Monday, October 12, 2015

Book of Shadows

Between you and the world
falls a screen
that holds the fingerprints of possibility.
Study them like a detective
and you find clues to the future
you can use to change it
or embrace it.

Look carefully and you may find
the screen is smudged
by old habits and regrets
and must be cleaned
before you can trust the patterns.

On some days, in many lives,
you don’t see that the screen is there.
That’s when the movies start playing
that you confuse with the world.
You can get stuck in a Book of Shadows
not knowing how to turn the pages.
You may be caught in the threads
 of an ancient tapestry
of a sleeping king and a red boar.

The trick is to touch the friction ridges
of fate gently, and harvest fine powder
to make the inks and paints
to create your own design for life.
Since the screen between you and the world
becomes your world
use it to make your reality.
The time is Now.

-          Hameau de l’Etoile, October 11, 2015

Photo: The view from my balcony in the Pigeonnier at the Hameau de l'Etoile on the morning I wrote this poem, which flowed directly from a dream.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Playing Sidewalk Tarot: "He Can't Kill Both of Us, Can He?"

One of the everyday oracles the Greeks valued most highly was the kledon. A kledon is sound or speech coming out of silence or undifferentiated noise. On a gritty city street, I received a kledon that gave me exact guidance on how to handle a conflictive situation.
     My kledon that day was inspired by my little dog Oskar.
     Oskar is a miniature Schnauzer who weighs about twenty pounds. Walking my little dog towards the park, I was debating with myself whether I could manage to take on two big new projects. Each would demand a great amount of time, energy and focus. Worse, it was possible that they could prove to be mutually competing.
      I had this theme on my mind when a stranger got out of his truck. As he approached me, he pointed his chin at my dog and said, "He can't kill us both at the same time, can he?"
     I felt that behind the joke, a joker of a larger kind was in play.
     I had been asking myself:  Can I handle two new projects at the same time? The kledon I received was “He can't kill us both at the same time, can he?” It did not cause brain damage to figure out the connection. I had been told I could not tackle more than one project at a time.
     I would have to “kill” one of the new projects. I made an instant choice, but now had to find a way to break the news to the project manager I was about to disappoint.
     When I made the call, he was not happy at all. The conversation was strained until I told him my dog story. When I repeated the line, “He can't kill both of us at the same time,” the manager roared with laughter. He shouted, "I get it!"
      I thanked him, and gave a nod to the joker I sensed behind the joke on the street that day.
      This is an example of one of the ways I play the game I call Sidewalk Tarot. I started using the phrase after I noticed that things keep literally popping up, like tarot cards, on the streets and sidewalks of the small city where I live. Anything that enters your field of perception, through any of your senses, within your chosen time frame may count as a card in play, even as one of the greater trumps.

Adapted from SidewalkOracles: Playing with Signs, Symbols and Synchronicity in Everyday Life by Robert Moss. Published by New World Library.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Temple of Toyen

When I first looked in your waters
I saw only blind larvae,
spongy belugas and unlovely phalluses.
A flash of green lightning made me look again.

Your Temple of Night opened to me.
I fell through its meaty door in space
and saw you mixing your colors
with blood, semen and ichor.

You give us the dream history
of the world at night.
I rush from canvas to canvas

hungry for more and more.

I follow you through all the tides
of sleep and dreaming and red-eyed insomnia,
the rise and fall of palaces and madhouses
from the amniotic ocean of night.

I fell into your vision in a white house
in a green park with a sycamore that knows me
and a shelter for wandering poets
where the sign is a merry command.  Versify.

- Prague, September 25, 2015

Art by Toyen: top,  "Temple of the Night" (1954); bottom, "Sleeping" (1937).

The mossy side of the ash

The pillars of the ruined cathedral
reach for the sky
like the masts of a shipwreck.
This earth has drunk blood and fire
over all the generations
when it was a highway of war.

The ash remembers.
Its double trunk

suggests a woman open for love
or a mother holding her baby.
I choose the mossy side
and enter her embrace.

This is a place where
I can always come

to see with Bohemian eyes
and cherish soul
that awakened in me here
among stone and ash.

- .Panenský Týnec, Bohemia, September 24, 2015

Thursday, September 24, 2015

In the House of Madonnas

National Gallery in Prague, at the Convent of St. Agnes of Bohemia
In the collection of medieval Old Masters of Bohemia in the National Gallery, I did not expect to be excited by rows and rows of paintings of the most familiar scenes from the Christian story. Then I woke up to how the artists, confined to a limited list of approved subjects by the theology of the time and what their ecclesiastical and noble patrons were willing to pay for, gave flight to their imagination and human experience within the frames of the expected conventional scenes.
So here's a Jesus with a goldfinch in his hand. And here are any number of Madonnas, to suit all tastes in men and all the shades of belief and desire. Some are great queens in finery, crowned or double crowned. Some (especially those carved from wood) look like they have just come from the kitchen or from sewing, or from a romp in a hayloft or a meadow full of mushrooms and wildflowers. The Madonnas are blonde and dark-skinned, homely and breath-stoppingly lovely, willowy and buxom.

I start to imagine the artists with their models, with a wife or mistress or mother, or that peasant girl who is entering the fields of love and art for the first time, when the harvest is golden over the land. The theme of the Madonna as mistress in these images from the late 14th century is nowhere as shockingly explicit as in France a century later, when Jean Fouquet painted Agnès Sorel, King Charles VII's favorite mistress, as madonna lactans. I feel a wave of empathy as I see how human love charges divine love in the Bohemian collection, and how the creative imagination of great and original artists dances through the fences of prescribed forms. And I remember that the Goddess takes many forms.

Photos by RM

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Tracks of Ceridwen and Celtic heroes in Prague


There are four ways to enact and embody a mythic story, one of the kind that may be missing from history but are always going on. The first way is that of the Minstrel, the second is that of the King.
    The Minstrel roves and rambles, using humor and nudge-nudge suggestion to get some laughs and disguise the cutting edges of the tale. He reads aloud from a text couched in antique language that is hard for modern listeners to understand. The text seems to be an early translation from the Mabinogion or a similar Welsh source. It speaks of Ceridwen, whose name is spoken here as Ceri-dew. There are lines like, “Ceridew did hie after him with her besom”.
     I am eager for the King’s version, though this one will be darker. I do not recall the last two ways of engaging with the myth, but surely a Priestess will take charge at some point. And perhaps we will even hear from a poetic Mage.

Feelings: intrigued by this fresh invitation to dream archaeology.

Reality: It’s not really strange to dream into Celtic traditions on my first night back in Prague. There were large Celtic settlements – known as oppidums – in and around Prague in ancient times. The Celts came to Bohemia in the fifth century BC and a Celtic tribe, the Boli, gave Bohemia its name. There is a stone sculpture of a Celtic warrior head from Msecke Zehrovice, near Prague, in the Národní Muzeum, together with many other Celtic finds.
    One of the great shapeshifting stories from world mythology is the Welsh tale of Ceridwen’s pursuit of Gwion, the boy who swallowed the magic drops from a potion she was brewing in her cauldron of inspiration and intended for another. The wrathful witch-goddess hunts him as a hound chases a hare, as an otter goes after a fish, as a hawk pursues a bird in the air. At last the goddess swallows Gwion as a hen gobbles a seed of corn. Rebirthed as a beautiful radiant boy, he survives to become Taliesin, “Radiant Brow”, the inspired Poet-Mage.

Photo: "Stone sculpture of Celtic hero" by CeStu

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The howler on the plane

en route to Prague

I have a whole chapter in my new book Sidewalk Oracles on my adventures and misadventures during my airline travels around the world. They are evidence that my survival strategy as a very frequent flyer often works: if your plans get screwed up, look for a new opportunity or at least a fresh story. Real writers know that if nothing goes wrong you don't have much of a story. However, as I embarked on nearly 20 hours of straight travel from my home to Prague on Monday, I decided I could do without a new story on this trip. I announced as much to the airline gods: "I don't need a new story today."
They heard me, up to a point. All my flights arrived on time, or early, connections were easy, and my bag came to meet me as I walked to the carousal at Vaclav Havel airport. On the longest flight, from Dulles to Vienna, the only empty seat on the plane was the one next to mine. So I got extra legroom and sprawl space, but no interesting conversation with a stranger. There was the small matter of the baby three rows ahead of me. This was the loudest howling baby in human history. Every time it started up, it felt like an air raid siren had gone off just above my head. This happened every fifteen minutes, without preamble, for the whole 8-hour flight. Goodbye to any chance of sleep or proper rest on that redeye flight, though I had boarded sleep-deprived afetr staying up reading most of the previous night. However, the howler in the night brought me an unlikely gift. As I was ripped again and again out of drifty liminal states, I found that I had strong imagery and compelling ideas for a possible new book I had never considered before, though if I bring it off it will marry many of my life themes, dream adventures and experiences of walking on the mythic edge. I can't say more until the writer in me has had a chance to work on this. Writers write. I have never been inclined to say too much about what may be in the works until the work is done. But I'll share my one liner from the trip: A howler can monkey with you to a purpose.
Drawing by RM.