Last time I spread poems out for a birds eye view, I started translating the words/language into images/glyphs. It’s all there: keys, snakes, stars, boats, dunes, daughters, fire– the usual cacophony.
If I use these glyphs to create a map, and the poems are placed/arranged according to its cartography, where would it lead? Could it possibly navigate inner and outer worlds, not to mention multiple dimensions and times, simultaneously? If anything can do this, don’t you think it would be poetry?
Wish me luck as I draft my way through this wilderness.
As far as companions along the way, listening to Louise’ Erdrich’s Advice to Myself has been my guiding star each morning at the start of a writing day.
” My life as a writer is its own ecosystem. When the elements of the ecosystem are healthy and thriving, creation is occurring….When this ecosystem is pulsing with aliveness, the flowering and fruiting of creativity happens—it simply cannot not happen—and stories of all kinds seem to fall, heavy and ripe, into my hand.”
How do you nurture your writing/living/working ecosystem? What are you mapping? What fruit is falling into your hands? What tracks are you following? Where do they lead?
February has brought to these parts/pages a lively awakening of language and new poetry. My hens are laying again, and the spinning wheels of winter writing practice are gaining traction and rolling. Or maybe it’s just that the kids are back at in-person school?
Whatever it is, I’ve noticed that this happens year after year– a winter of labored writing practice that, like childbirth (my births, anyways) doesn’t seem to be going anywhere for a long time. Until all of a sudden a door opens and a new creation bursts forth. I feel like I say this every spring. Well, it’s still true.
I spend so many hours, days, weeks, months waiting to see what might emerge from the quiet room. It has been a year like no other, and for most of it I felt as if I had nothing to say, and if I did, as if I couldn’t write it. But apparently, I could write something: a 30 page farewell letter to my kids in case I died as a nurse on the frontlines of the pandemic (one of my favorite and most failed projects because really there are no words for that), poems about the dry river and death (as usual), my daughter’s coming of age (same story, new season), and a series in which I explore a complicated and unexpected twist in my quest for a spiritual home. Oh, and a chapbook called Notes on the Recovery of Self From Childhood, which features a thief, animal guides, a sleep walking girl, dream interviews, and a book that does not need to be written because it is already written. See, there’s never a scarcity of material if you make everything your material!
When some of these poems came along, they surprised me in the same way I am surprised when I see my friends’ adolescent children after a long period apart. Who are these marvelous creatures I never imagined possible? And what are they talking about?
Well, we can find out tonight (Tuesday, Feb 16th), when I share a reading’s worth of them LIVE on you know where (see below). I will be joining poets Ken Hada and Donald Levering for a reading at 6pm mountain time. I’d love to see you.
“You must have a room, or a certain hour or so a day, where you don’t know what was in the newspapers that morning, you don’t know who your friends are, you don’t know what you owe anybody, you don’t know what anybody owes to you. This is a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be. This is the place of creative incubation. At first you may find that nothing happens there. But if you have a sacred place and use it, something eventually will happen.”
I like to think I might be in this room more often than not, lately. What is my name? What am I here to do? Campbell helps me think of the silence that replies as the first inkling of an answer.
A few times a week, sometimes daily, I start tearing pictures, watching them magnetize towards each other.
Images and collage have become a regular conversation I have with myself and my interior. No words needed. All those back issues of expensive subscriptions suddenly a repository I mine for treasure.
(Yes, this was a hard week.)
Images work where language cannot suffice, but language is still the thread that keeps me company in the quiet room, and that I use for stitching poems.
Partial shelfie, (poetry edition). Sad, reverent, beautiful poetry.
Nearly all of it moves me from reading to writing as the language stirs and stirs and demands its own bowl to rise in, its own pot to simmer in. Poetry as sourdough, as stone soup, as patchwork–take a little of the old, add it to the new.
Let it feed you, disturb you, restore you, keep you warm.
But more than anything else, real life is the actual patchwork of my days. The real thing I turn my needle and thread on. It is tending house and one another, remembering to feed the chickens, phone calls with friends, a run at sunset, and forever sweeping the floor, that fills this quiet room. This quiet season when we forget what we know, who we are. Where we wait for what comes next.
A small celebration for Refugia, which celebrated its first birthday in September, and also received a New Mexico Book Award for poetry last week. I am honored (stunned!) that this collection continues to make its way in the world and to touch readers. I want to give a special shout out to Aaron Morse, the artist behind the cover art. Please visit his website to see the painting (Wilderness #2) in its entirety, and to treat yourself to his full portfolio.
In other book news, a few weeks ago I was supposed to be part of a reading and panel at the Montana Book Festival called The Earth’s Story is Also Our Story: Grief and Reverence in Poetic Ecologies. Could there be a more ideal panel for me? I mean honestly, what else is there to talk about? Unfortunately I was unable to attend at the last minute, but I encourage you to tune in to the video–the other panelists are extraordinary and it was a joy to enter into conversation with them and their work in preparation for the reading.
And, as it happens, I’ve been living through a season of grief and reverence in real time. This entire year has been a grief rite, it seems, but frankly, September was heartbreaking. The west coast fires broke my heart. The correlating songbird die-off that plagued New Mexico’s backyards and riverbanks broke my heart. And most devastatingly, piercingly close, the sudden loss of my dear friend’s husband breaks my heart open every day.
A year for apprenticing to sorrow, indeed.
I remember sitting around a campfire back in normal times, under a big moon with a handful of very wise friends. One, perhaps the wisest among us, asked about despair–the despair she sensed in her teenagers about the climate crisis, a despair that echoed through all of us. It seemed at that point that there was something to be done, some way forward, some way out of that pain. If only we could find it.
Now, I think of despair as pure invitation, and the answering grief as its only remedy. Therein lies reverence, therein lies healing.
I painted these retablos of Our Lady of Autumn at the beginning of September in a meditation on impermanence, death, and cycles of renewal. This was before the birds began to fall out of my apple tree, before Breonna Taylor was denied justice, before our friend passed away.
Now these ladies remind me that we are bathed in light even as we bear skull beads on strands, passing them between our fingers in prayer. They ask, as poet Tanya Holtland asks in Requisite:
“What in us needs to die first / for the rest to continue living?”
Actually, most days lately I live my life in the margins of wild places. Despite how lucky we’ve been to take river trips and have a couple local runs in the VW, I am far from getting my fix of the forests this summer. The only thing I can be sure I’ve done enough of is sweeping the floor.
Does it always have to be about nature? My daughter asks as I try to lure them out on yet another walk in the arroyo after dinner. Why are you so obsessed?
But how could it not always be about nature? It is always about nature.
It is in wild places that something in me arrives home. I lose myself in the numinous only to find I can locate myself at last– Here, on this earth. Here, in this body.
Belonging to this particular landscape is something I am utterly devoted to. I would rather return over and over to the same beloved forests and trails (and rivers) than take the most epic road trip (though periodically an epic road trip is needed to remind me of this truth).
As with any great love, there is danger in attachment. Be it to blight, storms, drought, fire, or floods, we risk losing the places that sustain us and occupy the “home” corner of our hearts. Today, that danger constantly surrounds us, no matter where we live or what land we cherish.
This week, a new fire burns perilously close–again–to the places I love best of all. I hesitate to say it will destroy these places, but for us short lived humans, transformation by fire is a process that we are for too impatient for. Fire takes what we love and breaks our hearts.
Is it me or does it seem like fires have been burning all of 2020?
There have been fires in Australia, California, and Colorado on a scale I can hardly fathom. There are the figurative fires wrought by a global pandemic, economic collapse, systemic failures, white supremacy, and the ongoing, increasing destruction of our global environment. More personally, fires are burning through a spiritual community that is dear to me.
Like the forest, these things need to burn. But everything is so out of balance, so insanely combustible, that the resulting inferno is all-consuming. As I write, Santa Fe is shrouded in smoke so thick I can’t see the ridge behind our house. And that’s how everything feels to me–impossible to see a way through.
My friend Erin reminds me that fire is above all a renewing force. Fire burns in service to life. It is the ground-clearer and the seed-opener.
Best of all, she says, when the fire has passed, the forest doesn’t need us to do anything to help it regrow. The land knows just what to do, sending up wave after wave of green growing things. The forest comes back because that is what forests do.
I hold that image inside myself even as I grieve lost places.
In witnessing burning, may we know the true medicine of the wild.
May the seeds for personal and collective renewal crack us open.
Late July is out-to-drift season for me, the time when I loosen my will from its steady hand on the wheel. I can’t say I plan this letting go, or even like it, but eventually I drop my head back into the current and let it hold me.
Aside from the constant search for water, there is not much rhythm or form left to our days. Summer is, and always has been, the necessary unraveling that undoes all my doing.
I have been reading, but seldom write. That self, too, needs a chance to sleep and dream and be remade anew.
One friend calls this the summer of lost things. I keep thinking I’d like to write a poem with that title, but find myself thick in the heat and stickiness of it, unable, again, to find words.
Does the speechlessness wish to speak?, another friend asks when I complain that I do not know what to say, though perhaps I am just too afraid to say it. What does the speechlessness wish to say?
And so I cast a line into the still waters to see what message silence wishes to send up.
Perhaps it’s my bait, but I don’t seem to catch much. That’s okay. The view is nice from here.
Martin Shaw says, Look at the prayer rug of our own lives with our divorces and depressions and say, this is the mythic ground I stand upon. How on earth do I grow corn from it?
Here I am last week on the mythic ground of my 39th birthday. My line is cast. If I catch a fish, I’ll be sure to plant it in the corn for luck.
Jake Skeets and I will be sharing poems and conversation as part of the Further Notice Reading Series tonight. Details and relevant links for virtual attendance here.
Jake is an extraordinary poet and thinker. Exhibit a: this Book. Exhibit b: this interview. I am honored to join him, and really curious about where our wanderings through “the field” will take us.
Attending readings like this have been medicine for me lately. They offer a dose of language, imagination, and contemplation that fortifies the soul for the essential work we are doing of revolution and healing.
What is keeping you fortified, awake, centered, engaged?
What does poetry offer us right now?
Can a poem be an ecosystem?Or, at least, a territory of the imagination?
I don’t know for sure what we’ll talk about, but these are questions on my mind, today, and, well, all the time.