June 24, 2012 § 1 Comment
I found this piece of driftwood in Bolinas, California, in my 20’s. I recognized her at once as a goddess. I used to prop her against the wall of our Berkeley apartment with a small shrine of beautiful stones around her. Sometimes I’d include a piece of jewelry, but I’d always take that back. In my cups, I might surround her with nuts and berries, but I took those back too.
I called myself a pagan and wanted ritual, but not like the women and men who formed covens in San Francisco and Marin County. I was afraid they were silly. My nature/spirit worship was of a higher order, clung to the page, refused contamination and connected me to childhood. At seven and eight years old, I was deeply familiar with the fairytale literature concerning stolen children, and fully expected to be one. That my mother told me she had expected the same thing—said lovingly, as a way of bonding with her dreamy daughter—was disturbing, but I managed to put it aside. The dreariness of daily life, which school made numbingly clear to me, the unknown horrors of working life, which my father illustrated by returning home every night in a rage, would not be my problem. I had my ticket out.
My compromise, as I grew older, passed the threshold of puberty and grew ever more rooted to our visible world, was that magic did exist in some unspecified way. It existed for me. Not just the “magic” of the moonlit night, the foreign city, but a secret thread in the cloth of the universe, my protection and guide. There was poetry, of course, and in college I wrote a paper comparing The ErlKing to The Stolen Child. My mother and I shared the excitement of reading Robert Graves’ The White Goddess. It’s the work of a brilliant writer madly in love with the Goddess, using every tool of his intellect, intuition and vast scholarship to find her.
That I found my goddess was not surprising to me. That she guarded me I didn’t doubt. I was so young, newly married (with four stepchildren!), exquisitely sensitive, afraid of and longing for new people and experiences, for the life that was surging past my door. That I wanted, most of all, not to be afraid, I recognized. That my goddess was not about fear, I recognized. My goddess was what I kept safe, the unspoiled solitary appreciation of the numinous.
I don’t look at her very often anymore, but when I do, she still speaks to me. She says different things now. She’s like the old woman who has always known you were doing things wrong, but held her tongue because youth is stupid. I’ll never be as old as the goddess, but we’re closer. She tells me the numinous isn’t going anywhere, even if I share it with others.
After Ken Burns
The beautiful plate I cracked in half as I wrapped it in tissue paper—
as if the worship of a thing might be the thing that breaks it.
This river, which is life, which is wayfaring. This river,
which is also sky. This dipper, full of mind, which is
not only the hysterical giggling of girls, but the trembling
of the elderly. Not only
the scales, beaks, and teeth of creatures, but also
their imaginative names (elephant, peacock) and their
love of one another, the excited
preparations they sometimes make
for their own deaths.
It is as if some graceful goddess, wandering in the dark, desperate with thirst, bent down and dropped that dipper
clumsily in this river. It floated away. Consciousness, memory, sensory information, the historians and their glorious war . . .
The pineal gland, tiny pinecone in the forehead, our third eye: Of course
it will happen here. No doubt. Someday, here,
in this little house,
they will lay the wounded side by side. The blood
will run into the basement through the boards. Their ghosts are already here, along
with the cracked plate wrapped in old paper in the attic,
and the woman who will turn one day at the window to see
a long strange line of vehicles traveling slowly toward her door, which
she opens (what choice does she have?) although she has not yet been born.