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.

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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.

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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.

 

Underfoot

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Santa Fe holds spring in one hand, winter in the other. The place where they meet is near at hand, or, rather, underfoot.

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The ridgetop spiral, aka, Sanctuary of Descent, Transformation, Renewal. My preferred Easter liturgy, birthday ritual (love you, El), and walking meditation.

Meanwhile, remember this scene from back in Ordinary Time?

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Just me, Nippy, and pages of poems unspooling in the sunshine.

There are a few more people in the picture, these days. A few less pages.

Still, the spiral persists, seen or not.

I’ll keep walking it till I get there.

 

 

 

This Week’s Sponsor: Homeland

It’s hard to not feel like every aspect of life has taken a wrong turn, these days, as humanity veers, and waits, and teeters, and suffers.

Saturday we took refuge on the open land, a sojourn that will no doubt sustain us all week long.

Funny enough, we took a wrong turn, and found ourselves leaving the willow banks of the Rio to climb high, high, up to the top of the world.

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The Rio Grande Valley opened wide around us.

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Sangre de Cristos, Jemez Mountains, Pajarito Plateau, Black Mesa. Together they form the container that holds us in place.

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Sinuous earth veins led home, a reminder that erosion is the metaphor this land loves most.

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We returned to where we started from.

Praise how that river keeps flowing. Praise how we carry on.

All Baskets Ready

When we stepped out under the stars last night, my husband said, “Listen,” and we heard the resounding silence that has overtaken town. Even the neighborhood dogs on their long chains seem to have gone indoors.

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Some hours, I feel strong, like I was made for this. All those years making sourdough, sewing long underwear, and developing my inner introvert leave me uniquely adapted to isolating during a pandemic. A chance to bring back the family cloth? I am so ready and willing. See that pile of baskets? Just let the world end.

Other hours, like those that interrupt nights before I work a nursing shift at the hospital, I feel the weightlessness of free fall. What is happening and why is there such a large knot in my chest?

While we find ourselves suspended, hanging upside down in an otherworldly pause, I take shelter in Michael Meade, whose mythic perspective is my prescription for the unknown, and whose reflections on the virus have fortified me for the road ahead: The Second Level of Hope and A Time of Conscious Descent

Go ahead and despair, he says. That’s the beginning, not the end.

And this essay by the radical truth teller Paul Kingsnorth allows me to bear witness to this incredible, horrible, beautiful unraveling, and to deepen into the Great Pause that is our only remedy right now.

A friend pointed out that on each day home with her children, it is as if their true faces are revealed to her. I feel that way, too. We’ve been given a chance to take off the many masks we wear in our day to day lives back in ordinary time, and to return to something original about who we are.

Empty out the baskets. Let’s see what fills them when we stop trying.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Homebody

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Reading at the Crestone Poetry Festival, in front of a beautiful backdrop, and before a fantastic crowd. As far as I know I’m the only poet with a Signal Snowboards sponsorship. They don’t know this yet, but with luck it will catch on and lead to lots more great hats.

#AWPocalypse means I, along with many others, stayed home from my big adventure at AWP in San Antonio this week. Instead, you can find me reading and trying to write, and wondering what, what! is the meaning of it all? Same old, same old. All from the splendid vantage of my sunny living room.

Seriously, it’s like Christmas and my birthday all in one week, this gift of time and solitude and good health, with only minor twinges of now I have to write something truly great…like a blog post!

I am also the guest on a recent Hiking Thru Life podcast which you can listen to here. It is a candid and light hearted conversation with occasional forays into why one shouldn’t worry about what poems mean, the links between language and landscape, and my journey as a writer. I love the part where Sarah asks me to read a poem and I’m like, no, I’m going to read this other one instead. Who does that? I do!

Photos by Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer.

Ps–anyone else who didn’t go to AWP might enjoy these tips for recreating the conference at home from our friends at McSweeneys.

 

Earth and Sky

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I’ve been stretching my wings and wheels, lately, to cross mountains, state lines, and boundaries to the unknown.

These landscapes are from a road trip to Telluride, CO, where I was honored to read this month as part of the Talking Gourds poetry series. Some things are worth driving alone through a blizzard for, and this was certainly one of them.

The journey there and back was a full body immersion in an image-laced land, a dreamscape of ravens sharp against gray clouds, a tattered flag with red stripes waving in torn strips against a snowy field, eagles flying out of the sun…and delicious solitude as the vantage from which to witness it all.

How is it that we can live in the midst of all this and not–every one of us–be constantly writing poetry?

Do we not live in an ongoing call and response between us and the beauty and mystery and darkness of the world we inhabit and must look at with whatever keen vision we can summon, and then answer with our love letters and laments and strange, unexpected lyrics?

In the face of all this, how can we stand to be silent? How?

When we answer we take our place as part of the ever-expanding network that is a being far more than a verb, a being that links us as surely as if a great mycelium linked us, our imaginations, and our faltering language and lines.

So in whatever way you can, by whatever means you have, answer the call.

That is what the earth and sky taught me on my travels.

I’m not done road-tripping, either. Catch me this weekend at the Crestone Poetry Festival, and next week at AWP, where I’ll be giving an off-site reading at the Spanish Governor’s Palace.

Who knows what kind of deep thoughts I’ll have for you then!

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Meanwhile, speaking of call and response, you can eavesdrop on this conversation I recently had about Refugia, and within which you will find me pondering things like my obsession with names, being born into an ashram in Virginia and leaving it at age twelve for the blinding light of New Mexico, the secret healing power of toxic amnesia, and why I will not despair about the future.

Many thanks to Natalie Etheridge for the thought-provoking questions, and to the editors of The Adroit Journal for creating space for our conversation. I am happy to be part of your mycelium.

And yours too, dear readers. Safe travels to you.

 

 

Notes for a New Year and Decade

 

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Collect yourself, all the parts.

System by system link the pieces.

Mothering sustains poetry sustains friendship sustains marriage sustains earth.

Begin, attempt, try to allow yourself permission for not knowing. Allow the ground to give way under your feet at the thought of it.

When it comes to writing, may it first be listening, second be seeing.

Let it be wonder, third, and understanding last.

See your daughters safely to womanhood. Walk beside them while you can, and a little behind them when the time comes.

Carry an empty basket. Keep it as empty as you possibly can.

Show up for the protests, but remember, the resistance takes place in situ. 

Birds. It’s time to learn their names. And maybe how to read their flight for messages from the gods.

No, their flight is the gods.

And in the darkness: hold your prayer beads, murmur your prayers, enter the deep stillness that awaits.

Dostoevsky. Lots of Dostoevsky.

Become a map maker of inner and outer landscapes. Travel by way of pen, boots, poetry, Volkswagen bus, paper.

Witness.

Before setting out, do not think you already know what it is you will find along the way.

Face the future and the page and all the hard places with deep imagination.

Let your descendants whisper to you about what they love in the world they inherit.

Watch for the bend.

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Thank you for the inspiration, Tonia Peckover!