October Light

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?”

One Day in August

Here you go–just another Wednesday in New Mexico.

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.

May all beings be safe.

May it rain.

River Run

Of all the journeys we might take in a summer, the ones down this beloved river are most important to me. 

It is a gift to return again and again to the same place, and to come to more deeply know its shape and being.

I know the views that lie around each bend, but can’t always predict the light or weather. 

img_2013

 I love to see what flowers will be blooming in June vs. late July, and have learned which stretch is filled with Western tanagers and which with swallows.

Geese fill the full length of our 33 mile run. 

img_6387

Safety patrol is really my chance to daydream and drift. I did fall in once while craning my neck to identify a bird.

On these journeys, our growth during the past year becomes most apparent. I gauge it against the bare bones of the canyon and the eroding tug of the river.
img_1710

Take a peek here to see how much these two have grown since their maiden voyage down the river four summers ago.

They come back to the “mother duck” to rest and eat, and then launch back out on their own. 

The trip almost always ends in monsoon rains. The smell of sage and willow surrounds us as a last storm passes over and the rapids carry us downstream. We reach the final eddy just as the sky clears. 

Fishing

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.

Into the Field

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.

Origin of the Apple

A handful of years ago, in the days when my girls were riding ponies every Sunday morning and the hens were half grown and my book still unborn, my mother and paternal grandmother came by for a very impromptu birthday breakfast–they share birthdays in the same week.

The occasion was witnessed by Genevieve Russell, a friend who happens to be an extraordinary documentarian. She made a short film I want to share today in honor of all the mothers that stand behind each of us. I dedicate it to my beautiful mother, Lia, and beloved Gramita, Rose.

It was far enough back that I no longer mind the messy house and hair, or the overflowing bookshelves. All I see captured here is everything that is most precious to me.

 

 

 

 

From the Center

Centering: In Pottery, Poetry, and the Person by M.C. Richards is a treasure of a book.  An anthroposophist-potter-poet from the Black Mountain School meditating on creativity and poetry (cliff notes from Brainpickings here)–it’s the kind of book I can hardly imagine having the good fortune to stumble upon because I could never have imagined it existed. Good thing the library is closed and I can read it as many times as I like.

IMG_0208

Richards writes:

Poetry is the created presence. Word-poem is its echo, for poetry is the glow of genesis out of which poems are made. Poetry as an art trains us to experience what lies in the kingdom of its origin and its consummation.

And,

We are most poetic when we are the most in tune with created presence–person, place, thing. Life itself may be poetic.

Right now, it is hard for me to write poetry, unless you count the thirty page poem-in-fragments that was my attempt to find the words to say goodbye to my children should I die suddenly while working on the so called “front-lines” during the pandemic.

It turns out, though, that there are no words for that. So I gave up, and turned back to the other poem, the one called my life unfolding, the floor as usual in need of sweeping, and my girls calling me to be near them.

Along the way, I’ve watched as my initial terror has slowly potentized into an inner antibody that bolsters me against fear. Most of the time, it works very well.

The centering consciousness in poetry brings together those experiences and objects which appear separate, finding in the single moment of felt perception a variety of elements simultaneously aglow.

IMG_0933

It occurs to me that we are near the center of the spiral with this particular cycle of social distancing. We don’t know exactly when it will be over, but it’s been about six weeks of moving inward, and it looks as if the shift out again has begun, even if it takes another four to six weeks to finish traveling there.

Along the way, we’ve sown our seeds into garden beds, the folds of our bodies, the cracks in our dreams. Who can say what will grow, or how we will be transformed.

I find myself slowing my steps and mind for the movement outward, planting each foot (when I remember) on the ground as if it, too, is a seed.

Perhaps this is what we do when we center; we bring the world into this womb of all, this central hearth where spirit glows.

Sometimes, on my runs in the arroyo, I lie down in the sand and pretend my whole body is an ear.

I hold still and eavesdrop on silence and birdsong.

I grow warm. Feel myself glowing. We shall see what comes from that womblike hearth.