Elen’s Long Presence

When I was lost and wandering
at nineteen years of age,
the suggestion was made
that I retreat for a time
to a nunnery,
spend a week with the sisters
at the convent of St Helen,
but it never happened,
I was not sent,
I did not go.

A decade later
on a journey guided
by a counsellor,
because the way of writing
had closed itself to me,
I found a Lady of great power
trapped in an amber coffin
bedded in wildflowers
and healing herbs
upon which strayed
her auburn hair;
I revived her,
who was in one sense me
yet very other.

Thirteen years later
at the initiation of one
dear to me middle named
Ellen I made my way with
her and others to thin Iona,
where and when I found
there was a soulscape
and soul homeland for me,
here I remain today,
on its larger landmass
safe and settled,
as much as human
embodiment will allow.

In another three years
I commissioned a drum
and rattle be made,
the latter’s soundings sung
by small Iona stones,
both instruments shaped
in a North American elk hide,
the most powerful and mysterious
the maker had ever used he said,
and its remains remain with me.

A lull then
growing shifting changing
beliefs partners countries
that resulted eventually
in receiving a ring
crafted in red gold from Rhyl,
in the land of my ancestors,
a connection to Mascon’s dream
of sovereignty’s goddess Elen,
who had red hair and
wore red gold and amber,
long before I knew their story
red gold was my favourite
and amber held as yet it does
great power and presence for me.

Over the next five years
two experiences,
one on the track
near Wyland Smithy
a group of deer jumped a fence
in front of me and one paused,
a young antlered stag
to stare deep into my eyes
and pierced my soul,
in the way the sound
of a bellowing stag
on a hill across Loch Tarff
stirred in me ancient wanderings.

Away from the wild places
of the Highlands and Islands
tucked on the edge of the Levels,
a stone came to me
an Antlered One raised on its surface,
but even as images appeared
and reappeared,
the link was not made,
and it would be another
four years before the books
arrived that would corner me,
to turn and face Elen,
and begin my journey to understand
the trail on which she
both led and followed me
for half a century,
patient no longer
now as Winter descends,
for the Reindeer Goddess and I
must now begin our work together.

This poem is a timeline of sorts for my relationship with Elen (Elen of the Ways, the Antlered/Reindeer Goddess), even and especially when I did not know that I was connected to Her. In the next few days I will write more about this relationship and how I am coming to understand it. A relationship such as this has implications and ramifications across all areas of my life and will frame every part of it from now on. Excited? Yes. Uncertain? Oh yes. Terrified? Who would not be? But given what I have shared here there in an inevitability that is in an odd way reassuring.

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The Covering’s Story

 

When the telly’s not in use
instead of the black hole
drawing me towards
its rectangular event horizon,
I gaze upon the covering quilt,
each piece of fabric
from my Grandma Bessie’s
stash of bits and scraps,
gathered and collected
over many years.

In these squares of squares,
I see parts of my life,
pieces from a doll’s dress,
one of my own as a child,
or a dress she once wore
sitting kindly-faced
looking out the window
of her little apartment,
or waving farewell to me
when last I saw her four decades ago.
 
I can see her still
bent over her sewing machine,
hear it clacking away
as each tiny square
added to another made
larger squares,
being brought together
to form the cherished whole.

It bears the mark made
where my infant nephew threw-up,
and wears that stain proudly,
as part of its entire story
seen when sitting down
in the snug of an evening to read,
eschewing televised fare
for the nourishment
of a few chapters of my autobiography
manifest in scraps of cloth
bound with the love
of one who though no longer alive,
is with me still.

GM Words

 

For some reason today I began to think about the whole issue of GM words, that is Grammatically Modified words. Words that used to be one sort of word, usually a noun that have been altered to become a verb.

One of the first I encountered one day over a decade ago whilst strolling around PCWorld. I was looking at the accessories area and came across ‘a mousing surface’. I just went nuts. I was fine with mouse mat, since that was something my computer mouse (and I’m fine with calling it a mouse since it looks sort of like one) could scurry about on, but ‘mousing surface’! Well, when I wondered did mouse become a verb? Whose idea was it to modify is grammatical framework?

In my horror I began to conjugate the verb ‘to mouse’:

I mouse; I am mousing; I moused; I was mousing; I shall mouse; I have moused; I had moused; I shall have moused; I might mouse; I might have moused . . . . you get the idea.

Your feline companion may be a mouser. But I doubt you would say to a friend that last night your cat mouses or  went out and moused, any more than that he went on a mousing rampage.

It might be that I am a lexicographical Luddite, I grammatical throw-back, but I do have a hard time with GM words, and I mourn the attempts to drive adverbs to extinction. There are times when writing poetry that I have tinkered with a word or an idea because I needed a nuance that was not available in English. Sometimes English is a bit limiting. There is one word for love. I love grilled artichokes and I love my partner. Clearly the same word, but let’s face it not the same quality of affection is being expressed. So, there are times when I needs must and I am emboldened.

Never, however, do I desire or anticipate that anyone else would use the word. It would not be appropriate in any context other than the one for which I crafted it. GM words, on the other hand become part of our everyday vocabulary. We do it sometimes with adjectives and turn them into nouns, the modifier becomes the modified.

Then there are also words whose meaning, though remaining the same part of speech, change in such a way that it is no longer rooted as they once were. Not all such words make me feel like I’ve heard nails run over a blackboard. See, I still remember chalkboards, dust, smeared words illegible from the back row of the class. However, two such words for me are interdict/interdiction and anathema/anathematize. Look up the original meanings and see how they relate to how one uses them now. I was trained as a Mediaevalist, who also studied Latin and Greek, so those two words particularly make me cringe.

Now hold on, I am well aware that new things, experiences and realities require new words. But they require new words, not recycled old ones. Language evolves. It is not stagnant, but dynamic. I have no problem with expanding the dictionary, it gives lexicographers work and writers more options. That is more akin to me of exploring the rainforest and finding a new species that needs a name. But for me there is a vast difference between that and taking a perfectly useful word and adapting to increase its yield in usage units instead of taking the time discover a new and wondrous word that will save the language from starvation.

GM words – for me they are a step too far, and I will boycott them in my writing in favour of those words that have maintained their integrity in form and meaning, or news ones that speak with vitality and vigour about the world in which I live and about which I write.

Unsettling Metaphor

One of my recent posts was a poem about Orion and I going ‘dream hunting’ during the night. However, the next night I hardly slept at all. Images and ideas, words and phrases, whole poems bolted into my awareness. As the long night wore on, I realised that I was not losing them. I still held them waking. I sat in with a notebook furiously writing, drawing them from the cauldron filled during the night.

So, the metaphor came to me of how I approach writing, poetry as well as fiction. It is not an agrarian/gardening model. I do not take the fragile seeds of ideas, plant them in the rich soil of my imagination and wait for them to grow to harvest. I do not water them with attendance nor weed out extraneous material.

No, for me it is about the hunt. And I knew that when I realised the Orion image for ‘dream hunting’ also applied to writing, ‘word hunting’. I set out on a path, that is the idea. I track various aspects of it. I seek out words, images, phrases in the undergrowth of my imagination. When I find the one I want, I take it. I shoot the arrow of my intention from the bow of my desire to create. If it is the wrong word, or what have you, my shot will miss wildly and the word will safely run free from me.

When I have retrieved the words, images and phrases after a successful hunt I bring them home, as it were. I strip the meat of them to the bones, work with the sinew stretching and shaping. The meat goes into the cauldron. I add a few wild berries, herbs or tubers for contrast and embellishment, for accent to the stew I am preparing. When done I serve up the finished product.

Now, this is not a pretty scenario, and one would think totally antithetical for a person who eats vegetarian/veganish/rawish. A person who abhors hunting, the cruelty of it and the waste of it, bracketing those who really do need to do so for survival. I am a creative hunter/gatherer. I am not a creative agriculturalist.

For me creating is a wild activity. It puts me in touch with the wild, untamed energies of the Awen. I must track through the deep woods, follow the fast running rivers and test my worth against forces with the ability to enrich or destroy me, to nourish or devour me by their power. For me creativity is facing the wildness of myself as well as that of lexicon and grammar. It is about the hunt for the right word; the weak, the underdeveloped, the those too young or old are not what I seek. And I do not take all of the words that might work. I crawl across the page stalking, waiting, feeling deep inside, viscerally for the words I am seeking.

It is then and only then that I notch my arrow. It is only then I release the tension on my bow. It is only then that I take for myself the word I need. You may wonder why I don’t just trap and set free. Well that image and understanding of the process is to cautious. When I need a word, it does me no good to set it free. I need it and it does not work in the context that I understand the process now to borrow it, as it were. Its life and being, that of the word, image or phrase, I must take into myself. For it to nourish my work and my creative endeavour, I have to be able to plunge it into the cauldron so it can be part of the stew which I will serve to others.

It came to me as I wrestled with these images, that perhaps the reason I don’t eat flesh, food obtained originally from the hunt, is that it has become some sort of geis for me. It was framed as a a prohibition to me in a meditation, which fits.

I find these images and understanding very freeing, if initially unsettling, but am doing a lot more writing since I came to apprehend and accept this is how I work. Creativity isn’t always a pretty process. It is arduous. It can eat people alive. It can spit them out broken and mad. I have chosen to be proactive here. Whilst drawn down the paths and tracks where my ‘prey’ awaits me, I am able to work with the Awen as a partner, not a victim, not a slave. The Awen and I become co-creators. There is balance here and sanity for me. Nurture and nourishment. It frames the struggles as ones I can deal with. Yes, sometimes the trails are cold on the path and I come home empty, but I go out again and again, and on days I am fortunate, the cauldron will be full and the stew rich.

My Dryadic Self

Out of time.
Out of season.
Out of self.

Awareness
of my dryadic form
intensified and changed,
dramatically altering my physical appearance
over the past several seasons
marked as the years crawled on
or I crawled through them.

I reverted initially to Birch,
imagine at my age!
I lost weight became thin
and could have vanished.
I moved differently
no longer young,
attempting to play a game
whose rules I did not
do not know,
misguidedly trying to hold
onto a past by then already lost.

Gradually,
the Birch dream or nightmare faded,
as waking I arose
shifting form again,
this time an Oak sapling
and grew to stand alone
in the field of my despair
sentinel for my own life
sole watcher of my being.

As Beech now I have emerged,
from the leaf litter of my past,
completely formed rounder and fuller
in a body I do not yet,
or perhaps resist according recognition,
shaped in unfamiliar curves,
weighted more than feels healthy,
unsure if Queen of the Wood
suits me or not.

Will I next be Willow?
If so I will not weep,
nor pollarded will I tilt precariously
clinging to the edge of a rime,
but I will stand roots sunk
deep in the flowing waters of life,
drinking deep of being,
ever reaching forth,
embracing my dryadic self until the end.

Walkies

I remember the day
we were heading to your room
unsure what we would find,
as you were slowly slipping away.

All of a sudden I felt a presence
next to me on the side
White Wolf usually travels
but who with no fuss relinquished his space
to The Old Dog,
in her splendorous form,
young now and carrying her lead
allowing us to take her
to her dying mistresses room.

It was at first unsettling,
then it felt right and comfortable
as we showed her the way
along corridors unknown to her,
going to keep watch,
waiting to go with you on a last walk together.

Once in the room she jumped
on the end of your bed,
dropped her lead and curled up protective,
projecting her familiar presence,
as one by one others arrived,
family long and recently departed,
people not seen for many years,
some never seen or known,
peace being made between you and them,
forgiveness and understanding
shared at last preparing for new beginnings.

As I felt them arrive,
and though unresponsive to us,
at each appearance
you nodded and said, ‘Yes,’
clearly acknowledging their attendance,
the room crowding palpably with comfort,
while the drip numbed your pain.

The following week
when we returned The Old Dog
now sat beside your bed
her lead once more in her mouth,
waiting as you slowly moved beyond us,
clearly there were only hours left,
your breathing laboured and raspy.

At one point when it was right,
I stood up and leaned over you,
and gently spoke the Lord’s Prayer
followed by the 23rd Psalm
reminding you that your lord
was indeed your shepherd,
and you would dwell in his house forever,
I worked from memory,
reaching for words I no longer use,
but that were familiar to you
to offer reassurance and solace.

We left after several hours,
I sensed we did not need
to be there when you died,
that our continued presence was unnecessary,
for beyond any doubt you would be welcomed
at your crossing by those who
the week before gathered at your bedside,
but more importantly,
when you rose from your body to journey on,
your faithful companion would offer you her lead,
and seizing it The Old Dog would take you
on the most amazing walkies ever.

 

This is written about the experience I had when my dear friend Wendy died over the summer. When I would ring her over the years my greeting would be: ‘It’s me.’ To which she would respond, ‘Hello, you.’ I can still hear her saying those words that cheered me through some dark and difficult times. But I know she is safe and in the company of her loved ones, not the least of whom being Misty, The Old Dog.

Orion

I have seen you unexpectedly
in the sky over thin Iona,
leaning against a whispy cloud
in the light of a chill dawning.

I await your appearance
each Autumn dusk
for you are the harbinger
of long dark nights ahead.

I greet you by name
leaving or arriving home,
seek you out overhead
easily seen in a city sky.

Now you watch over me,
for you are visible
each night when
my head rests upon its pillow.

Through the uncurtained window
I know you track with me
the dreams of Winter,
and assist me in any successful hunt.