Moonlight Shadows

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I heard the full moon sing last night; songs of ancient paths, songs of distant dreams; and the wild spirit that remains in my heart unfolded to hear it.

Like a ghost you came, and whispered: Play once more with me. Play another game.

How did Wendy answer Peter, that last time? “Peter, you old fool. I have no time. I am dying.”

Of laughter?

Yes, my love. Of laughter. Of the absurdity of this wild heart, in this frail body.

Then what else have you time for, if not one more game?

I was surely a highwayman, in a different life. I love my black fedora and vintage velvet coat, and the sound my boots make on the walkways by the beach. I enjoy the vague notoriety my unusual appearance grants me, and the smiles and nods of recognition from faces I don’t know and people I will never actually meet. I sit on the pier and every now and then a police officer walks by to make sure I am not drinking alcohol – once caught, forever guilty. The trickster’s lot, indeed.

At Thanksgiving I saw a couple playing chess and went to watch. “Pat always wins,” I hear the others say, and those who walk by ask Beth if she’s lost yet. I am four drinks into the evening, with two fingers of bourbon still in my glass; I’m feeling charitable, and I decide to help poor Beth. “If I were you, I’d call his bluff,” I say.

She does so, and she goes on to win. It’s unprecedented. Before I know it, the footman is pouring me another glass of bourbon and I am kicking off my boots to settle in for a game against this legendary player, Pat the chess player; Pat, who’s very identity is caught up in his ability to beat people mercilessly in this game every time he plays it.

Is there any point finishing this story? We all know that I won. The bottom line, is if a stranger turns up to Thanksgiving in a black fedora and velvet coat, it might be Loki, and it might be me, and neither of us should be trusted with your money (or your life).

When you die, we will be two silver foxes, running in the moonlight.

Down here, in the darkness by the sea, where land and water meet, I can see you. Your red hair caught up in the wind, dancing like the wildfire flame that you are. If I pay attention, I can feel your knuckles brush mine where our hands hang loosely, side by side.

I have all of eternity to be a fox, I tell you.

Time for one more game, indeed. Perhaps we should play for higher stakes; the highest stakes, even. There are dice in the pocket of my black velvet coat and I turn them absently as I consider this.

Would you really play that game? You will be playing against me, not with me.

Oh, Prince of Travelers – when will you learn? I am always with you. If I lose I will become a fox. And if I win…

I know what you want, if you win.

I smile wryly into the wind. “Give me but your voice, and I will lay all of Paris at your feet…”

Silence answers me. The wind alone is left to brush my cheek. The game, I suppose, is afoot.

Writer’s Block

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I want to write something beautiful. Something that speaks to yearning; something that speaks to the yawning cavern, aching to be filled.

I want to speak of the darkness of that cavern; of the infinite chamber that hangs silence like a curtain, waiting for the voice strong enough to pierce it – this veil that is not a veil; this veil that is “nothing” incarnate… but “something,” all the same.

I want to describe rivers of blood, pulsing with all the relentless and ferocious calm of the ocean, swelling to the unyielding call of the moon overhead.

Have you ever ventured deep inside great caverns? Do you know that there is always ice inside them, beautiful and glistening in the pale and eerie light; as cold as death itself?

I want to write something that speaks to the gentle violence that occurs, when crimson rivers start to lap at frost-strewn banks; when the diamond-studded tips of the grass bow low enough beneath the weight of their great jewels to dangle their fingers idly in these hot streams.

I want you to know that I saw the moon, reflected in dark waters, as cold and inexorable as the ice. And that one of these implacable masks had to surrender, had to yield to the other, and it was not the moon. It was never going to be the moon.

After that, I had no words; no ink with which to write. There was nothing I could say anymore, that had not already been said by better poets; better writers than myself.

What am I to do? I gave the darkness my voice; I flung it into the furthest reaches of the cave.

It echoed for a time, but now is lost.

Memento Mori

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Sometimes I think I would not mind, if this was it.
Have I not lived a long life already;
Have I not lived, and loved, as deeply as anyone hopes to?
I would have only one request, perhaps – if this was it –
And it might be, “Give me ten days, or all of them.”
Years of unknowing wear hard, even on me.

Still, I am grateful for these years.
Maybe I was not made to live too long;
Maybe I have already lived longer than anyone can know.
So if this is it – and I do not make it to 40 –
These years have granted me the grace to say,
“This decade will not be defined by my death,
But by the fact that I finally decided to live.”

And it has been a long life already,
And I am tired, though I seldom say it.
But now I am finally blessed with boundless energy, to do
Those things I always said I wanted to do.
And I am grateful, to have learned before I die,
That there is no such thing as “later,”
And there is no such thing as “time.”

There is no such thing as “time.” 

A Summer Storm

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The skies opened in the early evening. I was folding my laundry, neatly; domestically.

You should never put a window in the laundry room. Unexpectedly you will have to choose: the great immensity of the wild outdoors; the calm clutter of your daily life.

Tap, tap, tap. Raindrops like small pebbles on the glass; calling me for an illicit daylight tryst.

I put the laundry down and went to it.

No hoodie; no heavy clothes for me. After days of heat, the wind is refreshing and the rain sweet and inviting; a thousand cold little kisses at once. I shiver, and start running.

The wind sweeps my bangs out of my ponytail. The first casualty of the hour; the first scrap of civilized life, falling, discarded in the street.

My glasses come off next, tucked into a pocket, zipped away. The rain is too heavy; I would rather run impaired than pause to keep wiping them.

Here I am; bare-faced, ponytail dripping. Running, running, running down the street, becoming more and more my human animal with every step.

“It’s raining,” an old man calls to me, concerned on my behalf. “You’ll catch a cold.”

But I am feral; the rain turns to steam where it touches me, and in that moment, I don’t remember what “cold” means.

Running, running, running. Turn onto the main street; now I am running in the road, towards the traffic. I am more alive than them. I am more than a silly person hiding in my car, cowering from the rain. I am a human animal, running.

Off the road. Into the eucalyptus grove, the massive wind-tunnel of tall trees. There is no pavement here, only mud and sand, and as if the rain weren’t heavy enough, fat drops spill from the leaves and land squarely on the back of my neck and snake their way inside my shirt. Soaked at this point; my wet clothes start to chafe uncomfortably against my skin. I’m ready to drop being human at all. I pull off my shirt. Running, running, running in my sports bra and shorts.

I’m nothing more than a wild animal in the woods.

I’m nothing more than living.

My ponytail drips all the way to the small of my back.

Ahhh… that’s cold. Now I remember what “cold” is…

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A thought of “home” rises in my mind; warm, blankets; a hot drink; a hot shower.

Within a single second, I want it, and here I am, miles away from all of it…

Is it just me, or is it raining heavier now? The wind that had seemed “bracing” when I ran into it before now feels like a thousand hands holding me back. My foot slips in the mud and I feel a muscle tighten where it shouldn’t have – ah, great. Great, great, great.

Running, running, running.

I take the ponytail out. There’s no use pretending it serves any purpose anymore. My loose hair lashes on my shoulders like a cat o’ nine, and pushes me forward.

At the crossroads, a family in their car stares at me and my disheveled mien. I look right back and wish I was in MY car, and laugh at my own hypocrisy as they pull away.

Last stretch; I have to choose between the longer, winding path, or the short, direct, uphill one.

Uphill it is. I’m miserable. I just want to be home already.

It’s raining so hard I can’t even open my eyes anymore. Just running blind. There’s nothing romantic or glorious about this. I’m just a drenched animal, dumb enough to fall for the rain’s sweet lies.

My thighs are burning. My sides are hurting. Some guy in a pick-up truck honks his horn at me; thank you, random cheerleader.

Finally: home.

Home, where I stand on the porch and hesitate – just a moment.

… I hope it’s still raining tomorrow.

 

Originally published on Anima Monday, April 2019

Ocean Soul

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It was a half-moon last night, waxing. A friend and I went to the beach, to watch the white-tipped waves wash upon the sand.

My friend pointed out the stone jetty – a narrow, rocky path that stretched out some way into the sea.

You mean we could climb those rocks and have the ocean on all sides of us?
Yep.
… Let’s do it!

The wet rocks shone in the lunar light, each craggy edge and roughened plane detailed by the moon’s gentle touch; the rest was darkness, and unknown. Blindly I reached out with hands and feet, tentative but trusting, seeking the next safe foothold; the next secure grasp. One step after another – forward, always forward. Beneath the rocks, I began to hear the roiling waters swirling underfoot. We were surrounded on all sides, except the path behind upon which we had come, and the sky above, overcast and starless.

Eventually we came to the end of the narrow path. I stood as close to the edge as I dared. Exuberant and excited, I lifted my arms and cried out my joy to the vast black sea.

The dark waters moved like a beast rolling over, rewarding me with a sudden surge that rose as high as I stood. Tiny drops of water landed in a hundred kisses on my upturned face, and there was salt upon my lips.

Yes! Teach me your song!

The black water toiled upon itself and pulsed against the rock I stood on, but remained indecipherable. So I lifted my voice to the wind and began to sing to it a song of the sea of my homeland. And as I sang, the midnight sea swelled and moved about me, until I began to hear the song that it was singing too.

I laughed and raised my voice again and howled up at the pale white moon, lifting my arms high, high above my head. And then I began to sing the song of the dark sea, the song that it was teaching me. I sang, and she sang, and we sang until it seemed a frenzy of white foam crested every other note; we sang until I was soaked to the skin but warm to the bone.

I said to my friend after, that I was glad to have had someone with me. A reason to turn back, as the tide came in.

Why? Were you scared?
No. That’s the problem.

My Hands

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We never talked much towards the end. We never talked about the things that mattered, the things that hurt, or the things that were killing us, slowly. We especially didn’t talk about the thing we killed. We parted like leaves being drawn by separate winds, and I later learned you had no idea why; and it shook me violently to realize you had lived alongside my pain and never seen it. Then I remembered that you had lain alongside me in the nights when I  cried, and rather than reach out to comfort me, you had always turned away. It wasn’t that you had never seen me. You had outright chosen not to.

The death of “us;” the death of the life we had created; these things landed like tears in the cup full of sorrow I carried in my heart. The ripples from their fall reached out and connected with the memories of so many tears. I had always wanted to be a gentle person, but my hands had made decisions that gentle hands could not. These hands had signed papers and wielded knives and written a history of my life in ink and blood. These hands. The same hands that somehow knew to offer the backs of themselves first to small children and scared animals; because the backs of the hands can’t pull or poke, or snatch or grasp – and animals and small children, in their wisdom, know this too.

Once, I sat in the bathroom, cradling these hands. I traced their lines and saw their roughness. I remembered the night my mother coughed up blood in the bathroom. These hands, I used to clean it, so that my siblings would not see. I remembered the night that I sat in the bathroom, and clots of blood larger than my fist were falling out of me. These hands, wiping the red stains from my thighs. Bathrooms are the places where women go to bleed in private; their tears and hearts and bodies alike. They are the true temples of the home, where we clean our bodies, let go our minds, and even sing in the echoing tiled chambers that remind us, somehow, of when we lifted our voices in the stone temples of our ancestors. And in this moment, in this temple, I saw my hands were shaking, and I whispered to God, “Why?”

“Why? I know my hands are not gentle. But I would have been a good mother, Lord. I could have been a good mother.”

In the stillness that accompanies the deep acceptance of these darkest nights in our spirit, I heard with such perfect clarity, “Good mothers don’t have gentle hands. They have hands that lift and carry; hands that bear the burdens of those who rest within them. Strong hands, that know how to be gentle; this is what I have given you. For the world is full of My children, and all of them are hurting.”

In the Bible, after God speaks, the chapter always ends with something simple, such as: “And after that, she went on her way and did as she was told.” The truth is never quite as easy; at the same time, there is no better way to sum up this story. After I heard this, I went on my way, and did my best to follow the Word as it had been revealed. And there are stories there too that I am still living, filled with heartbreak and hope, and sadness and joy.

Devotion

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Writing Prompts: Jeremiah 23:9-15 – Psalm 33 – Romans 9:1-18 – Gospel of John 6:60-7

For Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden. – Romans 9:17-18

On hearing this, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” – John 6:60

Sing to him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy. – Psalm 33


 

Here I am, Lord; I have woken to a new day of hard lessons. I have pushed back the curtain of the night and let in the sleepy dawn; and here I am, with You. I learned to pray this way by listening for You in the hour before the Light. I learned to pray this way by listening for the quiet voice that could bring peace to my own hurting heart.

This is how we pray: first, for the people I love. I pray for my family, far across the sea.

Second, I pray for the people I don’t know, but who can surely use more love.

And then third, dear Lord, I pray for all the people that I wish to hate. I call them first, “Your children – Your children! – who have wronged me.” Then I stay with You until I can say, “My brothers and sisters, who are hurting, and have hurt others in their pain.”

Hard lessons indeed, O Lord. It is hard to look for the driver behind the glass façade in the furious traffic, and to hope their day gets better as they swing angrily from lane to lane. It is hard to remember every person I meet knows what it is to love and lose that love; to watch a dream get dashed; to be too kind, one time too many; to be flattened by the relentless churn of the day. To understand that their lives, their strife, their frustrations, so often have nothing to do with me. I am like a pebble that the tide of their emotion swept elsewhere, without noticing – but I shall be a pebble that loves the sea, dear God. A pebble that rests on whatever shore it has been cast, and looks up at the sun and sings for the beauty of the strange new land it’s in.

Let me always sing for You, O God. You taught me how to pray and how to sing, and ever since I have known You, they have been one and the same. I have songs for You that no one else shall ever hear; songs I will always rise with the birds and the tide at dawn to sing. Songs that are uncertain and faltering, for they are new; songs not yet polished with practice and precision.

For I am not perfect, God. I am both a slow and an impatient student. And I believe that You place hard lessons and hard people in my path to teach me, time and again, that You are here. You have called me by my name; You have said, “Come, and follow me.” The memory of Your quiet voice tugs at my spirit, and every hard lesson is an opportunity to return to You, and become so close to You that I no longer remember whose was the voice that called, and whose was the voice that answered.

Was it I, God? Did I call You first, once upon a time, in prayer and desperation, saying, “Please, my God; please have mercy, and love me…”

Or was it You who called to me, saying, “Here: these are My children; and you must have mercy, and love them for Me.”?

Where the West Wind Moves

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It was cloudless last night. The moon was new and sharp, shining so brightly that the rest of the world was shrouded in perfect velvet black. The wind was wild, and the trees that lined the streets were being whipped into demonic frenzy. The air was alive, and just stepping out into it made the blood come alive too; made me restless, prowling, hungry.

I thought of everything; and yet I didn’t. I thought of all of us, the children of this world and – too often unknowing – this wilderness. My shadow blurred in the shade of the possessed trees, my ears awake and listening to the song of the night – the blend of the savage sea in the distance and the cars roaring, far nearer -and my own heart alive and beating with the same certainty of every footstep that led me deeper into this tryst. From across the urban landscape, the fragrant sea salt rose above the grime and toil of the ghosts of the traffic, laying over the roads and refreshing them with a dream of nature – the memory of who we were, before we crammed our lives into boxes and glowing screens.

I followed the road.

I dreamed that walking this road would be akin to touching a memory. I dreamed that it could re-awaken every part of me that has long lain sleeping ‘neath the weight of my own ghost – that decaying spirit of everyone I am supposed to be. I dreamed of a “God” who knows I was born to run wild and free beneath this grinning crescent moon. I dreamed of my body as something earthy and spiritual; something fearless.

I am in love with the earth, and in love with the moon. I am in love with my own heart, and the parts of me that yearn for the simple freedom of being myself; the part of me that knows the skin I wear is chafing and too small; the part of me that leaps wildly when the wind crashes through the branches, and remains true; even as the shades of other things shred my outline and alter my external shape. The part of the shadow that does not move. I love it.

The road became a grassy knoll. I lay down beneath a tree and stretched to the sound of the waves, the grass pricking like a warning at the back of neck. The branches caressed the face of the white moon and blocked it out.

A stray breeze plucked two leaves free and they flew away, beyond my sight. Such would be death, I think; one stray wind – then freedom. Such are we – no more, or less, than leaves.

Originally published on Anima Monday, April 2019

How To Approach Unchartered Heart Territory

 

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“Though your destination is not yet clear

You can trust the promise of this opening;

Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning

That is at one with your life’s desire.” ~ John O’Donohue

I made a blog in university and called it What Do You Call a Rabbit That Hasn’t after a piece of writing I came across in English 101. It was written exactly like that — an un-ended question — and the majority of the students in my class were annoyed by it.

They wanted to know how the question ended, in order to begin formulating answers for it.

I loved the question exactly as it is. Open-ended, the question itself became the focus — not the answer. The experience of reading it was like being Dorothy and following the yellow brick road — only to have it crumble and disappear off the edge of a long, wind-swept cliff where a bridge used to be.

There is no response other than “Oh.” There is no response other than to feel the wind carry on past you, into the yawning abyss where your thoughts can’t follow.

There is no response other than to accept that you will never know what the end of that question is — and you will never have answer.

At that moment, my life felt a little like an unended question. What do you call a college student that?

During my first weekend, a campus of opportunity stretched out before me, and I was bombarded with the question, “What will your college experience look like?” Would I be a leader in my student resident halls? (Probably not). Would I find the honor society on campus, or an apprenticeship program, or join the choir, or win a scholarship, or write for the newspaper, or…

Like the abyss below the bridge, there were places yet that my thoughts couldn’t get to — cannot comprehend. Opportunities I didn’t even know existed awaited me.

For the first time, I understood why that question bothered my classmates. What do you call a rabbit that hasn’t?

“Where your thoughts never think to wander,

This beginning has been quietly forming.” ~ John O’Donohue

Now I am three years out of university, working at a start-up, and the only answer now, as it was then, is surrender. Surrender to the truth that I don’t know the answer. I don’t even know the question. Surrender to the experience — the everyday motion of putting one foot in front of the other and wandering where they take me.

Be open to all possible answers and endings to the question, and likewise, don’t be in too much of a hurry to choose only one, even though there is comfort in consistency. Look around. Smile at people. Go back to my home, wherever it is tonight, and do the things that bring comfort, like making tea and writing.

Beginnings that I have worked hard for are only beginnings. They are desires that grew within me and longed to be made manifest. Every day is an unended question. It is as new as the first sentence on a rough draft that is going nowhere — just a tumble of thoughts longing to find shape and form.

Like every other essay and story I have ever written, it will require a thousand re-writes and discarded opening statements before the story my life longs to tell will unfold.

Originally published on Rebelle Society, Nov. 2014.