. The puddle on the red-
brick patio; the streams that run
down the twin cheeks of Spring Drive;
the spreading lake that drowns the footpath—

tears, all tears. For she who bears us
endlessly in her heart
is weeping, weeping endlessly
over her children, the numberless

ones who no longer know her,
all the children who have forgotten
her name. They have gone forth
without regard; gone forth and built

sky-scratching cities; gone forth
and closed their doors against her,
locked their gates and bolted the chambers
of their steel domes. She has come

often to those proud towers; come
and rattled the gate-chains; come
and wrapped upon the heavy doors
of their bronze hearts. But they

do not choose to hear her soft
or loud alarms; dumb and unmoved,
they stand upon their feet of clay,
statues in the hall of a putrid king.

And so the widespread waters of pain,
the tears of grief and of mourning
pour from the sockets of heaven, pour
ceaselessly down, as once did

the flood that drowned the earth—
for the wrath of the Father
and the Mother's deep sorrow
will not part like ancient seas.

Daniel Joseph Polikoff is a poet and internationally recognized Rilke scholar. The most recent of his six books are Rue Rilke (a creative non-fiction account of his initiatory Rilke pilgrimage) and a new translation of Rilke's Sonnets to Orpheus. Daniel lives with his wife and family in Mill Valley, and will be teaching a course at Pacifica Graduate Institute this spring. For more information see danielpolikoff.com

"Tower of Babel" by Lucas van Valckenborch


Announcement 

Naomi Ruth Lowinsky will be a speaker, along with Steven Nouriani and Carolyn Bray on The Role of the Divine Feminine in the Transformation of Consciousness. The program will take place on March 18th at the SF Jung Institute, 9:30 -1:30. We need Her right about now. Please join us.

[https://www.eventbrite.com/e/the-role-of-the-divine-feminine-in-the-transformation-of-consciousness-tickets-26502497684]

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.