Poem a Day: 11

Today’s Prompts were New World, and Control.

The Crone Speaks
by Beth Weaver-Kreider

How will you enter the new world when you get there?
How will you even know you when you have arrived?
Will a score of gleaming knights on black stallions
ride across a causeway, trumpets blaring?
Will the forest path end abruptly at the top of a windy cliff
high above a roiling green sea?
Will there be a hidden doorway behind a veil of vines
in the back corner of a neglected garden?

I see how it is with you, Princess.
You knock on the door of my cottage—
so brave of you to come to the witch for advice.
You’ve got all the steps memorized, don’t you?. Admit it.

One: Learn to spin and to weave.
Bake bread. Learn to sing.
Speak the truth, but in stories.

Two: Take a walk in the woods,
though all have warned you against it.
Don’t forget to put into your pocket
the doll your mother gave you.

Three: Be kind to the Old One
sitting at the crossroad
who asks for your bread.

Four: Offer your service to the crone
who lives in the cottage
made of wishes and bones.

You’re a conscientious follower of the tales, you are.
No leaf unturned, no story left untold.
You have folded your heart
into an origami bird, ready for flying.

The only crumb you missed
on the way to the house of the witch
is this one: The whole point,
my dear—the sole purpose
of this journey
is that you learn one thing—
You must relinquish your control.
Offer the story to the birds who come
to collect the crumbs on the pathway.
The Old One who asks bread of you
seeks not the loaf you have carefully prepared
for the purpose, but the one
you’ve been saving for yourself.
Your mother’s doll will offer good advice,
but the tool you most need you will find on the way.

This story, your story, isn’t intended
to follow the formula you studied with such care.
The truth you found so dear in all the others
will not guide the plot of your own.
The Guide you seek might be a tree,
or a stone, or a wide shallow river.
Find your own signposts.
Seek your own star.
Learn your own recipes
for kindness and bread.
And please, close the door on your way out.

Advent 13: Mother Holle

Do you know the story of Mother Holle? It’s one of the tales recorded by the Grimm brothers. At first glance, it appears to be a moralistic and scolding tale about the good and beautiful and dutiful daughter versus the mean and ugly and lazy one. Ugh.

You can read a simple translation of the Grimm version here. As in so many fairy tales, the mother in the story loves the mean and lazy daughter best, and mistreats the good and industrious one. The dutiful daughter accidentally drops her spindle in the well and climbs down to retrieve it. Instead of drowning, she encounters an entire world down below, helps various characters out of trouble, and dutifully works for an old woman, Mother Holle, cleaning her house and fluffing her pillows. Mother Holle gives her her spindle, sends her back up the well with gold and jewels magically clinging to her clothes.

The mother sees the girl’s good fortune and throws the other daughter’s spindle down the well. But this daughter is lazy and rude and refuses to help anyone she meets in the underworld. She is rude to Mother Holle, who tells her that because she refused to fluff the feather pillows, the snow would not fall in her own world, and so there would be a drought. This daughter returns to the upper world with tar and insects and creepy crawly creatures magically clinging to her clothes.

The defiant spirit in me resists the controlling moralism of this story, the coercive shaming of the reader into good behavior for the sake of reward. Still, there’s something deeper, something more ancient and real going on here than a simple morality tale.

For one thing, scholars concur that Mother Holle seems to be a version of an ancient European goddess, Frau Holla, or the Hulda, an agriculture/fertility goddess whose beneficence was responsible for the health of the fields and crops, for the abundance which kept families and communities fed and healthy through the changing seasons of the year. Industrious hard work by members of ancient communities ensured the health of one’s family and one’s community. Textile work–creating clothing from the fibers of plant stems and animal fur–was an almost magical process, and it was women’s work. Girls with their spindles, from these two daughters to the poor miller’s daughter in the Rumpelstiltskin story, were keepers of this great mystery of spinning straw (plant stems and bits of fur) into gold (beautiful and functional cloth).

The first daughter sensed the needs of those she met in the world of Mother Holle, and she met their needs with her own soul force. She brought her whole self into the adventure presented to her, and did what needed to be done, as a member of the community in which she found herself. And when Mother Holle asked her to work for her, she did not consider herself above the menial tasks, but did them joyfully.

There’s so much in here, but the piece that catches me for today, in this place where I am descending into the well of winter, is to notice that each task presented to the girls in their underworld journey may seem basic and mundane, but each one has a sacred significance, from the spinning they were doing at the very lip of the well to the shaking of Mother Holle’s feather pillows.

Today and in the coming days, how can I shift my seeing, as I observe the daily mundane tasks ahead of me, to feel the sacred significance of each? This stack of grading that threatens to drown me–can I look at each piece of paper as a contract between myself and the student who receives it back from me? Each is a piece of the community bond that we share, and I need to strategize a way to be present for the work.

What work calls out to you today, this weekend, this season, to be done? What is the sacred truth of the most mundane task that you must accomplish?


Envisioning:
(At the beginning of Advent, my pastor asked us to hold the swords-into-ploughshares vision in our heads, to look for stories of people choosing that vision. For the next little while, I am going to look for such stories as my daily morning meditation.)

Yesterday I listened to the report on NPR about the group Parents for Peace, about family members of extremists who created a safe group for people whose family members have been part of hate groups. They welcome former extremists into the group as well–former IS members, former Klan members, former neo-Nazis–and they’re spreading a message of care and compassion. Some of the members who have themselves been part of extremist groups are part of other groups that help families stage interventions with their loved ones who are caught in up in hate groups. They hold a vision that there is a basic humanity within people that can help lead them out of a life of hatred.

Roses and Honey

Poetry First Song

Here is a revision of a poem I wrote last year. I don’t think it’s quite finished. It was pretty loose and free when I first wrote it, which doesn’t bother me, but I wanted to take it into a more mythic rhythm, if I could. I shaped it into something like a triversen, trying to keep the four-beat rhythm on each line–working with the four beats felt like the Kalevalla, and I want to try working more with that old Scandinavian feel.  I’m not sure yet whether it’s better than the original. I’ll post the original at the end of this post, and you can tell me what you think, if you want to. I’m open to critique–feel free to spill some blood upon the page.

Once upon a time, Child, when you were caught in the swirling fog–
remember how it held you, how it caught your arms and legs like brambles,
until you saw the wild rose bush beside the pathway in the woods–

remember how the roses dropped their scarlet petals on the ground,
how the tender centers swelled into ripe red berries,
a little sharp, a little sweet, and how they fed you, how they healed you–

remember how the golden bees swarmed around you as you wandered,
how you cried out in fear, how suddenly the wakeful sun
broke through the buzzing cloud: all was golden, all was sweetness–

remember how you heard the howling in the distance, closing in,
how the beast emerged from the wood, all teeth and claw, all hiss and fury,
how you quelled the urge to run, how you looked it in the eye,

how you spoke into its raging, “What is your name?”
I remember now, how you walked that day out of the mists,
a rose in your hair and honey dripping from your fingers.

Gratitude List:
1. Sorting sea glass, stones and shells with Josiah
2. Getting to bed early and only waking up twice before 5
3. Revising: poetry, plans, ideas
4. Wise people
5. Everything is going to be okay

May we walk in Beauty!

***
First Version of the poem:

Once upon a time, Child,
when you were caught in the fog–
remember how it held you, how it
caught at your arms and legs like brambles,
until you saw the rose bush
beside the path in the woods–

remember how the roses
dropped their tender petals on the ground,
how the center swelled
into those ripe red berries,
a little sharp, a little sweet,
and fed you, healed you–

remember how the bees
swarmed around you,
how you cried out in fear,
how the sun broke through the buzzing cloud
and all was golden,
all was sweetness–

remember how you heard the howling
off in the distance and closing in,
how the beast emerged from the wood,
all teeth and claw,
how you quelled the urge to run,
how you looked it in the eye
and said, “What is your name?”

I remember now,
how you walked that day
out of the mists,
a rose in your hair
and honey dripping
from your fingers.

Once Upon a Time

I needed a little inspiration today, so I went to Robert Brewer’s Poetic Asides blog.  He suggests a Once Upon a Time poem.  As with so many of these speedy morning poems, I am not sure quite what is happening here, but I think this one may bear some revision.

Once upon a time, Child,
when you were caught in the fog–
remember how it held you, how it
caught at your arms and legs like brambles,
until you saw the rose bush
beside the path in the woods–

remember how the roses
dropped their tender petals on the ground,
how the center swelled
into those ripe red berries,
a little sharp, a little sweet,
and fed you, healed you–

remember how the bees
swarmed around you,
how you cried out in fear,
how the sun broke through the buzzing cloud
and all was golden,
all was sweetness–

remember how you heard the howling
off in the distance and closing in,
how the beast emerged from the wood,
all teeth and claw,
how you quelled the urge to run,
how you looked it in the eye
and said, “What is your name?”

I remember now,
how you walked that day
out of the mists,
a rose in your hair
and honey dripping
from your fingers.

 

Gratitude List:
1. Parent/Teacher Conferences this afternoon.  It is a change of pace, and a chance to talk about these wonderful people with others who understand just how much I like them.  I admit that there is some stress involved.  It’s a long time to be “on,” and I never know how the conversations will flow, and I don’t think I have enough time to get my room as tidy as I would like before they start coming–but I still look forward to this little chance to interact with the parents of my people.
2. Dawn
3. Breath
4. Kale
5. Poetry–especially that John O’Donohue poem that I am reading to myself every morning.

May we walk in Beauty!

More Advice from Aunt Eliza

<Prompt 14:  Write a poem of Exploration>  This is yesterday’s poem–I was too tired last night to wait for my turn at the computer.  I can’t get out of the fairy tales.

It doesn’t always have to be so,
but it seems to be the way things go:

When the sunny trail ends at that dead ash tree,
when the sweet-scented grasses turn to brambles,
when the radiant butterfly flits into shadows
and out from behind the tree pads the wolf–

That is when the story really gets started.

Epiphany can be those shiny angels,
those glittering kings bearing gold,
but it also comes in shadows and cobwebs.

One day you are sleep-walking
through your dreamy life,
not paying attention to where the path leads,
and epiphany comes in the form of a crow,
calling your name from the topmost branch
of a lightning-struck oak.

Or you find the sweet cottage
but wake up surrounded by bears
or tossed head-first into the furnace.

Or an old woman in tatters and rags
swoops into the clearing, chattering,
demanding to know who you think you are,
demanding your service, your heart.

And that’s the key, isn’t it?
Who do you think you are, meddling in this story?
Can you give your whole heart to the process?
What are you doing here, in the heart of this forest,
this landscape of your life?
What is your real name?
Are you ready to fight for it?
To go on a quest, answer the riddle,
do the three impossible tasks,
risk your own dissolution, your death,
just to claim it as your own?

You thought you were so brave,
following the path to explore the woods,
though you’d been warned,
though your skin prickled,
though you knew the stories
of those who never returned.

Now is the time for bravery.
Now is the time for fierce
uncompromising joy.
Now the real exploration begins.

Gratitude List:
1.  That gentle cooing sound my hen Sunny made when I brought her down into a cage in the basement and gave her medicine water.  She  has been stoically enduring whatever is making her sick, but she perked up a little when she found herself in the hospital cage.
2.  New ventures.  Taking steps.
3.  This book: Nurturing the Soul of Your Family, by Renee Peterson Trudeau
4.  The dream I had last night that brought back to mind another book someone recommended to me weeks ago, but which I had forgotten to look up.
5.  My boys’ excitement at the wheat grass and lettuce shoots coming up in the pots on the fish tank.

May we walk courageously in our forests.