For Those Who Are Blue

Some ministry colleagues shared these beautiful poems, and I thought that there might be someone out there who needs them today.

White Candle MJ DSC09662

Sweetness by Stephen Dunn (from New and Selected Poems 1974-1994. Copyright © 1989.)

Just when it has seemed I couldn’t bear
one more friend
waking with a tumor, one more maniac

with a perfect reason, often a sweetness
has come
and changed nothing in the world

except the way I stumbled through it,
for a while lost
in the ignorance of loving

someone or something, the world shrunk
to mouth-size,
hand size, and never seeming small.

I acknowledge there is no sweetness
that doesn’t leave a stain,
no sweetness that’s ever sufficiently sweet . . .

Tonight a friend called to say his lover
was killed in a car
he was driving. His voice was low

and guttural, he repeated what he needed
to repeat, and I repeated
the one or two words we have for such grief

until we were speaking only in tones.
Often a sweetness comes
as if on loan, stays just long enough

to make sense of what it means to be alive
then returns to its dark
source. As for me, I don’t care

where it’s been, or what bitter road
it’s traveled
to come so far, to taste so good.

 

 

My Dead Friends by Marie Howe (from What the Living Do, © W.W. Norton & Company, 1998.)

I have begun,
when I’m weary and can’t decide an answer to a bewildering question
to ask my dead friends for their opinion
and the answer is often immediate and clear.

Should I take the job? Move to the city? Should I try to conceive a child in my middle age?
They stand in unison shaking their heads and smiling – whatever leads to joy, they always answer,
to more life and less worry. I look into the vase where Billy’s ashes were – it’s green in there, a green vase,
and I ask Billy if I should return the difficult phone call, and he says, yes.

Billy’s already gone through the frightening door,
Whatever he says I’ll do.

 

Blessing for the Longest Night by Jan Richardson (from The Cure for Sorrow
© Wanton Gospeller Press, 2016)

All throughout these months
as the shadows
have lengthened,
this blessing has been
gathering itself,
making ready,
preparing for
this night.

It has practiced
walking in the dark,
traveling with
its eyes closed,
feeling its way
by memory
by touch
by the pull of the moon
even as it wanes.

So believe me
when I tell you
this blessing will
reach you
even if you
have not light enough
to read it;
it will find you
even though you cannot
see it coming.

You will know
the moment of its
arriving
by your release
of the breath
you have held
so long;
a loosening
of the clenching
in your hands,
of the clutch
around your heart;
a thinning
of the darkness
that had drawn itself
around you.

Moon in branches DSC02496This blessing
does not mean
to take the night away
but it knows
its hidden roads,
knows the resting spots
along the path,
knows what it means
to travel
in the company
of a friend.

So when
this blessing comes,
take its hand.
Get up.
Set out on the road
you cannot see.

This is the night
when you can trust
that any direction
you go,
you will be walking
toward the dawn.

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Innu Tea Doll

Innu Tea Doll Angela Andrew – Version 2

My friend Wells Staley-Mays gave me this Innu Tea Doll, knowing of my love for my distant Innu ancestors.  The story is this–when the Innu would travel to the interior of Nitassinan during winter, to hunt the caribou, they had to carry whatever they needed for the journey.  Children carried their share by bringing along a doll that was stuffed with tea leaves.  When the other stores of tea were depleted, a cut was made in the seam of the doll to remove and use the tea leaves.  The doll could be restuffed with grasses or leaves and resown.

I am reminded that the principles we find in permaculture are not new–but were often embedded in the lifeways of Indigenous peoples around the world. One such principle is “stacking functions”–creating elements of our garden (or our lives) that can fulfill more than one function at a time.  So the tea doll was both a storage container for tea, and also a toy to delight a child.  It also has had a further function more recently, to keep alive traditions of the Innu and serve as a source of income for those who sew them.

Innu Doll DetailThis doll was created by Angela Andrew, an Innu elder from the Innu Nation in what is now called Labrador. It is hard to show in photos, but the doll is made of cloth, except her face and moccasins are smoke-tanned caribou skin.  Each layer of clothing is distinct and can be taken off and on.  She has a flannel shift and long pants, with knitted socks, underneath the broadcloth dress and apron.  Her hair is black yarn, and fastened in place with beaded leather ties.  Her hat is a traditional Innu head covering. The clothes are tied with little strips of leather, and her mittens are held in place by a long leather string going behind her neck. Does anyone else remember when our mittens were held in place with a long string like that as children?

Wells and I originally met when we were working against hydrodams being built on Cree, Inuit, and Innu territorial rivers. He had the chance to travel into the bush with the Innu on a trip to Canada many years ago. So this doll is full of those memories and good feelings from our work together. Thank you Wells!

We Waited for You

George Bush

If our loved ones wait for us in heaven, are we also greeted by those we have harmed? December 1st was World AIDS Day, and I couldn’t help but think of over one hundred thousand Americans who died of AIDS during the presidency of George H. W. Bush, while he blamed people for their illness, and lagged on funding to find a cure.  With great power comes great responsibility.

While many people were moved by the cartoon by Marshall Ramsey, showing the former president being reunited with Barbara and his little daughter Robin, I started wondering about heaven.  At heart, I am a Universalist.  I believe that no one goes to hell, that in the end, we are all gathered into the arms of Divine Love.  I don’t know what that might look like, exactly, but if we survive beyond death, all of us are gathered together, no one is left out.

But that does raise further questions about harm and punishment, about whether there is any judgement for those who have been truly malicious in this life.  I cannot make that kind of judgement about Bush.  I don’t know his measure of good or evil.  But here is what I imagine.  When he arrives at the “gate,” he is greeted by all of those people who died of AIDS.  He is greeted by those whose ashes were hurled onto his lawn at the white house by ACT UP on October 11, 1992.  He is greeted by the hundred thousand from this country, and the million from all over the world.

In the infinity which is eternity, before he can celebrate with Barbara and Robin, he must sit down with each person who died of AIDS under his watch. He must listen to their stories, get to know who they were: what they loved, what they missed out on, whether they were cared for in the end, or abandoned by family or friends.  He must listen to each of those heart-breaking human stories, with no barriers, and let his heart break open. And then, in that place beyond any time, all are gathered into the Everlasting Arms.

 

I Walk in Passamaquoddy

I have had the privilege of studying Wabanaki Languages this fall, taught by Roger Paul. For me it has been a small way to begin to decolonize my mind–to begin to think differently.  Our final project was to make a short presentation to our class, and I was inspired by the words we had learned to talk about the animals I see and hear on my morning walk. I also drew on the Passamaquoddy/Maliseet (Wolastoqe) Language Portal for further help with verb and noun forms, and I learned some new words along the way.  If any speakers of the language read this, edits are welcome! Roger encouraged us to jump in with using the language, even though we will make mistakes. 

For those who do not know about Wabanaki languages, you might find it interesting that animals are not referred to as “it,” and people are not referred to by “he” or “she.”  There are “animate” and “inanimate” forms, and both people and animals are referred to by animate, non-gendered verb and noun forms.  A lot of information is encoded into one word.  So, for example, “npomuhs” means “I walk.”  “Nutuwak” means “I hear (beings plural and animate.)

Ntoliwis Mayk. Nuceyaw Portland.  (My name is Myke. I am from Portland.)

Spasuwiw npomuhs. Wolokiskot.  (In the morning I walk. It is a beautiful day.)

Nolokuhs lahtoqehsonuk.   (I walk in the direction of the north.)

Nutuwak sipsisok.   (I hear small birds.)

Nomiyak mihkuwiyik oposik.  (I see squirrels in a tree.)

Apc, nolokuhs cipenuk.   (Next, I walk in the direction of the east).

Nomiya kisuhs musqonok.  (I see the sun in the sky.)

Nutuwak kahkakuhsok. Tolewestuhtuwok.  (I hear the crows. They are talking)

Nomiyak oqomolcin kehsuwok nehmiyik awtik.  (I see eight turkeys in the street.)

Apc, nolokuhs sawonehsonuk.  (Next, I walk in the direction of the south.)

Npomuhs sipuwahkuk, naka nomiya motehehsim sipuhsisok.   (I walk along the edge of the brook, and I see a duck in the brook.)

Nutuwa pakahqaha lamatokiw.  (I hear a woodpecker a little ways into the forest.)

Wahte, nomiya qaqsoss.  (In the distance, I see a fox.)

Apc, nolokuhs skiyahsonuk, naka ntapaci nikok.   (Next, I walk in the direction of the west, and I come back to my house).

WoodchuckNomiya munimqehs kihkanok. N’ciciya wot.   (I see a woodchuck in the garden. I know this one.)

Coness, Munimqehs! Musa micihkoc kihkakonol! Wesuwess!   (Stop, Woodchuck! Don’t eat the vegetables! Go back where you came from! )

Munimqehs qasku. Qasku asit kakskusik. Qasku lamatokiw.   (Woodchuck runs. S/he runs behind the cedar. S/he runs a little ways into the forest.)

Toke, ntop qotaputik qocomok.  (Now, I sit in the chair outside.)

Komac Wolokiskot! Woliwon!   (It is a very good day. Thank you)

100 Ways to Support Native People

I want to repost this excellent article, by Simon Moya-Smith, which you can read by following the link below:

100 Ways to Support—Not Appropriate From—Native People

It starts:

November is Native American Heritage Month, when the U.S. is supposed to celebrate Natives and our contributions to the world. In recognition of the season, let’s start with 100 ways you and yours can be allies toward to the Indigenous peoples of this continent—our ancestral land.

I hope it will be helpful to all of us who want to be allies to Indigenous people.

Oak Leaves

In the spring, I learned that acorns of the white oak were less bitter–and were more widely used for food–than those of the red oak.  At that time, I was walking through thousands of acorns in our neighborhood, and thinking how great it would be to use them for food.  I also walked through thousands of dried-up oak leaves, but never saw any white oaks.  You can tell the difference because the leaves of the red oak are pointy and the leaves of the white oak have rounded lobes.

This fall, there were barely any acorns. Oaks do that.  They choose certain years (mast years) to collaboratively put on a full production of acorns, and others years, not so much. This may be a rough winter for the squirrels, who grew their families large on last year’s bounty.  But imagine my surprise when I saw these leaves on the pavement during my morning walk.  You might have to look closely. White Oak and Red Oak Leaves

Amidst the pointy ones are some small round-lobed leaves.  The tree is about two blocks from my house, a smaller oak right next to a big red oak, standing in someone’s front yard. I am going to guess that it might be a white oak. I look forward to the next mast year for acorns, to see if I can distinguish them from each other, and maybe try making acorn flour.

Meanwhile, this was a beautiful autumn for oak trees. Usually, it seems, the oak leaves hang on the tree and go from green to brown without much fanfare.  But two weeks ago, they were a translucent gold to rival the maples. Today, we had our first snow storm, but the snow is spotted with oak leaves everywhere, pulled from their branches by the wind to land on top of the snow.Oak Leaf Gold

The tree in the rock

Spruce in Rock sunny – Version 2Life holds a strength that will not be extinguished, that will crack open the most oppressive of constraints. When I was in Tenant’s Harbor, a few weeks ago, I saw this spruce tree growing out of a huge boulder. Its roots were literally embedded in a crack in the rock itself.  I wondered if a seed had found a tiny patch of soil within a crack, or if in fact, the seed, rooting, had created the crack in the rock. But however it first took hold, the roots were now literally splitting the rock in two.

I don’t mean to reduce a boulder to a metaphor for something bad. I love these boulders that populate our landscape from the time of the ice age. They also harbor all sorts of life in the forms of lichen and moss.  But just for a moment, I do ask its indulgence to borrow a possible metaphor for hope in these times of despair.

There is so much about which to feel despondent right now. Migrant children confined in tent prisons away from family. Trans friends being erased from official acknowledgement or protection. People in Gaza and Yemen being starved and bombarded with weapons made in the U.S.  Misogynists and racists gunning down innocent people in sanctuaries for prayer. Leaders who belittle other people and stir up hate and destroy the earth for profit and greed.  I could go on and on. We are facing dire futures, caught in the grip of suffocating destruction.

Tomorrow there will be a vote in our country. Things will get better or worse.  I will vote.  But I don’t put all my hopes in the vote. As we saw in the election of 2016, elections can be interfered with. (Our own government has also interfered in the elections of other countries.) There has been a concerted effort to suppress the votes of Black citizens in Georgia, Native Americans in North Dakota, others. There are voting machines that cannot be trusted to report votes accurately. I hope that in the vote, things will get better. I hope that so many people vote that we can overcome the suppression.  But my deepest hope is not in the vote.  My deepest hope is in the power of the spruce to crack the boulder, the power of the earth to restore itself, the power of the love we hold in our beating hearts.

There was one more thing about the spruce. It was not alone.  There were two trees growing the crack in that boulder. You can just barely see the second smaller trunk behind the first in the photo above. But here is another photo, a close-up from behind.  Two trees–both of them might be said to be caught in the boulder.  But they are not caught.  They are growing strong, green, full of life and energy. They are cracking that boulder together.  And so we humans, too, must not face these despairs alone, must find each other and join our strengths together.

A boulder seems to be hard and unyielding. Roots seem to be gentle and soft.  But the rock does yield to the tree. Remember that.Spruce in Rock 2