Metaphor’s End

strean caer arianrhod

The past was all metaphor, right?  Myths just ways of encoding knowledge about nature, something easy to remember and something never more than it appears to be.

Let the metaphor escape its imprisonment and it’ll wreak havoc on the mind, the soul, the world.  It’s safer without magic, and gods, the fae and the dead.

Which is why I found myself clinging to the side of a mountain to talk to a giant.

 

When They Pull Your Beard, They Mean It

December 14th

Which story do I tell?  The story inside my head, the story around me, the story of the places I’ve been, the story of the dead in the dream pulling my beard?

The story you need to hear, the story you want to hear, the story I want to tell you, the story I think I should tell?

There’s no end to the stories already, and I’ve only been in Wales for four days.  They’re weaving, threading, pulling, carding out bits and spinning and smoking like the gleaned wool gathered off the fence and offered upon the candle in the trunk of the tree, flames of–

Sorry.  I’m not there yet.

I’m here, at a table in a hotel bar, an old stone building not much older than the United States, I fear, sipping coffee (the tea’s terribly weak ’round these parts) trying to figure out what I’m going to tell you about everything I’ve seen which is suddenly making my hands tremble as I type all of this.

I may not make sense, because I’ve given up on metaphor, because metaphor’s exploded all around me and now none of those things you hope can hide in symbol–to stay put there in signification, tied to the safe sigils of our representations–are willing to be put back into the prisons we’ve made for them.

Oh, oh, I know why poets go mad.

Have a photo.  It’s mostly safe.

tower treeIt’s just a tower and a tree on a hill overlooking the Strait of Menai across the way from the city of Caernarfon.  Nothing else, no metaphor, no additional meaning except for the part where you couldn’t stop looking at them from the medieval city walls and really, really had to go up there.

But oh!  I haven’t told you that I’m in Caernarfon yet, have I?  Sorry.  I’ve slipped out of…oh, you know.

I boarded a ferry from Dublin to the port of Holyhead on the Isle of Anglesy.  The ferry’s a bit more a miniature cruise-ship than what you might consider when you think ferry, and most definitely nothing Stygian, unless Charon decided to install a theatre, cafe, Bureau D’exchange and a small convenience store to distract you from the difficulties of your passage into Hades.  Oh, and wireless internet, which did not afford me the opportunity to do any writing on account of my website being blocked through the local filter on account of “alternative beliefs.”

So I slept, and dreamt a bit until the ferry approached, anticipation jarring me awake.   I was going to Wales, you see, and also, well, this guy.Nick blackwhite

Best friends are great people and should never be gotten rid of, or forgotten, or let to roam off into foreign lands without an occasional visit or perhaps a jaunt together through the lands of your gods.  Name’s Nick.  Taught me how to feed crows, and had dreams of Druid Rhyd long before I got around to even thinking about being a Druid.  When you tell a stranger that his glasses make him look like a bike cop, he may punch you in the face, or may, some 12 years later, help you find Caer Arianrhod and Dinas Affaron and nod when you mutter half-sensical things about the divine figures showing up in your dreams, and the wild colors behind your closed eyelids, and he may even give you cookies.

He moved to Wales more than a year ago; in fact, a week after I left Seattle on my last pilgrimage. And he was waiting for me at Holyhead, once an ancient Druid stronghold, now a ferry-port.

What do you really say to someone after so long when you’re finally standing in front of each other?  Not much, really, except “well–you’re here,”  and, “hey.  You too.”  ‘Cause more than that’s just extra words to fill a rather contented silence.

All the other words come later, mostly laughs and grunted assent when he’d hear me gasp and groan and try to hold back nauseated ecstasy staring at the countryside of Anglesy and Gwynedd.  Nausea–yes, because it seemed almost my body revolted against the ancient landscape, the way you want to vomit because you’re so in love or want to tear off all your flesh because it’s limiting the movement of your soul, anchoring your spirit a little too heavily to all what is trying to comprehend what it’s seeing.

One moment you’re elsewhere and another moment you’re brutally here and want to break apart, disintegrate, return into the elements from which you were hewn, become tree and grass and bacteria and star and cloud and stone again.  Sentience is suddenly a prison as the streams rush past you, the gnarled trees stare back, beckoning you to join them, trees your recognize, trees what are kin.

The Alchemists called this nigredo, the blackening, the moment you are dis-membered, unmade.  The mystics called it The Dark Night, where you are left raw, broken and unpieced just before you can be put back together.  The Alchemists used alembics, the mystics prayed in cells, and both are much more preferable containers than a train compartment.

castleUnderslept, we napped, woke, roamed the city a bit.  It was all a bit much to take in too quickly, castle walls and a nearby holy mount and a gentle rain and the horrid, nagging, impossible to shake feeling I’d known this land before.

Standing Stones and Sheep Shit Aren’t Just Symbols

December 15

I don’t think I can tell you about the dreams.

I’m certain I can’t describe the colors to you, because they don’t exist, fierce golds hewn of green tinged with copper, violets both blue and white and crimson, browns breaking apart into the colors which comprise them.

I’ve never seen such colors, and they made it a bit hard to sleep.  Also, the voices–a myriad of them all telling me things I needed to know, or what they thought I needed to know, the dead, but a different dead, dead with faces, dead with faces I thought I recognized until I saw their their faces and knew I knew them from another time-out-of-time.

I woke, exhausted, the way you wake when you’ve dreamt those dreams where you’re elsewhere, not in bed any longer.  Mostly those dreams come and I do not remember them but wake exhausted and know I was elsewhere and then someone mentions I was in their dreams.

This often felt a betrayal, my soul untethered roaming widely, unhappy to remain close to the body it went to bed with.  I’ve found it much easier to laugh off a lover out with others as I sleep than to find my soul’s been out teaching people to do things I don’t even quite know how to do yet, handing them flowers to eat or warning them about impending trials to which I myself remained utterly ignorant.

I mind a bit less, like one becomes accustomed and even warmed to a lover’s night-rovings, comprehending that he brings back new patterns and ferocity he’d not have learned otherwise.

Souls and lovers go elsewhere–this must be embraced if we’re to have any sanity at all about the world.  It was on one of those roving nights I got my name, so I can’t really complain.

Oh.  That was here, or there’s a gate here, anyway:

Sunset over Caer Arianrhod

Sunset over Caer Arianrhod

Nick and I took a bus along the coast to the wet moors where, on old British Ordnance maps and on some tourist maps is marked a sunken island, visible only at low tide, called Caer Arianrhod.

Perhaps you do not know the story, and so I will tell you the story.  A wizard-king had an odd geas put upon him: he could only rest when his feet were lain upon the lap of a maiden, lest he always be at war.  One of his nephews desired the particular lap-maiden of the king and asked his brother Gwydion to help him gain her.  Through trickery, she is “gotten” (actually, brutally raped), and when the king finds out, he compensates the raped woman and turns the two nephews (the rapist and the accomplice) into mated pairs of animals to “get” upon each other for three years.

But the search remained for another maiden for the king to rest his feet upon, and Gwydion, now human again, suggests his half-sister Arianrhod, who lived in a castle upon an island.   When the king uses magic to verify her maidenhood, she has two children, one belonging to the sea and the other a misshapen thing which grows quickly into a man.

That man was Lleu Llaw Gyffes, and this was said to be his home:

Dinas Dinlle

Dinas Dinlle

It’s what’s left of a 2500 year old ring fort, about a third of which now taken by the sea.

To get there, you can take a road.  That’s the awfully easy way, and that one poet said something about how glad he was about going the way less traveled and anyway it was pretty, so we didn’t take the road but instead–well.

Okay.  Look.  When you walk into a field with a standing stone and everything you know and hear is telling you to go up to it and see if it wouldn’t mind if you pass through, don’t do what we did and decide we’d be all mannish and just sort of wave hello at it while all the sheep are staring at us with in amazement at our audacity.Caer Arianrhod mountains

In Bretagne a decade ago a lover and I traipsed merrily up to a really interesting looking standing stone and then found ourselves running in abject terror for about 20 minutes until we were fully out of its view.  I should know better.

So, shin deep in mud and sheep shit and our path blocked in the most intriguingly absurd ways, barriers which seemed to spring from the earth itself and the whim of some rather put-out yet bemused community of who knows who, we finally admitted our mistake when about to ford a small stream.  The mud went much deeper than it should have, and the plank I offered my friend to help him ford landed as far from sinking body as possible while still managing to blind him with mud.

It was Nick who remembered the standing stone first, and as he said it we both knew what we’d gotten ourselves into, and there was nothing else to be said.

We said our apologies as sheep stared, unblinking, and returned to the road.

We stopped for coffee and tea at the foot of Dinas Dinlle and my soul started untethering.  I write this all now, despite its beauty, with what I can only describe as dread.  Not terror, nor fear, not even anxiety, but sacred dread, the moment you know you go to meet gods closer to where they’ve been known, by greater gates than the ones you’ve uncovered or created elsewhere.

It’s one thing, I guess, to meet a god in a tiny woodland or at a shrine you’ve tended, a different thing altogether to go to where many others have found them.  Back in Seattle, or in Eugene, or elsewhere in America I could approach them still with the veil of metaphor.  No matter how real they are, relics of defensive symbolism still trigger, screening, shaping, and shading them from the full dread of their existence.  You can alter a shrine, re-arrange an altar, leave a grove and pretend for a little while that you are untouched.

No matter how thoroughly I’ve convinced myself that they are real, I still ask myself constantly if they are, and here in Njord walking awfully close to me along the shoreline as I go to sit as close as I can in sight of Caer Arianrhod and I’m breaking into pieces even as I find a sea-soaked Alder wand wash up near a stone where I sat and fuck every metaphor I’ve ever held up as a shield against the Other.

You can find the sunken island without looking when you learn to give attention to those things you fear are your imagination. And you can tell yourself it’s just a sunken reef and she was just a character in a Christianized story and you can try to forget everything else you’re seeing as all the images flood in to drown your mind like the opened floodgates of the Isle of Ys.

Or you can just listen and let those waves wash over you, listen to what they’re telling you and not fight them.

This is a good land to learn to do this.

The earth is heavy here, so green and sodden and strong.  Sleep is deep here, and the throngs who speak to you as you dream may be brusque, but they’re telling you something you need to know, and it’s all metaphor when your soul goes roaming only because that’s how you speak.

Otters Are Also a Bit Much

December 16

I can’t tell you about the dream this day, except that I couldn’t stop thinking about it until I finally slept again.

Know that feeling where someone who doesn’t exist is making love to your soul?

And then he tells you he’ll wait for you, because he knows you’re on your way?

And as you go to find him there are all these other people who know you, because they were there when you got your name because that’s probably how they all got their names too, and the markings on their faces tell you more than you remember to know about them?

And the man who pulls your beard and so you pull his harder because you know what he’s on about and is speaking without speaking, telling you who you’re gonna have to hang off a cliff-face to talk to?

And you wake and you’ve almost had too much, so you go take photos of trees and towers and watch an otter with your best friend because, fuck, really, it’s all a bit much, isn’t it?

dark tree

So you go see trees but you’re thinking of that figure who’s waiting for you.

ravenAnd you take a photo of a raven by a castle wall and remember what you’re on about.

Castle cityAnd you try to take a distracting photo of a castle and the city and a hill but it only does good for a little while because that hill reminds you of another hill where you were told stuff to do.

And so you just go to bed, because there’s really no escape but sleep, and he’s there again but this time it’s much easier because you’re starting to guess who he is.

 

Unfortunate Disclosures

December 17

So, I’m hanging off the side of a cliff-face talking to a giant, right?  And it’s kinda fucking scary because I’m this puny little man hanging onto the side of a mountain above a slightly-less-than-sheer 100 foot drop, and above me is the stone I’m trying to get to because it’s white and carved and shouldn’t be either of those things and actually, I’m kinda terrified remembering this stuff right now.

You do some crazy stuff when they tell you to, but you know what’s crazier than climbing when you’re no good at climbing and you made clear to your friend you had to do this yourself so you’re all alone?  Asking them for help. 

And crazier still?  Them saying ‘yes.’

Nick took this photo of me down from the cliff.  I'm carrying a cedar tree because I was supposed to, and I gave it to a nymph.

Nick took this photo of me down from the cliff. I’m carrying a cedar tree because I was supposed to, and I gave it to a nymph.

We went to Beddgelert, a small and brutally picturesque village in Snowdonia.  We’d originally planned on hitting the dark ford path of Snowdon (“Rhyd Ddu”), but a quick Ogham reading made me change my mind.

sheep churchBeddgelert looks like what Thomas Kinkaid and the maker of every medieval fantasy video game tries to conjure on canvas or screen.  In fact, you can play Skyrim, or go to Snowdonia.  One’s cheaper and soul deadening, the other gets you a little rainy and wet and has real giants.

bedd1If you ever go, the story of Gelert (a dog mistakenly killed by his owner after saving a child from a wolf) is a bit of a ruse.  Look underneath you when you go to his grave, and make sure you say hello, ’cause you’ll need their permission.

stream wellAnd then you walk, or we walked, along the river’s course.  The wrong direction turns often enough into the correct direction if you’re giving attention.

There’s a nymph there in the water; I don’t know what they’re called in Welsh, but she likes cedar trees from cliff-faces. I’d say, “Fuck with her and I’ll get quite angry,” but she’s hidden by her metaphor, which is how they all hide, yeah?

But if you ever go and want help finding her and are on about the right things, I’d help you find her.  But the giant thing?

Oh, the giant thing.

Fuck metaphors.

A few months ago I was told what I’m on about.  I mean, besides the Anarcho-Anti-Capitalist poetic musings that I thought I was on about.  I’m also on about that, you should know, but there’s this other thing that I’ve been on about and I had to ask a giant (well, several, as I suspect word gets around with them quite well) if they’d help me.

They already have, I should say.  Last year there was one rummaging through my head; another strode above me and then their were wild boars rummaging through my tent.  And then another one punched someone for me.  All metaphor, sure, if you need it to be because I don’t need it to be any longer.

And they said yes, which is pretty damn cool of them.  Giants are freaking awesome, even as you’re pretty certain you’re gonna lose your grip on the tree you’re hanging on to and fall and then your best friend will find you with a broken neck.

But I didn’t, because I’m writing you.

Have another photo:

Llyn Dinas

Llyn Dinas

This is Llyn Dinas.  Nearby is a place called Dinas Emrys, another 2000 year old fort said to be where Merlin released two imprisoned dragons.  Another place is rumored to be nearby, the city of the Fferllyt (Druidic alchemists) from whom Ceridwen learned how to brew the potion of Awen.

So, pretty much kinda hardcore magic everywhere.

What I did there will unfold, who I met I’ll get to know, what I carry I’ll learn to use.

But what I’ve seen’s been seared kinda deeply on the soul, like tattoos inked in wyrd.  That’s probably a metaphor, but probably not.

And I love you all.


In The Time of the Dead

Famine Moon 2

There was a time before clocks.

Not a time before time, of course.  There’s always been time, marked by events common to most of us foolish beasts cursed with self-referential sentience.  The sun rises, it is morning.  It sets, it’s evening.  There was the dark part of the day and light part of the day, the middling of both. Moon rises in his-her varying shades and patterns cycled the month for us, storms and heat and snow, falling and budding of leaf, pregnant vine and heavy branch, birthing of animals and melting of ice all told to us the time.

The time after clocks is ferocious, brutal, insistent.  At 2.30 pm I leave for work, and if I have left at 2.45pm I will not be there “on time.”  A friend to meet at noon, because if not-noon she cannot meet, a date to end by 11 lest he not ever catch his bus home to be in bed by midnight so to work by 9.

Astronomical events no longer trigger and compel and direct activity; ciphers do, numbers mis-representing themselves as important.

But I’ve slipped out of time.

..A Different, Inaccurate Map

11 December–12 December

It was much harder to leave the marshlands than I’d expected.  A short trip, a few days’ visit before heading off to Ireland–I’d known it’d be brief, quite temporary, but I hadn’t been prepared for how strongly the land there would call back to me.  Or, rather, how strongly I’d find myself listening.

Stronger than that, however, was being in such a warm, settled, kind hearth.

One day perhaps I’ll tell again the stories of my youth, the 13 year old ‘me’ with the developmentally-disabled schizophrenic single mother and the two younger sisters, us all on our own and I the only one with enough access to the world outside to figure out how rent might be paid, food might be found, and how we’d all managed to survive the even harsher life than we’d left in Appalachia.

That story’s for another time, really.  I’m sitting in an ancient stone building on the coast of Wales as a storm whips outside the windows of this hotel, sipping tea at a large wooden table near a massive castle and a dream-haunting rock.  It’s time for other stories, first

But this photo suffices for now, I’d suspect.  This is the three of us a few hours before I left upon a plane to Dublin.

Family

Things turn out quite well.

One has to have a sense of time to travel, of course, particularly now in our grand time-regulated modern present.  A plane from Orland to Dublin leaves at 8.05pm, the gates for it close at 7.45pm.  To arrive at 7.50pm is to not go to Dublin.

And that’s all “Eastern Standard Time,” of course.  Back in the Northland forests, the time is different.  In Dublin, the time is different.  Here in Wales I write at 1am, but you in the vast urban stretches of New York are not yet preparing for bed, and you in cities-on-the-bays of Northern California are just now noting the end of daylight.

The time of plane travel is particularly brutal, as are the places you meet those planes.   Ursula Le Guin has already described airports quite better than I ought try.  From Changing Planes, an absurdly fantastic little book:

“In the airport, luggage-laden people rush hither and yon through endless corridors, like souls to each of whom the devil has furnished a different, inaccurate map of the escape route from hell.”

Vast complexes all regulated by time (and fear), areas you cannot go, things you cannot do, all so to get into long metal boxes full of others as miserable as you are, cramped into tiny and unpleasant seats where you are woken every 20 minutes by offers of soda or shopping opportunities.

And beyond the airports are the airplanes, where you are not only already engaging in body-stressing high-speed travel, you’re also transgressing time, passing the artificial markers humans have overlaid upon our geographies to arrive hours before you started, or many more hours later than you traveled.

And so it was as such I awoke as a plane landed in Dublin, the day already broken across unfamiliar skies as uncomfortable, dehydrated, constipated and irradiated people scrambled over each other to retrieve belongs from tiny cabinets above what we politely refer to as “seats” within our great modern accomplishment, all to wait another interminable length of time to exit the plane, retrieve more belongings, and shuffle, sore, through customs lines.

I should maybe here admit I do not like customs, or immigration, or body scanners and checkpoints.  I am always a little surprised when I am distractedly waved through Homeland Security, discovering each time to both my delight and disappointment I’ve not yet done anything important enough to be considered a risk to aviation.  I suspect they’re all quite aware that I’m quite cowed by the entire process and consider aviation more of a risk to my soul.

And though I get along quite well with most police folks, seem to pass by most of their notice and avoid their attention, I seem always to tremble before the confessional box of Customs and Immigrations.

And security at Dublin?  It’s brutal, as my experience should show.

I stood, exhausted, sore, cramped and fogged before the great gate and handed over my passport.  The immigration official opened its crumpled and dog-eared pages and shook his head before turning his gaze towards me and saying, “Ye’ seem the nice sort, yeah? Easy-going an’ all that?”

“I think so?” I answered.  “I mean, I think I am?”

I stood there, suddenly overcome with self-doubt.  Am I really the nice sort?  I’m mostly nice, usually polite.  Sometimes not as nice as I could be.  Sometimes awfully brusque if I haven’t had my tea yet.

And easy going?  Fuck–sometimes I’m a bit of a humorless old man.  I never get other people’s sarcasm, often times get a bit stressed when I’m responsible for things and they’re not going quite right, I’m…

I looked back at the guy behind the visa window, wondering if he could sense all this.  This was certainly his plan–trigger an existential crisis in a potential terrorist until they confess all those times they’ve never been quite as easy-going about the world as they could be, how sometimes they’ve really not been very nice at all.

And then there’s another immigration enforcer, a burly, stern man standing next to him, and they’re talking, and I’m not looking forward to an Irish holding cell and a forced return to America where I’ll only get more of this sort of treatment, where I’ll definitely not be known as being “the nice sort” or even slightly “easy going.”

The two men staring at my passport shook their heads.  The first flipped through each wrinkled page while the other observed, his visage one of paternalistic disdain.

And finally they speak, words I’d been dreading.

“I wish I had an iron.”

“An iron?” I ask, utterly confused by this terrifying Kafka-esque turn.

Neither of them answer my question as they inexplicably return my passport.  “Have fun,” says the first, and I’m really confused.

“Is…is that all I need?”

He nodded, and I shuffled away, staring at my passport, noting finally that he’d been uncreasing the dog-ear edges of its pages for me.

And then I was out, out into Dublin or, more specifically, outside the airport in Dublin, smoking my first cigarette in 12 hours and wondering why the rest of the world isn’t so nice as Irish customs officials.

City of the Dead

12 December, 13 December

Evoke bwSlipping out of time while traveling is great for hearing things you don’t normally hear.  Out of the familiarity of the normal and habitual, senses which fall into disuse and atrophy re-awaken jarringly, as if grumpy and rather pissed they’ve been disturbed.

Suddenly alert for everything because you don’t quite know what you can ignore, every noise, every voice, every distant sound presents itself urgently, overwhelming the usual manner of sorting such sounds.

You’re deafened, and a bit blinded, and a bit numbed from so much.

Like the blind, you can rely on what you know of other things to make guesses regarding what’s in front of you.  Just as the feel of one door teaches you most of what you need to know about most doors, the distancing on one staircase gives you a framework to understand other stairs, some cities teach you the most important things about other cities like it.

A European city teaches quite a bit about other European cities.  Paris and Berlin are radically different, yet knowing one can guide you into knowing the other or another of its kind.  American cities, however, are useless for imparting any such knowledge about how to get around a European city, but the largest European ones make using the New York City subway system seem like child’s play.

Dublin, then, is like Paris, or Berlin, but with many more dead.  In Dublin the dead are roaming about unhindered and unguided– you hear them along with all the city sounds, all the traffic sounds and people sounds and dog barking sounds–all the living sounds and then the dead sounds.

AEire

Dublin is a city of the dead.

You know? I’m embarrassed a bit of how little Irish history I’d remembered, how little of the last 300 years of the place I’d recollected.  I can tell you what happened in Bretagne, or Wales, but Ireland?  I’d forgotten too much of it.

But then I began to remember, because it’s all in front of you, all the dead.  You pass by a field and ask your companion what’s there and he says the answer you’re trying not to listen to: the dead.  Lots of them, all buried together in a mass grave, the “Croppy Acre” of Republican rebels at the turn of the 19th century.  Signs directing you to tombs of fallen revolutionaries are everywhere.  But you don’t really need the signs, because they’re roaming the sea-tinged air as you walk through the streets, trying to get your attention

And trying to get my attention.

I remember when I didn’t listen to the dead, didn’t note their strange hollow pre-electric voices and whispers, heard best not in graveyards but in taverns, not best on Samhain but on Beltaine, not during the times where we go looking for them but in those hours and in those places where they come looking for us.

I don’t quite know what else to say about this.  I should probably conceal these words in poetic musings for those who don’t hear the dead, or don’t think such a thing is likely or even possible.  Poets have done this for centuries, speaking on the fallen with such metaphor anyone might merely encounter such recollections as mere muse-struck rantings.

I could say, perhaps, how the air seems haunted or fragmented echoes of their lives return or some other thing, and leave it at that.

But no.  Dublin is a city of the dead.  They’re fucking everywhere, gating through the very stones, lending a chthonic strength to an other, peculiar thing you note upon treading the streets of this city:

The city’s smeared with anarchist and revolutionary propaganda.

Government go

A few days before I arrived, there’d been a large anti-government rally around attempts to begin charging individuals for water use.  Because of years of government neglect of public infrastructure during the Neo-Liberal policies of the first decade this millennia, Dublin’s water distribution is failing.

In case you don’t remember or never heard, Ireland was called “the Celtic Tiger” because of its willingness to accept international investments without taxing the corporations who benefited from the government’s welcome.  Its economy suddenly appeared to be booming as more and more foreign companies set up there to take advantage of low corporate tax rates, while the government did what every other government’s done in such situations–stopped spending on infrastructure.

The perennial promise of jobs has tricked many a people into opening themselves to pillaging, just as sometimes the promise of a promotion or true love promises many into giving over their bodies to a ravaging, but of any people, the Irish have been ravaged and pillaged more than most.

Now private companies have begun to install water meters into homes in Dublin so the government may begin charging for usage, despite the fact that its citizens already pay for water through a water-tax.

Thousands of people gathered in defiance, blockading the entrances to neighborhoods where the meters were to be installed, and they were visited by a special delegation of people who’ve fought the same war in their own city–Detroit.  The Detroit Water Brigade was here, standing both in solidarity and alliance to the resistance against water privatization and government negligence of the most basic of things governments claim to provide their people.  What use is a government, really, if it does not ensure the water keeps running?

Those familiar with The Morrigan and the questions of sovereignty may already understand this matter, first brought to my attention by Judith O’Grady’s God-Speaking.  Rulers have always been expected to ensure the right-running of a society’s basic needs.  When the crops fail or enemies invade, the governed blame (rightly or wrongly) their rulers, as true in ancient Ireland or Greece as it is now in modern France or Canada.   When rulers fail to protect the people they rule, it is, even in modern society, seen as sort of message from the gods that the ruler is no longer fit to rule.  Presidents who preside over great economic suffering are voted out, Kings and even Dictators in such circumstances are deposed.

Here, then, in Dublin begins one of those crises.  The water system is failing, some communities must boil their water.  The government proposes to fix this not with the money they’ve already collected, but by collecting more money through private means.

And the city resists, and the dead resist with them.

One doesn’t need study too deeply to see what the dead have seen, how the people have always been fucked, be it by foreign powers or by their own governments.  The dead remember, and in Dublin, the dead do not stay still.

The dead have slipped out of time.

To be out of time is not to forget.

The past and the present are not so far apart, they are mere neighbors in the same country of memory, adjacent hillsides or mountains comprising a ridge or a range, trees next to each other becoming a grove or a forest.

The dead do not forget because they are in the place of all remembering, waiting only for the living to remember them.

Running To The Sea

14 December

I woke at 4am on Sunday morning, after a full day traveling with my host, a day which ended with a sudden, minor panic.

I was due to take a ferry across the Irish Sea to Wales to meet my best friend, and because I’ve had so little sleep these last few days, I waited a little too long to purchase my ferry ticket.  All afternoon sailings were booked, leaving me only the option of 8am or 10pm, and only the early sailing would allow me to arrive in time to take a train to my next stop, Caernarfon.

I may have slipped out of time, but the rest of the world has not.

I noticed my mistake at 11pm on Saturday night and purchased the early ticket.  8am isn’t bad in most places, but 8am on a Sunday morning in a heavily Catholic country might as well be 4am–there were no buses that would get me to the terminal in time.

I certainly guess I might have taken a taxi, but taxis cost money and feet are free, so, after managing to sleep a full hour (jetlag’s still got me), I hefted my rucksack and set off on what became a two-and-a-half hour forced march along the Liffey to the Port three hours before sunrise.

It occurs to me one can spin such a predicament however one likes.  Certainly the prospect of waking into a cold and wet and very dark city well before dawn after only one hour of sleep and trudging quickly to catch a ferry carrying 40 pounds of stuff on your back is a miserable thing, except when it’s the most thrilling thing you can possibly think of.  Actually, I kinda love this sort of shit.

Alone as the wind whipped past me in a city I don’t know, surrounded by the voices of the dead and sleeping souls, I walked along the River Liffey and followed her dark, brooding, somber passage through the streets of Dublin, my head full of thoughts mostly my own.

The sights I saw will haunt me for ages, particularly as I drew closer to the sea.  The city that was and the city that is stood together, dripping sky-tears into the river at my right as clouds hid and revealed the year’s last half-moon in the final days before Midwinter.

I really didn’t have the time to stop, but when I came upon a set of emaciated statues, I pretty much had no choice.

By the “International Financial District,” (Dublin’s occupied “Green-Zone” from the Neo-Liberal invasion), there stands a parade of statues, an understated memorial to the victims of the Irish famine.

famine moon

There’s something we tend to forget about famines, and particularly the Irish ones.

But what the dead remember and the living mostly do not is this: the famine and mass exodus of Irish folks was caused by the failure of a crop only as much as the the flooding of New Orleans was caused by a hurricane or the Dust Bowl was caused by bad weather.

Potatoes aren’t even native to Ireland.

Famine

Here, amongst the new foreign banks, the start-ups, the financial and tech firms all eager to bring a decidedly un-modern land into the Modern, there stands these statues.

They are emptied shells, almost impossible to look at for very long, depictions of humans so desperate to survive their new starvation, a famine caused by the next new thing of their time (that is, the birth of the Capitalism), and they shamble near the docks, forever frozen alongside the next new thing of our time.

The irony is almost as painful as their wretched faces in the moonlight by the river, their strained, desperate, despairing looks crying remember.

More than anywhere, it was here I felt the dead, the dead who do not forget, as much as we the living try to forget them.

To be in time is to be separated from our memory, here in the forgetting, but it’s the dead, outside of time, who remain to remind us.

Famine Moon 5


A Marshland Hearth

Travel Journals from A Pilgrimage: Part one

8 December

What You Can Tell a Forest

I’ll start with the last few days.

Or should I start with the last few weeks?  Or months?

I don’t know. Everything runs together. Time folds in on itself, ties itself into knots which meet and bind past events into the present, strands of the future somewhere there in bound echoes about to return.

Here is the sea.  Here is not the sea.  Here is a swamp, waiting for the sea, biding years until the waters rise and it returns to what we all want to be again before returning to the stars.

I’m at a table staring out a darkening window past a window into false light.

I’m here again.

Here is a table in a house of my sister in the dredged and managed swamplands of central Florida, marsh which despite all the efforts of humanity continues, sodden, in the foreign-yet familiar mists falling from the very close sky.

Asphalt and concrete flatten the land, but unlike the streets and highways of Seattle, they seem more like tenuous and temporary tracks across wet sand and thick-bladed grass.  Retention ponds and canals do their best to direct the ancient floods, but they seem mere puddles and ditches, not hewn but dug like the small channels a child’s hand might make on the shore for crashing waves to follow.

I’m here again.

Live Oak One

Here is my sister’s home, where

“sage-blue tufts drape over branches, gossamer ribbons adorning the shade-queen of the summerlands. Willow mourns, but at night, so too does Oak, a dirging dance of stillness, unnoticed steps through silver light seeping through clouded skies.”

I remember when I wrote that, where I sat, what I thought.  Words scattered but inscribed become sigils and glyphs holding fragments of myself to be unlocked, invoked, call forth and scattered again upon winds carrying rains back to the sea.

I remember having no idea, being guided by someone else who is apparently me, me later, me when I know what I’m doing telling myself when I’ve no fucking clue which thing before me must be done, what fragment of unheard music must be strained towards, which words come next after the ones just written.

Others help. Gods dancing in mists and mountains and bigger by far, great forces to which we’ve given names they revealed.

They help, like an earthquake helps settle the land, revitalize the city.

They help, like volcanoes help grow our crops and strengthen the forests.

They help,  like hurricanes sow seeds and water the fields.

So many warnings not to ask them for help, and I smile at my foolishness.

stream 2Others help, and are myriad.  Land spirits are like lovers, so many gifts, so many obligations in any relationship.

The night before I left I missed a bus, another was late.  I’d called on a lover, demand to call upon a lover.  Only someone like me doesn’t pack until midnight before leaving for four weeks, only someone like me ignores the demand because he’s afraid to say good-bye.

I’d written about her-him, so many blues of grey, and she-he’s standing there holding a circlet of light when I arrive, a parting gift I almost scorned because I didn’t want to say good-bye.

Before her-him, the tree I’d blessed, its roots uprooting the sidewalk, the notice posted a warning.  Didn’t know 80 year-olds had monetary value, a 10 grand/mother Maple who “might’ be removed.  Water from elsewhere, a call to others, a blessing and hope that she’d survive the concrete replacement.

Why should a tree have to survive replacement of cement and gravel?

But she did, the gorgeous hobbled lady, branches so absurdly clipped and shaped by men’s insistence that she do what they say they grew outward, away and around the lines strung through her, ever outward from the center of her shapely trunk that maybe no one noticed they’d become a a great wheeled crown.

But my last good-bye had to wait for sleep, all two hours of it before I trudged down a hill with rucksack and pack to the entrance.  Sunrise exploding crimson against dawning, tired clouds, and I at the tree-line.

There wasn’t enough time to sit on the bridge, or to light the candle in the hollowed stump by the elk-tooth. Only a brief “I love you,” sudden sobs, and a muttered, “this is scary, you know.”

Because you can tell forests things like that.

Stream 1These forests here you can tell other things, the things you say to people you don’t need to be brave for, to people you don’t need to console or counsel, to lovers who have no needs and friends who seen so much light your darkness is but welcome, cooling shade.

Your words wash through them like the rain, so many ponds and streams rinsing sepia tannins from sandy soil, water clear and warm and sometimes full of sulphur in the few places the water wells up.

 December 9

They Watch Our Fire, From Forests

Here, we are then, before the fire, flames licking the flesh of trees as Her moon rises with Her stars, I with my words and you with yours.

I am best by a fire.

fire candle 1A candle sits on stones raised upon the flame, dedicated to the Lady of the Flame, and I sit before it, writing you, but really writing me.  I’m always writing to myself, because I am always forgetting, always astonished at the remembering.  I felt like that, I remind myself, from earlier to later, just as I guide myself from now to before.

To write is to slip out of time, sit before a fire with a candle, sipping tea after beer, distant white lights suspended from a moon-lightened sky, his face still in your vision, his words warm as the fire, knowing you’ve slipped outside time.

Like a reflection in a mirror regarded, and the mirror is gone.  Like words on a screen read, and the screen is ignored.  Stare at the glass, at the thin back-lit frame, and you’ve slipped outside of time, or back into it, depending only on your thoughts at the time.

tree 2

The sun drenched the world when I woke today, like the rains drenched the world yesterday.

I’m so exhausted.

Before I left was the book, the review, the essays.  Calming the mad replying to voices that sometimes I’d see–the “special friend who stands over there in the light every night” according to the client who’s words I’ve no reason to doubt.  The rush to prepare the forest for the coming snows, the hours over the hearth melting wax for candles.  Tea with friends and their children, coffee which stretched for hours, watching leather-daddy friends don rubber uniforms while prescribing my “thinking” Paganism a long “bulldog fuck.

Sure, it’s true–I think too much, but do I need to make sense here?

My life there in Seattle makes little sense; any raid on the inarticulate diminishes the experience.  I could say plainly “I was busy restoring a forest, making candles, meeting friends and working.”   But that’s not my life.  No one reads a book where someone goes to work and comes home, and unfelt anecdotes make poor stories:

The moon’s up.

Or:

Above me hangs the moon.

Or:

Gossamer threads of moonlight glisten silver upon the waxed surface of unfamiliar leaves of Southern oak, shattering and shimmering ghostly filaments in the light midnight breeze as smoke curls from embers and licking flames, rising to meet the play of shadowed life.

Who could live otherwise?

Today I woke into sunlight after the mists of yesterday, the marsh-air chill and clear, that electric sense in the breath that warns life will soon be different.  Berlin, too, is built upon a swamp, and the air there keeps you awake all night, full of life inhabited by spirits.

I read of Berlin to a forest-faced friend as we sat by this fire, because he’s the sort of person who should go there, because he’s the sort of person who one wants to read to.

Also, Berlin is in my head and will not leave.  I was last here after my last pilgrimage; I am here again before my next.  I don’t know Dublin, nor Caernarfon.–I would not have known to choose these places, had they not been chosen for me.

I would not have chosen much of any of this, had it been only my choice.  You can’t know how beautiful something will be until you’ve gotten there, how beautiful someone will be until you’ve known them.  This thing about “free-will” has always been a joke, because the moment you’ve chosen, you must give up all choice.  We only have short moments in crossroads, at the still-points of the world before entering back into time, which is also out of time..

What has become of me?

Last year I arrived here from old stones, giants muttering in my sleep, wild boars rummaging my affects, old notes echoing back into new songs, mountains with forgotten temples trying to get me to remember.

And I ask why I should remember.  I am no one, when I am at my best, which is just before I am also at my worst.

When the sun set here I saw again her stars and trembled at the memory, trembled at what I’ve been letting myself pretend I’m not forgetting.

There’s a life that threads itself out of the tapestry we thought we’re weaving.  We’re never the only ones at the loom.

fire candle 2These are the thoughts you have before a fire, the same firepit into which you offered three year’s of words, tearing each page from a book as you read them, laughing with laughter that wasn’t your own.  Brighid wanted “important paper,” and it was the most important all.

Certain words only become spells when committed to flames.  “Something’s coming,” I’d written, “or Someone” on the last page of that journal, the last entry before the fires came, before I noticed I’d entered a forge.

I’m in marshlands before a hearth-fire under a familiar moon, surrounded by spirits of memory, the few spirits I’m ever certain are actually mostly “in my head.”

But a land is a relationship, land spirits warm friends.  It’s not lost on me how the moon’s the same as when I saw her with him.  She remembers like I do, I suspect, remembers the welling hope and awkward fumbling under the moon, almost the same time last year.  Like friends return bits of yourself after the distance of years, love never lost to the heart, perhaps she remembers, too, offering back to me what she gathered, what we left.

I’d fallen awfully hard for him, a most delightful soul.  Like me, a being not quite in-place with where he lives, not quite in-time with his age. Film-maker, satyr bleeding thoughts through his words that aren’t quite ready to survive this world until it’s changed to greet him.

Awkward fumbling on a stone under those branches, passion locked in movement’s not quite in time with music neither of us could here.

And he, later, his face like a forest, said “You deserve someone to ravenously explore your castle.” And he, adding, said “I’m not very hungry at the moment.”

Everyone should be let down so exquisitely.

Share dreams with someone and you slip out of time, or your dreams escape into the world between the walls, waiting.  It takes little for their return, waiting, suspended, a stash of hope, a forgotten cache of joy, never lost, only displaced.

And the land knows best where its hidden, because these sometimes are our unbidden gifts to them.

By this fire, sharing my brother-in-law’s ale, sharing our new lack of fear as the spirits watch, quietly, dancing to our words.  I’ve only now just realized they were there as I write these words.

What else watches our love, laughing?  Who else peers through moon-silver branch as we speak, or kiss, or sigh?

December 10

Summerlands Waiting For the Sea

The air today longs, languid memories hanging in the air like summer motes of pollen in sepia-stained even-ing.

But the days are short, shorter than those days suspended in memory of endless summer.  The shortest soon arrives, and I’ll greet it in a tomb.

I’m not ready.  I’m not ever ready.  You don’t leave a place when you’ve prepared, else you never leave.  You do not summon love, it arrives upon you and you could not have known.  Death does not come when things are all gotten into order and tidy, it comes only when it’s time.

And on time, I’ve still slipped out of it.  Not that strange stroke of misfortune where every hour is wrong, events pass and you were not there.  That other time, that time out-of-time, when mysteries walk with you and trees dance with volition.

Everything breathes, but only out-of-time can we feel their exhalations and not suffocate.

I leave here tomorrow, having only just arrived.

This stop before Ireland was the original plan before all those other events conspired to send me across an ocean, calls it seemed foolish to leave unanswered.

I lived much of my adolescence in the dredged southern marshes, struggling to be something unknown and unimagined by the asphalt and beaches, the shopping centers and suburbs.  I fled the swamps, first to the old brick of New England, than to the old trees of the Northwest, skirting the borders between temperate and boreal, in search of chill mists where dreams of the Other hide in fern and cloud.

Last year, I finally returned, after a decade away, long enough time between what I’m always becoming and what is only offered that I would no longer sink in these swamps.

Months with family I’d too-little seen, the warmest of hearths, food and drink and dancing life.

It’s here, last year, I began writing things other people wanted to read.  It was here, last year, I decided what I wanted to become.  Enough time away, enough time being other, enough time in the Other and any land seems to rise to greet you, offering strange gifts to your own fumbled giftings.

The land makes you, as we make everything from the land.

What I am and think and feel in Seattle is not what I am and think and feel here.  Re-reading my words, I note the subtle qualities of the in-breathed air in the sentences I form.

Seattle is all edge, uneven land surrounded by water, floating above a fault.  To rest there is to stare into distraction, to quiet the unheard noise of welling fire and crushing rocks beneath your feet.

Here is waiting for the sea, basking in light even in the chilling winter, greens and blues making violet somehow in the shadows, vibrant scent of fecund evening lingering long into night.  I dream of the summerlands, visions dancing just-out-of-sight of ancient life painted with even older art.

Tomorrow, a plane, an ocean.   The dreams will fade, become other dreams I’ve never seen.  Leaving the warm hearth of family will not be easy, and I shall miss the languid longing breaths of the spirits of these silent, watching trees.

 

 


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 719 other followers