interlude: reverie / spell / poem
Reverie, train journey
19th June 2023
Before Salisbury I felt it change. Pink and white wild roses in profusion on the steep banks, elderflower thick and frothy as bath foam in our old 1970s avocado bath tub. We move from one geology to another and enter calcium lands. In this carriage, do I alone notice?
The girls in the seats front of me on the train, heads touching, (an intimacy I never knew until my 50s), speak of secret things that girls know, and don’t know. If you are not one, then I should not spell it out here, as they are the seeds of women’s mysteries.
The bioavailability of nutrients to the body is like the mytho-availablity of earth to the soul. Without regular physical contact to the ground, stories untether and become fragmentary, denatured, even toxic. We cleave to the broken parts like children hoarding rounded flints, not knowing it’s the sharp edges that spark fire from steel. Those sharp edges that can also do the cutting. If you are going to hoard flint, then go to Grimes Graves and ask to dig a big nodule, take it home whole and turn it over for a year, looking for the fractures, the ways in (to the stone, and to the story). Then, maybe, if you hit it just right, you’ll cleave off a flake good enough to flay your enemies, or skin your dinner, at least.
Or so fine you can operate on an eye, and thereby save someone’s sight.
Death and seeing clearly are fraternal twins. They are also the two, mysteriously curved, faces of the ancestral knapped stone leaf blade that is myth.
Here are the traces of elements, the minerals I know I need. Not just the iron in ochre, which indeed nourishes, but calcium and copper too, silica even. Animal rocks, chalk, my long dead ancestors, pale into significance, the friable rock of blackboards and the dryness of climbers’ hands, always on, and at, our fingertips. Nothing is quite like it; true yin, a dryness forged deep in water, stability from flux, the compressed bones of life become the means for language (before the whiteboard brought its petrochemical sheen to schools, and throwing board erasers was banned, to the relief of bruised children).
Petroleum – oleum (oil) from petra (stone). Why had I never considered this until today? I flush, blood rises to my cheeks, haem, iron, infuses my skin, keeps my soft teeth alive a little longer. I do not have to know all the words, but still, the roots of things have always drawn me. Both in and down.
An intrusive thought crosses my mind, the parlous state of England’s chalk streams, a topic of increasing urgency. I have been watching from the corner of my eye for years, too easily depressed by all the statistics of extraction, neglect and pollution to look at it square on, but instead taking frequent glances from the side, wishing the trout to succeed by sheer force of will, and beauty. If you have ever seen them leap you learn in an instant a new vocabulary for instinctive joy, made from muscular yearning and a sudden brief excursion into a previously unthinkable element. Then the kicked flick of your tail on return, speeding you upstream again, in currents of kenning.
Walking along the River Dart one day many years ago with Iain McGilchrist and twenty others, I saw the trout leaping time after time. Every time I gasped, others turned, seeing only the circular ripples and my mouth’s slack ‘O’ as I gawped and pointed like a simpleton. A moment later, a shining black stag beetle survived the moment because I hovered my foot rather than bringing it down. ‘How do you see these things?’ asked Iain. I said something like, ‘I don’t know’. I do know, but in those days could not find words to say it. My teacher asks it like this: what is it that first attracts the spotlight of our awareness?
Why do we turn, when we are not aware of what we are turning towards?
My answer is this; we are called. There are tendrils issuing from every living thing. They do not bind, they reunite. They are the ‘be’ of be-longing, be-loved, be-side, be-lief, be-reft, be-come.
To be is to be called into being~in~connexion. If you do not attend to this connection then you must rely on insisting on your identity with a forceful mind. If I allow myself to be called into being, contingent on the caller, different every moment, then no effort is needed to be my so-called self. Like the lilies of the field, relying on the loam, responding to the sun.
I approach the iron lands now, back to Devon and its red, red soil. Somehow I must gather up my self as it may be needed to teach at Schumacher College this week.
Perhaps it will be found in my basket. If not, I will assemble a provisional one from the wool, nettles and acorns in there, then moisten them with a little of the beech leaf noyau in my hip flask, for spirit. That should do the trick.
An instruction for a Summer Solstice spell
from the Upstart Crone 22nd June 2022
1. Walk along the sea edge until you find a good skipping stone.
2. Skip the stone into the sea.
3. Where the stone sinks, swim into the water, tread water there.
4. Put your face into the brine and open your eyes. Grasp the first image before it makes sense and haul it ashore.
5. Back home, place the salted thought on a table, until it grows tentacles, fins, a tail or wings.
6. Reach into the mouth of the creature, grab tight, & pull. Pull it inside out, so that the sea pours onto the table, to the floor, & the tide flows out the door.
7. Lie on the floor & let the swash and backwash flow over you, dash you with shells and pebbles, until you are a windswept beach.
8. The high tide mark is the spell.
[This set of instructions, an homage to a piece of writing about a wolf by writer Mathias Svalina (born USA 1975) was written for an issue of the WIC Journal. I have tried to track down the original poem / piece this week without any luck. If you know what it is, please let me know, so I can link to it.]
A Seam of Chalk
The mountain is in the tiny hut Laughter is beneath a ragged shirt The less said, the better Blackness is always met with a seam of chalk The child teaches older boys safe knife use A swallow watching from the rafters The feast is filled with friends Faint paths embolden feet In island inlets scoured with soul All good work meets with God’s approval I am not wrong As it was Earth who told me so
This week’s good thing: I have been dancing to Rock ‘n’ Roll, Deep House and Disco with my friends under the trees at a local festival in my town a stone’s throw from my home. Proper, shake yer arse raving, in hot sunshine, for no apparent reason. What a joy. But also, it was the unexpected fulfilment of The Labyrinth and the Dancing Floor, to return to a genuine dancefloor, not stand on the side, but to remove all the strictures and structures we’d been asking others to abandon. Thanks to Charlotte DuCann for the insight, and for busting some killer moves.
When did you last dance with abandon? It is time!