Circle of the Flowering Tree (A Chickasaw Prayer)

He will deaden the living,lay his stone axe to the root, falter a grim perimeter round the base, cleave the cover, strip the bark to bloodlet life from branches then move to decimate the next one. His family consumes him as does his god, Aba’ binni’li’. Circling counterclockwise he sings the song of the sun, wielding his death axe rosary, cultivating a clearing for food. The wood he will huddle for fuel to foster prayers for his people. Incense, breath of the dead, sacred fire sustenance for hearth body, secret soul, whirls to the sky and whispers a plea for returning, to lift Bala’, Olbi’, and Tanchi’ harmonious from the slaughter to flower among the voices of the forgotten.

 

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Aba’ binni’li’ - Creator Bala, Olbi, and Tanchi' - Beans, Squash, and Corn

To the center of the world you have taken me and showed the goodness and the beauty and the strangeness of the greening earth, the only mother — and there the spirit shapes of things, as they should be, you have shown to me and I have seen. At the center of this sacred hoop, you have said that I should make the tree to bloom ... With tears running, O Great Spirit , Great Spirit, my Grandfather — with running tears I must say now that the tree has never bloomed. A pitiful old man, you see me here, and I have fallen away and have done nothing. Here at the center of the world, where you took me when I was young and taught me; here, old, I stand, and the tree is withered, Grandfather, my Grandfather! ... It may be that some little root of the sacred tree still lives. Nourish it then, that it may leaf and bloom and fill with singing birds. Hear me, not for myself, but for my people; I am old. Hear me that they may once more go back into the sacred hoop and find the good red road, the shielding tree! ... In sorrow I am sending a feeble voice, O Six Powers of the World. Hear me in my sorrow, for I may never call again. O make my people live!

- Black Elk, holy man of the Oglala Lakota (Sioux) tribe (from Black Elk Speaks)

Pas De Deux

Anguish woke our startled minds from dreaming-sun seeps through the blinds, sifts what remains of us, flooding the sheets in angles of shard light, illuminating the inquest which had not -as we hoped- dissipated in the murk. Questions scurry from the brightness seeking solace with us in the waning dark.

Adrift in the wake of last night’s inquisition, afraid to reach out and touch the fragile continuance we somehow manage to maintain, fearful that touch will shatter the remnant-us, until, bearing communal isolation no longer, you open your eyes and catch me staring at you from across the bed. Your lines narrow, scouting my features, seeking clues to unanswerable questions. I pull the coverlet over your shoulder, burrow into the insular layers while undulate waves lap their weeping in our silent exchange of soliloquies in stillness. Suddenly, your mouth opens slightly and I know you read the hunger in my eyes.

Each morning unveils the discovery anew: no reprieve from our grief will be granted. The sun will continue to burn a hole in the remainder of our days and so we will retreat each night to this vessel, to shelter sorrow and enfold ourselves within, returning to the lovers we once were in a pas de deux between melody and dirge, a coda delicate of inviolate despair.

 

 

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About this poem:

In ballet, a pas de deux (French: 'step of two') is a dance duet and also means 'an intricate relationship between two people'. Though it is now (obviously) dated, the 1968 film Pas De Deux by Canadian animator Norman McClaren (who influenced Picasso, Truffaut, and George Lucas) best illustrates the powerful symmetry and emotional depth in a pas de deux. The film won a BAFTA for Best Animated Film and an Academy Award nomination. McClaren once stated, 'I have tried to preserve ... the same closeness and intimacy that exists between a painter and his canvas … and so my militant philosophy is this: to make with a brush on canvas is a simple and direct delight – to make with a movie should be the same'.

The hypnotic short film captures the essence of what I was attempting to convey in the poem. I won't explicate this poem for to do so seems to deconstruct the experience and make it solely mine when I believe this is a poem that many will understand and perhaps even some appropriate as their own. (Suffice it to say, or rather, quote, from the Dutch artist M. C. Escher: 'What I give form to in daylight is only one percent of what I have seen in darkness').

Poetry is at once a window and a mirror. Immediately, intimately, we personify poetry. We peer into the lines and simultaneously look within and without. I love poetry for this reason, it is at once personal and universal, ecumenical and intrinsic.

Photo from Norman McClaren's film.

Rejoicing in each other, they returned to their bed, The old familiar place they loved so well.

- From The Odyssey

Why I Write Poetry: Full Disclosure (A Poet’s Regret)

A Random Listing of My Poems