Making Home

Spring has arrived. I can feel it in the air, a breath of sweetness in the breeze, and evenings stretching out for what feels like forever, but is really about 7:45. I love the turning times of the year, I love the newness and the freshness, the shift and the change. The way the whole world feels different, and all of life is aware of it. The birds are up and singing songs that sound somehow brighter and more excited, than their winter chirping. The rabbits are back, though not quite as many this year, I doubt that has anything to do with this particular spring and more to do with my mother’s new dog, scenting the yard with her canine smell.

 We humans are different as well, around here in northwest Oregon, it certainly isn’t warm enough to be showing any skin yet, and with our faces covered with masks, flirtation is a challenging undertaking. And yet, spring always brings more wayward glances from the opposite sex, lingering eye holds in the grocery store, and all the subtle ways of communicating that we humans have, to say “its spring…wanna get busy?” we can’t help it, let’s just blame our biology.

I have shared in my last two posts, a little bit about heartbreak, and healing, and the sense of surfacing into life again that is now surging through my veins. And spring is quickening this tempo in me. I have been at the garden again, and there’s something about that soil and filtered sunlight, the birdsong and the river going by that make me feel so terribly alive. In some ways it feels strange to have a fluttering of joy in my breast again, and a little bit of dance in my feet.

I’ve been living here at Bunny Hill Farm, for almost a year now. It seems hard to imagine that it’s been a whole year, and in some ways, it is only now truly starting to become my home. Not a stopping place, not a pause, but my home, my true home. I have been walking this land, praying under my prayer tree, singing to the moon and stepping into relationality with my beautiful home place, and I feel received. I feel stabilized, rooted, at rest.

Come late June, or early July my beautiful new little home will be going up. I’ve ordered a yurt cabin kit in a fetching wine-red color, with open interior beams, an opening five-foot dome center skylight, and five large glass windows. I am extremely excited to craft my home with my own hands, and of course with many other hands helping me as well. Also, I do realize I am stepping into a project that is far outside of my scope, and yet, there is something about this undertaking that feels entirely right. I trust completely in my process, in my ability to learn, in my desire for beauty and creation. Nesting is in fact one of my greatest joys, and as I build this home, I will be constructing an actual nest! I will be living in the round, a longtime dream of mine. No other animals live in square boxes…think about that for a moment, what are the implications of this? A worthy inquiry indeed, but I will save this for another day.

There is incredible grace in my life. My parents having received me back into their daily lives, after my being on my own for more than 20 years. Their extending of hearth and home and land to me is a gift beyond measure. Not only in that I get to build home here, right beside them. It’s so much more than that, we are, in our own small way creating community. Learning to live together, to communicate, to support each other, and to share our lives in a more interconnected and collaborative way then many families are blessed to do.

Life is so interesting, how it can deliver to us exactly what we wanted and longed for and dreamed of, and yet the circumstances wearing an entirely different face then the one of our imaginings. For so many years my dreams of living in the country, of being in community, and of engaging in shared purposeful work with people who I love centered around an imagined Oasis, owned entirely by me, and had a definite flavor of independence. Which I realize is somewhat in conflict with the concept of community, but fantasies don’t always make logical sense. The truth is that the concept of the rugged individual has crept into my psyche, even though I was raised in a community, and with strong community ethics in my blood from the get-go. So, life smiles at me, with her trickster energy, and says “here you go, community and connection and family, all you have to give up is everything you thought you knew.”

Did I think that at the end of my 39th year, I would be sharing space with my parents once again? Did I think that I would be divorced, and have sold my house, and uprooted, and then re-rooted once again? Most certainly not. But life had other plans for me. And if there is one thing I am learning, as I round the sun for the 39th time, it is that I don’t always know what is best. And I am certainly not the one in control. I am becoming a surfer, a life surfer, riding the waves and again and again climbing back onto the board in an attempt to catch a breath and a view.

I find myself sitting frequently and quietly, and simply thinking “what comes next?” I do not mean the new house, or the garden, it is a fuller, purer, wondering. It’s a wondering that fills my whole being, that tingles my toes and makes my heartbeat a little bit faster. I have a deep knowing that I cannot rush this question, it has to linger in my heart and my belly, it has to rest and grow and become a bigger and bigger question, until life decides to descend an answer. The near constant refrain that I hear inside is the most beautiful line, penned by our dear Mary Oliver “what will you do with your one wild and precious life?”

For now, I will show up. I will keep showing up. For myself, for my family, for the aching beauty of this land I occupy. For the wide wonder of this beauty soaked and trouble-filled world, and these times that I was born so perfectly for, even though sometimes I wonder why. For now, I will drink my tea, and write in my Journal, and study all manner of things that light up my mind and my heart. I will attend to the beauty of my days and my learnings, and I will keep the doors of my heart open, so that when the grace of knowing arrives, I will be ready to receive her.

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.

The Fertile Dark

The wheel of time turns on. Autumn Faded to winter, which here in Portland really means grey skies, rain, and squishy ground, rather than the picture of snowdrifts that the word “winter” evokes in our minds. And now we find ourselves again Holding on to times wheel as she turns us from winter solstice to Imbolc. The halfway point between the longest night and the spring equinox.

Each year I age I feel the wheel more solidly, I feel my place in time and feel it spinning all around me, or maybe it’s me spinning with it. It seems so long ago, the days when I cared not what season we were in, unless it meant that I could be next to the river with the summer sun shining on my skin. Now I pace my days, my work, and my energy in relationship to where we are in the wheel of the year. This time, this gestational time “the in the belly” time,  when traditionally  livestock would be carrying their babes in the belly, feels of such great importance. I too, in my own way am gestating, not a baby, but a whole new life.

Here on our little farmlette, as my momma likes to call it , we too had hopes of young ones being in the belly this winter, but the small goat who was sent for breeding did not receive the seed and so we wait for spring to try again. This time is still fertile, I feel myself putting down a taproot. Learning to be of this land. Not quite a year yet under my belt in my tiny home in the Doug fir trees, yet it’s beginning to feel like my place in the world. And I know my tall standing friends, are growing used to me as well.

Just tonight as I came out of my parents’ house after a nice shower in the hot wate, making my way across the dark yard, my footsteps know the way, I don’t need a light anymore. Out of the darkness came a sound, a large, low hoot of an owl. An owl who must be very grand to see with your eyes indeed because their voice was so resonant, I could feel it in my belly. I stopped and called a greeting. “Hello owl, hello!” and gave a hoot of my own. The owl responded, as they tend to do. I never stop delighting in this fact, that I can converse with an owl. So I stood there for a moment with the wind blowing and a few raindrops coming down around me, and my wet hair streaming down my back, and I sang, just a small song for that owl. Thinking maybe if I try to speak owl, he will think I’m a bit Daft, but if I speak human and offer a song with a certain lilt and cadence perhaps it will be well received. Owl didn’t seem to mind, but hooted again, as I said goodnight.

It’s been a quarter of a year since I was in New Mexico tending to  my beloved  uncle John through his death. Only three moon since then… a quarter of a year more of this pandemic, a quarter of a year more of learning how to be a woman on my own without a husband, a quarter of a year more of living in my little home with my cat under these tall trees. It seems such a short burst of time, and yet also so drawn out. Another sign from the gods that time truly does not exist even though we dance with it.

We’ve been looking at seed catalogs, dreaming about little ones to plant in the ground and raise up and grow come spring and then summer. And I’ve been looking inside the catalogues of my heart wondering what pieces of myself I would like to attend to and grow up into something flourishing and bright as the sun again returns to the land.

I take such comfort in this quiet dark, such comfort in not having to know anything, rather just feeling my way through my life, just like the baby plants feel their roots sinking down through layers of soil and when they hit a pebble they don’t freak out, they just gently go around it and keep on rooting. We humans, we are much like baby plants. And we are also much like tall trees.

Each morning when I say my prayers, I finish by smudging my body, my brow, my heart, my belly, and then drawing the smoke down each leg and grounding my hands to the floor, and through the floor to the earth. I often refer to this as smudging myself in. Smudging myself into my body and into my life, into my commitment to my ancestors and my descendants.  I use Cedar for my smudge bundle right now, Cedar gathered from the land here on which I live. And I send up a prayer every day for Cedar to help me be a little more like them, a little more regal and tall in my stature, a little more rooted deep to the earth, a little more sweet smelling when the rain of life falls on me.

There’s nothing left to do this evening, except for make some tea and pour it in my cup. Give my cat a little bit of a snuggle and settle into bed with my book. I’m grateful to be aware of the pause this time of year. I’m grateful for the silent darkness, this potent present, the pregnant fullness that lives in the dark.  

Cartography 

I have lost my map.
The whole, well structured cartography of my life
slips and shifts before my very eyes.
North now points, gods know where
South spins on some unknown axis,
and I am spun as well.

All I knew to be true now in question,
One thousand planned futures
collapse around me,
the unknown looms like a sneaker wave
not yet seen, but growing.

How do I step forward when there is no ground?
Beneath my feet is only shift and play,
no solid earth to hold me.
where do I step when I cannot see?
only darkness, fog and shadow.

Perhaps stepping is not the issue at hand
As a wise man says –
“The times are urgent, we must slowdown.”

Maybe I plant my feet here
like the roots of a mighty tree
maybe my roots will, in good time
hold the earth solid,
and me along with her.

My roots snaking and growing once again
to create a new cartography of my life.

In darkness I was born
and will be born again.
now I wait,
spreading roots, spreading roots.

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.



Salmons Song

Sometimes I go out for a day to ramble, no real direction in mind, no real goal. Perhaps just an inkling of a desire, a thought, a feeling I follow, such as “I really want to get out of the city today.” Or, as it was on a fine sunny day last week, “I wonder if I can find some Elderberries before first frost?”

There is something of the eternal in days like this when I leave all sense of “should” behind and follow my senses and the wise old beat of my heart. I drove up 26 that day towards the mountain, reveling in an unexpected day of freedom, and in my solitude, which is becoming increasingly comfortable for me as I adjust to life as a single woman again. 18 years in partnership left me far away from myself, on many levels, and these days half of what I do is simply learn to be me, on my own. This demands more of me than one could know unless they have traveled a similar path.

The sun was bright and shone in that early autumnal way, where gold fills all the spaces between, and the light imbues everything with a certain magic. Colors are brighter, or perhaps just different somehow, the sun hanging lower in the sky as we weave our way towards winter. Or maybe it is the knowing that days like that are few to come over the impending long darkness of winter in the Pacific Northwest, either way, the spell of the light was thick and lent itself greatly to the beauty of the day and my sense of enchantment.

I am a baby forager. By this, I do not mean that I forage for babies, in case you were beginning to worry and wonder if perhaps you are on the wrong blog. No, I tend to leave babies with their parents unless called into Auntie duty. I mean simply that my knowledge and skills in finding wild food are still growing and quite undeveloped as of yet. This being so, I was thrilled to see the plump clusters of dark purple my eyes were searching for, just off the roadside, even while traveling 45 miles an hour. I pulled over, flipped a U-turn, and parked on the shoulder. Basket in hand I made my way to the Elderberry bushes, and after a word of gratitude and a prayer of asking for permission to harvest, I began. Those deep blue, purple fruits, so tiny and fine, coming easily into my basket as if there was no place on earth they would rather be.

I am stunned, awestruck by the generosity of the earth with great frequency. Especially in my garden that freely gives me mountains of cabbage and potatoes, beans, corn, and beets. Yet there is some real labor involved on my end, a bit of a give and take. Foraging is like Christmas. “For me? Really!? Why thank you!” My basket half full in 10 minutes, I bowed my thanks and kissed tenderly the plants leaves, having nothing to offer but my gratitude and praying that this was enough for the code of reciprocity to be upheld.

Handful of Joy

Back on the highway and with my prized berries, I knew the day was not done, and drove east again, heading towards a place I know so well, to be as close as I was and not pay a visit felt like sacrilege. Bigleaf maples, dripping with golden leaves, hung low over the road as I turned off the highway and onto Salmon River Rd, heading towards a favorite trail, long beloved by my family. I love the way places become kin when you visit enough, much like human friends. This place fills me with a sense of belonging, of knowing and being known. Of all the beauty I have seen in this glorious old world, there is really no place I would rather be than Oregon old-growth forest.

I was not geared up for a real hike, a saunter was more my desire so I took my bag, with my water and journal and walked along the river trail, searching for a place to land for a while, a place in the sun, to put my pen to paper. A poem had been tugging at my heart asking to be born for 5 days, and it was time to let that baby come to life. I found some sun, and a large smooth rock, just the right size for me to sit on, contemplated taking off my shoes but that water, even in early October is so cold, I kept them on. I wrote, and marveled at the beauty of it all, the simple grace of my days, the quiet. All the struggle and worry I carry so heavily on my shoulders felt a million miles away. In that golden afternoon it was just me, and the river and the wild old trees, and God, and as I would soon find out, Salmon.

Poem finished and I stashed my book away, sauntering along the riverbank to a deeper pool I love, one with a pebbled beach, a hole deep enough for a dip on a warmer day. Looking out over that sacred place, sun streaming in the crisp blue sky, I smelled river, and cedar and humus and… Salmon.

I searched the shoreline until I saw her, nearly beached but still in the water, nearly dead but still breathing. Eyes mostly cloudy, but still seeing. I knelt beside her, eye to eye we looked at one another. And I began to sing, a song that came from where, I don’t know, but it moved through me like it was there all along like it had been waiting for just this moment to be born, right now for me, and for her. ” I don’t know how the Salmon sings, I don’t know how the birds get wings, but I am woman and for this I give praise, my body is my vessel for all my days, my body is my vessel for all my days…”

As I sang I began to move, clearing pebbles to make a clear smooth surface, gathering stones, pine cones, and moss, small bright rose hips. My hands making an image of a fish, an image of her, from the materials I gathered, an act of art to show my love, a physical prayer for her and her kind, a way of being in the presence of her dying, and her living, and the place where those two met, which was now and here. I placed three rose hips to be her heart and one last stone to be her eye. The working complete and the prayers prayed, I went to sit beside her once again.

Land art- For her heart and for mine

I beheld her in her dying for quite some time, not close enough to scare her, or at least I don’t think so. I noticed others then, their bodies already in various stages of decomposition, her sisters…all around her as she lay dying. I was so moved by this, even as I type these words the tears pour hot down my cheeks. I was and am moved, not by the sorrow of the thing, though that is present as well, but more by the strength, her strength. To travel hundreds of miles to her home place, through struggles unknown, following only the call of her body, her sense of smell, and the knowledge of home. To lay her eggs and then her body down to die in those cold dark waters, next to the bodies of her kin, the cycle complete, she had only her last breaths left.

My Salmon Teacher – Thank you

The knowing hit me like a strong wind, a force, a voice almost audible, but not quite, audible in my heart and bones and sinew, “why would you think you deserve more than Salmon?”

See, I am always praying for direction. I joke that creator needs to make some neon glowing arrows to toss at me so I can find my way, my mortal mind so dense I can’t seem to figure out what comes next. But maybe I have had it all wrong, maybe all I need to do, all I can do, is follow the tides in my body and my sense of smell, all the way to home. Maybe I need to leave behind the concept of a mortal body and crawl deep down into my creature body once again, it all seemed so simple, so apparent. What hubris I have been inhabiting. I would have laughed if I’d not been crying.

Why do I cling so tightly to this concept of “should?” Where in nature is there any such thing? “What should come next, what should I do, how should I be…” Does Salmon sing that tired old song? No. She simply swims in the direction of home and completes the cycle.

It would be terribly human-centric to say she came to teach me a lesson that day, but I know I came to learn a lesson, and I was fortunate to find her and to be slow enough to see her, and to be ripe enough to listen to the voice on the wind and in my heart. We humans, the younger sibling of all creatures, so brazen with self-obsession, looking only in behind our own eyes, miss so much. If there is one thing life is teaching me each day and each year, it is to slow down, open my eyes, and be amazed. As our beloved Mary Oliver has said, “Pay attention, be astonished, tell about it.” It may be there is nothing more I need to know.

I give great thanks for this learning. For my teachers who come in all forms, plant, fungi, human, animal, celestial, and, Salmon.

Driving home that day I let the sounds of the forest travel with me, I sang my simple song and let the cars drive by, busy in their doing-ness, and I quiet in my undoing-ness. Unbuttoning the heavy coat of shoulds, and sliding it off my shoulders, one note at a time. All I must be is woman, with my full- broken heart, with all my joy, with my one precious life. I ask for nothing more, I ask for no more than Salmon. May I be so fortunate.

The Good old Salmon River
Forest Magic

Grandmother

Last year, a poem I published in the We’moon datebook brought a handful of  new readers to my sight. I have been touched to receive a few, delightful, emails from readers who were moved by the poem and requesting to read the piece in its entirety, as an excerpt was used by We’moon. I am tender and humble in my heart as I think of others, unknown to me, reading my words and feeling moved to write me, what a gift this is. I have been too long in coming to this post, to share the poem. However, time moves as it does and I have been swept hard into the currents of change, time moving more quickly and more strangly than one could imagine. And now here I sit, nearly a year later than I planned, fingers typing away at these keys once again. 

So I shall share, here on this page the full version of the poem, but first it seems only right and necessary to share a wee bit of the story that it birthed from, the story of my grandmother, and of me and a little bit of magic that remains in the world and is concentrated in the forest…

I never met my maternal grandmother, Marjorie Helen Miles, to be Marjorie Helen McClelland, once she wed my grandfather, Roswell Dunlop McClelland. I have wondered if Marjorie McClelland ever really felt like her name to her, or if, in some secret chamber of her heart, my grandmother had always  remained- Marjorie Miles, as I had , even after 11 years of marriage always remained, Marianna Iverson. Now divorced and having legally reclaimed my name, I can say without doubt, that we shall never be seperated again. 

Having never met Grandma Marjorie, all I know of her life is constructed through the stories of others. Yet she stands strong in my mind, heart, and memories. The stories I carry are like treasures to me, little jewels of knowing. Her service for the American Friends(Quakers) in WWII, her skilled hands, eager mind, adventurous spirit, and also, her sorrow, loss and regret.

This woman that is my Mothers Mother, who gave me the greatest gift, my own Mother and my own life… all the stories she carried in her, so many we will never know. I seek to see her and know her through the way she lives on in my Mother, and my Auntie, I  feel a pull and a connection that is palpable, I have even in spaces of great expansiveness felt her behind me and heard her whisper in my ear…there is much in this life that we cannot explain. I myself have given up trying, better to live in the mystery.

I, being a bit of a seeker and one to delight in the occasional silent meeting with my God, am intrigued by my Quaker line, and long to know more about these relations. It has been fascinating to learn of my Quaker relatives connection to Oregon history, as pioneers in the late 1800’s to an area near where I now live, Scotts Mills, an incredibly beautiful place in the world, lush Willamette greenery, springs and streams, gentle pasture, this is where my people settled .

I wonder what that little place was like back then, and who was pushed out to make space for those white settlers. After all, we are living now on occupied territory…I can’t allow the amnesiac quality, the seductive dream of the bravery and strength of my kin “settling” the west to lay claim to me. There is so much more to this story, and there was consequence in my people arriving here, I may be some of that consequence.

I wonder at the forces at work that cause it to be that, this poem I will share here was written on land less than 80 miles from Scotts Mills, this poem written about the death of my grandmother whom I never knew, written on the sweet land of this Willamette Valley, land her father, my great grandfather, Walter Miles, lived and grew on, in his childhood all those long years ago…

There is so much to wonder, and so little to know. Knowing being so concrete, I have less and less of a desire to cling to its stability and form as I age. In the timeless words of dear Anne Shirley Cuthbert, it leaves too little “scope for the imagination.” I am willing to suspend knowing in favor of wonder, and surety in favor of possibilty. In this case it is highly possible that the words I type here on this page are able to travel to the ears of my Grandmother. In case this is so, I will take this small moment to say, “Grandma- you color all my days with your wake, and I am so grateful to be of you and your kin. All the days I live I will carry you with me, in the secret chambers of my heart. May this poem be pleasing to you, I am forever in your debt and glad to stay that way. The braid of beholdedness weaving us always together. I love you.”

Grandmother

My Grandmother said-
“Nature is my temple.”
And so I worship there as well.
Cathedrals of green canopy above me,
prayer rugs of Violet and Clover at me feet,
the blessings of life giving Holy Water.
These are my sword and shield,
my crown and chalice,
my strength.

When Grandma was dying,
we moved her bed out of doors.
To the garden,
under the edge of the green cathedrals boughs.
The place where she could see,
the face of God above her.
She lay still for a long time,
just looking up- and then,
almost silently whispered,
“Thank you.”

Green fills my spirit as I think of her,
My hands become hers, brown with soil,
rich with life and food.
I draw her from the Earth,
Root, Stone, and Bone.
All she left unfinished, now lies in my lap.
I release the mantle of her sorrow,
and we both are freed.
I have only one wish left-
May my last words be,
“thank you”

Grandma Marjorie – On an ancestor candle on my altar. She shines with me every day.

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

The Little Drummer Boy

I was born a Christian. My parents, deep believers in a life of service to the divine, we called this God when I was young. But it was the heart of love of the divine that was the bedrock of my childhood. I longed to be a nun, as my stop over on the way to sainthood. I loved the stories of the female saints, rebellious and generous, willing to risk it all to love God, casting off the role’s society assigned to them to heed a higher call. I gathered flowers from the park and left them in front of Mother Mary’s icon in the church, gazing at her so long that I would well with tears. I am devotional by nature, and by nurture.

Also, I am no longer a Christian, neither are my parents. Yet I can say with most confidence that we all still carry a deep love of Christ, and the Christ story that we know. And we carry, each one of us, wounds from the false ideals, condemnation and shame woven deeply into most Christian traditions. I call it my “religious shrapnel” I keep pulling pieces out that I didn’t even know were there.

It is a strange thing to navigate no longer identifying as a Christian, while still carrying a tenderness and love for the traditions and beliefs that I was surrounded by in my childhood. I am moved deeply by hymns and prayers, I speak aloud words of blessing to God the Father, I hang images of the Divine Mother, in the form of Mary on my walls and light candles to her, sing her songs and kiss her well-loved face. I know that I can claim her as my own and not have to attach to a set of thoughts and structures that are not congruent to what I hold Holy.

I am in love with God, wildly and madly, and in all forms. But I am not in love with religions laws, the path of carnage wrought on the world in the name of God, the terrible tyranny that plagued our ancestors and continues now across the world in the name of religious colonialism, this now tends to wear the face of “missionary work.” Before anyone gets up in arms, I am not saying that all mission work is based in ulterior motives of conversion or control, but it seems to me that an awful lot of it is. If food, medicine or education is given at the cost of giving up ancestral beliefs and practices, that is a terrible tyranny indeed. How many cultures have been lost this way? “Christianized” away from the voices of their old ones, severed from the threads that held them together, the ancient ways of praising life. Is this what is called “being saved?”

Even with all that in my consciousness, when this time of year comes around and the air is filled with songs of Christmas. As soon as I hear the strums of a well-loved carol, my heart fills past brimming, and my eyes frequently do as well. Some of that emotion is linked to the oldness of the thing, the knowing of how many humans have sung these same words across time, we, all linked in timeless union through these words. And then there is the longing present…the hunger to call the sacred to the earth, to wed it, to have it live in us.

I can see my Mother in my minds eye, face lit by the light of the advent candles, eyes closed and uplifted as we sang together , Oh come Oh come Emmanuel, and Silent Night, and so many of the oldest carols, the ones still tasting of the hunt, and the rising of the sun. Her devotion, the pure love of praise in her face and her voice, this image alone could feed me for 100 days in the dark and keep despair at bay. I will be, all my life grateful for this ritual of advent my parents gave to me. I am in awe that after long days with children and work and the immensities of family life, that they carved out those precious moments every night( or nearly every night) of advent to bring us all together and offer prayers and songs to welcome the Christ child and bless his mother. What an act of love.

One of my favorite songs as a wee one was The little Drummer Boy. I loved the pa rum pum pum pum, how we would roll it off our tongues, the somewhat staccato rhythm. My body has always loved a beat.

The images of the song were strong for me. I was a young one too, I was a poor one too, not boy but girl, and not drummer, but I did have a recorder and that was something I could play. I longed to play for that baby, that child to be born in the manger, with all my heart.

Last week I was leading a song circle for the elders at the retirement community where I work. We sang The Little Drummer Boy, and as I looked around that circle, seeing the love in each one’s face, the tenderness, the same I carry, a new layer of meaning began to unfold.

The deep ache to have something to offer to life “ I am a poor boy too, I have no gift to bring, that’s fit to give a King” We long, I long, to give something precious of myself to life, to the king in this story. Of course we are poor, we are so hungry for a taste of something real, something true that we can sink our teeth into, plant our hearts into, breathe life into. In some ways, we all feel inadequate and unworthy, as if we have so little to offer of value. In fact, I will go ahead and say that I have never met a human that has not felt this way at times and for many of us this belief is absolutely running the show.

The place in the song where the tears always come for me, if they have not begun already is when the little drummer boy see’s that he can play, that his gift, his only gift, is the right one, the perfect chosen one. “And I played for him pa rump pump um, on my drum”

The exquisite beauty of being received. Would that we all find this great mercy.
Then the image of the wee babe, new to life and breathing it all in. I don’t think of him much in a manger, although the image is idyllic. I prefer to see him at the breast, suckling and sleeping, baby milk smiles on his face. Mary in the exhausted and exalted place of new motherhood, holding life in her very arms. You do not have to give birth to Jesus to know this wonder. And you do not have to born as Jesus to be born holy. This is the gift of incarnation, we are born, whole and holy. Trouble is that we seem to forget along the way, amnesia clouding our vision of who we were born to be and from who we have come.

I think it is us we are singing to. I think I am that baby at the breast, new to the world and filled with light. And you are that baby too.

Could we welcome again into our hearts our own divine place in the order of things? Could we learn to offer freely the gifts we have been given, in love and service to the holy? Could we see the sacred, that we could call Christ, alive in each one of us, and midwife that to grow and thrive through all our days? I offer up a prayer for this becoming. I offer up a prayer for us all, knowing that this prayer, and these words are the gift I am meant to be giving.
And I played for him pa rum pump pum..on my drum…

Much Love to you all, may you find space and quite in this fertile darkness.
Marianna

What is Disaster?

I wrote this short, unedited piece in my kitchen last week. In a flurry of madness to close the oven, wipe my hands, find a pen and give the words life before they abandon this host and move on to one more ready to receive them. The “bite” of a poem is a fast and fleeting as a fish on the line, if you are not ready, and your hands not fast, you may miss out all together. I have learned to drop everything and write, a charming first line beckoning in my mind seems to stale and sour if kept trapped for later in the notes section of my iPhone.

This poem is a response the fires burning in the amazon, and in my own life. I too, just as the Earth herself am in a massive die off, much of what I have held solid now melting away before my very eyes. I think of Joanna Macy’s language frequently, it seems business as usual has broken in my own life, and this is a great mercy. Could it be the great turning has come? Both within and without?

Disaster

They say on the news that the Earth is burning
the Amazon is on fire – Earths lungs scorched and charred
in a wicked rain of dust and ash.

I still have to get up and go to work tomorrow
and most likely- you do too
If the Earth is burning up – shouldn’t we stop and pay attention?

My heart longs for reckoning – meaning – action
but my body is so exhausted that I cannot even turn my face away
from that dreadful smoke filled screen.

What is it like to be a woman at the end of the world?
let me get some rest and I will tell you
just now- I am too bone-weary to even begin to think…

The world is burning up – but here it rains in August
my garden could actually use a little more sun
the weather is strange – but is it really a catastrophe?

Or is my own decimated heart
that old woman at work who never knows where she is
my daughter who may never know breath without fear again

These- are these catastrophes?

I don’t know
somehow from where I sit it seems
that both everything – and nothing means disaster

what becomes of meaning when there is no future?
It grows– oh god- it Grows

A woman at the end of the world
learns to love fiercely (she must)
or she has no chance at all.

Marianna  – August 2019 

 

The Land Knows

Another unedited poem, from my morning writing practice.
I love how my home place is a theme in my writings lately. There is something about  learning to be in the place where I am and inhabit it fully. Something about courtship of this land and all the ones who live here with me. Something about wonder and wondering and a little bit of wisdom…roots running deep.

The Land Knows

The land knows me, even when I am lost
My inner compass seems to bring me somehow always back to – here.
This cedar knows my name and the feel of my fingertips
this soil know my voice in murmured mornings and song filled afternoons
this creek bubbles on her path, always moving
my feet know well her stony body and cool sweet breath.

Here I speak to fern and hawthorn – blackberry and clover
They, who have lived here long before I came, and seem to sing a welcome to me.
When I am low and lost in the waves and swells of this- my life
I bring my heart to the garden – to the trees – to the earth beneath my feet
I lay down my troubles and my fears
the one hundred things I need to do
that scornful glance that hurt so much
the harsh words rattling around my heart cave.

The earth knows it all- and loves me anyway.
Just as a mother does, she holds me close, caresses my cheek, tends my sorrows
She is always generous.
Chickadee perches over head and call – Chicka dee dee dee…
Let it be be be…
And I listen.
Who could ignore the wisdom of the birds?

© Marianna Jones 2019