The Sunday Weekly poetry post coincides with the third eclipse in thirty days. We had a full moon lunar eclipse on 5th June. Then came the solar eclipse that coincided with Summer Solstice. Then the very rare third eclipse within thirty days. Eclipses generally only come in pairs. We will have to wait another eight years before we see the triple eclipse in a month phenonmena.
I am still doing practice runs on Zoom, figuring out how I want to format creative writing Zoom worshops online with my band of volunteers. Yesterday’s exercise involved some rapid associations with the word eclipse. Other than the astronomical and ornithological definitions, it is also used in comparisons to say X has surpassed Y somehow. Also, “to obscure the light.” I asked the usual six questions of what, where, who, when, why and how light is or can be obscured. Then…go!
My own in class cogitations resulted in this word doodle that concentrated on the Lilith – Adam- Eve triangle. I always characterise lunar eclipses as being Lilith kinds of events. Because she was said to like to be on top, which led to a very stormy marital bed with Adam.
The sun and moon collide.
The full moon rides the sun
like a witch astride her besom.
Lilith left Adam in the shade.
Eve found the desire to know
had a bewitching, heady perfume.
Eve stayed with Adam in shadow.
Paradise - delayed.
This stormy morning that alternates between heavy rain showers and brief bursts of sunshine, I had another stab at the theme. Wallace Steven’s sublime 13 Ways to Look at a Blackbird always feels like a suitable poem to read on the Sabbath. That is a masterful poem, but also a useful reminder to look at a subject from as many angles as possible. This morning I managed eight.
A lot can happen in a week’s time. This week I piloted my first creative writing Zoom session with a handful of volunteers who are helping me find my way towards the most workable method and format. I have been facilitating creative workshops in the Marble Arch Caves Geopark region now for nearly ten years. I know I will need to alter some of my teaching methods, but I also want to maintain the integrity of the sharing sessions. Besides, come winter when we are all holed up, we will need these kinds of interactions as we isolate to keep the bugs at bay. We have another session at this week’s end which I hope will tease out the details of how I will operate in the Word Alchemy Zoom Room.
Also this week, our Taoiseach announced that the Roadmap to Re-opening is being accelerated since we have maintained our flattened curve. From next Monday we can drive anywhere, not just stick to our county or venture 20 km if we have to cross county boundaries. We still need to mask on public transport and in crowded shops, but we are also asked to be sensible and leave anywhere as the it begins to build a crowd. And, as always, maintain two metres social distance and wash your hands! But I cannot say I am hankering to go any great distance. I can now book a hair dresser appointment and get a trim from my local hairdresser who will be in mask and PPE and providing for customers likewise; I am waiting patiently for my appointment. That may be about as much excitement as I can take. Appointments with Nuala are generally jolly.
And I guess it was like this for our ancestors before the advent of the car or automotive mass transit. We stayed local. We knew our locality intimately – the blades of grass as much as all the human inhabitants. Currently, I am slowly savouring an excellent book written by a fifteen year old from Northern Ireland. Diary of a Young Naturalist shows me so much of what I do not notice. I wish I could match the all of the bird species to the songs I hear. Sadly, I may know many by sight, but few by sound.
My Zoom session picked up on a quotation from an article in the 13th June Guardian Review section. Several writers were asked what they had learned under lockdown. I picked up on one quotation from Kiran Millward Hargrave.
What lockdown has taught me is to notice. My luck, yes, and also the many blessings of where I live.
We have just passed one of the great axis points of the year. In Ireland, summer solstice happened at 10:43 pm last night. The wind was wild and the rain sometimes quite fierce. Then we have the solar eclipse (a new moon) at 4:45am. Yes, I did set the alarm and I scrabbled around trying to get the live feed to the Solstice Gathering in Glastonbury. (I visited at Bealtaine 2018; Chalice Well gardens are beautiful.) But they had some tech difficulties with the wind and weather and the opening was a bit delayed. By the time of the peak of the eclipse it was 7:40. The rain had stopped and wind eased, so I took my drum out onto our new patio area and drummed prayers of gratitude to the land that has held us in its verdant palm through the months of maintaining the collective quarantine.
What I Noticed In My Cocoon
the early purple orchid for the first time in eighteen springtimes
I have walked up and down and up and down again
and again on the lane just outside my front door.
the cuckoo calling and calling from week three of staying put.
Out in the garden one day my husband called out to me.
A great buff cuckoo had flown over our nest.
anxiety in my sweat. Sometimes it hurt so much to think about...
I would lean into the kitchen sink and think
"Brace! Brace! Brace!" and wait for the wave to crash.
so I cooked up whatever deliciousness made from the anything to hand.
And I baked, rationing out the butter, eggs and the sugar
to make sure we always had some sweetness on our tongues.
I could pat the dog and carry around the cat.
I picked flowers from the garden and arranged them artistically.
I held my husband's hand. Sometimes guiltily. Because I could.
one day when I pegged the washing on the line I looked up
and saw a jet stream's track arching across a clear, blue sky.
I wanted to write something that was included both the summer solstice and the eclipse. I tried some haiku, a senryu and tanka. In the end, I was most satisfied with the tanka.
Keep in touch each Sunday with this blog when I will announce when creative writing workshops will be up and running in the Word Alchemy Zoom Room.
June 5th marks the first of three eclipses within thirty days. We have two lunar eclipses with the full moons on the 5th of June and on 4th July. Sandwiched between, on the same day as summer solstice,we have a solar eclipse on 21st June. In reading an email from astrologer Chani Nicholas about this tumulutous thirty days, I feel she makes a very pertinent remark that speaks to the world’s current condition. Eclipses, in her view, purge toxicity. We usually get two sets of solar and lunar eclipses every year. 2020, very unusually, offers us an extra set. To have three within thirty days is also an astrological rarity. And what she feels this period asks of us is to “investigate the connective tissue of our world and our lives.”
What connections have been eclipsed? What has been shadowed? How does this illuminate our current condition? Two articles I have read this week have made a great impression upon me. Both are intrinsic to my interrogating my white person’s privelege. The first is an early release of of Anne Applebaum’s article “History Will Judge the Complicit”, the cover story for the July/August edition of The Atlantic.https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2020/07/trumps-collaborators/612250/ . The second arrived in an email from Maria Popova’s Brainpickings website that includes a dialogue on race (from Rap on Race) between anthropologist, Margaret Mead, and author James Baldwin.
We sideline our past at our peril. How often are we encouraged too soon to “move on?”
“Moving on” often encodes other people’s agendas for us. It can sow a spurious forgetfulness of pain. “Moving on” sometimes skates on the surfaces, denying the depth of pain or grief. It can lead to stuffing down emotions that are not validated, where they go to live in some shadowy corner of our body and mind.
“Moving on” can become an excuse for avoiding responsibility. At worst, it is a conscious tactic to shirk responsibility and guilt. It is a ducking down, avoiding getting caught in the act of complicity. It can even disguise itself and become a strategy to avoid being identified as the cause that effected the pain. “Moving on” can be like forgoing an autopsy on an unexplained death and going without the Medical Examiner’s pathology report that fully explains the damage inflicted from ‘the gross insult’ to the person.
And, going down metaphor lane, we can extend this to mean not just the gross insult to a physical body, or person, but also to minds, to a community, to a group of people who have had a label hung around their necks like a yoke is put on oxen.
Which happened to some slaves on American soil. They were human beings classified as chattels, listed as property in wills and tax records. The story of enslaved human beings on the soil that became known as the United States of America began in 1619. We have had four hundred years of racism. The US capital city, the White House, and Capital itself, was built by enslaved people.
I do not want to move on from this moment in history if it means the continuation of oppression.
This is where James Baldwin’s and Margaret Mead’s discussion is thought provoking. Mead cannot accept Baldwin’s assertion that he is responsible for the perpetuation of racist attacks. Why? Because he did nothing to stop them happening. He addresses the state of our – all of us – complicity. “All of us have produced a system of reality which we cannot in anyway control; what we call history is perhaps a way of avoiding responsibility for what has happened, what is happening, in time.” And, by his lights, atonement is called for. Then there can be forgiveness and history is no longer an excuse note.
Considering that long history of oppression on US soil, I remembered an 18th century American man who made concerted life-changing decisions not to remain complicit. Like Saul before him, this devout Quaker had a Damascene moment. His employer asked him to write a bill of sale for the purchase of a human being. He was so appalled by this action that he refused to do so again and found alternative employment that aligned with his conscience.
Behind the unfamiliar 18th century turn of phrase, he acknowledges how the selfish spirit, ever strong, can be rooted in the oppression and exploitation of others. Long before Ghandi and Dr. Martin Luther King were espousing non-violent direct action, Woolman was interrogating his own responsibility and complicity in the oppression and violent harm to others. He was a Recorded Minister in the Religious Society of Friends, but he preached with gentle persuasion and explanations as to how his conscience had decided (or ‘convinced’ him to use Quaker terminology) upon his course of action. Always, he took long, prayerful consideration of what Jesus would do in any circumstance. He resisted his white privelage as best he could under the circumstances of colonial, pre-Revolutionary America. By the time he died he had convinced all Quakers to free their own slaves and begin the long compaign to change the hearts and minds of others to outlaw the slave trade. In effect, he galvanised Quakers to consider that their faith was intimately connected with effecting social justice for other than themselves. That, in effect, social justice activism was the connective tissue of their religion.
It began by addressing his shadow, his sense of guilt towards another human being and his responsibility as a humble clerk, a tiny cog in the system that was evil. He did his best to atone.
By The Light
When his employer asked him, a clerk,
to write a bill of sale of one human being
to another, he stopped.
He would never do it twice.
Not for the sake of a wage. There could be other
employment - tailoring, for instance. But then -
cotton! Picked by slave labour. So
and wore flax instead.
He travelled in the ministry to share the light
of a Christianity out of step with many.
to where the words came from.
Even when they spoke in different tongues
he felt for the Spirit moving within
his Friend, his Neighbour.
And he coveted none that belonged to them,
like their dignity. Guest at plantations he paid slaves
for their service, gently asking his hosts to honour
his Conscience 's dictates.
Not theirs. (Not yet.) An early exercise
in consciousness raising. Like not taking sugar
or drinking rum, small acts accumulate into petitions
to deliver us from great evil.
He was only one, and mostly unsung.
He did strive to live in The Light, awake,
considering how one may live away
from the Valley of Shadow, with Darkness undone.
It’s been quite the week. And I might have taken the Wolf Moon eclipse as my Sunday Weekly poem’s subject matter. But then we had an eclipse at Wolf Moon 2019 and I wrote one then. And I did write a draft of 2020 version, but I figured we might need to mix things up a bit this week.
Or nature might have been my muse. We have had some spectacular skies here this week as a parenthesis to the full moon’s eclipse.
But nah! When you have houseguests you tend to think a lot about menus. So food has been my muse. Also, there is a lot of music being played in the house.
I had a lovely view of the supermoon last night around 9pm when the sky was clear. Heartened that I might get a really great view during the eclipse in the stupid o’clock hours, I set my alarm. Sadly, the cloud cover rolled in overnight and the eclipsing moon was cloud obscured. Anyway, I was up already and Tibetan Buddhists reckon that prayers or ceremony done during a lunar eclipse is like 30,000 times more powerful than at ordinary times. So I stayed up, prayed some, and then tackled the poetry practice.
This total lunar eclipse has been called Wolf Moon, Ice Moon and Snow Moon. It is perigree, which meant when I did see the great round ball last night with its pinky gold nebula it really did sparkle its supermoon status. A phone conversation last night reminded me of the meaning behind the word mosaic. Which is a lovely word… but it did take me schussing off-piste on the eclipse subject!
The sun or moon obliterates the other and we shudder that Mom and Dad could be so horrid to each other. We know what's happening behind the cloud cover.
We feel the cold, the edgy air. We breathe in the frost particles barely daring to exhale. And then when we do, it is with a prayer
that all this broken and beautiful world should come together, each little jagged piece pulled into a whole. And that Mom and Dad
will never fall out again. Make up! Make love! Except that they will. They always do. Then each of us jagged pieces looks above and we patch the gaps made up from dark.
It matters not if there's any overlap. We are just doing our best, fumbling, apologising, trying to make a union from holey snips, snaps, scraps.
I expect the ancients knew eclipses make children of us all. It is wonder and awe. Terror, too. Sun or moon extinguishing the other,
cognisant perhaps how the children break a little more each time, attuned as they are to parental moods, uneasy about what might just happen.
And it is then that we are all one single brood, listening to the same old bicker, tired of the bitter argument's fixtures that break over and over each and every heart.
Over and over we pick out individual shards, uniting the many into a single beautiful, somewhat scarred, humanity, our broken and beautiful mosaic heart.
Epiphany: feast of the three kings. Lyrical, ecstatic Joysian reverie. Also, Women’s Little Christmas in Ireland: Nollaig na mBan. This is a license for all the Mother Christmases over the world to loll about, be waited on, fussed over, as just reward for doing most of the heavy lifting over this hospitable Midwintertide. The less clement weather is a perfect excuse to while away the day with a cozy mystery.
The last of the Omen Days is also a day of a solar eclipse here in Ireland. It occured from 1:38 am here. So haphazard is my sleep pattern these days I woke up for it and was awake and writing in its wake before getting in another couple of naps. I last roused in daylight and found that the long run of dry days has ceased.
Rain - dry spell over Alder has its feet wet A season for prophets
And because I had some hours in the darkness around 3am to while away, I contemplated the word eclipse and finally gave way to some word play with it. I looked up as many synonyms for eclipse to work into it. And yes, that final line in in the the list of synonyms! Eclipses have traditionally been viewed as portentious events in ancient times. So an eclipse on an Omen Day is a bit of a double whammy.
So a double helping for today’s Poetry Daily.
Lilith flies in dark moon sky Riding her mate on the fly