Friday, December 16, 2011

Sleigh Bells and Ink Wells Blog Hop

                                                    Gathering Light
      There were only a few Christian families on our block when I was growing up. One evening before Christmas, the McCarthys invited all the Jewish kids in to see their tree. I was enchanted. Tinsel, icicles, colored lights, angels - and under the tree there was fluffy cotton snow, and  a glass skating rink with tiny gliding figures.

      We knew the appeal for a Chanukah bush would be ignored, but my brother and I tried anyway. To my parents chagrin, Mrs. Dunbar, Bagley School’s music teacher,  taught us the words to all the carols, and we delighted the McCarthys by singing along to Perry Como’s Greatest Christmas Songs.

     I loved to light the Chanukah menorah, adding one more candle each night, and singing the prayer with my mother.  Somehow I understood that we must bring light into the winter darkness. I remember asking a teacher if The Early People Who Lived in Caves and The People Who Lived in B.C., knew that the light would come back as it got darker and darker in winter. 

      Many years later I began studying the mythological traditions that answered my question. I learned of the Great Mother, the God of the Dying Year, and the Sacrifice that brought back Light in the spring. I learned the cycles of death, rebirth and resurrection and taught myth and symbol, among other things, to my college students.

       Since Bill was raised with trees, lights and carols, we have both a tree and a Chanukah menorah, or candelabra. Late at night I like to sit alone in the living room across from the lighted tree, and experience the awe and mysterious silence in which I am totally present. The Chanukah candlefire provides a different experience - a meditation that takes me back though centuries - through millennia.  I return to the great synagogue of Prague, to Sepharad, where Jews, Muslims & Christians created a great culture together.  I enter the study house of Damascus, and the temple of Jerusalem and all the while there is the murmur of prayer - the ancient unchanging prayer.

      We not only need and seek light at the darkest time of the year. Light symbolizes the work of a lifetime, in the form of insight, epiphany and clarity. For me, those are the rewards of the soul’s lonely journey, which often passes through darkness and shadow. Both nature and culture rely on the light. Here is a poem that combines both,  which I wrote in New Mexico last June.

Moonrise, Truchas Peak
     Gathering Light

At Truchas Peak
the blood red sun
below the barns 
the horses
the tired earth
just as the moon
balloons upward                            

At the Santuario de Chimayo
the girl in the gift shop 
tells me she’s out of
St. Anthony  
she has other candles
       (What can it mean
       to be out of St. Anthony?)

El Santuario de Chimayo
In a hallowed corner
of the deep adobe walls
rows of glass votives
flickers of colored fire
from the painted saints
Touch a tapered stick
to the wick
and kindle
The Holy Family

Candlefire in El Santuario de Chimayo
       Light comes in so many forms. The love and connection to an amazing family and wonderful friends, the arts that inspire me,  and the connection to the Self that comes from writing. The result of that writing is my poetry book, After the Jug Was Broken, published this year by Fisher King Press - (if you are looking for a light- gathering poetry book to give as a gift). Light also comes from writing this blog - which allows me to share whatever I value. I invite your comments and your subscription.

 I wish you a holiday season filled with light.

To continue on our blog hop
go to  Smoky Talks: Smoky Zeidel's blog

The Other "Bloghoppers"
  1. Patricia Damery
  2. Debra Brenegan
  3. Malcolm R. Campbell
  4. T.K. Thorne
  5. Anne K. Albert
  6. Elizabeth Clark-Stern
  7. Collin Kelley
  8. Sharon Heath
  9. Melinda Clayton
  10. Ramey Channell


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Not Research, But MeSearch

        I am on Level D in U. C. Berkeley’s main library. This is where the art books are kept. I reach into the backpack I use for book runs, but the notebook with the title and call number of the book I want isn’t there. I’ve left it at home in my purse.  OK, I’ll look it up on Oskicat, the online resource.  But what’s the artist’s name? I can’t remember. One of my favorite living artists, gone!  Now what? Do a search under contemporary German artists? Ah, at least I remember where he’s from. But that search might take forever. The name Hundertwasser keeps repeating in my head but it’s not him. My artist is alive and German, and Hunderwasser is Austrian and dead. Then suddenly it comes to me - Anselm Kiefer!! Yes! Except that I’ve just said Yes! out loud in a study area and 5 students look up at the crazy lady. I pantomine an apology that may or may not translate across cultures.

     I start a title search, don’t rem -ember the title, change to an author search, and start down the long list of books by and about this prolific artist, till I recognize the one I want. But I don’t have a pen to write down the long call number. I will have to ask the least forbidding, least intently focused of the students to borrow pen or pencil. The one

I choose looks at me as though I’d asked for her colorful earflap hat, or her laptop - or something antique, like a quill. She finally fishes a pen out of her backpack. I realize I don’t have any paper either, and I can’t bring myself to ask for anything else. Ah, but I do have gum! I can take out a piece, and write on the white side of the wrapper. I do that, return the pen, and find the book, blessing John Dewey and a lifetime of libraries for making this part easy. I take the elevator back up to the exit level. I did remember to bring my library card. I can check out my book. Victory is mine.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Collaboration, Occupation & The RSVP Cycle

           Finally finished! The art Bill and I collaborated on for 5 months is now up on the wall. His art, my poetry, and artistic decisions made by both. Though we each create independently, we learned so much from collaboration, that we couldn't working on our own,  How to blend, without diluting. How to speak up for what doesn't work in a loving, non-alienating way. How to assist and take direction from each other. How to work with new processes (beeswax!) in a really patient way that respects that one of us is faster than the other. How we are both gentled and transformed by the process.
     It is almost too obvious to write of our highly competitive global economy, and how that com- petitive spirit trickles down to our relations with one another: Who has the best and latest? How even an art form as remote from popular culture as poetry can become a competition for prizes and positions - trophies on a mantle, as one poet wrote.

           I’m very interested in collaborative models, and  I turned to one called the RSVP Cycle, created by Lawrence Halperin in the 1960s. I have written about the Halperins before - Lawrence, the legendary landscape architect,  and his wife and collaborator Anna, my 91 year old equally legendary dance teacher.        
       The RSVP cycle was a way to make the process of design and the choreography of a performance less autocratic, and more inclusive of those involved - the clients, community and dancers. I think it is adaptable to many other activities as well.
      R is for resources, “both human and material.” The question is what’s available? For example, what is available to the Occupy movement? Computers, internet, Twitter, cell phones, open space, human ingenuity, and common concerns. If you can’t use amplifiers, the combined force of the human voice repeating the words of the speakers creates community as well as amplification. The intangible must be continually addressed:  What are the objectives?          
Larry Halperin at his completed Levi Plaza in San Francisco
       S is for Score, and the focus is on “design, participation, events and activities.” As a choreographer, Anna tells her dancers what she wants them to achieve; the vision she has - but not how to achieve it. The dance itself arises from the internal and group process of the dancers. Adbusters, the Canadian group that first put out a call for activity like the Occupation, did not specify content or process. The Assembly of the Occupation, which meets daily, decides issues.
      V is for Valuaction. People’s feelings and belief systems must be incorporated into the process. The needs and desires of the clients,  community or dancers, must be part of the process and the decision making process itself, must “respect, acknowledge, and incorporate these values”. We can see this operating in the Occupy movement.            
    P is for Performance. The result of R, S & V is the product, and how it evolves over time. If we think of the cycle as a problem to be solved, the solution should be organic and “non-static,” and defined by those who use it, experience it, and appreciate it.
    Despite the highly competitive global economy, I pray for more and more collaboration on so many levels - it is our key to survival on this planet.

   All quotations from the web site Bridge Over the Abyss

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Día de los Muertos/Day of the Dead

       I just finished putting up our Day of the Dead altar. Candles, marigolds, a sugar skull wearing a mariachi’s sombrero, and traditional Mexican figurines - skeletons dancing, teaching, sitting in a booth at a restaurant, death in normal places, because in Mexico death is normal, not something to fear.

     The photos are up: parents, grandparents, the recent dead, like our dear friend Aldo who could go nowhere without music. For a week after he died, both Bill and I kept hearing his favorites. The sound so filled the house that when a group of women arrived I actually warned them that the house was haunted by music. There is a group photo on the altar of that extraordinarily lively bunch, my father’s family. Though I haven’t seen many in decades, they are instantly present - and thoroughly themselves. I miss them and mourn them.

     You know I’m not Mexican, so why do I have an altar?  Is it mimicry, Latina-wanna-be, the spread of Day of the Dead ceremonies throughout Northern California? It began in Mexico
in 1963, in late October -

     My friends at the national university (UNAM) tell me it is time to purchase calaveras de sucre, sugar skulls, for those I'm close to,  with their names written in frosting. They are in the windows of every bakery. Julio and Rosana tell me we will be going to the island of Janitzio in the state of Michoacan for Día de los Muertos. Then I might really begin to understand their country.

    We take a second class bus to Patzcuaro, and a boat to the island. The sun is setting. The silvery lake turns orange, the color of this holy day. A parade of torch-lit fishing canoes passes us. The fisherman are performing a ritual of gratitude, and we watch a ballet of butterfly shaped nets.

     After Mass, a crowd of the P’urhépechas, as the people call themselves, emerges from the church, and immediately a group of men grab sticks from a pile, use them as canes, and begin the Danza de los Viejecitos, the little old men. They are very convincing, and very funny, and my friends tell me this was a Pre-Columbian dance to the sun god. I don't ask them why this particular dance was used to honor the sun god, and I still don't know the answer.

      And then the procession begins. Men, women and children are carrying torches, candles and tall wooden arches covered with cempasuchil flowers, the orange marigolds that have been used to honor the dead for milennia. The color symbolizes the earth, and it is these flowers that will guide the spirits to both the home altar, and the one they are now creating on the graves of their ancestors.
     Baskets of fruit are placed next to the grave, the wooden arches, like blossoming sculptures, are erected over it, and tall tapers placed around it. And then the chanting and singing begins - the night is all and only candleglow and sound.

    There is only this place, and those voices. It will last till dawn, and we will remain, without sleep, but not the least bit tired. And the light and song are no longer outside us, we are no longer curious observers. The ritual has entered into me, become me - and it has remained there ever since.

Tonight I will light orange tapers on my altar, and sing to my dead.                                                                            





Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Land of Chac Mool, the Rain God

         We have friends who travel the world looking for people who still follow the old ways, play ancient instruments, and dress in something handmaid, bright colored, patterned, beaded or embroidered. They have visited the Omo of Ethiopia who decorate their faces and bodies with minerals and plants and flowers every day, and the Tuareg of the Sahara, swathed in dyed blue cloth the color of parrots.                                       

Omo of Ethiopia
     You could call it voyeurism if they didn’t care so much about endangered cultures - which they all are. We’ve done some of that travel ourselves. I was able to go to Rajasthan because I promised my husband we would find the Rajput gypsies, whose music and dance he had fallen in love with in the film Lacho Drom. And we did.

      But after Christmas we will travel in our own hemisphere, to the places I first explored in 1963 as a student and volunteer - places where temples and pyramids, costumes, languages, song and dance are as unique, and “exotic” as anywhere I’ve been: the states of Yucatan and Chiapas in Mexico.
      In the fall of 1963, a friend and I traveled on third class buses, bush planes, and the “camioneta” - a  specially outfitted vehicle used by the planning dept of the museum of anthropology. We purchased embroidered ‘huipiles’ from Chamula women for their full value. We bounced down the dirt roads of Chiapas in ancient jeeps and pick-ups, and watched the Chamula men in their ribboned hats go off to town,
Chamula of Chiapa
while the women carried great loads of firewood back to the village.  We traveled with monks who had studied the Mayan codices in the Vatican library,  and were warned by Gertud Blom, the aging European “empress” of San Cristobal de las Casas, not to seduce them - her way of insulting our American youthfulness.
We saw the ruins of temples adjacent to waterfalls, and realized that acres of surrounding hills were unexcavated ruins. We were volunteers, and tried, unsuccessfully, to get the forest people to stop getting their water from the rivers infested with onchocerca volvulus, a nematode that causes blindness. We were unsuccessful because they laughed at our “scientific method”, which was  culturally inappropriate - and I still feel guilty about it.

     I couldn’t learn enough about the Yucatec Maya - their hieroglyphics, now deciphered, their architecture, art, religion - and their calendar, whose wrongful interpretation by Westerners has led to the belief in a 2012 apocalypse. The Mayans were one of the subjects of my graduate oral exams    - though a great deal of what I learned has been refuted, but I’ve managed to keep up.

Maya of Yucatan

      I so look forward to introducing Bill to “my” Mayan world  - and to explore with him. I hope to take the boat trip on the Usamacinta river to the ruins of Yaxchilan, which I did not see in 1963, and has been calling to me since. I don’t know what it is about that river and those ruins that I have to go to, but I will find out.

     Meanwhile, let me introduce you to a poem by a Quiché Mayan poet from Guatemala, Humberto Ak'abal.

The Grandmother

The night begins,

when the moon
—Grandmother of the villages—

comes out with her lime-white candle

to light up the silence.

The darkness

hides in the canyons,
the small birds

roll up their songs
and the trees

lie on their own shadows.
The grandmother

who hasn’t slept for centuries


into the eyes of the night.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Apple Strudel, Neuroscience and The Old One

        I have few beloved memories from childhood. One that persists takes place at my grandmother’s dining room table. The table is massive, one of those old world mahogany tables with carved legs.   My grandmother, my mother and two of my aunts are standing at each side of the table, like points on a compass. There is a slab of dough in the center, and they are very cautiously pulling and stretching it into a rectangle. They are making strudel the old way. It cannot be rolled, and they believe if they tear the dough it will be ruined. 

     There are ceramic mixing bowls filled with apple slices sprinkled with lemon, so they won’t turn brown.There is another bowl with a mixture of sugar and cinnamon to sprinkle over the fruit. I am kneeling on a chair with a handful of raisins, and it will be my job to scatter raisins over the apples. I am watching very intently, so I’ll know how to take my place at the table when I grow up.

    But which aunt is the fourth woman? I cannot picture her. When I think back to that time I am unsure that the four women could ever have been at my grandmother’s at the same time. One never  came,as far as I remember, and the other - how could those long, perfectly painted and pointed nails stretch dough?  But I can still feel the raisins in my very young hand. It must be a real memory, I tell myself,  I have never looked up the recipe for strudel, (at least I don’t think I have), so how would I know it had to be stretched?                       

       Neuroscience says that the mental images for memory and imagination arise from the same place in our brain. If that is true, than memory is even less trustworthy than we think. Cognitive psychologists add that we don’t remember an actual event - just our last remembering.  New memories are just a reiteration of the old ones - not the original event. Am I just remembering a fantasy?
      And then there are mirror neurons. These are special neurons that are activated when we watch someone doing a task, as well as when we are doing it ourselves. Allegedly,  this is how we learn, even as infants - a mother can stick out her tongue to the baby, and the baby will imitate her.  My hands know the right way to stretch dough, and could I know how to do it if I hadn’t seen it?

       I loved to watch my mother bake - watch her stir, beat, whip, pour batter evenly into two cake tins. Those motions came naturally and easily when I began cooking years after I left her kitchen. Was that the result of mirror neurons?
      There are some memories that I cannot doubt.  The memories of what my family went through when they learned of the Holocaust, and found out who was missing, still run deep in me. In the poem below, I added imagination to the laments and stories, and I included material from a dream - a dream that contained a fable (My Muse says it was actually she who provided the entire poem, and I wouldn’t dare contradict her.)
           The Old One

When Russia was invaded the Old One wept every night
She looked at her husband and said the name of someone
from the village they had left   and they remembered:
He with the ridiculous hat
She with the crooked wig

Her kitchen became that village in Russia
and everyone in it     the butcher  the egg man
the Rabbi’s red-haired wife   sat down at her table
The Old One brought out the precious porcelain
the good silver    delicacies baked only for holidays 
strudel  honey cake   the angel that rises on egg white wings
served on ordinary Mondays or Tuesdays   
and the stories    the cackling  
the interruptions    to get it right
and the fear    the palpable fear
that the stories  were already

Monday, August 29, 2011

"Portrait of the Crone at her Food Processor"

Collages by Bill Fulton
       It is 5:20 on a Friday afternoon. I have been out on my deck all afternoon  writing false starts. No real inspiration - the only thing that has arrived are a couple of squirrels, a raucous jay and my cat who gets into a chorus with the squirrels - they chatter and she hisses. I feel like joining them. I could be the third line in an interspecies fugue.

     We have to leave for dinner at 6. I need to  get organized, get dressed - and a First Line arrives from the Muse.  I type it, and she sends more, this feels Right, I can’t just stop, could She/I (not to mention the jay, the squirrels and the cat) hold on to the The Rest till tomorrow? I could Get Back To It when we return this evening, or, maybe I could cancel our plans?

     It is now 5:40, and I’m getting dressed, running the lines through my head, so I won’t Lose Anything Important...maybe I could take out my Little Notebook and write during dinner. I picture myself in the restaurant writing with my right hand and dropping salad on myself with the left. I could bring an apron. Wear old clothes….

     Welcome to my world. The song says “When you’re hot, you’re hot, and when you’re not, you’re not”, but I like to believe I can summon the Muse. She laughs and prefers the word “prepare”, as one would for a religious service, or important guests, the newlyweds William and Kate, for example, or a Nobel Laureate. The house has to be orderly - not perfectly clean, she shares my impressionistic, astigmatic view of the world - but orderly. Everything put away. My desk has to be cleared off, though I haven’t written on it since I bought it.

     She also likes a little chocolate. For a while she wouldn’t appear for anything less than 70%, Dark and Imported. Now it’s chocolate blueberries, available at one place only, which is miles from my house. My muse is happiest Out of Doors, next to a river in a rain forest
Photo by Bill Fulton
near exotic ruins, within sight of a mountain range, somewhere that costs a lot of money to get to. Fortunately, she is willing to appear on my deck.. She once haughtily informed me that she wouldn’t be caught dead performing in a café on a laptop with “dingy people” (her words), unless it overlooked the sea.    
Photo by Bill Fulton

     The Muse. I have been known to name everything - animals, cars, the dishwasher - but she has never announced or accepted a name. When I once referred to her as Sophia, Wisdom, she told me to get over myself. She believes that her origins are in the Ancient World, but where exactly, I don’t know.

      She adores mythology, from any culture, and prefers to mask and cloak the uncomfortable realities of my life with a convenient archetype or deity. Take aging. I’m at the point in life where it is better to hide the week before Thanksgiving and avoid the country, so my emerging turkey neck won’t tempt a hunter. My muse has turned eagerly to the Crone to handle this phase. Not the fearful, wart-faced tempter of Snow White, with her poisoned apples, but the wizened, liberated Old Woman of the Crossroads.

The muse can be very generous to me. No cauldrons or broomsticks for this crone -
she’s willing to provide me with modern conveniences, as she does in

     Portrait of the Crone at her Food Processor  

Old wood stove under her skirt    
she still flirts   to sweeten the pot
the base of her broth is calcified bone
knowledge levels a quarter cup of fear
she slices decades of laughter
adds centuries of sorrow      
finally dices the old secrets
Only the moon knows her true name  
only the moon will remember

Monday, August 8, 2011

"Portrait of a Woman Weeping"

             Picasso. Revisited. An exhibit at the De Young. Another exhibit at SFMOMA  features his work. Jerome Rothenberg & Pierre Joris have edited and translated his journals into poems. (Pablo Picasso: The Burial of the Count of Orgaz & other poems, Exact Change, 2004). I order the book, curious and wanting a new inspiration for my own work by the artist I have returned to again and again.  “Poetry Unhinged” Michel Leiris calls it in his Afterword, “closer to Dadaist nihilism than to surrealism”. Was that Picasso’s desire, to destroy meaning? We know how he broke from the past, but nihilism? I won’t continue without giving you a sample, and I’ll choose at random:
        the slender sojourn of the secret price of pain simmers on the
        low fire of memory where the onion plays the star it
        detaches itself from its lines having read and reread the past
        but at the crack of the riding-whip caught straight in the eyes (p.98)
“the secret price of pain simmers on the low fire of memory” is a wonderful image, but my brain, which looks for continuity, for meaning, for revelation or narrative, gives up, as though I have entered a dense labyrinth with no center, no way in - but there is always a hint of minotaur, for he wrote during the same period
    “If all the roads I have been down were marked on a map and joined
     up with a line, would it not represent a Minotaur?”  

                               (Picasso: Masterpieces from the Musee National Picasso, Paris
                                Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. P. 141)
Minotaur and His Wife
       The minotaur, half bull/half man, at the center of the labyrinth, the garden. What, I ask myself, if there was no censor, no conscious linear narrative, between oneself and the maze of images, feelings, and archetypes that make up what is usually hidden, would that explain the fecundity and astonishing flow of his imagery? Another random selection:
     entangled in the rainbow of their feather oxen plowing up the
     flames of crystal of the howling that perfumes the angles and
     the curves snared by the web of nails and begging help……..(P. 206)
The selection covers a page, and these pages were written daily - a kaleidoscope, a display of fireworks, or simply an inventory, or what comes in with the tide. Imagine a basin that is never empty, but the source is unknown.
      Years ago I concentrated on Picasso’s experience during the war years in order to understand the relationship between art and terror, which is so strong in the 20th century. The ‘macho’, the womanizer accused of sadism, of feelings of omnipotence, the toreador lover, and endless innovator experienced terror during the Spanish Civil and World War II, a terror he was ashamed of. Here is a selection from his journal:
        " and anguish...what horror what distress and what cold
    in the bones and what unpleasant odor ....wing.... ...desperate cry...
    girl dead of liquid [rains]...the dead fall drop by drop....
    clouds shit...horror and despair....wing[ed tank stuck in the blue sky...
    the nest of vipers...the desperate cries of birds...the infinite center of
    void on the skin torn off the house.... 

                          (Picasso and the War Years: 1937-1945, Ed Steven A. Nash, 
                          Thames and Hudson, 1998, P. 57))
The savagery of the war resulted in paintings of literal butchery:
Sheep's Skull
     The Spanish painter Zubaran painted racks of lamb, and the skull was a frequent subject of Spanish and medieval painting in general, as a symbol of vanity or the brevity of life. But Picasso’s skulls still had their meat on them. His overburdened psyche found release in art, and despite the Occupation, and the warnings and threats he received, he continued to paint what he felt.
     In 1942 the wartide was turning. America had entered the war, the allies had invaded North Africa, and the Nazis were facing defeat in Russia. Picasso began the drawing for Man with a Lamb, and you probably have seen the result, the bronze which currently is on exhibit at the De Young:

                Lamb of God? Good Shepherd? Abraham’s sacrifice? Picasso would only say “there's nothing religious about it at all. There's no symbolism in it" and that he just wanted "a human feeling, a feeling that has always existed." (Ibid, P. 112) The sculpture remained in his studio for the rest of the war, and if postwar visitors wanted a photo, Picasso posed next to the sculpture. I think this was a victory - over the panic-stricken, butchered imagery that had taken him over, and he took pride in this victory. He had overcome hell and returned to the simple humanity of everyday life.  “Dadaist nihilism”? I don’t think so. The urge to annihilate, in the man, in the world, was overcome.  
At least in that instance. In that world. At that time.  

Portrait of a Woman Weeping  

That ridiculous hat
her face made up 

in prisms of comic book color
those petrified animal eyes

The face of  Europe
breaking and weeping -

The woman    Dora Maar
the cruel brushstrokes of her lover
her crystalline surface   shattered
What man can watch a woman weeping
without seeing his own death?



Friday, July 8, 2011

A Meditation on Re-imagining Mary by Mariann Burke

Annunciation by Fra Angelico
        I was raised Jewish in an observant household. There were many taboos, and most forbidden were All Things Christian. Years later, I developed a chronic illness. The potions that promised to take away symptoms were more harmful than helpful. I had a dream: My classes are over, and I’m driving home from the College of Marin. When I stop for a red light, I see a huge, animated billboard of a blind man, dressed in biblical robes. An image of Mary appears next to him, and he tells me that I will find her nearby. If I could kneel and pray to her, he says,  I would find relief. I woke up shocked. Both my agnostic stance and my list of Must-Nots were deeply challenged.
Two weeks later my tragically mad mother calls me to say that one of her Voices told her to  visit a Mission. Soon! I was startled that she, consciously or unconsciously, knew of such a place. I took her to the Mission San Rafael, which happened to be midway between the college and the special care home where she lived.
I had never been to the Mission and the first thing I saw in that intimate, inviting chapel was the statue of Mary that appeared in my dream.  What secret, synchronous process had brought us here? I took my mother home, returned to the church, chose an inconspicuous pew, knelt (another taboo), and prayed. I began to cry, and as the tears came, the pain and exhaustion seemed to flow out of me.
     Years ago, Mariann Burke was studying to become a Jungian analyst in Zurich. She tells us that
       One day as I sat in my basement apartment reflecting
       on a picture of the Annunciation, energy seemed to surge  
       through me, and lifted  me above myself. Tears brought me  
       to deep center. (p 1)
Burke tells us that artists open “windows” whose depths may be unknown even to themselves. She “longs” to see other images, other paintings, “other versions” of the Annunciation. This is the beginning of her journey through the art of Mary, expressed through the deep connection she has with Her. She speaks of the power of spiritual imagery - the events depicted are not out of a lost past, but “Like a dream. the image is happening within”. (p. 3)
      It must be true that whenever artists or writers bring back mythical images from the past - Orpheus, Eurydice, Antigone, The Mother Goddess - those figures are “happening within.” As Carl Jung wrote in The Red Book “To give birth  to the ancient in a new time is creation.” (The Red Book. p. 311) There is a poem in After the Jug Was Broken that brings Mary and Ann (Hebrew Hannah) into both their Hebrew origins and our “new time.”:
                        "The Education of the Virgin”
                                          after a painting by Georges de La Tour

There is Ann with the book   Mary with the flame
Will the mother explain first bleeding   the rule of seclusion 
set forth by the fathers   Perhaps she is learning her aleph bet   
or the declaration of faith:
“Here O Israel the Lord Our God the Lord is One”
Ann would know nothing of a Son  And sacrifice? a lamb
on the altar   The cross? a woman’s to bear for her otherness
her breasts  the nest inside her
How to prepare   How to prepare the weeping woman on the front page of this morning’s paper who lost her son in a drive-by  
How to prepare the woman on another page who lost a son 
in each of our wars 
St. Ann mother of mothers   Teach her how to survive past grief
Teach her to seek healing and relief  And that said   Teach her
the prayer for the dead

      Mariann Burke’s goal in writing Re-Imagining Mary is not simply to take us on a  tour of Mary’s appearances in art. She writes:
     “The historical Mary needs to be recovered from a view that
       sees her as totally  meek, submissive to male authority
       rather than her feminine inner authority.” (p. 6)
      I sympathize with that goal. The Church saccharined Mary into submission, but what is the true nature of the Madonna? An ex-Catholic-now-Buddhist colleague once asked why that “meek woman” appealed to me when there was such a need for powerful female inspirators. I answered that Mary was another aspect of the Great Mother. She is  a symbol of compassion and healing, like Kwan Yin and the Taras for Buddhists, as Lakshmi, Saraswati & Parvati serve Hindus. For Jews, the Sabbath Bride, the Shekinah or Divine Presence, symbolizes the feminine, and who was Mary but a young Jewish woman pregnant with fate and prophecy?
      It is not only Mary that Burke wants to redeem, but Eve as well. She characterizes Eve not as evil or disobedient, but curious - a curiosity [which] “leads to greater consciousness. Eve’s “yes” to the serpent, and Mary’s “yes” to the angel represent two aspects of the journey toward wholeness.” (p. 23)
      Burke explores many Annunciations, a few that I had no knowledge of. Did you know that Andy Warhol and Salvador Dali painted the angel’s visit? Burke writes:
     “Salvador Dali’s Annunciation looks as if an explosion has
      ripped through the room catapulting Mary from her prayer
      stand and swishing Gabriel to the ceiling.” (p. 63)
She suggests that the News “shakes up the life of Mary” as our own lives are shaken by events. “How shall this be done”, Mary asks, becoming somewhat undone, and Burke responds that “out of unknowing understanding comes.” Her discussion of Warhol held the same pleasure that her descriptions of other artists did:
I could not anticipate her reaction or interpretation.
Annunciation after Leonardo da Vinci by Andy Warhol
        The author moves from the Annunciations to the expression of Mary as Mother and Sophia. I was delighted to find  a Gerald Manley Hopkins poem included that I had not read in years, which begins:
                    WILD air, world-mothering air,
                    Nestling me everywhere,
                    This air, which, by life’s law,
                     My lung must draw and draw Now
                     but to breathe its praise,       
                     Minds me in many ways
                     Of her who not only Gave God’s infinity…...
                     Mary Immaculate…….
                                                                 (p. 110-111)
As “world mother air”, Burke tells us, Mary is a cosmic temple, who allows us the freedom of our own finding, of our own breath. She offers liberation within a protected domain.
     Burke intersperses the images she presents with her own experience, her dreams and those of her clients, and her knowledge of the goddess as well as the religious understanding that I would expect from a woman who was identified in Italy as  “a monstere incognito” - a plain clothes nun.
     In the last chapter, “Sounding the Stone Dream”, Burke asserts that “all religious revelations are psychic realities. There within the soul we may discover our gods, and their matrix, the one source that mothers all.” (p. 150) Amen!  
Annunciation by Jim Janknegt (not included in book)
Re-Imagining Mary
Product Details
Re-Imagining Mary: A Journey Through Art to the Feminine Self
Paperback: 180 pages, 20+ illustrations, Index, Bibliography
Publisher: Fisher King Press; 1st edition (March 8, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-13: 978-0981034416                                                    

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Ghost Pony

     The surrounding landscape is magnificent, but the New Mexico town is not charming. For Sale signs, rusty cars, a general store of old cans, old hardware nothing for us but Ice Sold, though we wish we could spend our money here, instead of the supermarkets  in Santa Fe. 

      An acclaimed Hispanic weaver has a shop here started by his grandfather, or maybe it was his great-grandfather. He shows us the traditional regional patterns his father wove, and I think I recognize borrowed Pueblo designs. He prefers the perfect stripes he creates on a hundred and fifty year old loom. An artist’s studio down the street has a mural marrying the Day of the Dead and the cult of the Penitentes in Pixar color. I was once warned that people here were unfriendly to strangers, but all are talkative, and they look us in the eye and say God Bless You when we leave - and we feel blessed. Bill photographs what-used-to-be, seeing art everywhere.

            Main Street eventually becomes a dirt road and Truchas Peaks and the deep-hearted fields appear. The clannish pines are arranged in family groups, and the air at 8400 feet is so clear. Open-hearted and exhilarated, we explore in the morning, imagine history in the old cemeteries, 

work in the afternoon.

We stay at an artist and writer’s retreat, a large adobe house we have to ourselves. It feels like a great gift. We are supposed to be collaborating on an art work involving his images and my poetry. The theme is India, where we spent a month a while ago - but how are we to concentrate on India, when the spirits of the Sangre de Cristo mountains are spinning tales for us, Coyote sings for his dinner, and a Ghost Pony flees his logo on the front of a store and appears in my dream?

          Ghost Pony

Ghost pony    you come to me
white as the dandelion
white as life turns
before it blows away

Take me back 
to when you cantered these lands
granted in the name of saints
in the name of mercy  in the title of kings

Blood of Christ they named their mountains
Our Father they would say   Holy Mother they would pray
There were looms then  there are looms now
there were carvers then   there are carvers now
It was spirit and necessity then
it is spirit and necessity now
There were ponies and stallions and livestock
there were coyotes and wolf and bear

Altars of saints met kivas of spirits
they danced around each other  they sniffed and
growled   Coyote and Corn Mother crossed over
Guadalupe and Jesus joined the stars and
the great raptors in the haunted sky

Some women lit candles on Friday night
because their grandmothers lit candles on Friday night
In October they asked their neighbors for forgiveness 
spun strangely marked tops before Christmas

Wrapped in silk  in a trunk was the mystery
an enameled hand  with painted eye 
and a six pointed star
from a previous history

Can you take me Ghost Pony?
Can you take me that far?

Monday, May 30, 2011

The Cave Painter

       When we stayed in the Lot Valley in southern France, we visited the cave called Pech-Merle, and saw the hand prints, and the powerful images of dotted horses, bison and mammoths. "They've invented everything",
Picasso said when he visited Lascaux.

      Lascaux was closed to the public when all the human exhalations caused mold to form on the art. Chauvet, discovered in 1994, had art older than all the others. To protect the art, a steel door had been placed on the narrow entrance, and only a small team of experts would be allowed to enter. One of those experts came to Cal with slides shortly after the discovery, and the auditorium was filled. 

My friend Tim and I stood in back to hear him speak. The images of cave art he showed were startling masterpieces, and we thought we would only ever see these images in books or slides.     
    I read all I could on Chauvet, intrigued by this mysterious 30, 000 year old art whose origins and meaning might never be understood. Was it Tim who gave me The Mind in the Cave, by David Lewis-Williams, that remarkable book that claimed shamanism and initiation as the basis of paleolithic art? There was, Lewis-Williams claimed, a direct tie between the shamanic rock art of Australia and the ancient images on the cave walls. 

     In Lewis-Williams' earlier book, The Signs of All Times, written with the anthropologist T. A. Dowson:
  “The authors cited laboratory experiments with subjects 

in an induced trance state which suggested that the human 
optic system generates the same types of visual illusions, 
in the same three stages, differing only slightly by culture, 
whatever the stimulus: drugs, music, pain, fasting repetitive movements, solitude, or high carbon-dioxide levels 
(a phenomenon that is common in close underground 
chambers.) In the first stage, a subject sees a pattern of  
points, grids,  zigzags and other abstract forms (familiar 
from the caves); in the second stage, these forms morph 
into objects—the zigzags for example, might become a 
serpent. In the third and deepest stage, a subject feels 
sucked into a dark vortex that generates intense 
hallucinations, often of monsters or animals and 
 feels his body and spirit merging with theirs.” 
[Or maybe the spirits are contacted?]

When we first read about Werner Herzog’s 3D film The Cave of Forgotten Dreams, we were very excited, and last night, when my back was sufficiently healed to sit in a the ater seat for the length of a film, we went to see it. Constant background music, eerily contemporary, kept us from experiencing the deep ancient silence of the cave, but the images on the curved and sometimes undulating surfaces were remarkable. Just a few lines, just a few perfectly executed outlines, (what Zen artists once strived for), and the animals of Aurignacian Europe, as though drawn yesterday, emerged from the rock face. Were they spirit animals coming through the porous rock from the underworld they inhabited?  Rhinoceros, lions, leopard, bison, aurochs and horses - a quartet of horse heads so beautifully drawn one thinks of Renaissance draughtsmen. 
       Herzog says it is as though the human soul awakened here. On a phallus-shaped  pinnacle suspended from the cave ceiling is the only picture of the human figure.  It shows a bison above and surrounding a woman’s sex. A fused figure, from a shamanic vision, perhaps. There is a bison-woman at Pech-Merle as well.
      Recently we downloaded a film made by and about the Inuit people, The Journals of Knud Rasmussen. ( At the end of the film a shaman must either give up the old religion or starve. He sends his spirits, who have always been with him, away. He tells them they must go, and they are sobbing, they are weeping and holding on to each other, and they finally walk away. They turn around after walking a few yards and look back, but the shaman repeats that now he must accept Jesus or starve, because that is the condition of the Christian feast another converted Inuit is holding nearby. He must eat the taboo animal organs that shamans must never touch. That will be his communion. He is crying. He is without choice. He has a wife and daughter and followers to feed, and he does not want to die the agony of starvation.

I think of the shamans of the Aurignacian, and the power of their visions. An archeologist in Herzog’s film says that perhaps Homo Sapiens is the wrong name for us. Perhaps we should be known as Homo Spiritualis.

  The Cave Painter         

And then
             to us it is sudden
              but not to them
        they discovered murder

the animals had been idolized terrors
but now     they had the spear 
when they woke up to what they were doing
it was not morning
killing came into their nightly seance
animal spirits invaded their dreams
carrying spears thicker and taller than cedars
and shredded carcasses
           washed down night’s river

and the dreamers were us
just as smart and no longer innocent
and they promised   they begged   they offered
and they couldn’t forget
and they made it the task of one man    one woman
to remember   to be remembering every minute
and he or she   make it she
went into the caves on hands and knees   snake belly crawl
touched her hand to the farthest wall
she knew   they all knew by now
    they were certain
           the spirits lived on the other side

Let her place the torch  on the bear-trodden floor
and press her hands against the shivery membrane -
She   the one with hands    the one with a body
the gods count on our hands     they use our bodies
the animal spirits see the future through cro magnon eyes
see the hills   the rivers   the forest   there were animals  yes
     but not them    not a one
so they send her their own true shape     
           and she grinds her colors   picks up charcoal
               and leaves us the auroch   the bison

Enter the caves
     and the ancient age
    of what you believe
                 we just invented
              will be shown to you
           and you will not be afraid

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Red Book Mondays

        Monday is Red Book day. The reading of Carl Jung’s extraordinary book is a ritual, repeated weekly. I sit in my large chair with the huge book (12" x 16" and 9 lbs) across my lap, and my laptop balanced on the wide arm of the chair, and enter Jung’s mysteries, revelations, horrors, and prophecies. I begin with his words, some of which I copy, and then immerse myself in the paintings, which are not mirrors of what 
I’ve read, but windows into the psyche’s symbols. 

      I read one short chapter at a time
and I never look ahead.  I follow the book chronologically,  and of course I do not know what will come next, and neither did Jung when he wrote it. 
The Red Book is the record and self -interpretation of Jung’s journeys using active imagination, a journey where he encountered both the sublime and the sinister. At the beginning he is a scholar-scientist, egotistical, ambitious, and concerned with the world’s opinion. 
He reminds me of Dante, at mid-life, lost in a dark wood, his soul demanding a place for herself. When he finishes his very private, (finally published) Red Book, all that he encounters within himself, all of what he will call archetypes & anima, all the darkness he will name Shadow, the process he will call individuation, will appear in his written theories and consulting room.

From the beginning I respond to Jung by taking phrases from the Red Book that I find particularly inspiring or jolting and write short poems - expanding, denying, struggling, adding my own imagery to his. At first it felt audacious to respond to Jung - now it is simply what I do on Red Book Mondays.

“I am the holy animal that stood astonished and cannot grasp the becoming of the God”
How privileged and peaceful 
the dear ox and the donkey 
in the manger  Since animals are sinless  they may Witness
Sometimes   in ivory    oils   
or stained glass 
the ox and the donkey stand close  
smile down on the newborn   
Even the kneeling kings  the wise men  
step aside
The Image: The Opening of the Egg
He bows before the egg
the power    rises 
becomes a canopy  of fire and flametears
falling like raindrops
in the jadewalled chamber

“He who had been pressed into the core of the beginning rose up”
And so the universe might have begun
a collapsed black star  infinitely dense
exploding into a trillion holy suns

But if the soul dips into radiance, she becomes as remorseless as the God himself….
Margaret of Cortona   Christ-bitten  ecstatic 
starved thornwhipped body
She lies on the cold bare floor on Easter mornng
begging to feel His wounds
unable to Rise