Friday, August 10, 2012

I Ride My Buffalo to Remember

One recent night in the dream world, I rode a buffalo bareback to get a bit of ice cream. We traveled down a busy, tree-lined street, and not a single car or truck so much as slowed down as we passed. I caught sight of my reflection in a glass-walled building: sitting astride my four-legged chariot, my hair streamed down my back, unbound and untamed as her mane; but instead of buckskin, I wore a sky blue Talbot's tee shirt. 

Talk about straddling two worlds. Our entire journey was rich with contradiction and metaphor for the tension that exists, that we've created, between the natural and industrialized worlds. In my waking life, I inhabit primarly the latter. Traveling with buffalo, I can remember that which came before, and that to which I can return - both in and outside of my dreams. 

This poem attempts to explore the messages and spirit of Buffalo, and to honor the dream in which we traveled together, unseen by the waking world.

I Ride My Buffalo to Remember

I ride my buffalo to partake of the feast,
to indulge, until sated,
in the pleasures and treasures
before and beyond us.
The perfumed relief of open air,
the languid summer breeze on our faces,
the brief, sweet respite
of a lone shade tree,
the company of a kindred soul.

I ride my buffalo to remember,
to feel remembering in my bones;
the dissolution of boundaries
between beings and being,
the solid support of her broad bare back,
sinew and blood,
muscle and bone.
The smell of sun-warmed fur
fragrant with sweat, grass and loam
returns me to myself
in an instant, 
for real and for good.

I ride my buffalo to inspirit my prayers,
to give thanks for the abundance
that both carries and is carried 
within me.
My path has been blessed,
each breath,
every step,
and I have never traveled alone.

I ride my buffalo between the worlds,
the one on the surface
and the Real one beneath.
Skimming the skin of the outside world
from this perch atop my ancient kin,
I peer over her brow at the horizon
scrawled with the horrors
and hopes
of my fellows.
They do not see us 
though we pass within the distance 
of a breath,
do not hear us 
though we call out 
in a single, resonant voice,
Return! Return! Return!

I feel myself grow heavy upon her back
and my cheeks, my chin,
her neck
are baptized in a salty torrent.

With thundering hooves and heaving breath
we pierce this flimsy membrane,
plummenting through and descending 
down to the heartbeat
of the world,
where beneath perpetual sky
and upon boundless land
we eat, sleep, dance and dream
with one heart, one mind
around one circle of stones,
one eternal fire.

Ringed by the ancestors,
enjoined by the spirits,
buffalo dances with wolf,
bird and fish unite,
black embraces white to form
a silver plume 
that ascends beyond sight 
to tickle the stars, 
an invitation to the dance.

I ride my buffalo to remember,
to feel remembering in my bones.

8.10.12/Honoring a dream

Tuesday, August 7, 2012


Shortly after hearing about the shootings in a Sikh temple earlier this week, I had a dream in which a stranger came upon our property and shot two deer, a mother and her daughter. For me, the deer represents many things, among them peace, gentility, grace and benevolence. 

As I listened to radio reports about the shooting, including interviews with members of the Sikh community, it seems their world view also embraces these tenets. 

It is shocking and horrifying to think that swift, sudden and violent death could be visited upon a community gathered in peaceful prayer and yet, it happened. Happens. The sacred is violated, both in the breach of holy space and the willful, thoughtless destruction of life. 

And the deer comes through in the dream world, a messenger, perhaps a guide. How can I take her message into my heart and honor it, live it, learn from it? I begin to explore these questions in the following piece, and know that if I continue to carry them and the images from which they spring, more will be revealed in time.

For The Deer/Honoring a Dream

They stand, heads bowed
side by side, as if in prayer,
then lift in unison
to partake of this morning’s communion,
young green leaves from the weeping cherry
still moist with dew.
They eat hungrily, happily.
The daughter’s movements
follow her mother’s by a breath
like a shadow,
or an echo,
like this, like this.
Learning by watching.
Learning by doing.
So much to learn,
to see, to taste.
The bumblebees hum in the honeysuckle,
birdsong rings out across
the yard.
Squirrels chatter and give chase
up and down the oaks,
and each life lends its voice
to the hymn.

A clap of thunder from the pristine sky.
It must be lost,
wandered too far from its own
meandered over many mountains,
now crying, trying 
to find its way home.


Death arrives at my door
on the shoulder of a man,
his white shirt
criss-crossed in the color of blood
and partially obscured
by the dark figure slung over him
like a sandbag.
He does not know he carries the weight
of The World.
He acts as though it is nothing,
mere baggage to be dropped and left
until he finds a simpler, easier
way to manage the load
that weighs him down like lead,
like the very lead
with which he filled his cargo,
precious cargo,
though he could not see it
through his dark eyes and prescription glasses.

A sprig of green leaves
hangs at the side of her mouth
and her still-open eyes are empty in their frames
of long black lashes.
Beside her, the future lays still
and growing cold.

The daughter’s movements
followed her mother’s by a breath
like a shadow,
or an echo,
like this, like this.
The fur at her new and narrow throat is mussed and red
where the blood on his hands
tried to return to its
when he handled her so roughly. 

He took them both
because he could. 
the number of kindness and balance,
of duality and

Without warning
the false thunder arrived and
struck like lightning.
No time to run.
No time to hide.
No time to teach the little one what 
or how to fear.
There was only time enough
to teach her peace,
and how to live in harmony
with her surroundings,
how to love the earth alive beneath
her feet
and in the rocks and trees,
sky and water,
flowers and
Every Living Thing.

But I am still here,
still learning.


Monday, August 6, 2012

A Plea and a Prayer

Several weeks ago, our nation was horrified when a masked gunman opened fire at a midnight showing of the movie "The Dark Knight Rises", killing 12 people and wounding 58 others.  

Today, the news is full of reports of another shooting in Milwaukee at a Sikh temple, in which a gunman killed six people and wounded several others, before being shot and killed by police. 

As typically happens in such cases, once we have grieved the senseless loss of life, the debate over gun control laws rises up to dominate the public discourse. 

In my humble opinion, these horrific and tragic incidents are indicative of issues that run much deeper than anything that can be mitigated by mere legislation. 

Our nation, our culture, is suffering from a soul sickness. For generations now, we have been moving farther and farther away from the soul-felt understanding that we belong to one another, that we all are an inextricable part of the same web of life. This web holds not only the souls of humans, though we have convinced ourselves that we are the center and masters of our universe. This web holds all living beings, including the animals, plants, and insects. It includes the Earth, the elements and the inanimates. 

Indigneous cultures, from which all of us have emerged if we go back far enough, have always known and revered this sacred relationship between and among all beings. Long before organized religion, peoples around the globe prayed to the sun, the moon, the Earth. They mapped their lives according to natural cycles and gave thanks for the bounty of the Earth and elements that nourished, taught and sustained them. They did not view themselves as separate from their surrounding environments; they viewed themselves as but one small piece of a universal ecosystem, wherein each life was connected to every other. They did not think in terms of the individual, but lived based on the needs, conscience and well-being of the whole, the tribe, the Community. 

There are still cultures that honor these ways today, though they are rapidly disappearing. I think of the Reindeer People in Mongolia, whose culture is on the verge of extinction and whose reindeer populations are in perilous decline. Around the globe, in fact, on every continent, we can see vestiges of the old ways being eaten away and eradicated by the same ego-, greed- and power-driven pursuits that ravenously consume and defile our natural resources, with no regard for the wisdom and precious, irreplacable life within them. 

And having divorced ourselves from the beauty, grace and power of the natural world, we turn our insatiable appetites and open wounds on ourselves and each other. 

There are those who think such language alarmist and dramatic (insert derogatory or diminishing adjective here), but our future - our souls - are at stake. 

What will we do, what will we have, when we have plundered and exhausted the remainder of what this Earth has to give? When the water we poison with chemicals and sewage and oil has dried up or sickened us? When all the trees have been cut away, the Earth raped and pillaged for its black gold, natural gas, gems and minerals? When the animals, birds and insects who once were our family members and teachers have died off and taken with them their generosity of wisdom, spirit and sustenance? Who and what, except for ourselves, will there be left to war with, conquer, kill, control, subsume? And as our resources become more scant, we can expect that the violence we do to each other will escalate in scale, frequency and severity. 

We need only look to our neighbors in the Congo, Syria, Haiti, Juarez and Afghanistan (to name a few) to see what fate awaits us if we continue on our present path. Today, it is easy to believe that such endemic violence still only, really happens "over there." 

But is happening here, perhaps on a smaller scale at the moment, but in ways that strike fear into our hearts and can tempt us to retreat into those old, entrenched ideas of "me vs. you", "us vs. them". And fear is perhaps the most potent antidote to finding our way back to love of Earth, Community, soul.  

Until we begin to look more deeply at the underlying cultural causes that are at the root of such traumatic and senseless acts such as the Wisconsin shooting, we cannot expect a reversal of fortune. Until we internalize and embody the understanding that there is no "me" without "we" (and by we, I mean all living beings who share our sacred home), we cannot begin to know and greive and heal the soul-wounding that leads us to such deranged acts. 

It is not that no one is trying to change this course that we are on. There are countless individuals, organizations, and formal and informal groups that are working very hard every day to get our attention, inviting us to think and choose differently, invoking the wisdom of the spirits, animals and ancestors for guidance. It may not be enough. At least not in this lifetime. 

The people, organizations and forces that currently are in power will dig in their heels and use every means of control and manipulation at their disposal if they think they are being threatened. They will don masks of benevolence and generosity, adopt pretty words and catch phrases, engage the greatest marketing minds on the planet to keep us all bought in to the idea that we are getting closer to living - or losing - "the dream", whichever option will keep our minds, our hearts, our fear, our wallets more firmly in their grasp.

But if the dream does not entail revering, respecting, honoring and protecting ALL life and the natural resources that sustain it, it will become - is becoming - a nightmare, from which there will be no return. And for those that would leave it to future generations to clean it up, figure it out and resolve it, well -- to my mind, that's just further evidence of how far afield we have gone. 

In some books, this post may qualify as a rant. Perhaps on some level it is. 

For me, it is an acknowledgement of my grief and feelings of impotence to do much of anything that can possibly make a meaningful difference at this point. It is a plea and a prayer that some intervening force or forces shake us out of our complacency and torpor long enough to question the implications of our choices, our demands that life be more convenient, comfortable, "safe." For in the end, when we have obliterated, outlawed, terrorized, erased or otherwise eliminated anything or anyone that might threaten our sense of safety and entitlement, those of us who are left will have only each other to fear. 

In the meantime, I will do as a friend recently suggested. I will plant my tent in the crater and sow what seeds I can. I will pray for the victims of the recent shootings and their families, and for the souls of the gunmen who committed those crimes. 

On some level, I feel as though the perpetrators serve as a warning for those who are willing to heed it. They may feel like an anomoly, like the "crazy" "evil" "other" - and they may be those things. But they also are a mirror for something that each of us has inside, whether we choose to admit it or not. Human behavior is a continuum; our individual actions may fall anywhere along the spectrum, but the spectrum is in all of us.

And I wonder how we will respond as a culture, as these types of tragedies become more frequent and more commonplace. Will we continue to picket and protest and legislate away the potential for evil? Will we continue to point the figure "out there" at "those people" who make it unsafe for the rest of us? Or, like the indigenous people who see themselves as part of a much larger story, will we begin to ask the deeper, harder questions of our collective culture and conscience that hold every one of us accountable for helping to shape the ending?