When One Transitions, We All Transition

bathroom

Our granddaughter announced his decision to become an F to M Trans Boy. Okay, I am ready, I thought. Well, not completely ready, I discovered.

I should be ready. I came out in 1977 as a bisexual. I was precocious, adventurous and fully engaged in the pre-AIDS era of sexual exploration and experimentation. I had boyfriends and girlfriends. I knew I didn’t want to get married and behave like the heterosexual women of my mother’s generation. I didn’t believe in monogamy. Messages my mother gave me about female identity included the statement that, “women are second class citizens.” I was ambitious. I wanted to be first-class.

Influenced by second wave feminism, especially the radical and cultural aspects of that great tidal wave crashing upon the shore of U.S. society, my identity kept shifting on the wet sand. I cut off my hair and dressed like a boy. Back then we called it being androgynous. We loved Ziggy Stardust. I learned that snails, slime mold and other beings in Creator’s magnificent universe did not reproduce through a binary gender system. In Judy Grahn’s anthology, True to Life Adventure Stories, I read a short story, Boys at the Rodeo, about a group of lesbians attending a rodeo in Wyoming who were mistaken as boys. Once the cowboys accepted them as young, rambunctious males, those dykes had a blast. Unlike the then-popular phrase, “Blondes have more fun,” it seemed to me that boys had more fun.

At twenty I hitch-hiked alone across Scotland. I left behind a beautiful long-haired man in Wisconsin and a feisty athletic woman in Michigan. Lugging my backpack, I stuck out my thumb and pretended to be a boy. My ruse was not entirely successful despite my cropped hair, flannel shirt, baggy pants and worn-out sneakers. Once I climbed into the back seat, the driver would generally say, “Thought you were a boy,” which meant that already my voice or gestures had given me away. So much for that. I let my hair grow out and slowly grew to embrace my emerging identity as a power-femme.

Gender is performance. As a young adult, freed up by 1970s lesbian culture, I was able to perform my inner boy. I enjoyed it but not enough to abandon my inner girl. At that time society presented me with a narrow choice: man or woman; male or female. Pretty limiting but I found ways to straddle the categories.

Today I wear summer dresses, paint my toenails and flip up my long hair. But I also hike in sturdy boots and camp in the wilderness beneath the naked stars. I am unafraid. I am fiercely independent. I settled down and married a woman. Between us we share the stereotypical male roles in the old-fashioned husband-wife dynamic. I handle most of the financial and legal matters. She handles most of the power tools for household maintenance, yardwork, carpentry, that stuff. I mean I can spackle drywall or drive a nail into a two by four, but she does it better. I guess I am a gender-bending person in my own way.

The next generation is doing what they should to race through the door kicked open by gay rights activists and second wave feminists. They inherited the social and political spaces created by those who dared to question strict gender roles and the suppression of both female and homosexual lives. It’s not that the violence and hatred against us has ended, but the legal system and public opinion have shifted. I myself have benefited by this extraordinary movement toward human liberation.

So why am I having difficulty with my grandchild’s transition? I recall the bright face of the baby whose diapers I once changed, the toddler whose bedtime stories I once read, the small, rambunctious one for whom I drove around in the humid Ohio night singing to the moon so she would fall asleep. Did I make up stories in my mind about the woman this child would become? Did I get attached to my stories of make-believe?

Or do I feel a sense of loss because we have worked so hard to lift up female identity as valued, relevant, vital and necessary to change the oppressive domination of our world. You see, I love being a woman. I am interested in and deeply committed to women’s lives, voices, empowerment and spirituality. I understand the menstrual cycle, the pregnancy cycle, the mothering process, the struggle of being female under male domination, the silencing effect on girls and women inside patriarchal systems, and the profound desire to share authority in the world differently than the dominator-power-over style used by our government, police, academic institutions and families. Though I am part of the LGBTQ community, I strongly identify as a woman and care deeply about the lives of girls and women. Yet my grandchild was born female and is choosing to live her/his life as a trans male.

Since I came of age during that era of name-changing, identity-switching liberation, I should be ready for anything. I should be fine about a girl I adore becoming the boy I will adore. For her/him, this decision has been years in the making. I remember going into the boys clothing department to help her choose clothes she wanted to wear. I recall the summer the luscious long hair was first cut short. Emerging today is a confident, articulate, intelligent, stylish, young performance artist who can sing, dance, direct, conceive and execute original theatrical material. I am proud. Her decision to transition into living this life as a trans boy has made him very happy. I can see that. It fits. It seems right. Still in brief moments I catch myself mourning for the girl who is no longer there, and who is not going to become a woman.

Native communities use the term, Two Spirit. I like it. It suggests a spiritual aspect to the act of transgressing gender divisions. Two Spirit advances the possibility of living within a state of consciousness that embraces gender-duality-becoming-unity. It is both/and: both male and female; both straight and gay; both old and new. Perhaps it is even more than that. Two Spirit goes beyond gender-based identity boxes. It signifies someone filled with the power of Two Spirits. Am I Two Spirit? Is my grandchild?

Once we get beyond the public bathroom debate, I look forward to what other new social and political spaces will open up for all of us. If our society can make room for all of the myriad gendered expressions in the emerging trans-youth of today, how much freedom could we all experience?

Trans-identity is now part of our family. This means, I, too, must transition. Though my tongue still stumbles over the pronoun change, I will get it. One day he will slip effortlessly from my mouth when I refer to my beloved grandchild. I know I can do it.

 

 

Today’s Thoughts on Marriage Equality & the Supreme Court Decision: June 27, 2015

The day before the Supreme Court decision, I swept out my home. The day after the Supreme Court decision, I swept out my home. It was the same work the day before and the day after. The marriage equality decision uplifts all of us as it embraces the aspiration of a human being to freely love another human being. The decision matters to me. As a lesbian, a woman, a teacher, a lover in a long-term partnership, a grandmother and a friend, it matters to me.

I wept when I read the concluding paragraph written by Justice Kennedy for the majority:

“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”

I am so happy.

Still I have to sweep out the house.

I don’t literally grab a broom, though living in the high desert on a dirt road means there is dust blowing in every open window in the summer. What I mean is I am responsible for my home. I have to pay the mortgage and the bills. I help keep it clean and in good working order. If I have friends or family visiting, I am responsible for their hospitality. I like to make sure everyone is comfortable and their needs are met while they stay in my home with me.

Likewise I am responsible for my life, for my thoughts, feelings, attitudes and ideas. It is up to me to recognize and sweep out any negativity, hate, fear or doubt. Otherwise like rodents, these things will occupy my home. They will pester me and destroy the good things I have inside the home of my being.

So yes, I sweep daily.

I sweep out any sign that I have removed someone from the community of caring. If I have judged someone, thought of that person or group of people as wrong or bad, or given myself any excuse to hate another, it is time to grab the broom and sweep.

If I make anyone my enemy, I have gone to war. In my true heart, I am a healer and a peacemaker. So I have to catch myself if I start to raise a righteous flag and take up arms against someone. I watch myself for what I call enemy consciousness, for it erases the spiritual wisdom that we are all one, and that whatever happens to one of us affects all of us.

The evidence of our fundamental unity is everywhere. It is perhaps most obvious when we consider the environment. The air and water, climate and oceans, do not recognize national borders, cultural boundaries, gender, religion, politics, economics or any other social construct. We are all impacted by what is happening right now on our planet. Yet we are surrounded by the popular notion that there is ‘us’ and there is ‘them.’ And for ‘us’ to live, ‘they’ must die. If I catch myself succumbing to this erroneous belief and making anyone my enemy, even for a moment, I stop and sweep.

In the Supreme Court Decision, the dissenting opinion of Judge Clarence Thomas caused me such a moment. When I read his statement, I felt myself tense up in outrage and disagreement. I reacted especially to the following quote:

“Slaves did not lose their dignity (any more than they lost their humanity) because the government allowed them to be enslaved. Those held in internment camps did not lose their dignity because the government confined them. And those denied governmental benefits certainly do not lose their dignity because the government denies them those benefits. The government cannot bestow dignity, and it cannot take it away.”

Really? Slaves did not lose their dignity or their humanity when the law in this country defined them as only three/fifths human and denied them any right to their labor, their families, their own bodies and their lives?

Truly? Japanese-American families did not lose their dignity when the U.S. government seized their property and forced them to live in substandard conditions under constant armed guard behind rows of chain-linked barbed wire as enemies of the state?

Wow. That was astonishing to read. But it also reminded me to see clearly how every human struggle is connected to every other one. Thomas connected slavery to internment camps to gay marriage. How interesting. They are connected. Each expresses brutal separation and rigid demarcation. We could add more examples: the Holocaust or the murders last week of nine African American parishioners in their church by a young white supremacist. Each is an example of the relentless violence of enemy consciousness.

Clarence’s denouncement that government has an impact on the dignity of human life is bizarre. He argues that dignity cannot be granted or removed by the external authority of a legal or political regime. Yet every study of the human psyche illustrates that we exist in relationship to others. Our identities are shaped, in part, by how others perceive and treat us. Our external circumstances do affect our internal sense of worth, especially in the lives of children.

This decision to extend the same marital rights and legal recognition to same-sex couples will impact the next generation of same-sex families. They will experience a security I never did. When we were a young lesbian couple raising a son in the 1980s during the gay hate-mongering of the Reagan administration, we suffered violence, invisibility and a profound lack of support. I believe this decision will change these conditions for future same-sex families. Like my goddess-daughter Malaika Carver wrote on her Facebook last night, “Finally love is legal!”

Clarence is entitled to his opinion, as I am to mine. He has the platform of serving as a Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. I have the platform of my little blog. Please share this with someone if you find it useful.

It is my responsibility to express myself. I can express anger, sadness and grief. I can also forgive, enjoy, celebrate and love. It is my responsibility to love the ones I love with depth, power, beauty and resilience. No one else can do that for me.

I do not hate those whose opinions I find difficult. I may disagree. I can also sweep out the urge to close myself against those who see the world differently. There is always something to learn.

Reading Thomas’ opinion I learned something, or rather, I was reminded of something important. Every human struggle is worthy of our attention.

This is my life and I have a right to live it fully. You do, too. Let us celebrate! Then I will pick up my broom and sweep away whatever it is that keeps me from acting on the truth of our interconnection.

Exploring Gender – a true story

Acolo

Family Discount Train Ticket, USA 1984

I try talking the travel agent

into selling me a family discount train ticket

What about sisters? I insist. Sisters are family.

No, she retorts. Man and Wife. Only man and wife.

 Stalking back up the Bronx Street

with the family discount in my pocket

I have to break it to you

now one of us has to be the man.

What? you exclaim.

I can be the man, I reply.

You shake your head.

It’s decided. I become an East Coast Bohemian

sporting red plastic cat-eye glasses

two-inch stacked heels

hair swirled up, splash of lipstick, stack of books.

You dress up like a stodgy, well-educated Kenyan

Nehru jacket, thick glasses, cropped Afro.

We fake it from New York to Chicago.

You keep a growl plastered to your face.

I smile like an elite

know-it-all, possessive, protective wife.

Enjoying the backstory

I created for our cross-country gender performance

I proudly show our husband&wife ticket

to each conductor at every stop.

We are north of Kenosha

heading into Milwaukee

last leg of the journey home

when the conductor eyes us suspiciously.

He opens his mouth to question me

but before he can speak

I shoot up teetering on both heels

ready to make a scene.

You cringe pretending to sleep.

I hiss, You got a problem?

I am ready to slap him.

He hands me back our ticket

moves to the next passenger

I look around the train car

memorizing faces

so I can point later:

You were there and did nothing

when they stripped us to inspect our female genitalia

and threw us from the train.

We make it home. We make it

knowing not everybody does.

Note: Image is entitled, Acolo, encaustic & collage on paper, from Romanian artist Victor Brauner. I photographed it last month at the Chicago Art Museum. This image expresses how I sometimes feel about being my gender.

Easter Sunday Talk for The Celebration

Purpose, Personal Destiny and Passion: What We Love Makes Us Who We Are

 What’s love got to do with it? I believe love has everything to do with it.

The lyric from Tina Turner’s comeback hit asks the right question, but her answer is different from mine. The love I am talking about this morning is not a second-hand emotion. The love I am talking about is what thrills us. What makes us happy? What makes us feel a little more alive?

Let me give you an example of what I am talking about. I’d like to share this poem from my recent book, Love Enough, (Red Mountain Press 2014) entitled, A Child Falls in Love with a Storm.

In this poem, the child is not simply thrilled by the intensity of the storm or the sudden shift in the weather. Yes, she feels the rain on her skin. But the child is also a metaphor for innocence and for that innocent sometimes lost part of ourselves, for in this poem, innocence is completely alive in that moment when the storm rolls in. The girl is not thinking, Oh, I wish I were dry and safe indoors. She rushes out into it to experience it fully. She feels what is truly happening. She is fully present with her senses. She is connected. Connected. That is a key point.

An old Zen Buddhist saying, and I am paraphrasing, is: When you walk in the rain, get wet. In other words, be where you are. Feel what is happening. Do not turn away. Do not dismiss what is real and true. Be fully alive. Pay attention to your life. Wake up.

The storm wakes the girl up. It shakes her world. Death enters the poem. And that is real. We live. We die. In that line, the poem unfolds. It is no longer simply about innocence but about spiritual awakening. For all that happens in between our birth and our death is an opportunity for awakening. The girl realizes she must live fully, embrace her life, or die. When we are just going through the motions, numb and indifferent, caught in a rut of repetitive thinking and doing, are we dead inside? The girl loves the storm because it wakes her up. This is the kind of love I am talking about today.

A remarkable word in Ojibwe is Bimadisiwin. This single word can be translated as “having the courage to live one’s life fully through all of one’s senses.” This is what love invites us to do. The very root of the word, courage, from the French, cour means “heart, innermost feelings.” Our emotional bodies have so much power to help us fulfill our purpose. But we get sidetracked in anger, bitterness, jealousy and frustration. I am learning how to turn away from these consuming emotions toward joy through love.

Take a moment, don’t think too hard about it, just jot down a few things you love. Think of people, places, times or situations that have made you happy. When have you felt most alive and connected? Make your list and hold onto it.

Spring is the season of rebirth. Ancient symbols of rebirth include the egg and the rabbit. So we celebrate today with colored Easter eggs and floppy-eared bunnies. That is appropriate. The egg represents all possibility, as yet unrealized, unformed, the ovum in the ovary. The egg is potent symbol of our raw potential. In the West African spiritual tradition of Ifé, a raw egg is cracked over the crown chakra to ignite a rebirth of consciousness for the initiate who will become a priest or priestess. What is your highest potential? What is the as-of-yet unrealized egg you are carrying in your consciousness?

The fertile rabbit, ancient symbol of the Goddess, is curious and inquisitive. The rabbit lives close to the ground, close to the mysteries of the plant world. Each spring seeds burst open sending fresh shoots up from beneath the soil. The fruit trees flower in the orchard. New life abounds. It’s amazing to witness a forsythia bush bursting with yellow from branches that only a week ago appeared dead. It is Persephone returning to her mother, Demeter, after a cold season in Hell. It is the Celtic Goddess Brigid opening her green cloak to bless the land. Bring those flowers into your heart. What lies dormant inside you that longs to burst into bloom? What is your truest desire?

A beautiful song in the Ojibwe tradition speaks of the magic of invoking your true desire every night before sleeping. I would like to share it with you. . . Kamino . . .

What is your heart’s desire? If you desire world peace, you begin by making peace in your own relations, peace within yourself. If you true desire is to heal, you begin by healing yourself. We have an opportunity every spring to realign ourselves with our truest love and longing.

We cannot forget the Christian story that also unfolds this weekend. The arisen Christ represents the possibility for each one of us to awaken the Christ within, to experience our own divinity and our unique relationship with God, Goddess, Creator, Great Mystery, Allah, Holy of Holies. The divine expressed as the light or hidden fire within each one of us.

Christ’s message was a message of love. Love your neighbor as yourself. This teaching has three messages. One is to LOVE your SELF. Not to disregard or punish yourself for your imperfections. We are imperfect human beings. The message is to forgive, to be patient, to Love Your SELF.

A second is to LOVE your neighbor. Now sometimes my neighbor gets on my last nerve. So how do I love despite differences of opinion, lifestyle, belief, behavior or attitude? How do we choose love and not go to war with our neighbors, our families, our co-workers? How do we choose love – not once but over and over again, everyday?

First we have to choose not to make anyone the enemy. In the words of the late poet laureate of Minnesota, Meridel LeSeuer “ no mother births the enemy.” So you have to actually refrain from participating in the cultural practice of making enemies. Do not make the homeless, the ill, the police, the other political group, your sister-in-law, your boss, the enemy. Make no one the enemy. To do this you must choose to love your own life regardless of the circumstances of your life. For that is the essential message: TO LOVE.

This kind of loving means we give up judgment. We are not better than anyone, and no one is better than us. Every life has the same potential for enlightenment, for courageous acts, for love. We are different, that’s all, and ecosystem science has taught us that difference and diversity are necessary for healthy biological communities. We are biological creatures. We are deep air animals craving warmth and light. Difference and uniqueness among and between us is precious and should be protected, even celebrated, by us.

Let me share another poem. My sister told me this is her favorite one, Widow in Muir Woods.

Here we see not innocence but weariness. There has been aging and loss. How does one recover from difficulty and pain? One immerses oneself into the body of the ancient world tree. In this poem, the redwood tree represents the Tree of Life. The Kabbalah, the Iroquois Long House, and many traditions speak of this mighty tree. The widow, who represents our suffering, gives herself to the darkness within the Tree of Life. She enters the hollow, empty place that has been seared open by lightning, representing sudden change. And she lets herself feel what it is to be alive, even to be alive in suffering . That is all. To feel again. Now LOVE is possible again. This is her moment, and our moment, of rebirth.

We do not necessarily love the same things. What we love is an expression of our unique way of being and seeing. Honor what you love. Honor what others love. Honor love no matter how curious it may be. Make more room for love in your life. Invite love to inspire you. Set an intention with your love card in your hand. Join your heart with the heart of Spring and allow a rebirth of love to enter your being.

As you open yourself to your new love story, I will share one last love poem with you. It is entitled, A Woman Falls in Love with a Turtle.

 Thank you, Dianne Deloren, for inviting me to join you today at The Celebration!

Honoring Ancestors

Honoring Ancestors
Ann Filemyr

As we enter the season of increasing darkness, the cold intensifies. This Friday, October 31, is popularly known as Halloween, a derivative of an older term, All Hallow’s Eve, a sacred time when it is said the veil between the living and the dead is at its thinnest. The magical night is followed by November 1, another important holy day known as Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, also called All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day.
Families throughout Latin America from New Mexico south visit the graves of their ancestors on November 1 with flowers and food to celebrate continuity and the ongoing, to cherish memories and share relationships. They know relationships do not end even when someone dies. This is an important aspect of what this time of year symbolizes.
Additionally Halloween/Day of the Dead represents a cross-quarter day, a time in the cosmic cycle of the sun that marks an important midway point. Coming up this week is the midway point between Fall Equinox and Winter Solstice. We are halfway between the beginning of Autumn and the beginning of Winter. Between now and December 21, the days will grow shorter and the nights longer until at last on December 21 we reach the darkest night. Then the wheel of light begins to turn increasing the hours of sunlight until we arrive once again at Summer Solstice.
For all of these reasons, and because of the recent losses of friends and family, a small group will gather tonight to read poetry and sing songs beside an impromptu ancestor altar created to commemorate our beloved gone.
As a poet, my contribution tonight will be to read three poems. I have selected each one carefully considering how it speaks to the subject of ancestors, the dead, and the living.
The first poem I will read is for my father who died a year ago on October 4. I have written a number of different poems to honor his life and his impact on my life, but this poem, My Father Becomes a Raven, I am choosing to read tonight.
When we try to stare death in the face, we find only life. We may recall our beloved dead through memories of times spent together. We see the past we shared with them, or the future without their presence in it. But even their absence is situated among the living.
When we face our own death, we can feel more keenly alive. Death can be the great awakener urging us to live life to the fullest. When I look at death, I find only life. Perhaps this is because both life and death are born from birth. Death is in life, and life is in death. They belong together the same way form and formlessness together make the bowl. Without the empty center, there is no container. The negative space in art defines the shape of each object precisely. Through silence we hear the rhythm of the song.
So it is with this poem inspired by my father’s death and cremation in Santa Fe last October. He is not in the poem, but everything points to him. It is a mysterious poem even to me who somehow wrote it. This poem more than any other expresses my sense of his death, my loss, and of our ongoing belonging. Even the title of the poem speaks to the mystery of life and death, of form and formlessness, of the visible and invisible realms coexisting together.
The late Keewaydinoquay, an Ojibwe medicine woman and one of my spiritual teachers, often said, “Death is not end: only change of form.”

My Father Becomes a Raven

The sky is not my father but the sky

has his eyes
Autumn blue, bright edge of mischief
playing on aspen leaves.

My father is not late afternoon

but in the crisp air he was born to flame
bone blackened, becomes mica-flecked stars.

The coyote is not my father

Four-legged, covered in bamboo-colored fur
loping across the dirt road where I live.

My father will live in the desert now
his smoke mingles with cloud

the coyote inhales

casts me a sideways glance
disappears in yellow grasses

The second poem I will read tonight is inspired by our common human prehistory.
In the Middle Awash area of Ethiopia, members of our lineage have lived, died and been buried for over six million years. The oldest complete skeleton that has been found is of an adult female. She lived and died 4.4 million years ago, that is 4,400,000 years ago. She enjoyed a woodland diet of fruits and nuts. She probably also enjoyed the sunlight, the nearby river, the trees, other plants and animals, and her children, family and friends. Her community is our community. Perhaps it remains encoded in the deepest places of our minds and bodies as a lost paradise.
For us to find a clear biological link, we go back between 100,000 and 200,000 years ago to a single woman. Her mitochondrial DNA exists in the bodies of every person living today. Mitochondrial DNA can only be passed down from the mother to the child. This genetic stamp, called by some the Eve gene, mutates perhaps every 10,000 years creating various families, a diversity of peoples, from her many daughters.
It was the discovery of this source code, mitochondrial DNA, evidence of the one mother for all human beings, which inspired this poem.

Epiphany

It’s the same woman
naked, upright, who came
in the wet grasses of dawn,
the man’s hands on her hips
moaning before the moon set.
The snake knew the polish
of oval egg in yellow nest,
knew the urge to live
never dies, offered this
single insight. She gasped
to see the oracle undulate
legless and free.
She gazed into its milky eye
noticed the hairline split
and watched the serpent inch out
leaving behind what it was
shining in late summer sun.
The bead of sweat on her upper lip
tasted of salt, she trembled
as she reached out
to touch the pale, empty shell
holding only the memory
of what it was, and knew then
what every single thing is
the moment before it is not.
When he returned she was
speechless and free
holding a snake skin in one hand
an apple in the other.
My father took the fruit and was fed.

My final poem speaks of the relationship between people and land, between the ancestors of a place and the special continuity of that place.
Everywhere we walk, breathe, sing, or stand, others have stood before us. The memory of those who came before us is so important that we make monuments, memorials, historical sites, cemeteries, and other significant marks upon the land so that we might feel a greater connection to those who have lived before us. One of those special places for me is Tsankowi, New Mexico. It is located on the Pajarito Plateau west of Pojoaque Pueblo, south of Santa Clara Pueblo, near San Ildefonso Pueblo, in the shadow of the Jemez Mountains on a high mesa above the Rio Grande. Here a modest national park preserves an ancient pre-Puebloan village site. Living near here we immigrants and descendants of settlers breathe in the ancestral territory of the Pueblo people. It is good and right that we remember that with gratitude and humility.
In these special places we may feel how the dead keep living, not as zombies or some fearful undead, but as a strong presence, a blessing upon the land. In these places we may experience our own lives as fleeting. The temporal existence of our own sensual bodies slips away into the unexpected light, yet we may long for more. We may love someone so much that we want to meet again in the sweetness of a life after this life. Call it reincarnation or imagination. This poem celebrates that in the place called Tsankowi.

Tsankowi

High above the Pajarito Plateau
is a place called Tsankowi

Even the dead do not die here
too red, potent with dust

Whose bones, whose ashes, whose
shattered pot scattered
beneath leaf salt

Could it be my footfall
your footprint
half hidden in blue scrub?

My hand in yours
Juniper and pinyon twine together

Lightning cracks canyon wall
stabbing rampage of rain
snakes
down the cliff face

Smell the pungent wet clay
green pollen rising like smoke
scorch and sear of drought

Sun erupts from cloud
splits the ridge
obsidian tip
trembling solidity of light

Black Mesa beneath blue vault
Radiant Enduring

Promise
me we
will meet again
here where
one thing
becomes another

No one can stay
cradled underground

I will
touch your mouth
and live

The Give-Away Ceremony

The Give-Away

Ann Filemyr, Ph.D.

Vice President of Academic Affairs & Dean, Southwestern College

In a number of different but related indigenous cultures, there exists the practice some call the Give-Away. This Ceremony is undertaken whenever an individual or family or clan group experiences a sense of great abundance, of plentitude and joy. Then it is appropriate to share the abundance with others in the community.

As an ancient celebration of redistribution, it flies in the face of Euro-centric and American ideals concerning private property and the manufactured desire to accumulate wealth. In fact, this Ceremony suggests the opposite. It honors the desire to give-away one’s abundance. Historically, many of these give-away ceremonies were outlawed by the U.S. government, including the Potlatch of the Pacific Northwest. Yet despite the imposition of a strange value system concerning foreign ideas of object-centered property and personal possessions, the Give-Away Ceremony has persisted in importance. I learned it from the elder Keewaydinoquay, an Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) mashkikikwe (medicine woman). I thank her for teaching me this spiritual technique for keeping balance.

Today on the Southwestern College campus during new student orientation, I had the pleasure of doing a modest Give-away for our SWC community. Most of the students had not heard of this or participated in a Give-Away before. I did it to celebrate my feeling of joy as a new member of SWC. I feel that this entering class is my entering class. We are beginning the new school year together.

I had spent the week preparing. I went through my kitchen cupboards, dresser drawers, jewelry boxes, closets, bookshelves, herb garden, and assorted special stone, shell and art collections asking which things wanted to be shared. A special woven rattle was ready to go, but did I want to share it? Lose it forever? Then I realized it had been sitting on a shelf unused and untouched for at least a year. Things want to live as we do. Everything around us is made from nature, even petroleum products and nuclear bombs are the stuff of the living, breathing, natural world. The Give-Away itself is an act in imitation of Nature. The sun gives away its light. The clouds release their rain. The fruit trees let go of their apples and peaches and pears. The corn shares its many ears. If they did not, they would cease to be. To give is to live. My little woven rattle with the tiny brass bells inside was ready to back out into the world and be of use.

To receive is also necessary for the Ceremony to be complete. Giving necessitates receiving. Just as we receive the fruit of other’s labor, the skill of the surgeon or the farmer, we find purpose in giving who we are in the circle of life. This is what sustains the great balance of all being and becoming. The Give-Away Ceremony shines a light on this abiding truth, our ancient equation: To give and to receive. To receive and express gratitude. This is the persistent dance. The Give-Away Ceremony invites us to notice as holy the perpetual cycle of giving and receiving.

When you share something of your abundance with others, you bring blessings upon yourself and everyone else who participates. No matter how simple or small the gifts, they have meaning. Last night I packed the car with four grocery bags. I unpacked them early this morning placing them on a table beneath a cloth in the large Art Therapy classroom. They remained covered until the end of our morning session. Then I explain my heart’s true purpose in doing a Give-Away Ceremony. I want to share my joy, my feeling of abundance, with all of the new students as it is also my first year here.

As is tradition, I call up the veteran’s first. Warriors who are willing to place their lives in danger for others are the first to be honored. Next come the elders. They approach the table and select the single item that calls to them in a special way. After that we go row by row as the nearly fifty new students approach the table and select a single thing to carry home with them. Then the Graduate Assistants and other members of the staff and faculty approach the table.

The Chair of our Counseling Program, Dr. Carol Parker, picks up the rattle. She tells me she collects rattles and uses them in her classes. She says, “This rattle will get much use.”

I smile. I am happy. It is good to give your things away.

 

 

Yellow Flowers

Yellow Flowers

Helianthus

This September on the southside of the city

in the dirt between old pasture and strip mall

a cacophony of yellow flowers open

brilliant lemon-gold gleaming in sunlight

filling the vacant lot beside the rodeo grounds.

Driving by I see a hand-painted sign for the Shrine circus

here where I last saw my father turn in

and park.

A year ago today he drove out into the world

to shake hands and smile beside elephants and camels,

trapeze artists and bellowing men with big mustaches.

He collected tickets that night at the gate to the big tent.

I had forgotten about yellow. Forgotten butter, autumn aspen

joy, the brass sheen on a cresting wave.  Now I recall

my father’s circus.

Wild sunflowers bloom in the disturbed earth

Maximilian daisies in every ditch and abandoned lot

asters in every acre impacted by cattle, by roadway, by

the jackhammer of progress, beside bulldozers

here where

I last saw my father turn in and park,

a sunflower                              in final bloom.