My house is on a strip of land called “The Neck,” a bridge between the head and body of the island which has been my home for the past twenty one years. At some points “The Neck” is so narrow you can see the ocean on either side. I know that if the wind is blowing from the southwest the waters of The Great Salt Pond to my right as I bike into town will be placid, but if it shifts to the northeast I’ll have to pedal against a headwind that will make my thighs burn. I know that the buck will appear in the field near my house when the light turns rose-gold, burnishing the fur on his newly sprouted antlers. I know where the robin and his mate nested after the landscapers cut down the cedar shrub where they were nesting without their permission, and that the gulls that soar in the ferry’s wake sleep in the dunes at the far northern tip of the island. I have felt the jetty rumble at the harbor’s mouth, witnessed the cormorants that sleep in the cracks between stones explode over the black ocean. I know where and when the moon will rise as the year turns, how the tides will affect my moods, when I should write, and when I should be still, watching the silver light break and reform, break and reform, as the waves touch the shore. I wonder if they long for land? If they know it exists, or if they discover it each time they break? If it hurts to break, or if they are numb to it, do they arrive here weary and grateful, or are they impassive, beyond the simple emotions which weigh me down or lift me up, depending on the moon? I wonder if the moon cares that its light which I find more beautiful than all others, is just a reflection of the sun’s?
I didn’t learn any of this from books, but I am compelled to write about it. It has been an act of healing, first for myself, now for others as I begin to flower in the world. Over twenty one years on Block Island, I have broken and reformed many times, enough now that I know that this cycle is endless, and rejoice that this is so, for every time I break, my roots grow deeper, not just my roots to this island, but the roots to my soul who remembers that it is connected to the whole earth, every blade of grass and every stone, every person I pass in the grocery store whose eyes I don’t meet because I’m in a rush, or annoyed, or exhausted, or the drunks who stumble out of the bars at night who I sometimes deride, even the customers in the sandwich shop where I’ve been working lately with special orders. At the end of a busy day, and sometimes in the middle of the chaos, I try to remind myself I am here to witness and to make connections. I use the poet’s tools of line and metaphor to weave a tapestry that will re-enchant the earth so that everyone who comes in contact with my words will once again recognize that Earth is sacred, something that should not be bought or sold. Though my work is personal, my goal is political. I aim to heal and initiate on the individual and cultural level with the hope that my voice will play a part in re-envisioning social and economic systems that are mutually beneficial for people and the plants and animals with whom we share our home.
It has not been an easy path towards even realizing this was my goal. First, I had to go through the process of initiation myself, without even knowing that I needed to, or that it was happening in the first place. My severance from society and descent into the Underworld, two necessary steps in the initiatory process, led me into years of self-destructive behavior that was the primary inspiration for my work for some time. Now that I have pulled myself up out of the Underworld, I look at my scars and am in awe that I survived, but don’t feel compelled to share the details. I have learned to be intimate with myself. Now I can look beyond my well-formed boundaries and write about what I see on the other side of my skin—the doe grazing in the shadow of the stonewall, the hydrangeas growing through the slats of the porch railing, a thousand insects whose voices blur together as one. I want to learn how to speak insect, to apprentice myself to that zeeg zeeg zeeg I hear just now…
I was recently awarded a fellowship and the local newspaper asked if they could do a brief interview. Heading into the office, I was vain enough to prepare some answers in my head, as if I was getting ready to make a speech at The Academy Awards. “What inspires you to write?” I imagined the editor asking me, hands poised expectantly above his keyboard. It turned out that he did not ask that question, but my answer to my own question surprised and delighted me. I have written so long with a goal in mind—to heal, to transform myself and our sick civilization, that I didn’t expect the answer to be, “I write because I love words.” But there they were, the words that told me I had finally arrived where I’d longed to be for so long, somewhere I can create by tapping on keys, or by swirling wet ink across white paper, somewhere that is filled with silence and sound, with acceptance for all that is, the beautiful and the terrible, the unknown territory inside my body and the earth’s, the unexplored corners of my soul and the world’s. I love these words that allow me to push the edges back a little further, to go deeper into the shadows with the deer, to break with the ocean, over and over, to reform like the moon’s reflection. It is painful to be torn apart. There will always be a gap between our bodies and our souls. But words are a bridge, a strand of pearls around a neck gleaming with silver light that soothes the skin after the sun has gone down. I am surrounded by ocean. I am all shore. I am an island of words returning its touch. It is beyond my control, sometimes fierce, sometimes gentle, but my response is not. I choose the moon and its tides. I choose to be broken, again and again. I choose to open.
#blockisland #foraging #whitewave #blockislandpoetryproject
#blockisland #foraging #whitewave #blockislandpoetryproject