2020: Year of Embodiment?

Last week I began taking a class to develop my intuition. According to my teacher, the class is really about learning to trust yourself. The first session was all about energy and space clearing. We talked about the two kinds of troublesome spiritual entities, and she taught us a little prayer we could say to get them moving along.

This part freaks a lot of people out, she told us. But don’t be afraid, you’re the ones with bodies.

This struck me as a peculiar reason to feel confident. Bodies are so fragile, so vulnerable! Our hearts explode without warning, our knees give out, we faint. Bodies are confined to three dimensions; spirits live outside of space and time. They can float through walls and penetrate our dreams.

It’s not that I’m afraid of ghosts, only that they seem to have certain advantages. But then, I’ve never really given my body much thought, unless I was hating it. For many years I suffered crippling dysmorphia, which resulted in a cornucopia of self-harm. Historically, I’ve ignored my intuition and pain to my own detriment. The even shittier flip-side to this is I’ve eschewed pleasure, too. It isn’t possible to ignore the body piecemeal.

After a lot of therapy and inner jihad and just plain old getting older and getting a grip, I realize I still have a long way to go. I may not hate my body any more, but do I love it? What would it be like to consider my body an ally, a tool, a gift? How would it feel? How would it look?

I’d like to find out.

IN PRAISE OF HIDEOUSNESS

All praise the lepers,
praise the boars
praise mud and dust and filth,
the flies, metal buildings
with metal doors.

Praise the needle in your arm
the scars, your body broken, maimed.
God bless you in your hospital bed
purple yellow pale, drooling
crying out, wounds weeping
pinkish stuff, God bless
your bad breath, for you are breathing

and God is here, God is not
all rainbow ponies and kitten fluff,
God is the dark blood in your veins
that flows and flows and never
sees the light of day
until it does. Hallelujah,

praise Them, god of darkness
god of light, locked in an embrace
that looks like mortal combat
but is in fact every kind of love.

 

 

Reflections on the Woodshed Year

Well, it’s Advent, beginning of another liturgical year, and the end of my so-called “woodshed year.” I published nothing save for a poem sent out ages ago and forgotten. Instead, I spent the year huddled with a notebook, writing everything by hand, trying to write from my body. Trying to let go of grad school, searching for a new way of writing and speaking, a way that is earthier and more honest, more feminine perhaps.

Did I find it? I don’t know. I think I might be on its trail, though. For so much of the year I was laid up with an inexplicable knee injury, followed by a cancer scare. I suffered choking anxiety and severe depression. It seemed like nothing was happening. Certainly nothing good.

But through it all, I wrote. Mostly, what I wrote were prayers, because I was desperate AF. I re-read the Biblical psalms and the prophets. I began to think of poetry and prayer as made of the same stuff, and imagined the words curling up to God like incense smoke, or chanted like incantations.

I read Betty Friedan and Ram Dass and The Argonauts. I spent a lot of time grappling with the concept of gender. I lifted God’s beard from his face.

And then I tore it off.

Still, it seemed like nothing was happening. From the outside, it just looked like I was sitting in a chair, crying a lot. I skipped church most Sundays because I just couldn’t stand there crossing myself and exchanging the peace when I had no peace to exchange.

But looking back, I can see things were shifting. I’ve been accepted to study with John Fox at the Institute of Poetic Medicine starting January 2020. I’ve written hundreds of poems, lots of them crappy but some of them good. And I’ve been named the inaugural Poet in Residence for St. Mark’s.  All small things in the grand scheme, but movement nevertheless. I can sense a shift in the trajectory of my writing, and possibly my life.

DIA DE MUERTOS

The Dead now make their pilgrimage 
Back to their homes, back to our side.
I hear their laughter on the wind
For they return as butterflies.

Come, come! Beloved ones, come back!
Come spend a night beneath our roof,
Come eat our bread and drink our wine,
Come make the candles dance as proof

That you have not forgotten us,
You still remember how to dance
Though you no longer have your feet.
Come buss our cheeks and clasp our hands

For we have not forgotten you.
Come tell us of the place you've been,
What you eat and drink and do there
And what it's like to shed your skin.

And for those lost and hungry souls
I place some bread outside my door.
Godspeed, you pilgrims, hurry on
To homes that are your homes no more.


E. D. Watson

PRAYER AGAINST THE BINARY

god bless the man in platform boots 
god bless the woman in a tux
what does man or woman mean except division
of what is whole? The say the universe
is still expanding — how can we cling
to hers or his? Each of us is just a speck
upon a speck of stone within a galaxy
of specks, which is itself a speck
in the cosmos. Zoom out: then tell me
how we can presume to know
a blessed thing

and all praise to the heavenly Motherfather,
all glory to the Great Them, who once told Moses
I shall be what I shall be, and named Themselves.
Who, in Their infinite mercy gave us one job:
to embody Them. Grant that we may see
those milky bands across the sky for what they are:
fingerprints too big to comprehend.
May we see Them in ourselves as well, and say: I am
the plural who is one. May we be whole
not half.

E. D. Watson

AUGUST LAMENTATION

Lord it's hot. 
The words won't come.
It hasn't rained
in weeks, Lord.
O Lord
have you forgotten us?

Down here
we are dying.
Everyone has guns
and saws; the river
has a pipeline
pointed at its head.

Down here
we un-knit your quilt
faster than your hands:
every twenty minutes
a species disappears.
We blame someone else.

My knees hurt from kneeling
at altars you no longer grace:
dead forests, churches
cushions, rugs.
Prayers rattle in the ditches
mean as snakes

and I writhe in bed
instead of sleep, repeating
myself -- look. Look
what I have become:
slack with fear, mad with grief
and shame, a bush

that burns and does not burn,
does not know its name --
o if you cannot weep for us
then weep, Lord, for your trees.
Send rain. Save
one thing you have made.


E. D. Watson

Prayer Built of Words

God sometimes I forget your first language
isn't English. Not Arabic nor Aramaic--

those words you had to learn. We taught you
how to talk like us, then claimed to talk like you

and in your stead, though your first language
was the wind, moving over water.

How often I forget that I need only sigh
instead of plead or stammer; forgive

my wheedling, the ashes in my bread.
Like your prophet did, I listen at fire and tornadoes

and forget: first you were quiet, you are quiet yet
your first breath rebreathed each dawn

by every living thing--but even the birds cannot keep silent.
O you made us to sing but I've begun to suspect

that song is not the mother tongue.


E. D. Watson

Fajr

I stand beside my window 
waiting for the call to prayer,
waiting like a lover
for a glimpse of the beloved
against a sky dark as plum skin
dark as the center of an unsplit fruit.
I search the empty streets
where only cats
and the shadows of cats
prowl on padded feet.
The stars have gone some other place
and he has not come.

And then a thread of honey,
a shaft of light from the throat of a man
unrolls in script above the rooftops
and my soul expands.
They say people sometimes fall in love
with the mu'addhin
who sings most beautifully.
First one voice then a second
now vie for my devotion,
from two quarters of the city
they sweep over and under
the silent longing in me, a chord
drawing me beyond the sill, this street,
high above my wrinkled pillowcase.
Awake my heart,
and love what is:
the god of alley cats and damp stones,
the god of dawn, the god of men who sing.
Prayer is better than sleep.


E. D. Watson

PRAYER AGAINST TWO DIMENSIONS

I don't want to be one of those people 
folded over a cell phone screen
like a larva, sucking from the memes
and colored pictures as from tree roots:
in darkness. What can a larva suppose
of the tree that looms above it
in light for which it hasn't eyes?
Lord, I don't want to miss a thing.
I want to taste my tea. I want to let
the world pass through me slowly,
I want to see the faces
no one ever posts online:
pitted with acne, spotted with age
ragged with loneliness, furrowed
by rage and secrets. I don't want
to be blind. The world is more
than pretty, more than funny
or outrageous. There is no hashtag
for the snail among the soft wet leaves,
for the millipede who glides
across the sidewalk, on silent
undulating feet. Straighten me, expand me Lord
that I may hear the hawk's high keening
as it circles overhead, cutting discs of sky
and singing.

E. D. Watson

INVOCATION OF GOD AS WOMAN

God I cannot picture you with breasts 
and the dark triangular bush
from which I emerged, along with all.
I cannot picture you down on your knees
scrubbing tiles with a brush
scrubbing baseboards, scrubbing walls
hair come loose from the old bandana
tied round your head. And I cannot see you
crying into your coffee, having one of those mornings,
telling yourself to pull yourself together girl,
a whole nother day of trying laid out before you.
I cannot picture you pursing your lips,
biting your tongue, choosing to say nothing
when nothing can be done,
and God I cannot picture you
looking over your shoulder at your big backside
in the mirror, squeezing your thighs
when your period comes -- but why?
And how else can I call you friend
unless you drop your sword
and peel off that plastic stick-on beard
and laugh with me like women laugh
about this mess we're in?

E. D. Watson