Hem of my Heart

A poem is like a thread…
Just tug the end gently
And it keeps coming
Before you know it,
Your whole heart is sitting in your lap.

Words are like that
They love to travel together
Make endless lines that
Run on and on and sometimes
Say something grand
But sometimes nothing at all.

Words tumbled on a page
Casually or carefully
Create an image, invite you in
A story told or simply felt
Open to interpretation.

A Poem is made of words
Words and tears,
Words, tears, and callused hands and soft smiles
A human heart, a tattered hem…..
the thread pulled clean out of it.

 

©Marianna Louise Jones 2017

 

 

Finding my Dead~Bones Reclaimed

I have never been a gamer, you know, those who delight in hours down the rabbit hole of an alternate reality created by the enticing electronic stimulus a video game system can provide. I have however known and loved, many who have the obsession. I can now, after weeks obsessing over Ancestry.com, honestly say that I think I understand how they feel. The critic in me would of course say that the mystery I am uncovering is real… not some illusion or story, but my real and true past. But that would be to split hairs, and not serve my story here in any way. I make the comparison to gaming as that activity seems to me unique in its ability to hook and transfix a player into an almost hypnotic state of obsession, willing to forgo many other things in order to be in the game. I know how this feels now.

Beginning with a whim and a trial month for free, I logged on to Ancestry and began entering the names and dates of those dead I know of enough to be able to parse together some actual data about their lives. As these numbers and letters settles in to my digital family tree, the website began to pop up useful tips, data I could then click on and review to see if it matched any one in my own tree…fascinating!
I found birth and death records, military information, lines of kin all the way back to the 1700’s when my people were still living in Scotland, Ireland, England, and Norway. Each time a new hint came up a flush of excitement surged through me. I rarely spend days on my computer, but this feels different. This is an investigation into my people, where I am from, and who I belong to, as well as who belongs to me.

Belong- the prefix “be” is an intensifier, creating a more powerful sense of what is precedes. “Long” to yearn after, grieve for, to anticipate, have eager desire. When we look at even this rudimentary analysis of what belong  really means, quickly it becomes apparent that it does not mean to be accepted by, or part of, as it is commonly used, but it means to long for and be longed for. In a deep, true, lasting and solid way.
This is how I am longing for the kin I never met, the ones whose bones were in the ground long before I arrived here. And you know what? They are longing for me too, across time and space, loving and hoping for me. Not in a passive angelic way, in a way that demands attention and intention. This is the heart of the longing, my dead, want to be remembered, reclaimed, restored into the web of being of all that has come before to make me now what and who I am. Remembered- to gather together and make whole again that which was once torn asunder. Just think of what Dismembered means, and you will get a feeling for Remembered. 

I have written before about this loss and longing that lives so deep inside of me, here on this blog and in poems, some shared, some as of yet still privately tucked away on pages of real paper in fine black ink, the birth place of all my best work. I will link here to a post that will, if read or reread bring greater significance to where I am now heading in  this piece. My Ancestors

The process of discovery that has taken place over this last month has been such a rich exploration, and one I will, I am sure, be sharing about much more as time goes by and I learn more and more. This history is fascinating, like a treasure hunt, I feel like an explorer uncovering lost truths. When I learn a new ancestors name and say it aloud, picture in my own small way what their life could have been like, there is an audible sigh inside of me, a settling, a calling home. They all belong here, and are longed for here, in me.

One of the discoveries that took my breath away was the fact that on my Mothers side of the family, on both her maternal and paternal lines we have kin who are buried here, in the Pacific Northwest. My great grandparents, Alys Mitchell( who in a a round about way my own daughter is named after, as my Alice is named for my aunt Alice who is named for her her grandmother, Alys.), and her Husband Ross St John McClelland are buried in Tacoma WA. My third great grandparents, my mama’s great grandparents on her mothers side, Newton and Amyetta Kirk,  are buried here, in Newberg OR, less than an hours drive from my home, in the Quaker Friends Cemetery.

No one in my family knew this! We knew that ancestors on that line of the family had come west, had homesteaded and built a life. My mom even has stories of them. How each child had to knit there own socks, and they would gather around the hearth at night and knit on the round, a few rows each day so that warm socks could be had for long winter days and nights. No knitting meant no socks for winter. Where there are stories, there is life.
So, these ones were not completely lost to time, but the finding of where their bones lie felt like a small miracle, a piece of who I am that I can claim and physically acquire, tangibly know as my own. I knew the moment I found this out, I would go see them, and soon.

Tuesday one month ago, I woke to clear skies, frost on the ground, a chill in the air, but also a brightness that comes only when cold and clear meet. Not a common occurrence here in Portland. A perfect day to make the drive to Newberg. My Mother and I drove together, enjoying the scenery and the conversation. As close as we live to one another, and as close as we are emotionally, time alone, just the two of us does not happen frequently. A pleasure indeed to undertake this pilgrimage together. Make no mistake, I do not choose the word Pilgrimage lightly. This trip had the flavor of seeking, of travelling with purpose and supplication. We were seeking the bones of our ancestors, no small or slight endeavor.

The night before, I was in conversation with my husband, expressing my joy at the opportunity to visit the graves of my relations, how moving this was for me, and in a sense how I was puzzled by how much it was effecting me. I was as excited as a seven year old on Christmas eve, the burbling feeling in my belly, joy in my throat. He paused and said to me ” when do you think the last time someone visited these graves was?” I of course, had no idea. Having no relations living here from that side of my line I can’t imagine it was recent. His question planted in me a seed of even deeper knowing that my going to visit them was of utmost importance, we are beholden to each other, tied in an invisible but very real bond of kinship that exists through time and space, eternal, tangible, alive.

Arriving at the cemetery, made our way to the office, where a kind man greeted us and walked us to the block where the graves were listed as located. He shared information about the cemetery and the area, and as we came to the graves, kindly left us there to be with our kin. We stood mama and me, and then began to talk, to clean leaves off the graves and the plates in the earth that said “Mother” and “Father”, these stones where placed at their feet, and we saw this throughout the cemetery, simple markings of parental status, claiming of the ones who bore us into this life. More powerful words there may not be, when we get down to it.

I had brought some greens to make an offering, red cedar, rosemary, and some lovely dried red berries from our yard. We set these on the headstone making a rough altar, and lit candles, in small glass votive holders. Then we, holding hands, sang to our beloved ancestors. “Tis a gift to be simple, tis a gift to be free….”  the only Quaker hymn I know,  every line or two Mama’s voice, or mine would break with a soft sob or shuddering breath. My whole life long I will remember this, this day, being with Mom in the cold bright morning, singing and speaking to our long dead kin. This is closing the loop, this is caring for the bones of our dead, this is solid action to bring this longing for them to light in my life. This is family.

After our prayers and song, we left the candles burning and walked the grounds of the cemetery. Beautiful old trees, headstones of all shapes and sizes. Stopping here and there to read names and sorrow over the death of babies young children, so many dead, so many women suffer that pain of the death of a young one. So much suffering in our past. We talked as we walked, about death and life, what it means to be human and how we can change the death phobia of our culture. I reflect here as I sit to write this, how conversations such as the one I am sharing of now, are a rare gift among mothers and daughters. To talk openly of what our dying will mean when it comes and what we want to have happen to our bodies when we no longer occupy them. This conversation will, God willing, be the first of many on this topic, as we make our way through this life together.

The prayer that is living in my heart, the one that pounds on the door so fiercely is this. May I remember them and may they remember me. May we belong to each other and claim that longing, that kinship, that hugely messy and strife ridden thing that is family. May I live in a way that is of great honor to the ones who came before, may that my way of living cause them to rejoice and call to me from the great beyond, singing to me my way home. May I be worthy of their songs and worthy of the singing of them. And may I not forget, or be too busy, or distracted, to recall that there are bones in the ground that are mine to attend to, and tending those bones is the greatest honor of my life.
May it be so….IMG_0030IMG_0029IMG_0031IMG_0031 (3)

Love Lessons From Dog

My beloved dog is growing old, let me rephrase that, he is old already. Fourteen years of adoring companionship, I swear he loves me more than anyone else on the planet does. I do not say this with self pity, I have a life blessed in so many ways, love being the prime currency of blessing I experience. But Jasper loves me without holding back, without questioning, without doubt. Pure divine devotion. I pray that someday I become worthy of the love he gives me and perhaps learn enough from him to pass on a little bit of that beatific adoration.
He knows when I will be home and greats me at the door, each day with  excitement and joy unbridled, as if he thought I would never come home again. True love. There is a joke I have heard that says something along the lines of –  Want to see what true love is? Lock your husband and your dog in the trunk of your car for an hour and see which one is happy to see you when you let them out. I know, maybe not really a great joke, but there is a ring of truth there. Dogs love unconditionally. Not mostly unconditional with a few reservations, but the real deal- pure love, nothing held back for later.
On a recent walk with my dear old boy I experienced so much grief in seeing him moving slowly, breathing harder, he was tripping on his own feet. It seemed that he was much older than he was a month ago. The realization that he will not always be at my side hit hard. I adore this being, my companion. He has never been my pet. I hate the word and concept of owning a pet. We cannot own an animal any more than we can own a lover, it just doesn’t work. So I feel blessed to have Jasper as my companion and partner in adventure, but never as my pet.
I allowed the grief of the knowledge of his mortality to sweep over me, filling me with tenderness and with hot wet tears. I was half a mile away from my car, with no phone and no note pad, when the lines of a poem began in me. I held tight to one line as I walked  back to my car, and then began to write. I know better, a poet should never be without a notebook! Sometimes a poem knocks on the door of my heart and will not hang around if I do not open the door immediately. This time it waited for me to be able to write, I am thankful and I share the words that came here. As a love song to my dear dog and a calling in for all who love deeply. May we all be so fortunate as to know true love, of the quality and wholeheartedness that Jasper has so eagerly blessed me with in his life with me. I will treasure our days that remain in life together.

Time Changes

Time changes everything she touches
and everything she touches changes.
Raven black fades now to silver
bright eyes have softened somehow-
not dull, but dimmer.
We walk the river trail as always we have done
sun hanging low behind the trees
crows busy with their evening duties.
Where once you pulled hard on the leash
and never let me go first
now I lead and you lope along behind
I call ” come on boy!”
when you stop to pee, sniff and breath
even though I know you can no longer hear me-
I speak to you as always I have done.
Who would have thought, five years ago
that I would long for our daily battle of the leash
your 80 pounds of muscle pulling me hard down the trail-
but I do.
Time changes everything she touches,
and everything she touches changes
I read somewhere long ago
that loving and losing a dog
prepares us for harder deaths to come – and I believe this.
Someday, our walks will cease
or I will go alone…
Your leash will hang empty on the hook
your bed abandoned, no longer needed.
I have loved and lost three dogs so far,
if life is good, perhaps I’ll love ten more once you are gone…
But you- oh you- my darling one
my wild child
my black Jasper
dog of my heart.
You are so tired now that we are home
you lie on the linoleum- belly cooling
as your breathing slows.
I feed you broth from a bowl
and so eagerly you drink and drink
tail wags so, and your eyes meet mine.
I know, and you know, so well
time changes everything and everything she touches changes.
But for now- I sit down on the dusty floor
and bury my face-
in the soft blackness of your neck.
It feels like home.

 

 

A New Old Forest, My Birthday, and the Power of Following my Heart

I just celebrated my 36th Birthday,36 trips around the sun. That is 13,140 days I have been alive and breathing outside of my Mother’s womb. Incredible. It seems like a lot when you count in days. Long enough that I have learned many things, unlearned a few, and have oh so many I am still learning. I feel young, I am young, but I also am no longer a youth. I am truly a woman and very much feeling the power of that truth.

I spent my Birthday in the woods, writing, eating amazing food, wandering in the rain for hours and making some unexpected new friends. Truly magical, and made more so by the circumstances of my coming to be on that land at that time. I will share this story of how I came to be on the land, on the weekend of my Birthday and share also some of the poetry that come from my time immersed in the power of nature.

More than a year ago I read the profound book Braiding Sweetgrass,  by Robin Wall Kimmerer. I was deeply touched by her work and to say that this book was life changing for me would be and understatement. It actually changed the way that I see nature and my place in relationship to all life. It is a book that weaves us as humans back into the whole of life in a way that helps me believe we may make it as a species after all. It was in the pages of her book that I heard first of Shot Pouch Creek.

She tells the story of  a man , Franz Dolp, who bought 40 acres of land in the coast range of Oregon and devoted his life to restoration of that land. He tended the trees, planted natives, kept them safe from the hungry mouths of deer. Nature was a direct route to the divine for him, and that resonates so deeply with me. I immediately felt an affinity with this man, now deceased, and longed to see the place that he so loved. A new old growth forest.

Being that it was located in Oregon and I am as well, I knew that I needed to go there. I consulted google to find out where exactly the land was and how I could gain access to explore. I learned that the land is not open to the public, and the only way I would be able to visit was with permission of OSU. I also saw that there had recently been an event called The Trillium Project, in which residencies are granted for creatives to be on the land and create projects in relationship with the land.  This is a program offered through The Spring Creek Project which is a part of Oregon State University’s Liberal Arts Program. I signed up for the newsletter so that I could keep up to date on happenings and events as the overall feel of the departments online representation felt like something I wanted to be part of.

Over the next many months I read the newsletters that came in my email, feeling more and more called to be part of this work. I also read Braiding Sweetgrass twice more. I was learning so much about being a human being, my relationship to other non animal beings and how we can all thrive together. It is mind blowing to start to feel that not only do I love plants, but they love me back too! Incredible and maybe even delusional, depending on who you ask. But this was my felt sense and I honor that above all else. My body does not lie to me.

Early spring I was excited to see in my inbox the call for applicants for this years Trillium Project! Here it was, my chance to go to Shot Pouch, my chance to be on the land and write, in the peace of the new old Forest. I submitted a proposal, and was elated to be chosen for a writing residency. I was elated to be able to go to the land I had long dreamed of, but also to be chosen as a writer for this project. I am not a scholar or an academic and it was a big thing for me to submit that proposal. I think I have a touch of imposter syndrome when I comes to calling myself a writer. I am a writer, yet I am also shy to say these words. Shy to claim my place as a writer of words and a maker of poems. Stepping into the unknown and away from my comfort zone always pays off for me, and this was no exception. I listened to my heart and was richly rewarded.

I left early on Friday May 12th, car loaded up with my camping gear, extra tarps (thank God!) my writing supplies, some watercolor pencils, and a cooler stocked with really delicious foods. It was after all, my birthday weekend. I drove south to Corvallis and then west into the Coast Range. My heart humming, ready for what was to come and excited to be going. It was one of those times when I felt almost disbelieving that it was really happening. How could it be that I had read about this place, wanted to go, and a year later found my way there? Not just to be there but to dive deep into my writing and contribute to a project that is so deeply inline with my beliefs and principle. Incredible. When you jump, sometimes you land right were you are supposed to be.

As I arrived the rain had stopped, I fumbled with the lock box for a moment and then was able to open the gate and drive through the intense green all around me, over a small bridge with a flowing creek beneath it and pull up outside the cabin. It was quiet surreal to be there, to really be there. Surreal and not what I had imagined at all somehow, but so beautiful all the same. I wandered around for a bit to get the lay of the land and let it all sink in. Then I set up my tent, at the edge of a meadow, right by the creek. It did not start to rain again until I had my rainfly up.

Rain came hard after that though, so much rain! I was cozy and dry in my tent home and had good gear to keep me dry outside as well. Quite content I walked in the rain, began to think about writing and ate some much needed lunch.
My time there was nurturing on so many levels. I was first of all there because of answering my hearts guidance, that itself was comforting. I met three amazing women who were there at the same time as me, and they welcomed me into there group with so much affection. The poems began to flow and came through me with astonishing ease and grace. My senses all feasted on the beauty around me. Truly such an amazing place in the world. Fertile ground for all life, mine was no exception. I found myself blooming right along with everyone else on the land. All the plant people, in all their forms blooming with me. A richness of life appearing for me in a profound way. I am humbled by my experience and will treasure the memory for a long time to come.

This trip will live on inside me, and will also live in the pages of my writing that came from my residency. I am compiling and editing now, in the hopes of creating a chapbook of my writings on ecology, spiritualty and humanity. Below I will share two of my poems from this trip as well as some photos. It is with a full heart that I write this. I have so much gratitude for life bringing  this dream of mine into being. SO much gratitude for Robin Wall Kimmerer, Franz Dolp, and the Spring Creek Project at OSU. Life is full of blessings, if our eyes are open to see them. Nature is not only there for us, nature IS us. All flourishing is mutual.

Shot Pouch

This land called me-
and I came.
Driving from city streets
down long highways
and curvy roads
and then – here
I have arrived.
Rain and apple blossoms
the creek softly humming outside my tent
A foragers feast of green
How often I’ve imagined this!
the meadow wide, trails ascending
Maple and Cedar greet me
I walk slowly, expanding my senses
smell and touch
the earth, water, air
It is all so alive here
Cedar fragrant against my fingers
Earth soft and damp beneath my feet
bird songs encircle me,
for now I have come-
home.

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,
the blessing of life giving holy water.
These are my sword and shield,
my crown and chalice,
my strength.

When Grandma was dying,
her bed was moved outdoors.
To the garden, under the edge
of the green cathedrals canopy.
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 voicelessly whispered –
“Thank you.”

Green fills my spirit when 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 undone is now on my lap,
I release the mantle of her sorrow,
we are both freed.
I have only one wish left –
That my last words be
‘Thank You”IMG_3600IMG_3605IMG_3575IMG_3570 (Edited)IMG_3598IMG_3591