avant les ours

Et après tous les oiseaux morts,
Les ours sont venus
Tout d’abord, dans un rêve
Et puis dans les arbres
Et dans les visages des voitures
Et dans les mots d’étrangers

Assez, je me suis dit
Laisse-moi tranquille
Je dois être avec mes propres pensées, sans influence
Mais les ours n’écouteraient pas

Et alors j’ai bu, et ils se sont rapprochés
Je les ai ignorés,
Jusqu’à ce que je puisse ressentir leur souffle

«Pourquoi,» j’ai demandé
«Pourquoi? Pourquoi moi?
Et pourquoi moi maintenant, quand je suis tellement brisé?»

«Nous avons dû vous briser» ont-ils dit.
«C’était la seule façon de se refaire à nouveau,
C’était la seule façon de vous préparer pour ce travail»

Et maintenant, avec un souffle d’ours sur mon corps
On m’a dit que je suis prêt
Et même si je pense que je sais pour quoi,
Et même si je sais ce qui se passe,
Je manque les jours avant les ours

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les oiseaux, les prophéties et la tempête à venir

We were on an island, in a yellow school bus, which was racing up and down hills at well over a hundred miles per hour. Every time I looked out the front window I was convinced that we were about to die, but somehow our driver navigated the curves with ease despite the obvious defiance of physics.

In my hand was a carton of a half-dozen eggs. As we barreled up and down the hills, I opened the carton. I reached for an egg and it cracked as I touched it. Inside was dead black baby bird covered in a gooey mess.

As I cupped my fingers around the bird in order to lift it out of the egg, the egg next to it suddenly hatched. Out of that egg burst a healthy little yellow chick.

Out of nowhere, a shoebox appeared. I put the chick in the shoebox to protect it, but the shoebox had strangely wide holes on the sides, and the chick kept escaping out of the holes. I tried to cover the holes with my hands, but there were more holes than I had hands, so no matter what I did the chick would escape. Meanwhile we are being thrown around the bus as it continued down the hills at a terrifying speed.

At one point, the chick escaped just as we were being tossed about, and it was crushed under my foot. I picked it up, it was dead. I started to cry and pet it, and suddenly it sprang back to life.

The bus started to pick up speed even faster. I put the chick back in the box, but it escaped again. Suddenly a second chick hatched out of the egg carton. The hills were getting steeper and I could not keep the chicks in the shoebox no matter how hard I tried.

At that moment, my alarm went off and I woke up.

 *    *    *    *    *

I went to meet someone for coffee at ten. Today was a bank holiday, so when I got to the plaza it was mostly deserted. The coffee shop was open, however, and given that it was a sunny day we sat outside and drank coffee while we talked.

A few minutes into our conversation, three birds started running about beneath the tables next to us, chirping unusually loud to the point where I couldn’t hear what he was saying.

Shh…” I whispered to the birds. “Vous êtes trop bruyant.

They quieted down for a moment, though continued to run about beneath us. We continued our conversation.

Suddenly they were even louder than before, and as I looked down one bird had another pinned down by the neck, as though they were dogs fighting. A third was hopping about, watching a few inches away. The pinned bird was screeching in pain.

Arrêtez!” I yelled towards them, perhaps a little too loudly, not able to contain my horror. They stopped and flew away, only to come back again a moment later.

He looked at me and smiled. “Do you always talk to the birds?” he asked me in English.

“Yes,” I said without thinking, realizing a moment later that perhaps I had just revealed more about myself than I should. “And usually they listen, but things seem off today.”

*    *    *    *    *

Two messages from trusted friends in three days, both with the same message gleaned from dreams. I am in the hospital. Rhyd is with me. In each respective dream, each friend is with me as well. One mentions something specific to my leg, the other mentioned that Rhyd had carried me. When I had gotten the first message last Saturday, I noted it in the back of my mind but did not let it get to me. But when I got the second message this afternoon, I panicked.

A few minutes later, Rhyd walks in and sits down next to me at the coffee shop, having finally found tobacco after an hour-long search due to the bank holiday. I relayed everything that had transpired in the last day.

He took out his book in which he had recorded his divination system, which consists of lines from many of his writings, each with an assigned number. He takes my computer and pulls up a virtual dice.

“When you are ready, click the button,” he said. I do as he says.

He takes that number and inputs it into the roll instructions. “When you are ready, do it again.” Again I do as he says.

He consults his book and starts to write down lines. After thinking for a moment, he draws lines between the lines.

“Read them as stanzas – here, here, and here,” he says, pointing to the lines.

Once again I do as he says.

*    *    *    *    *

“It’s dark inside the tomb. Desert priests staring into the sun.

Feather in pocket, or in ear. The moment of the magician, the revolutionary.

I wanted a fuck, a fire, a cup of tea.

The world between the walls.”

*    *    *    *    *

A little while later, we left the coffee shop in search of curry. An hour later, we were still walking around, nearly every place closed due to the bank holiday.

We finally came across a burger place. “This place is kind of my guilty pleasure,” he says.

We got in. I realize quickly that rare meat is exactly what I needed.

We walked back to where I had locked up my bike, next to the same coffee shop that I had been in and out of all day. We said our goodbyes as a friend approached, and so we lingered a moment longer to talk with her a bit.

At that moment, I looked towards the road right next to the coffee shop, right next to where the birds had fought that morning. In the road was a newly dead pigeon. I winced and pointed.

At that moment, a car came barreling down the road, hitting the pigeon again dead on. I heard the sound of it crushing under the tires, and winced again as more feathers scattered.

“I really need to go home now,” I said to them both.

I got on my bike and pedaled home as fast as I could.

the vilaine

When I was in my late teens, a river nearly took my life.

I can’t blame the river herself, as I was acting the fool that day, but nonetheless I considered myself a goner, accepted my fate as I felt myself pulled under, and then was given a second chance thanks to a concrete pillar holding up a historic bridge. To this day I’m not sure if the river herself guided me to the pier or if there were other forces at work. But needless to say, from that point on I was terrified of rivers.

The incident happened at the tail end of a string of traumas, traumas that I was attempting to shake off that day when I decided to swim across the Delaware and back in a foolhardy attempt to “prove” something to both myself and the world. And after nearly paying for my foolishness with my life, I broke in a very concrete way. In the subsequent months I sold most of my possessions, left home for the energy and anonymity of New York City, and tried to start over the best I could.

In those early days, much of my healing came from my first attempt at self-employment: playing ukulele at the southern entrance of Washington Square Park by the chessboards while offering three-card tarot readings for $5. I didn’t find much financial success, but I found myself over time, and over the course of a few years managed to pull myself out of my trauma and enter into more stable forms of self-employment by teaching myself how to silkscreen. Blocking out the fact that I lived a stone’s throw from the confluence of two rivers, the Hudson River and the East River, I made peace with much of my past.

And then a few years later, some six summers after the incident with the river, I was struck by lightning. And again I barely escaped with my life, but this time the damage was not just psychological. And once again I fell into a deep trauma, a process that echoed my previous cycle. Terrified of storms and terrified of myself, I ended up selling most of my possessions and fleeing 3,000 miles from my adopted city, away from a temperate climate where thunder and lightning was the norm to the Pacific Northwest, where drizzles were common but storms were rare. Once again I found myself living near the confluence of two rivers, this time the Willamette and the McKenzie, but I kept a healthy respectful distance and once again was able to find my place.

But the cycle continued. Trauma struck again, and I uprooted myself two hours north to Portland, once again at the confluence at two rivers, the Willamette and the Columbia, hoping that I would fall into old patterns and find myself once again. But this time it did not happen as it had in the past. While I felt at home in a sense, I was depressed, stuck, I felt trapped.

After two years, not knowing where else to turn, I listened to the Gods whispering into my ear, decided to fulfill an old promise, and embarked on a pilgrimage to Europe. What I did not understand at the time was that I was setting out on that journey for reasons other than I assumed, and Their reasons were colliding with my own struggles.

The moment I stepped off the train in Rennes, I felt I was home. I felt like I was speaking to the Earth with my feet. I was once again at the confluence of two rivers, the Ille and the Vilaine, but unlike in the past I felt a pull towards these bodies of water, my fears seemingly evaporated.

‘Vilaine’ means ‘ugly one’ in French, which struck me when I first heard it as the river is anything but ugly. In fact, she was the most beautiful river I had ever seen. Forgetting my previous trauma around rivers, I befriended her quickly, taking daily walks along the bank, talking to the ducks and sharing with her my secrets.

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The Vilaine, as she was the first time we met.

And it was a few weeks later that I learned through a local friend that long ago, before the Romans came when Bretagne was Gaul, that the Vilaine was dedicated to Taranis, the Gallic god of thunder and lightning.

The pieces suddenly fell into place. And one night, at the bar with friends, I realized I knew. I knew where I belonged. I knew for what I was fated.

But then I denied it, pushed it away, went back to Portland, tried to continue living as I had been. And the Gods would have none of it. And They did what They do… first they knocked softly, then they knocked insistently, then they broke the door down and proceeded to destroy the house from within, so to speak.

On Samhain, I finally admitted it. I knew I had to go back, and I knew that I had to make an effort to stay. And once again, the cycle, selling all that I had, saving every penny I could, this time asking others for help. This time it was 6,000 miles, not 3,000. But a week ago I found myself once again at the banks of the Vilaine. I was home.

And both in honor of patterns as well as the past, I reverted to my former self, quickly acquiring a ukulele and a pack of Tarot cards. Being led rather than leading, I found myself at the bank of the confluence, singing to the Vilaine, playing songs I haven’t played in years, allowing my feet to touch the water, allowing my fears to evaporate, allowing myself to just *be*.

This afternoon, I went down for the second time, and as I arrived at the confluence a storm started to roll in. For an instant, the smell triggered my PTSD, but as I continued down the bank it faded as quickly as it came on. Despite the rain, despite the river, I sat just inches from the water.

She wanted to hear the Beatles, and so I obliged. And the rain came down, and the river lapped at my feet, and I reflected on twenty years’ worth of trauma as I sang to the river and the thunder god. The sun came out as it rained, the warmth and the wetness colliding with my fingers on the strings and the tears down my cheeks.

I was happy. And once again healed. And most importantly, I felt at home.

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The confluence at dusk, just after the rain cleared up.