prune the tips, the roots release; disturb the roots, the branches dry and fall. all in song. death, the dark interval. breath, the vital evidence of our ultimate boundlessness.
yes, vines sometimes pull down trees. that’s part of why they were dreamed out of the dark. the great ones cannot be great if they cannot also sometimes be called all the way back home.
look: to anyone who longs for truth and struggles sleepless and in pain through the accretions of digitally mediated deception, look: two lies don’t make a truth, but the collective weight of all this contradiction will bring itself down back to the one who can turn it all to life. mother soil. humic mercy. the ceaseless prayer of the millions of invisible decomposers wait to sing the melody of this aching senescent civilization backwards into trace minerals, trace nutrients, trace feelings, trace meanings.
in-breath, shudder. the re-expansion of constricted rib cages, the shudder of a skyscraper foundation; out-breath, sing. the song that streaks into the sky like a firebird, the cry that clears all debts, the diamond mirror light behind the eyes.
i am a reluctant ecstatic and every coy dodging of the question of how i am doing transports ions to feed the quavering action potential ready for a synaptic bolt to tear up and fertilize fenced downtown parking lots.
in this torturous life where i watch everything i was born into turn into resentful upside-down autophagy formatted for maximum click-through-rate, one of the things i struggle with most is the bottom-of-the-belly urge to holler and burn with gratitude flashing through my eyes proclaiming this cleansing renewing all-forgiving love that somehow i and everything seems to be made of.
Three years and seven months after shedding so much….
not just electricity, hot showers, unlimited water, and fast internet, but comforts I didn’t really know I was surrendering: walls, extra space, dry space, climate control, privacy, the ability to close the front door and drown out the din and scrape of the world
and then I had to shed my marriage and shed the big save-the-world dream that was both its lovechild and its devourer
and 16 of the 17 acres of land we bought together; and all the structures we built together – the pulsing lapine spaceship yome, the avant garde theater stage + weird exposed atonement dishwashing purgatory of the outdoor kitchen and deck, the built-naked-in-a-record-breaking-heatwave with tree felling near misses and horrendous arguments barn, the scraggly spiral prayer of a forest garden, even the ducks whose fat moon eggs were for me almost compensation for the insomnia, and even the pine trees who I spent dozens of nights sure would crush me as I slept
and after shedding all that, to shed the consolations I had been promising myself as comfort if I lost my marriage as each was canceled due to plague
and to shed all the solutions I was sure even to the last minute could still make it all better. we’d build a big wall and it would be the best wall, or we would find some experimental new couples therapy, or I would scour from myself the last trickles of trauma and become super-husband, whose god-like vulnerability would exude marriage healing rays that could bend hard reality like a willow so we could just be easy together
and then finally, after shedding all that, I had to shed my certainty that I knew what anything was about or what anything was ever for, when I suddenly found myself joyfully annihilated in transformative love with a beloved friend, who celebrated with me in the tatters and held the heap of me through the long dark of my collapse until no boundary between my tears of grief and of gratitude could be seen
and to shed my own loneliness, as a few of my closest friends came even closer into my life, and the poor inner child in me who had been howling in the woods was the laughing crying center of a hearth of the most brave and beautiful people I could hope to know in this lifetime
and to shed my own renunciation of all capital ‘D’ Dreams, as a dream quite similar to the one we’d started out in the woods was dropped into my increasingly laden basket of utter bewilderment and I was invited to help create another permaculture community and given another chance to plant holy trees in a way that maybe just maybe helps feed life.
A funny detail of my life is that for utterly nerdy reasons, my first strong solid friend group gave me the nickname ‘Snake.’ Even my first devoted lover called me that. For about four years, I was known to more people as Snake than by my birth name. And maybe now I can own this a little – shedding skin after skin after skin.
In the old Lindwurm story that’s been making the rounds in the weird circles I call home, the snake sheds skin after skin after skin until finally, his naked pink interior is scrubbed with steel wool and he cries out in tremendous anguish – only to have his raw skin bathed by a peasant goddess with the warm milk of unconditional welcome. When the bath is done, he turns into a human.
I’d like to send this communication now from the strange vantage of being a human.
What’s it like?
It is deeply humbling. A human depends on countless other beings to exist and on a matrix of just-so conditions that can’t waver too much or – whoosh – no more human.
A human isn’t promised anything or entitled to anything. And yet the non-human beings they co-habitate with are extremely generous. There are so many gifts from the non-human beings they count on that no one who ever lived could keep track of them all. It would be impossible to do an inventory of all the ways a single tree could help a human – and most humans have access to many more trees than one.
If a human slows down enough and resides in the senses, they can touch into a kind of underground river that connects them with all other beings. Even if they can’t do anything to change it, they can feel the whole thing. Sometimes when they feel it they create poetry or songs or just laugh or cry. In that place, a human can also ask god to promise something. a human can be promised something.
A human can experience so much pleasure and inside the heights of true human pleasure which is really made entirely of non-human things is this wonderful secret that can lead right to the heart of stillness. The place of experiencing true pleasure is a place of utter stillness. The birds still sing it to us every day.
A human is asked to play an extremely subtle role in the organism of the earth and the pulsations of the stars. They can’t really know what it is. The stories they can tell about what it is are just the surface concealing the depths. They have to tell these stories anyway, to give cover for the work to happen inside the earth. Human stories are leaves on the forest floor.
A human can change shapes. They can do the work of other animals and plants, as well as of other humans. They can’t do it as well as those animals or plants or those other humans, but they can do it. If they don’t want to do the work, they can help make sure the other animals and plants are there to do it. They can protect them from being taken. If they do not protect the other beings, humans have no choice but to shapeshift into other plants and animals to survive. A human can look very funny trying to be so many plants and animals.
The modern world doesn’t make us human any more than laboratory cages make a chimpanzee a chimpanzee. We can and sometimes do become human inside all kinds of cages – public school cages, prison cages, career cages, dogma cages, political cages, hospital cages – but this is the hard road. Becoming human is easier when foxfire shows us the path in the dark. It is harder when headlamps show us the way back to the highway. We are heading for a time where many, many humans are about to be born.
As stillness is the mother of motion, silence is the mother of words, and the center is the mother of the liminal. And now, in some way for everyone, the liminal is all there is.
When I feel too much in the center of things, the liminal sings to me from the edges. It is shade to the August sun, forest edge to the tired field. Growing up, the industrial homogenizing culture felt so ubiquitous, immovable, inescapable. It was the terror of the stable built atop the fault line. Outside of it was vapors and madness, the beyond the pale. Yet that was clearly where I wanted to go. Now the center with its illusion of a foundation is gone. The tipping points are passed. Gravity’s indiscriminate hand is pulling the hollow tree of industrial civilization back to the soil. And everyone is coming to live where I used to feel like I lived, alone – in precarity, in impermanence, in uncertainty, and when grace comes through, in mystery. And with the center now abandoned, I, maybe in some way in my blood a certain kind of explorer, wants to go there.
What do I find there?
No industry. No politics. No media. No popular culture. No electricity. No religion. No nations. No ideologies. Nothing to defend or decry. This center is primordial and newborn. It is the still center the frantic center was obscuring. The patient chaos. The simple unbroken melody. It is where to start a garden again.
I walk to it, light and bewildered. Grief is the footfalls. Longing is the breath. I stand in it, undone and unassuming.
Once there was a short pleasure in naming. Now names are swarming hordes in fiber optic tentacles dense and enervated beneath the tides. I give up naming, then. Once, the mind could dazzle and spark with ideas, caffeinated into the feeling of a kind of stellar nursery churning new light and a lot of dark matter. Now ideas are nothing but another concrescence of the great transparent labyrinth of a long past senescent culture. I give up ideas, then. Once religion was the ornate retreading of a mystic’s footsteps to the shape of god, and now it’s a muddy eroded rut collecting runoff and barely shielding anyone from the existential howl that begs to be howled when the human soul is faced with so many simultaneous choices of shampoo. I give up religion.
Oh center, tremendous dare. If I am still, everything will land on my skin at once. Everything will feast on me.
Weep with me, porous heart. Weep with me, you, the permeable. You spirit-scoured, You crystal in the bedrock bared by the rushing Of moon suckling seas.
Call down indigo night and Star-eaten grandmother blanket To drape over us thatch huts Trembling beneath the comet.
Cry with my hand in yours, Widowed wolf alone in winter, Hot breath clutched beneath roots With no other heartbeat, just one No other heartbeat, just one to Ache howl pip ruby light into the egg of time.
A hill witch poet told me It was thought for a while The beavers were going extinct.
They disappeared like the druids. Stream-bending millions become fugitive rumors, Gnaw sign, and maybe nuisance To someone’s cultivars, somewhere.
Yet they had only died to the day. Shedding millions of years of biorhythms In a generation. They became
Nocturnal, furtive holy architects, Concealed clan of slick pelt Diamond tooth river kin Stream seam bend mending For the slowness, for the slowness,
Moon on water From twilight to dawn.
Somehow beaver stepped into the underworld For at least a hundred years, Until our steel traps all rusted And then beaver stepped out again.
Sometimes a homeless mouse Still takes up a dry wattle elbow In the time-pocket hearth Of a beaver den in winter.
Original hospitality, Lichen on antler, Lets the mouse Dream in ease, Wind and snow.
When a virus diminished For a single geologic breath The mandated patriotic incessence Of highway, factory, and jet, Seismologists registered A never known in my lifetime Muting of the imperial hum. It was perceivable for miles underground And the dead felt its peace.
What happens to me If Ilet myself admit How much I want This hum to stop?
What happens is: The world turns to stone And one day it melts again.
And the meltwater is tears and smile Quaking the body awake And in the tearstream is a den.
In that den, The rarest qualities Will bed down Beside you With ease.
Your candle of old fat Will be the comfort Of ridealong newborn Deities.
When the music changes They begin to pip and draw world into the egg And they spill into the world.
If you wake one day With the terrible memory That you left Silence alone On the trail somewhere And the night has fallen And the trail is for thieves And you can’t remember where And even then, you can’t, you can’t –
be. In your ache, become. Be Silence.
Deny the quake of blaring musts Be still. Be refuge.
The stone in the stream digs a hollow.
Deep enough down there is a door in the hollow To all those waiting guests.
After reason abandons his post It yowls wide opens And god and her mouse Move in.
Silence, I am ark for you Stillness, I am den for you Tenderness, Every single beat Of my blood Is sheepskin rug For your curled body.
loss: an overtone is forever added to the skin of the drum.
we seal hours trying to dampen the orphan harmonics that trouble the maker’s sound.
the hair we tear out alone on a feast day we tape to the drum head muffling some, never all of the raw ringing out.
I’ve been kin to tundra swan shadows, sorrow folded shoulders that undress the heart, neptune come to rest in the marked palm of grief’s chosen family
and i say in ardent love i will not mute the drums I play beneath your corn-ripening sobs.
for you and our loss, this scratched skin sings, zero-bound infinity, sings through the hole, the hole in my voice.
Disappoint me tenderly, catcher of sighs. I have learned not to worry about what I pray for. Yes, it will all come true. No, never how I think. I cry, shower me in joy! Let me wake up hummingbird, my needlebeak already deep in pooling essence. Or, all the same, toss me into your briars! Let my restlessness bloom iron to spill on newborn weeds chosen to dance for the milky way. Suffering and ease, a single weave, a featherbeat, a pulsing loom, Wineberries swell beneath the moon, Recall, recall, recall, recall.
Holy compost, and holy makers of compost. Great billions unseen working with water and the broken. I know the broken open and the broken apart are the bells that call you to the table and the aromas that stir you to life.
I’ve got something for you. I’ve got something for you to worm into, wind into, water into; to grind, combust, exhale to the great catcher of sighs above; to excrete, purge, cast, and fix – fix it dark and humic, fix it grain and clump, and bond to the end of my mistakes countless ions of magnesium and calcium to be the distant cracked hickory meat for some hungry belly a hundred millenia from this very local ache.
Oh eyeless playmates of rupturing time, it isn’t like I didn’t try to break it down on my own. I’ve been digesting the wool and amethyst body of all this as long as I’ve kept cold lightning in these nerves. Blessed heap, it isn’t like I lack cunning. Artifice, I relinquish. Craft, I rush. It’s cunning now that calls me to call to you. This is the time to give over remains to origin and finish.
Take these mistakes and take the squirming veil. Take the distance between my eyes and the soul of the world. Take them and grind, combust, exhale, excrete, purge, cast, and fix – fix the exhausted rider and mare to the mother place where they wait the time it takes starlight to echo, to be born again by hydrothermal vent into some other epoch of the world.
Whatever grows from you in my own time, I will taste. May I be here to peel the rind of some of what grows from what you make of all these endless shuddering thoughts. May the holy wish to love that’s behind every fleeing thought be the sweetness in the fruit that finds my mouth – growing from you, wretched pure pile, mound I dorm with, kidney of my garden, decay midnight sage.
About is a magician; a hand moves and our eyes follow, forgetting anything else ever existed.
Here is the about of my offering.
In 2015, I took a Permaculture Design Class at Wild Abundance in the mountains. Near the end of it, a storyteller who would later break me open again four years after told us the story of the climate and the way it could alter even our sky’s eternal blue color to the impossible algae green I’d already been watching it turn in my dreams for years. He taught collapse to paradise gardeners as twilight meteorology in toppled marble and stormwater. That night in sacred fellowship like the builders of a Stonehenge the circle of us watched the last human habitable dusk come upon us with a spiteless whisper.
At the end of that story I sat between two great ceremonial tobacco plants with leaves like the faces of saints of compassion and tilted my head to the stars I’d somehow stopped looking at when I moved to North Carolina. And the stars looked at me.
This was the first time I ever felt stillness.
In early 2016, by the doors of friendship and incalculable synchronicity, I was found by a tradition where that stillness I’d felt was taught, not with hollow words nor reason, not from any guru nor decades spent sitting on a cushion. Stillness was taught here by the undeniable and generous immediacy of its music like breathing is taught by the mother and then air.
In the first flame of that still candle, the silhouettes of what lives in me were clear and traceable against the earth. They gathered around me, court and standing stones under starless sky waiting to hear a single true word; and I, no running water, canoe on still shaded lake, undegreed and freelance in garments perennially and maybe permanently unlaundered, began to become someone who could bless each weird inner branch as were and as is.
In 2012, I met Rachel. I fell all the way in abiding love. Two teeming bundles, leaves cast on a zephyr holding hands and soaring with immediate recognition. All the while, molting and leaving clumps of fur around us we packed into one den after another. Dreaming of the den that wouldn’t rush and the den that wouldn’t sink. We were like stoned beavers building dams out of saliva and vintage repair manuals. It is was worth every stab of pain as the stone now passes.
In mid 2016, I quit my weird fluke of a well-paying secure non-profit job and went to a commune in the mountains to learn to live on earth without constantly tearing up her face. In my first visit, it felt like I had found the planet I came from. So much about it didn’t make sense in exactly the way I never could. The sound of the frogs in the garden at dusk was blinding. When I went outside to pee each night I could overhear the stars. They were so close.
Rachel waited for me at home while I studied permaculture. I alternated between the animal ache of missing her and the laughing liberatory terror of my first time experience of people living together in a way that seemed to actually sort of really work. My bones remembered this: having and being had by a people and a home. I felt something else I’d wanted for most of my life: an existance finally free of that daily barb wire around the soul that is the constant peripheral awareness that meeting my daily needs was clear cutting forests and enslaving people I’d never have the chance to know the names of. Here, the stories of how I had food water joy and shelter were not greenwashed press releases but the unburdened poetry of a passerby’s face on a creek bent path.
So deep in love was I with the valley, the air, the scent, the lifeway and all its radiant messes, that I was afraid I’d never be able to come back to Rachel from this place where I’d gone to study for the dream we’d been entangling ourselves in already for two years. For weeks my heart wanted to part down the middle. In desperate heaviness and despair I for the first time brought my need to the base of a tree. The mother beech held me as I stumbled toward prayer and after a time told me to open my eyes. A few feet before me a coyote walked through my sight. I wept. I had tried talking to a tree and a tree heard my prayer. My life was changed.
After that small rite, my intolerable longing for home departed on the wind. I was whole, I didn’t need to decide between partnership or paradise. Rachel was my home again. Our patterns and our problems would be my belonging. I found the will to leave the mountains behind and dreamed daily of our tearful reunion. I promised to my loneliness and my village-struck vision of human beauty that I would make my own village in the Piedmont as if a village were just so many mud bricks to carry.
On the Summer Solstice I went home to Rachel and after a joyful reunion, I found myself unwittingly immersed in 6 months of stark, sick, social isolation. Unemployed and alone most hours of the day, my new village was inhabited by me, memories, ideals, and whatever lived in all those ubiquitous screens.
We were launching our dream to create a community on land into the unfeeling sea of utopian concepts and property listings. We had a big whiteboard of the ten thousand things we needed to do by when or else. We argued about whether to have an inverter for our solar power or whether to have fifty people or ten live with us. We ended up in therapy for the first time. We paid $800 to have someone show us how much better it was when we listened to our bodies instead of the screaming toddler dressed as a statue called reason, and we promptly and equally forgot the lesson completely.
In mid 2015, we got married. It was the best day of my life. The trembling of Rachel’s face danced every fiber of me. Blessings made a portal in the air and washed us and our people with laughter and tears. Our beloved community formed a little nomad yurt village together and we were sure this scene of firelit communal intimacy prefigured the life we would create together in the woods. Our people watched, our mothers and fathers watched, the ones behind us watched.
Holy compost, holy makers of compost. Let me not hold back a morsel. Eat this now crumb and course, and if when it’s my time to lay in your fragrant arms you choose to show me the perfect fullness of this ceremony just once more, I will look and be unmade.
In 2017 we moved into the 256 square foot Yome. Canvas riff on an arid steppes dwelling air dropped into a loud hot humid forest land, arena for our shadows, hastened prayer, end in the beginning.
The fissure beneath my heart began to open again. Magma came through, cauldron light, aqueous fire. As the underground river beneath us rose and fell I kept carrying my longing to the bases of other trees listening for coyote.
I was willing, am somewhere inside still willing, to sacrifice my longing before any god not yet tired of me. Look at the finer and finer blade I have honed; the rarer prayer that I speak; the more gravitationally true the tears that I water the roots with before asking them to shred this pleading for kin and a homeland into something others find workable.
For three years I faltered and prayed, ending at least a thousand of those days silently resolving to leave as soon as possible. There came to be a mineral pride in learning I could transform anything. I forged increasingly ornate black gates from the heart magma. At least once, I swam our underground river. I learned to let every suffering become a call to stranger kinds of wholeness.
Maybe most of all, I was shouting to some story I inherited about men, I don’t know from where, that I would not run, I would not give up, I would not look away. If there was any lesson to learn in staying, I would hollow out more and more of my ego to let it come through and water these poor tired seedlings.
In late 2019, this horse got involved. It didn’t have reigns or a saddle. There was the story about the hundreds of thousands of horses killed in Eastern Europe by the soviets. There was the horse-hide drum I’d begun playing at night. The need to be free was given a shape.
Around the same time, the stillness I’d been studying and that had been studying me decided to take up residence. Beyond words and from a candle I had learned something wholly new.
Friends said I seemed taller. There was this final wrought gate I stood by every night for months. When the sun wouldn’t set and the sounds wouldn’t stop, I learned to be the evening star so I could sleep. I didn’t move from the gate. It wasn’t even so great a struggle. Stillness was the only response to the moment. Clarity was the only word on my lips.
One day whatever was meant to happen beyond the gate I was tending happened and just like that, my post was over.
This is where I am. The virus, nucleation of ten thousand causes and conditions, spread and it all stopped.
I have just been shook loose from a tightrope a moment after being reminded how to fly. Yet in eternal mystery, a great palm rises before my face signaling: “Wait. Pause. Hold on.” I sit in my strange wizard hut thinking, “hold on to what?” My partnership is over. The thread of my purpose has gone underground. The land I live on will probably not hold me for much longer. Our world reconfigures itself. Every obvious move is sanctioned. My toolbag is full yet for the first time in my adult life, I have nothing to work on.
I have shards and ash tracing arrows and runes. Kin. Find kin. Mountains. Go be with them. Trees. Where you can plant trees. Body. A body that recognizes yours. Water. Enough to immerse in. Song. So less often sung alone.
Joy. Worth following. Worth changing for.
Where will I be next year? What will I be doing? How will I help?
This is the first time in so long that I do not know.
The snake moved in today, Spring Equinox 2020, ten days past Coronavirus shutdown and the final definite end of my marriage.
My cat and I watched it creep up the wall and into the space between the new ceiling and the unfinished earth wall.
Mice had been running midnight errands in my walls for weeks, foraging bits of my sleep to make a hidden nest. I kept dreaming of snakes, waking interrupted by mice. Maybe snake grew jealous of the interruption of her nightly oneiric attention and decided to just eat the problem.
Two things about the snake:
If I re-enter the dark mirror of online dating, I can now lure potential mates by declaring that a snake lives in my walls. I welcome meeting the kind of person who will risk sleeping in a bed where a snake, sleepily engorged on a generation of rodents, may travel over their slumbering body. It seems certain that this will apply a clarifying filter to my potential romantic connections.
The snake went into the wall a foot away from where I had decided to put a lime plaster sculpture of an ascending snake. What does this mean? It means I will definitely create that sculpture.
I’ve been studying Lithuanian mythology, since I’m one quarter Lithuanian and because it was the last European country to be forcibly Christianized. No amnesia is ever perfect, and it seems like in some ways their forgetting was always half-feigned and fugitive.
They say the people of the Lithuanian countryside still speak a dialect so unchanged it would have been the spoken sound of ancient written Sanskrit.
From that culture, snakes:
A žaltys is a household spirit in the Lithuanian mythology. As sacred animal of the sun goddess Saulė, it is a guardian of the home and a symbol of fertility.People used to keep it as a pet by the stove or other special area of the house, believing that it would bring good harvest and wealth. Killing žaltys was said to bring great misfortunes upon the household. If žaltys was found in the field, people gave it milk attempting to befriend the creature and make it a sacred household pet.
There’s also the story of the lindwurm – a myth that has been running through my life out here ever since it first surfaced in a Dark Mountain reading, and then far closer when on a liminal night I was under a tent listening to mythteller Martin Shaw chant the long version of the tale to a band of men while my partner was back home literally wrestling a giant black snake out of the duck coop.
In the lindwurm, a royal child is born with a serpent twin, and the serpent is exiled. Like everything exiled, the serpent one day comes back bigger, older, angrier, deadlier; and, like everything exiled, it is the warm milk of compassion that allows him to shed his scales and become tender again.
A connection there: žaltys was given milk. And in the Lindwurm, it is a milk bath that is the last step of the serpent’s return home from a long exile. What a gift for an exile.
I have just had my life upended in a moment where everyone else is also having their life upended.
I felt a great alarm at all I was losing and I was forced to slow down in a moment where everyone else is going through the same. An odd fellowship, this.
Through the last many years, I knew there were parts of myself that I was casting away. So deeply did I want the marriage to work, that I was offering to throw my twin out the window for one more chance to craft a hearth out of teardrops and air. Stranger prayers have worked, after all.
That chance is no longer there. In the vacancy of partnership, the serpent – not fierce, not venomous, not very big – alive, electric, sensuous, strange – is back to devour my little mice and turn the page again.
Five years ago I had my only ever high-paying job and a soul-flying love. Tonight I dwell social quarantined at earth’s orbital pace alone in a hut temple of shifting dreams, grateful. I come from people often poor who believed in radical hospitality. In this regal shabbiness, this dusky cloak of pared and peeled blessings, what can I offer to any new traveler, snake or mouse, except a welcome?