I’ve been living on the lip of insanity
Wanting to know reasons, knocking on a door
I’ve been knocking from the inside!
Rumi, translated Coleman Barks
I had dinner the other night with a young friend who related two stories that I’d like to share.
First, she mentioned that since her father’s death she has been doing paintings of his feet – just the feet, sticking out from under things. Painting after painting.
Oh! I thought, how appropriate.
But, then my next thought was, “Why? What is it about feet and death?”
I thought about my own father dying. I’d knelt down upon the sand and grabbed hold of his feet.
I’d hoped to latch onto his soul and not let him leave.
It hadn’t worked.
But, there was something else, something more universal about feet and the dead.
Then it hit me, “Ah, yes, the toe tag!” They tie your identity right to the big toe.
For a moment, I had this image of all the feet and toe tags lined up in the morgue.
Meanwhile, my friend was getting to her point.
She’d learned that in Japan there is the belief that when someone dies their souls, in the next world, walk upon the water. And the bottom of their water is the bottom, or the top (we had some trouble with the image’s topography) of the water that our souls walk on in this world.
As it works out, the soles of our feet can touch the soles of the dead.
And my friend had realized her feet were built just like her fathers. So, in painting him she was studying herself.
I looked at my thumb and index finger. After Pop died, with the body in the hospital, I had made a point of looking one last time at his hands and forearms.
I didn’t want to ever forget.
Now, I see how very similar we are. That knob of arthritis on my thumb, the flatness of the nail, they’re just like his.
I don’t know what I said, right there at the table.
But, I love the image of souls walking on the water and worlds interpenetrating.
Then, my friend wanted to know what I thought of pear trees.
“Only that a neighbor has one filled with luscious fruit that hang out over the fence and into the road. And I cannot take any, for they still belong to him, even though he doesn’t care. They’ll drop onto the ground and rot, but still I won’t pick any.”
Wrong answer. I knew that going in, but I go through this every year with the pears - forbidden fruit.
When my friend was a child she played alone for hours in the woods.
She’d meet deer and follow them. She would commune with the trees.
And then she had to “grow up.” She had to put the “fantasies” aside.
She was put on many medications. And this went on for years, until she was able to reclaim herself.
Back into her body, back into her strength.
The other day she was walking in the woods and came upon a deer.
It was the first time a deer had visited since those days “before.”
The doe walked across her path, stopped and looked at her.
She followed it into the woods, until it stopped at a pear tree ladened with fruit.
My friend thought, “So, you have brought me to the tree.”
And now she wanted my opinion on just what that pear tree meant.
I had no idea.
Pears? Do the specifics really matter?
Being led to a tree full of fruit, alone in the middle of the woods, by a deer was simply mythic to me.
I shook my head to clear out the astonishment.
Myths aren’t really told to us – they exist all on their own inside.
Deer have always been a supernatural animal.
Had she ever read The White Goddess, by Robert Graves?
A strange, strange book I read 30 years ago, about the power of sacred language and the Druids. Wasn’t there a white deer in that tale somewhere?
The White Goddess is about power, Nature, and the gods, as well as language, myth and poetry. I mentioned that with the Druids, poets stood right next to the king. Their language was that powerful.
I wanted to explain that once we start stirring the energy along the channels inside of us we start accessing the myths that reside there.
Our bodies spontaneously take on mudras and exotic dances. From our mouths come shouts and cries, and spats of poetry in tongues we do not know.
And this is why the deer returned and led her to the tree.
But, I couldn’t really get any explanations out.
Later, I would come across a young poet who knows, a Sufi who explains beyond any expression I might give:
Silence is a door to Allah – so is music
And both solitude and love are paths to Allah.
I am surrounded by doors, I can open none of them
For none of them are closed -
Nor can I go out to meet my Beloved
For He is here.
Tiel Aisha Ansari, Knocking from Inside
It’s all the inside, the poetry and myths and magic. Still we might insist that it is “out there.” And that is fine. It’s called Awakening.
"The poet doesn't invent. He listens." ~Jean Cocteau
Listen: what do you hear?
I hear a dead tree weeping in the rain,
sorrow hangs from her naked branches.
In the deep ocean, salmon sing of the return home.
Leaves whisper in the wind's tongue.
I hear cicadas in their strident triumph,
seventeen years of darkness ended at last.
Like a seashell lamenting the distant sea,
I empty myself and echo the world's voices
and call it poetry.
Tiel Aisha Ansari, Sol Magazine
Monday, August 04, 2008
Knocking from the Inside
I’ve been living on the lip of insanity