Dancing with Darkness, Dancing with Light

Tonight the sky is clear and the air is calm. I’ve been working hard on the compost pile, washing buckets and jars, doing the good labor of keeping my home. My beloved cat is playing just outside the door, and the chickens are reliably putting themselves to bed. On nights like this when everything is so perfect it’s hard to even believe that we are at the edge of extinction. That about 24 species a day are dying out, that scientist say we are inhaling about a credit cards worth a week full of aerosolized plastic, I can’t feel it in my lungs but sometimes I’m a little short of breath, are my bronchi becoming filters for crystallized fossil fuel?

There is so much to contend with in our times, how challenging it is to stay open and present, as the world begins to crumble around us. And to also stay present to the incredible beauty that exists in each day, in fact this day may be the most beautiful day I ever know and all my days, and I don’t want to miss it.

I don’t want to miss anything, the way the dew gathers on the grass in the morning, the way my feet feel as they hit the cool and moist grass, how the grass tickles between my toes, the inhale of dawn air and the site of my tall friends the Doug Firs towering above me. The last few mornings the air has smelled so sweet with their aroma that I can barely take it. It certainly doesn’t smell like micro plastics in the air… But that doesn’t mean they’re not there. And it doesn’t mean they’re not in our waters, and in our soil.

The paradox of being is so intense, at times I feel like I will buckle under the weight of trying to figure it all out. And perhaps, if I try to figure it all out I will buckle. But instead of trying to figure, what if I learn to dance? To dance between the joy and sorrow, to be firmly rooted in my body, and the beating of my own heart, in the beauty that my eyes see, in the way my breath moves through my lungs, inhaling the scent of the Doug Fir incense on the morning air.

What if I learn to dance my way through days of work, and the heartbreak of witnessing so many endings in the elders that I serve, to dance within and between my own endings, all the women I have been and will yet be. I see my many selves dancing behind me. Me, rolling in the grass, childlike and free, me curled up in a ball weeping, me reaching my arms towards the sky, me holding my daughter when she was a baby and kissing her sweet face. All these ones that join together inside this one self, this one woman, this one body I call home.

Sometimes I wonder if this is really it? If we are living in the end of days, and no, I don’t mean the biblical end of days, that’s really not my cup of tea. But the end of all we’ve known, the end of the surety of the cycles of the earth, have we broken the web? The scientist say so, but in my heart the verdict is still out. What about the power of our prayers? What about those of us who sing to the dawn and implore the earth to live on?
Those of us who dance our prayers on her body with our firm, naked feet. Can she feel us? Does she love the feel of dancing on her skin?

I cast my vote for yes. Yes, our prayers matter. Yes, our songs and dances matter. Yes, our beloved mother the earth, feels our feet dancing on her body and rejoices. So many of us humans have forgotten how to praise, but not all of us, and even those of us who have forgotten, or who never were taught in the first place, can learn, and are learning again, how to worship life. I cast my vote for yes, because I cannot bear to believe the answer is no. I cannot bear to live in a world that is only dying, and I simply don’t believe that that is true. There is too much flourishing, too much beauty, too much synchronicity and grace, for ending to be all that there is.

In the face of darkness and destruction, in the presence of complexity and overwhelm, in the truth of brutality and extinction, I still choose to put my feet on the earth and dance. I choose to see the beauty of each day, and give thanks for all that is still flourishing, for all of the ways that life is still living, including, through me. The only answer I am sure of is that how I show up matters. That I am alive and on the receiving end of such incredible gifts, and that I can apprentice myself to the learning, and the open heartedness required to hold the complexity of it all, to be connected and aware with my eyes wide open to the beauty and grace present in this broken world. So, this will be my intent, my prayer, my offering. All that I have and all that I am I offer into the service of and the worship of this wild, green, magical home, we call Earth.

Survival

2020 was a hard year, of course it was, you know this, I do not have to tell you.  It has become a slogan of sorts “2020 is the worst year ever…” said with a sigh and collapsed posture, about myriad occurrences from the merely irritating to the deeply heartbreaking. You have most likely had some flavor of this in your own life. 2020 was a damn hard year. It seems that everything was turned up and churned up, personal, public, political, for fucks sake, we’ve been living in a global pandemic. Everyone has been holding on, just by the skin of our teeth, waiting for the year to shift, a page to turn, holding onto the belief that somehow 2021 is going to be at least a little bit better.

I’m sitting in my little home tonight, my tiny little 250 square feet on wheels. It feels a little like a gypsy wagon, bright colors and blue velvet upholstery, twinkling string lights and a shelf full of all my teas and herbs, lending the air of a witches cabin. Sometimes I look around and I can’t believe how happy I am. Never before in all my 39 years have I had a place to live that was, well, entirely mine. Entirely mine to keep messy, or keep clean. To decorate with as much religious artwork as I want to, to string my crop of corn on colored yarn across my ceiling to dry. For a month and a half, I had to duck under corn just to sit at my dining table, do you have any idea how perfect that is?

 So here I sit at my gorgeous round and tiny dining table reflecting on this last year, on the troubles, the joys and the sorrows. Oh gods the sorrows. In some ways it’s kind of funny to hear people talk about how hard 2020 was, and yes I know it was, for everyone, and I’m not trying to diminish that fact. The last year tested us all in ways we could never have foreseen, or well, that we didn’t foresee anyway. Some of us lost our jobs, some of us worked waaay too much in nearly intolerable conditions. Lives and homes were lost, marriages broken.

 I guess it’s kind of funny, or peculiar rather, because what made this last year hard for me honestly had almost nothing to do with the pandemic. Yes, work was hard, and face masks and shields really are awful… But surviving a broken heart, a divorce, and moving out of and selling my home of 15 years, nearly killed me. There have been so many times over the last year that part of me honestly thought I would not survive. So to sit here tonight, looking around at this small but perfect, and completely mine, space that I now occupy, and it seems almost impossible. Almost too good to be true.

How is it that my heart can be folded in on itself, every bit of air sucked from my body, every bit of joy gone with the snap of fingers and my life cloaked an all-consuming grey fog for 10 or 11 months and then somehow, I survive, and the color begins to return. Beauty once again courts my doorstep. The sounds of wind and birdsong pierce me again. I see the purpose and meaning of my days once more.

Grief is like the ocean, you can ride on top of it get pushed around by the waves, you can submerge and go under and feel its tides moving your small body in the vast expanse of turbulence. The noise so deafening you hear nothing but its roar and then, one day, you surface again, head pops up above the water and you look around and lo and behold there is a patch of blue. A Patch of blue! You may have by this point, forgotten what blue looked like or perhaps even that blue ever existed. But there it is. There it is.

One of my wisest teachers told me never steal anyone else’s grief or pain from them, it is the greatest gift we each ever receive. This same teacher when I called her and told her that my marriage had imploded into a devastating pool of deception and pain, said to me “oh Marianna, I am so happy for you, this is truly the chance of a lifetime, the one chance you’ve been waiting for.”

I can remember that now, and smile. Read the words I just wrote, and smile. But when I first heard those words from her, although a large piece of my heart knew they were true, I could not hear them. I was so devastated that I could barely go to work, and when I did go, I would spend considerable portions of my day crying in the bathroom. It is all well and good to hear about or read about true heartbreak, but when you are in the ocean, in the depths of that suffering, it honestly feels like there is nothing else.

So to sit here tonight, in some form of radiant contentment, in the quiet of my own home, and to not have my heart encased in mourning cloths and to not have my mind filled with what ifs and oh if it could be and oh if I had. Feels like a fucking miracle.

I’ve been reading through my poetry written over the last year and a half or so. It is some of the most sorrow filled and darkest writing I have done in my life, and also some of the most beautiful. I’ve been playing with the idea of making a chapbook, or some other small pamphlet style collection of those poems. Maybe I would simply title this project Survival. I have survived.

As the days roll on, and moving towards spring life fills with more activity, and that all too familiar voice inside my own head will tell me “you should be doing more than you are doing.” I’m going to do my best to remember this quiet evening. I’m going to do my best to remember that come what may, I have survived. I have survived true darkness. And without knowing darkness, how could I ever begin to know light?

The truth is now so clear to me, there was no other way. My life uprooted, my heart pulverized, the wind whipped out of my lungs. All this suffering was extraordinarily necessary. Because without the suffering, I would never have been brave enough to be willing to begin a whole new life. And this is where I sit today, at the beginning of a whole new life.

My fingers on the keyboard, words fall onto this page, tears fall onto my cheeks, but my heart is joy- filled. I am bruised, but I have not been broken. And in the darkest night I have learned to trust my own strength. I have survived, and once again dawn returns to the frozen lands, and I turn my face to meet the sun.

This image is from some art process work I did this winter about connecting to the body of the Earth, my female form and boundaries. I am rooted and so I can rise, I am of the Earth and to her I belong, so I am always at home, and never alone.

On Ravens Wing

It is Samhain and the moon is full. Samhain and the moon is full and the thinness of the veil is present all around me. This is the beginning of the darkness, the Celtic new year, the time of connection to those gone before, to our old ones and to the fertile, sacred stillness. A magic time to turn within and sense into meaning and rhythm, to ask the questions of our deep selves that have been perhaps hidden in plain sight, the ones we are afraid to ask.

 For me this is a time of dying. My old life and ways composting before my eyes. My ability to force myself into the rigor of the do, do, do of this culture falling away. I am no longer able to coerce  myself, to occupy the roles I have held, thinking they were my own and now seeing as constructs inherited from an unwell society and the unhealed parts of my family lineage and a traumatized ancestry.

And I am tending the dying this Samhain. My Auntie and Cousin and myself have been deep in it. 7 days now at the bedside of my dearest Uncle, who is walking the liminal line, the space between life and death. He has been without food nine days and without water for seven, and still he breaths, and his heart beats and we sit vigil, we sing, we eat, we talk and cry and laugh. Three women together tending this edge time, we are midwives, weavers, spell makers. The working is thick and deep, alive with potent power and grace.

There is a perfectness to it, a gentleness as well and I am blown open by the love that is present in these walls. These walls made of the clay of this land, thick and strong. Strong enough to hold us up and hold us in as we dance in this space of timeless beauty, of great grief, of tender tending.

There is nothing required, nothing to be done. We are called simply to love and be true and be in presence with each other. Three of us living and one of us living, but also dying. The knowing of his ending is thick around us, it hangs like a cloak on our shoulders. His still breathing body shines with the brightness of the eternal and it seems impossible that soon, he will breath his last. Soon he will leave us in this form, soon it will be three, not four under the shelter of this strong roof and walls.

I find that when I am in the heart of life, as I am now. In the heart of life as I do this dance with death, my words come easily. Poems flow forth, and I have spent some of each day with pen to paper, making sense of life and death through the rhythm and feeling of the pen on the page, and the words the tumble out, I a scribe for whatever it is that moves through me.

I received and image the other morning as I was sitting by my Uncle, of his body thinning out, becoming many, rather than one. As if he was layered somehow, growing more expansive and ethereal, more a galaxy than a star. As I witnessed this I saw also a Raven come, resting on the back of his body, his spine alight with life force energy, connected to the cosmos. The raven bent her head and began to pick at his spine, the base of the spine, somehow unbuttoning or unbraiding him from the corporeal realm, one by one releasing the tethers to his body and his life. This poem arose from that image.

You do not look like I remembered
though we have met before – you and I
oh walker of the edge place – you one we call death.

Your wings are black- not back of night
but black of dawn
Black of ebony raven plume
black of your beloveds pupil – shrinking and growing
with the closeness of your love.

You dark bird who hovers
unseen until the end and then appearing  
vast on the horizon – vast above the bed frame
unstitching the woven spine of life
with your great black beak.

Morrigan – lady of endings
mistress of raven
one day you shall feast on my flesh as well.

You circle low above us now
so close I can see your breast
so close I can see the underside of your beak
and the bottom of you scaly feet.

When will you land and sink your talons in
claiming this life as your own?
the breath keeps breathing -but softer now
fly low- fly low
we will not chase you away.



The Woman Who Weeps

I wake in the morning and pray for gratitude. In the darkness alone I feel only sorrow, even the birds songs, delicate and joyful, pierce me with their nearness, and the delicate nature of their singers, who hang now by a thread, species collapsing each day, the losses staggering. I can barely breath. I wake in the morning and the birds sing, and I weep.

Could my tears be a libation? An offering to the earth and her many children, an offering to my own broken heart, and to yours? I offer them as such, I of many tears, a woman who weeps, my lamentation pours forth in this time of trouble. I am witness and I will not look away. I hold a steady gaze through my tears.

How can a heart hold it all? This world we walk is so out of balance. Every which way lies a new disaster, a new ending, a new possible apocalypse. I try to remember the world never ends, she only begins again and again. I try to remember the transient nature of being, no-thing ever stays the same. I try to remember that the world has already ended for so many people, all across time. It ended for someone today, I am sure of it. How could it not? All over the world, individual and collective endings, sometimes it feels like it is all about to collapse. I try to remember to just take the next breath.

My name is Marianna. Mary from the Hebrew Miriam meaning something akin to, sea of sorrow, sea of bitterness. Or in some interpretations, longed for child. And Anna, from the Hebrew Hanna, meaning graceful one, of full of grace.  I am the bitter grace of the sea. I am the sea of sorrow. I cry salt tears for the whole world. As it all burns around me all I have left to offer is my mournful grace, my heart of sorrow.

Do not discount the power of weeping. It is said in some religions that the power of prayer is more potent when tears are shed. The sincerity of heart and the humbleness of weeping makes the Gods take notice, turn an ear to us.  The earth needs my tears, needs our tears, hell, you, reading this now may need my tears. I weep for you, wherever you are and whatever sorrow is lodged in your heart. In the words of the great Bob Dylan, “go on and give it me, I’ll keep it with mine.”  I will, I’ll keep it next to mine. Your sorrow nesting in my heart will cause no harm, the cult of happiness failed us long ago anyway and I walked away. Tears streaming down my face and my hair flying wild as a banshee.

I wake in the morning and the birds still sing, they seem to be saying “just do” – “just do”
And so I do, do. I climb out of bed and turn my face to the sky. I remember that I am a living emissary of my family line, and even if I can’t see the purpose, I have to show up for duty. I remember that my heart, broken as it may be is also broken open, and that means it is fertile ground for something beautiful to grow again. I wake in the morning and the birds sing, and I weep. And then I go to work. In the seeming impossibility of continuing this life as I know it, I go on, and the birds sing me to my car. I think ” I do not know if birds can cry, but am so grateful that I can.”
So the gratitude I prayed for in the dawn arrives, gratitude for the tears, my gift to life, my offering of one heart, broken open to the divine.

Mary_Magdalene_Crying_Statue