I miss the dignity of an inauguration that included a poet like Maya Angelou. Hearing her read “On the Pulse of Morning” made me feel for a time like I, who wrote many poems back then, was actually somehow a relevant part of this nation. I bought her small booklet from a bookstore, held it close as if it were a new amulet of power against the lying world I felt adrift in. I could make a home in her pages.
From On the Pulse of Morning
“There is a true yearning to respond to
The singing River and the wise Rock.
So say the Asian, the Hispanic, the Jew
The African and Native American, the Sioux,
The Catholic, the Muslim, the French, the Greek
The Irish, the Rabbi, the Priest, the Sheikh,
The Gay, the Straight, the Preacher,
The privileged, the homeless, the Teacher.
They hear. They all hear
The speaking of the Tree.
Today, the first and last of every Tree
Speaks to humankind. Come to me, here beside the River.
Plant yourself beside me, here beside the River.
Each of you, descendant of some passed
On traveller, has been paid for.”
I have been paid for, I belong.
Now that was an inauguration to celebrate.
She once said that words were things, things with power. They got into your home, into the walls, into the floor, your cloths, even into you. If this is true, then poetry is truly the work of conjuring wizards who can see their invisible magic waiting to be courted into the world. Maya Angelou was such a master.
The Irish know the power of words well; for conjuring and claiming and shape-shifting. I’ve been especially interested in poetry’s ability mend our relationship with the Otherworld, to stitch us into the wild soul of life. I think of this poetry as the Original Poetry of my ancestors. It was more a kind of prayer to bring themselves back into balance with the world, to come into this moment, to join with the spirits, to join with the land. To make themselves ready to listen to the great song of life.
From the Song of Amergin
I am Boar for Boldness,
I am Salmon in Pool,
I am a Lake on a Plain,
I am a Hill of Poetry,
I am a Word of Skill,
I am the Point of a fighting Weapon,
I am God who fashions Fire for a Head.
We have no such words from many our leaders. The words assaulting us turn sour quickly, often leaving me with a rancid gut feeling. They are wizards of course, but of a different sort. I’m glad I don’t live in their homes, with the words clinging to their walls.
The land needs us to find our balance with it, to look to it for our sense of sanity. The natural world seems to understand that human beings are prone to forgetting who they are, to becoming mad with power or desperation, or loss. We must remind ourselves, over and over again, of our place in the world. It has been so long forgotten by so many of us, by so many of our leaders.
I hope you will, in these days of radiant resistance, remember to take with you your inherent words of power. They are those words that make you humble, make you feel sweetly loved by the dirt and trees you pass. On a crisp day, when everything comes together, they fill you with the power of the Gods to transform the world. Its like flying to the highest peaks of the world without having your feet ever leave the ground. In that moment perhaps you know some small breath of the life Maya Angelou had, some flavor of that moment when she stood on a hill and proclaimed the fearless ever-loving truth.
Blessings to you and yours during these times of great change.
My Swan Prayer
In the morning
I make my prayers,
with aching back,
and the slow blood,
of an aging father.
My prayer is for the gift of wings
lifting warm bellies, curving above the stone-thundering Pacific
For the sky dancing voices
hunters & hunted
squawking caramel laughter.
I give my prayer so you may continue
to feast on night flies,
dig rustling flapping thatched dugouts,
pitch lives in twisting winds
that tear us apart.
I am the Swan
powerful and True
bound to the sky
I become fire in the belly.