Our Fire Circle Tree
Jean Pierre Swennen
Every Wednesday in Sebastopol, California,
a small group of men meet
around an outdoor fire
at the foot of a 100 year old Gravenstein apple tree
We are witnessed and inspired by this age-old tree
some branches lost to storm or time
some covered with cankers and galls
a trunk hollowed to a twisted shell
by fire and little creatures
yet still claiming its sacred ground
And upon the rising of the sun season
its blood stirs
buds burst into exquisite white blossoms
and it emerges as a bride
ready to renew her vows to life once again
when the bees grant their blessing
Then upon the rising of the moon season
it settles into awe and gratitude
knowing that its union, unlike the salmon’s,
will not claim its life
and silently revels in the dreams
of what is yet to come
A Common Man
I am nothing special,
of this I am sure.
I am a common man
with common thoughts,
and I've led a common life.
There are no monuments dedicated to me,
and my name will soon be forgotten.
But I've loved another
with all my heart and soul,
And to me
this has always been
To covet and resist for years,
and then to succumb,
is a fearsome thing.
All you craved and denied
At last possesses you.
You give yourself
Wholly to its power;
and its presence,
Invading your soul, stupefies
With its solace and terror.
There is nothing so humbling
I sense the mushrooms in the night,
Tearing their way
up through loose soil,
Brutal as all birth.
And I bend my head,
And cup my mouth on
the gash of everything I craved,
And am ravaged with joy.
In Search of the Very First Seed
(written before a Spring Men's Fire ritual the first year)
It is time to tend the garden again.
It is wise not to wait too long.
I have learned my lesson,
But it wasn’t easy!
For I have been bloodied clearing the bramble of neglect.
Sometimes I think I know what I am doing
and the garden laughs, “Ha you silly soul!”
I was lulled by the pause of darkness
I grew fat and lost my way
But the garden is still there... waiting.
It is time to tend the garden again.
Its a dirty, stinky... lovely job.
I’d get help but everyone has their own garden to tend.
I thought my garden was a mess, then I saw others
and had to reconsider.
It is time to tend the garden again.
I am in search of the very first seed -
I think it came from the vapor like everything else.
I wonder - is LIFE a specialty of condensation?
I think my garden will teach me.
That other compass
you bought in the city
is no good to you now.
Before darkness comes
give it away.
Pause in your confusion.
Stand quiet in the fading light.
Say, "I am lost."
Say, "Where is my life waiting?"
Say, "I want an answer!"
Then, in the gathering dusk,
some quiet part of you
may begin to open.
Call it your inner compass rose.
Call it the home of your true north,
as constant as Polaris
in the night sky.
If there is an aroma
faint in the evening breeze
take a grateful breath and
move in that direction.
Your road will be there,
glowing in the moonlight.
Say, "Thank you for this blossom."
Your compass rose has opened.
You must go north.
The Man Watching
Rainer Maria Rilke
I can tell by the way the trees beat, after
so many dull days, on my worried windowpanes
that a storm is coming,
and I hear the far-off fields say things
I can’t bear without a friend,
I can’t love without a sister.
The storm, the shifter of shapes, drives on
across the woods and across time,
and the world looks as if it had no age:
the landscape like a line in the psalm book,
is seriousness and weight and eternity.
What we choose to fight is so tiny!
What fights with us is so great!
If only we would let ourselves be dominated
as things do by some immense storm,
we would become strong too, and not need names.
When we win it’s with small things,
and the triumph itself makes us small.
What is extraordinary and eternal
does not want to be bent by us.
I mean the Angel who appeared
to the wrestlers of the Old Testament:
when the wrestlers’ sinews
grew long like metal strings,
he felt them under his fingers
like chords of deep music.
Whoever was beaten by this Angel
(who often simply declined the fight)
went away proud and strengthened
and great from that harsh hand,
that kneaded him as if to change his shape.
Winning does not tempt that man.
This is how he grows: by being defeated, decisively,
by constantly greater beings.
(Dedicated to the men of The Men's Fire)
The wood pile
Full of twisted
Pieces too long
Too knotty for
Men worried about
How they look
What car they drive
Or if they sing off key.
This pile of woody
Discards can only
Be tamed by brave men
That show up in the rain
Men who laugh
When the splitting maul
Misses its mark.
Chopping and stacking
Laughing and hugging
Bringing order to
Disorder. These men
Know the blessings
These men are
Beautiful Empty Pages
What kind of work
Can I do in this world?
Who would be kind enough
to hire an old holy Bum,
One with a great reputation
For loving the charms
Of the lawless
And the wild artists and the lewd?
Maybe I could become a poet.
Maybe the Beloved
Will make my love so Pure
That He will come to sit upon
All my Beautiful empty pages.
And when you come to look at them,
He might kick you
With His Beautiful Divine Foot.
Clarissa Pinkola Estes
There is a two-million year old man
No one knows.
They cut into his rivers
Peeled wide pieces of hide
From his legs
Left scorch marks
On his buttocks.
He did not cry out.
No matter what they did, he held firm.
Now he raises his stabbed hands
and whispers that we can heal him yet.
We begin the bandages,
The rolls of gauze,
The unguents, the gut,
The needle, the grafts.
We slowly, carefully turn his body
And under him,
His lifelong lover, the old woman,
Is perfect and unmarked
He has laid upon
His two-million year old woman
All this time, protecting her
With his old back, his old scarred back.
And the soil beneath her
Is black with her tears.
From Many Winters
Collected from the Pueblo Elders
You Are a Man
When I was young
I did not know anything
Although I was very tall,
I had never grown.
So one day I went to the mountain
To die a little death.
This is the way of my people
In order to become purified.
My mouth opened and my cry fell
On the wind which blew it away.
My eyes saw nothing and so
The sun blinded my ignorance.
My ears heard only silence and so
The river drowned me in song.
My hands stopped the air and so
The fire fed upon me.
At last I was reduced to nothing.
Then one day I woke up.
Speak the truth said the wind
And I said I am afraid.
See the reason said the sun
And I saw my village changing.
Listen to the music said the river
And I heard my people laughing.
Feel the warmth said the fire
And I held my children in my arms.
Know what you are said the spirit
You are a man.
I Have Walked Along Many Roads
(translated by Robert Bly)
I have walked along many roads,
and opened paths through brush,
I have sailed over a hundred seas
and tied up on a hundred shores.
Everywhere I’ve gone I’ve seen
excursions of sadness,
angry and melancholy
drunkards with black shadows,
and academics in offstage clothes
who watch, say nothing, and think
they know, because they do not drink wine
in the ordinary bars.
Evil men who walk around
polluting the earth. . .
And everywhere I’ve been I’ve seen
men who dance and play,
when they can, and work
the few inches of ground they have.
If they turn up somewhere,
they never ask where they are.
When they take trips, they ride
on the backs of old mules.
They don’t know how to hurry,
not even on holidays.
They drink wine, if there is some,
if not, cool water.
These men are the good ones,
who love, work, walk and dream.
And on a day no different from the rest
they lie down beneath the earth.
Above the mountains
the geese turn into
the light again
on an open sky.
has to be
so you can find
the one line
Sometimes it takes
a great sky
to find that
wedge of freedom
in your own heart.
the bones of the black
sticks left when the fire
has gone out
someone has written
in the ashes of your life.
You are not leaving.
Even as the light fades quickly now,
you are arriving.
The Guest House
Mevlana Jelaluddin (Rumi)
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
One Bit of Difference
What would happen
If you took the chance and
Really let me see you?
Not your competent self
As if there was nothing wrong,
No stone of grief upon your chest,
No tears of sorrow
Welled up behind those eyes.
I couldn’t handle it.
You’re sure I couldn’t.
I wouldn’t be a safe harbor
For your long hidden fears.
How could I be?
I don’t really know you,
Couldn’t know you,
Couldn’t love you enough
To see myself in you.
And what if I did see you?
Would it matter?
Does the light of compassion
Really make one bit of difference?
All I know is that
It is a sad and lonely beauty,
That graces the heart unseen.
Kick a hole in the old rotten
Fence between us,
And pull me through.
I am here
On the other side,
Waiting for you.
Sit with the pain
in your heart, he said.
Hold it like a sacred wine
in a golden cup.
The wine may break you
and if it does, let it.
To be human is to be broken,
and only from brokenness can
one be healed.
The ancestors say:
the world is full of pain,
and each is allotted a portion.
If you do not carry your share,
then others are forced
to carry it for you,
And the suffering you bring
to the world is your sin,
But the suffering you bring
to yourself will be your hell.
Sit with the pain
in your heart, he said.
Hold it there
like a sacred wine
in a golden cup.
A PRAYER TO INVOKE THE RAINS
AS WE GATHER HERE,
AROUND, IN THIS CIRCLE,
WE ASK FROM OUR HEARTS,
MIND, AND SOULS,
TO BRING THE CLEANSING WATERS TO THE LAND. THAT THE LAND WE OCCUPY
MAY HAVE ITS BALANCE RESTORED.
AND IN THE MINDFULNESS
OF ASKING FOR THE RAINS TO COME,
TO COME IN A HEALTHY ABUNDANCE;
WE HAVE GRIEF IN OUR HEARTS.
WE HAVE GRIEF FOR THE MISUSE, DONE BY US HUMANS, TO THE BALANCE ON THIS PLANET.
WE ARE SADDENED BY OUR RECKLESSNESS.
AND IN OUR ASKING,
WE BEGIN TO REALIZE
THAT WE NEED TO HONOR THE EARTH.
TO HONOR THE EARTH:
OF ALL ITS GRANDEUR,
OF ALL ITS BEAUTY,
OF ALL ITS INTRICATE LIFE FORMS,
AND OF ALL ITS ECOSYSTEMS, WHICH WE HUMANS ARE VERY MUCH A PART OF YOUR WHOLENESS.
OF ALL YOUR ENDURANCE,
OF ALL YOUR MAGIC,
OF ALL YOUR MYSTERY,
OF ALL YOUR DIVERSE, AND CREATIVE MANIFESTATIONS.
WITH YOUR WATERS WE DRINK.
WITH YOUR WATERS WE ARE CLEANSED.
WITH YOUR WATERS WE HAVE LIFE.
WE HAVE NEVER ENOUGH GRATITUDE
FOR ALL THE ELEMENTS OF THE EARTH:
THE AIR, THE LAND, THE FIRE, AND THE WATER.
BY THE GENEROSITY OF THE SUN, FROM THE OCEANS, SKY, TO LAND, YOUR TEARS ARE OUR TEARS, YOUR SWEAT IS OUR SWEAT.
WE ARE PART OF YOU, AND YOU EMBODY US.
Naomi Shihab Nye
The Arabs used to say
When a stranger appears at your door,
feed him for three days
before asking who he is,
where he's come from,
where he's headed.
That way, he'll have strength enough
Or, by then you'll be such good friends
you don't care.
Let's go back to that.
Rice? Pine nuts?
Here, take the red brocade pillow.
My child will serve water
to your horse.
No, I was not busy when you came!
I was not preparing to be busy.
That's the armor everyone put on
to pretend they had a purpose
in the world.
I refuse to be claimed.
Your plate is waiting.
We will snip fresh mint
into your tea.
May the light of the new day
Shine upon my soul and illuminate my essence
As the rising sun shines forth upon the earth
May I be in communion with my true self
And honor the sacred flame of my being
May my presence be a sanctuary
For those around me
May I be gentle with my heart and
Honor the flame within.
There is a wolf in me . . . fangs pointed for tearing gashes . . . a red tongue for raw meat . . . and the hot lapping of blood—I keep this wolf because the wilderness gave it to me and the wilderness will not let it go.
There is a fox in me . . . a silver-gray fox . . . I sniff and guess . . . I pick things out of the wind and air . . . I nose in the dark night and take sleepers and eat them and hide the feathers . . . I circle and loop and double-cross.
There is a hog in me . . . a snout and a belly . . . a machinery for eating and grunting . . . a machinery for sleeping satisfied in the sun—I got this too from the wilderness and the wilderness will not let it go.
There is a fish in me . . . I know I came from salt-blue water-gates . . . I scurried with shoals of herring . . . I blew waterspouts with porpoises . . . before land was . . . before the water went down . . . before Noah . . . before the first chapter of Genesis.
There is a baboon in me . . . clambering-clawed . . . dog-faced . . . yawping a galoot’s hunger . . . hairy under the armpits . . . here are the hawk-eyed hankering men . . . here are the blonde and blue-eyed women . . . here they hide curled asleep waiting . . . ready to snarl and kill . . . ready to sing and give milk . . . waiting—I keep the baboon because the wilderness says so.
There is an eagle in me and a mockingbird . . . and the eagle flies among the Rocky Mountains of my dreams and fights among the Sierra crags of what I want . . . and the mockingbird warbles in the early forenoon before the dew is gone, warbles in the underbrush of my Chattanoogas of hope, gushes over the blue Ozark foothills of my wishes—And I got the eagle and the mockingbird from the wilderness.
O, I got a zoo, I got a menagerie, inside my ribs, under my bony head, under my red-valve heart—and I got something else: it is a man-child heart, a woman-child heart: it is a father and mother and lover: it came from God-Knows-Where: it is going to God-Knows-Where—For I am the keeper of the zoo: I say yes and no: I sing and kill and work: I am a pal of the world: I came from the wilderness.