Ed. note: As the formatting of the text will wander on smaller screens, “Descansos” is read best on a large screen.

A poets journal from tilting times / 1st in a series

According to Cantadora and Wise Woman, Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Descansos are symbols that mark a death: as an example, a cross by the wayside with the name of the person who died spelled out in nails. Can we create Descansos for our dying civilization? For die it must if we are to live. Let these words be my Descansos offered in gratitude to She Who Loves Us All.

© Elizabeth Glenn-Copeland 2020

March 19, 2020
Darkness where I hold my sight, / shadowless and burning bright,
here where death and life are met / is the vision of being kept…”*
Judith Wright, Australian Poet, Environmentalist, Indigenous Rights Campaigner
*I learned this poem by heart decades ago. Apologies if not correct.

Ostara, the Goddess of Spring,
in a last ditch effort to rouse us from our trance, is playing the role of

Corona, the 2nd Century Saint
who died a martyr’s death in the waning days of the Golden Age of the Roman Empire.
Her remains are buried in northern Italy in the heartlands of what is now the new plague.

Corona: Inaccurately named by some as the Saint of Pandemics,
in truth she is the Saint of Treasure Hunters,
and though there will be death in these times, maybe even my own,
there are treasures aplenty to be found by those with

eyes to see
ears to hear

the willingness to open to the subtle instincts of the instinctive collective psyche,
not easily accessed in this dizzying, merry-go-round world.

Over the centuries, saints and sages
shamans and singers,
and singularly gifted women
have offered us the key to the treasure, drawn maps written with their life’s blood.

But we, stubborn children,
well-trained to hold disdain and so
abstain from all that is of the

liminal
enigmatic
wyrd world

have ground the key under our heels while writing shopping lists on the back of the maps,
and so dance drunkenly forward like Pinocchio following that weasel, Lampwick
to the empty treasures of Pleasure Island…

while in the darkness stirs_

March 20, 2020
Can you remain unmoving until the right action arises by itself?”
Lao Tzu, Poet and Philosopher, 6th Century B.C.

In the half-light of early morning,
I wake to find myself caught between
the all-too-familiar, high anxiety call to join the rushing river on the surface,
and the winsome beckoning of the unmoving depths of the river beneath the river.

On the surface
turbulence
high flood
the water churning with

broken branches
shards of pottery
people dying…

In the depths
stillness
pulsating warmth
a blessed silence replete with

the-yet -to-be revealed sweetness
of a yet-to-be-known, but no less real
potency stirring from the depths.

I was schooled to believe that what matters can only be found on the surface,
and so have efforted and fought, drawn blood and bled into the cold and lonely night.
But as the pale light filters through the curtains, I know that
Dawn is revealing another way, and though my doubts are many, I

inhale
release
descend and

listen_

March 22, 2020
“…All at once, caring spreads over /  the naked grey of the meadows.
Tiny rivulets sing in different voices. / A softness as if from everywhere…”
Rainer Maria Rilke, Poet, Prophet and Novelist

Spring comes this year with a new gladness.
Earth hums like a new mother as Wind croons a dulcet chorale.

Standing under a canopy of startling blue,
I cannot help but weep with gladness at the beauty You continue to offer,
(yes I, your floundering, wayward child is finally understanding the depths of Your generosity).

And through the yawning pause before Corona truly rages,
(and yes, she is still in early stages),
my bones feel the burgeoning gratitude of the animate world as
Skies for decades fouled by industry’s exhalations clear
and a generation for the first time looks up, exalted by the glory of bird song_

March 23, 2020
“It is not half so important to know as to feel.”
Rachel Carson, American Conservationist and Author
whose book awoke the seventeen-year-old runaway that was me to the Mother’s plight.

Silent spring.
Rachel’s prophecy.
Who would have known it would manifest this way?

The schoolyard is empty,
but the sound of children’s laughter still floats in the wafting spring-scented breeze.
One day in the future, in schoolyards in this or another country,
the strains of that laughter will winnow,
to be replaced by the wholehearted (and therefore more excruciating)
crying of children who miss their friends, the warming embraces of the suddenly departed
grandmothers, grandfathers, aunts, uncles, cousins,
the kindly lady from the grocery store who always had a special smile.

All this because…

well, you know why…

Daily the west is startled by the death counts in Italy and Spain,
but high daily death counts have been old news in other parts of the globe for centuries.

Only when Corona’s terrifying treasure hunt takes us through these lost lands,
only when our hearts have felt the centuries-long suffering,
only when our voices truly ask for the forgiveness due to those who have died,
and here I speak of all our relations in these days of the
Sixth Great Mass Extinction,
only when we reach out to do the work of reparation,
then and only then will our hands be able to grasp the key,
will our eyes be able to read the messages encoded in the maps,
only then _

March 23 (cont’d)
MIDNIGHT
My eyes snap open.
Fear lies leaden on my chest as I think about family, friends, all so far away and what if…,
My bowels loosen.
The old stories of wakened ancestral trauma begins to play out in my brain causing:
a surge of violent phytochemicals in my animal body,
inflammation, a tightening in my chest wall.
Respiration increases and my mouth goes dry.

Like a mother responding to the cries of her terrified child,
You appear, wrap me in a warm embrace,
coo and ssh,
ssh and coo,
shsshhh and listen
I recount my fears, choking and hiccuping like the small child I am.
And all the while You
rock and ssshh,
coo and rock,
rock and sshhh…

Only when I am calm enough to hear do You remind me that I am loved,
that I am surrounded by those who have gone before,
whose courage through other terrifying times is alive in my DNA

And all the while, folded into fragrant spirit flesh, You
rock and ssshh,
coo and rock,
rock and sshhh…

…until I am still enough to hear the true meaning of this treasure hunt and the part I am to play,
and so comforted, I am released to the velvet depths
to take the rest necessary for this long and gruelling quest where uncertainty reigns,
where the only certainty is You.

March 24, 2020
“In some Native languages the term for plants translates to “those who take care of us.”
“The land knows you, even when you are lost.”
Robin Wall Kimmerer, Mother, Scientist, member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation

Spring Snow falling,                                                                                                     (ah, the quiet)
accumulating on the cone laden branches of Spruce outside my window.

Spring Snow falling,                                                                                                     (ah, the quiet)
and pecking through layers of white, a family of Pheasants searching for seed.

Spring Snow falling,                                                                                                     (ah, the quiet)
creating a coronet of white on the majestic White Pine in the corner of my garden.

Slowing my breath, I whisper,
Grandmother, may I approach?

Spring Snow falling,                                                                                         (ah, the intensity of quiet)
and then a low-voiced hum of assent.

I close my eyes, make my approach, offer thanks, then ask,
What am I to see? to know? to understand?

Spring Snow falling,                                                                             (ah, the intensity of vision)
and now joining the Pheasant clan,
Grey Jays and Mourning Doves and shiny-winged Blackbirds.
High up on the branches of Maple, waiting for their turn, my good friends
the Chick-a-dee-dee-deeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeees.

Spring Snow falling,                                                                             (ah, the intensity of Her voice)

As you have provided, so you will be provided for.
That is the universal law.

Spring Snow falling,
my heart recalling…                                                                             (ah, the intensity of Your love)

March 28, 2020
A Variation on a Medieval Mystery Play in One Act, authored by a Mad Artist.

CHARACTERS
ME, a wild mess
STERN TEACHER, grey flowing robes, shaved head, carrying a hickory staff
KIND TEACHER, multi-coloured flowing skirts, long black hair, surrounded by dancing butterflies

SETTING
Hell in the human brain, March 2020

SCENE 1: Lights up on ME pacing, pulling out her hair, hitting herself.
ME: I can’t stand being in my own skin! My insides are bubbling like lava! (throwing herself down on the ground) I felt so sure I could keep my shit together. But I can’t. What a waste of life I am!
Lights to indicate passing of twenty-four hours of time as actor playing ME improvises a rising tide of self-hatred interspersed by wailing banshee sounds.

SCENE 2: Lights upstage right, sounds of low-toned bells. During this scene, ME cannot see TEACHERS. Enter STERN TEACHER to stand in pool of white light.
STERN TEACHER: Aha! I know what’s wrong here. Intensity of emotion at the root of it all. Her amygdala is too big and is not communicating effectively with her pre-frontal cortex!
Lights up downstage left, sounds of birds singing. KIND TEACHER enters into pool of indigo light.
STERN TEACHER: (to KIND TEACHER) Aha! Look, just as I told you! Intensity of emotion is the problem here. (Makes as if to tap ME on shoulder with staff)
KIND TEACHER: (to STERN TEACHER) Stop! Do you not remember? We are invisible to her, we must make our presence known gently (kneeling down closer to ME) Sssh, there there, sssh.
ME: (crying, rocking)  I don’t know…I can’t stand…I don’t want…What about…what about…?
STERN TEACHER: Spit it out girl!
ME: (wailing and pounding the earth) There is no safety here…no support for me, for him, for them, for us. I foresee a summer of searing sorrow, food shortages, deaths, multiple collapses, fires, heat…I knew it was coming, wanted to be somewhere safe with human friends, leafed friends, stone and water…(crying harder) I have no support, I…
STERN TEACHER: (slamming his cane three times on the ground. ME snaps to frozen stillness.) We are supporting you…as is White Pine and Red Rhyolite, you seemed to get it yesterday, but now you…
KIND TEACHER: (jumps up, runs over to pinch STERN TEACHER in the bum) Sssh!
STERN TEACHER: (jumping away) Ouch! Stop it!
KIND TEACHER: (pulls STERN TEACHER into the pool of indigo light) Stop being such an overlord! You named the problem correctly: her amygdala is too big, her feelings are too intense. The source is trauma based and we will not be heard by her by enacting more trauma. (STERN TEACHER looks petulant. KIND TEACHER pinches him on the nose, then laughs. Beat, then, STERN TEACHER nods in agreement). Good. (walks to kneel beside ME) Listen to me little human and breathe…that’s right, inhale 2, 3, 4, exhale, 2, 3, 4, inhale 2, 3, 4 exhale, 2, 3,4….
As ME’s breathing slows, STERN TEACHER begins to beat out the rhythm with his staff. Beating continues throughout next scene.

SCENE 3: Sound of bells in time with staff beating, birds singing. Lights open full stage in swirling patterns of indigo, blue and white. Beat, then sounds of bells and birds singing fades below dialogue.
KIND TEACHER: (to ME, who now can now somewhat hear TEACHERS) Little human, Corona is triggering personal as well as ancestral trauma memories for you as it is for millions of others. For now, just allow your feelings, however twisted they seem, a compassionate hearing. You are simply trying too hard.
ME: (rubbing her eyes) Huh?
STERN TEACHER: (spoken softly while beating rhythm) Can you not consider that you are being supported, just not in the way you wanted, and not from the people you wanted it from?
KIND TEACHER: Yes. Yours is not the personality of the even-keeled Zen Master. By trying to hold a permanent ‘calm’, you have become dissociated, fixed, inflexible…
STERN TEACHER:…and therefore open to the twisted forces that would enter your body and cause harm.
ME: (blinking rapidly) Huh? x 2
KIND TEACHER: (getting a bit exasperated) You are trying to be something you are not! Just have a good cry and you’ll feel better.
STERN TEACHER: (To KIND TEACHER) Ah my flowing friend, here is where you are wrong. She is not trying to be something she is not…she is trying to be something she is not yet.
KIND TEACHER: Yes, an important distinction. (whispering to ME) You are trying to be something you are not yet. Your mental/emotional/spiritual muscle sets are simply not ready for such high voltage use…yet. Such is the case for many raised in this numbing world. You must use this time to practice, consistent practice.
Beating of STERN TEACHER’S STAFF ENDS.

SCENE 4: Silence. Lights to flickering. During this scene, we see that ME can now hear TEACHERS.
ME: Huh? x 3
STERN TEACHER: (Voice raising) Are you thick in the head girl?! Stop joining so many online groups, watching so many online videos, seeking your guidance elsewhere…
KIND TEACHER: (to STERN TEACHER) Soften your voice a bit, eh? (to ME) But he is right. There is Wisdom a plenty inside you that can only be accessed through quiet. You have experienced this before. Chant. Pray. Sing. Walk in the woods and breathe in the gathering powers…
STERN TEACHER: …and stop trying to save others…for now anyway. The time for this will be upon you soon enough.
E: (sniffling) I’m afraid I will fall apart, like Humpty Dumpty.
STERN TEACHER: You might…in fact, you most probably will, multiple times. Best to accept it…
KIND TEACHER: …knowing that we will be here to put you back together again.
KIND TEACHER / STERN TEACHER: (voiced as one) WE WILL BE HERE TO PUT YOU BACK TOGETHER AGAIN.
Sounds of bells. Chorus of Birds. Lights flare to maximum brightness. Blackout.

March 30, 2020
“I am out with lanterns looking for myself.”
Emily Dickinson, Beloved American Poet and friend of my heart

There is a quality of listening that cannot be summoned,
just as sleep cannot be summoned no matter how weary the traveller, how heavy the lids,
how anguished the sighs of the insomniac craving the velvet embrace.

There is a quality of listening that cannot be summoned,
no amount of knowing can open the way, nor coin, nor royal command,
for the whisperings are gossamer-soft and easily frightened back into the shadows,
and no amount of over-eager force will tune the fine skeins of spun spidery silk.
Only in patience will the bow be rosined to be drawn singing, skeins ringing
the singularity of
no thing
every thing
beneficent blessing_

There is a quality of listening that cannot be summoned.
Silver sweet she is, forever elusive until one proves patient:
a heart loyal steeped in rhapsodic love.

March 31, 2020
There are  patterns evident in the breakdown of civilizations noted by many scholars. And so, as our top-heavy civilization groans, encouraged to let go by the prodding of Corona, let us all join together in hopes we may find the stairway to heaven…

Sung to the tune of Led Zeppelin’s “Communication Breakdown”

Civilization Breakdown,
It’s always the same,
Havin’ a goddamn breakdown,
Drives me insaaaaaane…

(Vocal note: Let ‘insane’ trail downward à la Robert Plant)

INSTRUMENTAL BREAK

(Air guitar solo à la Jimmy Page)

Civilization Breakdowns
Whoa, whoa… (x2)

(Vocal note: Let 2nd ‘whoa’ trail downward a la Robert)

HEAD BASHING ON SOLID ROCK

Civilization Breakdowns
Whoa, whoa…  (x2)

SING TO FADE

March 31, 2020 (cont’d)
MIDNIGHT
My eyes snap open.
No, no, no, no, nooooooo…

Let go, go, go, go, go, gooooo…

April 1, 2020
“If a story is a seed, then we are its soil.”
Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Beloved Cantadora, Jungian Analyst and my life-long teacher

This poem was written in the summer 2019 as glaciers melted at a rate not predicted by science until 2070, as the Amazon and Arctic blazed, millions of hectares of Siberian boreal forest ignited flash-frying thousands of our relations, as whales and dolphins and other creatures of Mother Ocean choked to death on plastic, as CEOs groaned with indigestion as more and more went hungry, yes, as all this and more unfolded, I was so sure that finally the privileged of the Neoliberal West would Get It, but we didn’t, and now, this I pray…May this pain be not in vain that we may make of this funeral pyre a fecund soil from which to grow a new world in which all our relations:  four and multi legged, winged, gilled and leaved, can flourish in perfect Love.

Let us truly mourn this.
Let us TRULY MOURN THIS, and by so doing…
settle down into our bodies, our soft animal bodies,
these microcosms of the macrocosms, these Miracles of Creation.
LET US MOURN THIS TOGETHER…
allow our collective grief to move us into the dark,  into the luminous dark
and when we find ourselves bathed in the luminosity that is the gift tears shed together,
Grief cried and not denied, cried, no, keened in a Circle of Community as did all our Ancestors,
we may then find the Courage to come together to create a
Meaningful, Collective Response,
a response NOT based on what our leaders will or will not do,
or what the made-up economy does or does not dictate,
but rather in the Collective Intelligence that is our Birthright from
CREATOR.

April 7, 2020
The Huichol People of Mexico believe the pain of childbirth should be shared,
so the mother holds a string tied to her husband’s testicles and with each contraction, she…
Nicholas D. Kristof, Journalist and Author

High up on Eagle’s Peak, in perfect presence,
they wait in the gathering silence as Moon hangs heavy in the violet sky.
And below, in the darkening caverns of the river beneath the river,
She groans as the pangs grow stronger and the time of anguish begins.
All who have given birth know the lie of masculine philosophies that hold
that enlightenment is birthed in sanitary silence as a chorus of gelded boys
wait for the signal to sing their hosannas as the Bishop wipes pork grease from his trembling chin.
Birth is bloody, messy, with waves of mounting pain
that the Bishop’s unmothered boys could not withstand.

We are called to midwife: to descend to the caverns, our medicine bags packed
with healing herbs and fresh water, to staunch blood, wipe fevered brows,
offer tea to Mother Death who patiently waits in the corner as she must,
as She Who Has Always Loved Us thrashes and curses,
and in between contractions, continues to encourage us,

but wait…can you feel?
Her womb has softened
and in the pause before the pushing begins,
do you hear?

High up on Eagle’s Peak they wait to see if we will answer Her call.
The ultimate Labour of Love is progressing.

When the child’s head begins to crown 

will you be ready?

 

Writing “Descansos” has kept me on this side of sanity during the last month. Like many artists, myself and my husband were caught in the crosshairs of COVD19 and within a few short weeks, lost almost everything, including our 2020 income and with it, our home. Also like many artists, we have lived most of our life on the financial edge, and without much in the way of pensions or savings, are looking at the possibility of once again becoming nomads in our senior years That said, we know that many face even more distressing circumstances and so are grateful for the kindness that has been flowing our way, the most important of which has been the gift of a cottage for a year so that we are not homeless. Based on this abundance of kindness, we trust a path forward will be shown if we can stay grounded and in our hearts. I am an Earth-loving woman, a mother, a gardener, a storyteller, poet, singer and actor whose work over the past forty years has evolved at the intersection of arts and social justice. My work as a writer includes multiple short works of fiction, creative non-fiction and poetry published in various journals as well as longer works including: “JAZZ: Nature’s Improvisation”/Quattro Books—short-listed for the 2015 ReLit Award, it is the coming-of-age story of a young East Indian transgendered male; and “Daring to Hope at the Cliff’s Edge”/Chapel Street Editions, a book of narrative eco-poetry containing guidance for our times from three-hundred-million-year-old rock. If “Descansos” moves you, please let me know—it would do my heart good. You can find out more about my work and make a personal connection via email if the spirit moves you by visiting: https://www.elizabethcopeland.ca/contact.html.       

Image credit: Marion Law.