It’s Day 35 of Covid-19 lockdown for me and while usually I would make no attempt to timestamp these types of offerings to the universe; I began to notice a few weeks ago that more and more of my friends around the world were beginning to report of sleeplessness. Once reliable patterns of rest and slumber and recovery becoming unreliable in the face of a strange new unknown threat. A symptom for the symptomless, but nonetheless impacted victims of Covid-19.
So amongst the liturgies I have written for this Covid -19 time, I wrote a liturgy for sleeplessness. I wrote it first on hearing the sigh of a dear friend sleepless in the dark skies of New York. I read it to myself watching the dawn rise after another sleepless night. It does not promise to cure your insomnia, but I hope it will comfort you and keep you company in the small dark hours.
This is my gift to you. May you find rest.
A Liturgy for Sleeplessness
At the counting of the hours
and as the ‘un’s’ collect before my eyes
The undone, unsaid and unfinished things in my body
The work of my hands
The unsolved puzzles of my day
May there be rest in knowing there is always something undone that we might sleep and rise tomorrow
The unfelt, unheard and unspoken things that haunt
Swirling in the soft, shadowy edge of the mind
Not enough to wake us but enough to jostle us from deepest slumber
Let my slumber be the safe and soft space for all that is un-
To become part of tomorrow, safe for tonight without needing my concern, my worry, my energy.
For today, I have given all portions and allotments that belonged to it.
But for the catchment of hours left in the night before dawn, grant me abundant mercy as I wander long hours in the small darkness, awake or dreaming.
Give me strength for the dawn. Satisfy even the curiosity of the deep night I find myself aware of.
May the alchemy of body and mind, mystery of eyes responding to light and noise relent — to the tonic of sleep; the easy weighted fall of eyelids, the slowing rhythm of breath.
I lay down into the rhythm of the hours and surrender to them, even the most unwilling parts of me. Grant me mercy in slumber and keep me there.
I offer my evening prayer to the morning and ask for the unknown knitting together of fibres, for entering the healing of deep rest.
For the peace and end of the day, done and undone, and for sleep.
Someone once said to me that poems ought not to need explanation, but some do. I differ in opinion because it suits me. This is a poem about Love and Love is not.
Before I knew anything hard or cruel
like the world is
I believed in fairy tales
with one dubious eye open – but even then
never wanted one
never thought Love would look a certain height or weight
or would gaze at me through eyes a certain colour
with skin a certain hue
I only hoped Love would be nothing
like I had seen in a movie or read in a book.
I hoped Love would be an new idea.
I hoped Love would be an anchor,
as steady as concrete or steel
and at the same time warm,
I wanted a paradox of my own to explore.
I hoped Love would feel strong
and sound like a cheerleader
believing each of my
mad, genius, over-sized and wonderful ideas
was in fact, wonderful.
I wanted to Love to find me wonderful, an endless curiosity.
An unending conversation.
Later the hard nature
of the world taught me
how I did not know
could not know
the touch or voice of Love,
the sound or the feel of it.
I spent long hours talking to
the stars and the moon instead
to the curve of the earth and rippling sea
cheeks made damp by
my own ocean of salt water
my days poured out like sand
a broken hour glass
I spoke aloud and asked
how I could not know the
sound of Love’s voice
after listening so long
unless I had never heard Love at all.
Before the Universe answered
in that long silent pause of breath that is
light reaching between two stars within my sight –
that long of a breath I was left waiting.
The Universe still did not answer me
but a feather fell at my feet saying
‘Love is itself, warm and waiting
stretched from the stars to the moon.’
But this truth I refused, my body shaking.
I climbed to my high place
stared out into the sea
in my smallest voice
whispered to the Silent in my silence.
It occurred to me perhaps
I knew what Love should be
because I knew so well
what Love was not.
I said to the Love strung between
the stars and the moon and the sea
‘Let it be kind, strong and generous
when Love comes to me.’
I met Love on a Thursday
but we did not recognise each other.
I was following feathers and
by the time I did see Love in
kindness, strength and generosity
I had learned that when Love is strong,
Love will probably be stubborn and
not all kindness is admirable but
there are other things that Love is.
Even kindness takes some getting used to.
Love was busy telling me
what Love is and is not
and Love didn’t want me.
I leaned in and learned the lesson anyway
what is was to listen and talk to Love
and then I returned to my high place
as close to the moon as I could stand
far above the sea, and said to the Universe
Now that I know what Love feels like,
sounds like and looks like –
I think I must talk to Love no more.
It occurred to me that silent or speaking,
telling me what is and what is not,
Love and the Universe are much the same.
And the Universe was still silent.
If you want to build resilience into your character, visit a bar. Put on your favourite clothes, wear your best scent. Promise yourself to be exactly who you are in every moment, because there are things that sometimes happen in a bar that can make you strong. They won’t feel good but they will stretch you, assure you, reaffirm you. You will feel your heart swell and your spine grow tall like an oak tree. Visit a bar and listen, learn the difference between what people say and what they mean. Hold nothing tightly but yourself and remember always to rise.
This story has happened more than once so I have had to learn to let it empower me but it sits in memory. Last night, two phenomenal women in their 50’s sat alongside me and asked if I was fine drinking alone. It was joy to tell them yes, I am happy to sit alone and listen, or not alone and still listen. Then I thought of a night with two other phenomenal friends, women of great beauty and I remembered why sometimes it is not so easy.
‘Hello,’ and you swagger into the midst
of a conversation you were not invited to,
but discretion is powerful and so
I am not rude. I give you leave to
make a case or entertain and then you say it –
‘You two are amazing girls.’
So then I had to look you in the eye and
consider what happens sometimes in a bar
and what a woman does.
I’m certain your mother loves you
but I am equally certain she did not raise you
to be defined by the weight of your purse
or the length of your stride.
Nor did mine raise me to be defined or dictated
by the weight of where your gaze rests
Or how the word beautiful drops off your tongue
I taught myself to raise my head and
keep my words inside my lips; fool, jerk, dick.
Tonight, you looked at the woman to my left
and the woman on my right and said
‘You two are amazing girls.’
Your pronunciation pointed
in any direction but mine.
So I raised my head
and brought up my pride
looked you right in the eye.
I watched you until I saw you,
and you saw me but didn’t see a thing.
You are right, these are amazing women.
Talented, compassionate and smart
You would have come to know that eventually
but it’s not what you meant when you said
You meant beautiful in such a way you
wanted to touch them, possess them
as you looked left and right
and over me, through me
around me as if I were nothing
and thought instead of having
power over beauty.
Did you have a mother who loved you
but couldn’t or maybe wouldn’t
teach you that where two women are amazing
the third is most likely a Queen
so that is why you didn’t know, when you met me
how you were in the presence of royalty?
I raised my head and brought up my pride
from within me; looked you right in the eye.
I watched you until I saw you, and you saw me.
And still you did not bow to me.
So let me tell you again, because it should be known,
where there are three women
sitting at a bar or on a step or anywhere
it is statistical impossibility, a scientific anomaly
if only two of three women could be called amazing
because amazing women stick together
out of necessity because there are some who
caress our skin uninvited
or interrupt with awkward conversation
when we were just now solving significant problems
and we didn’t care what you had for dinner
or to tell you of ours when
We had other amazing things to talk about
and no desire to give you power over our beauty.
But this is just a bar and
you didn’t come for serious talk
you came for a drink and a laugh
and to drink in the sights
possessing us for a moment
despite being momentarily blind
seeing two not three
women in your company; sigh
it’s not likely you will ever see,
not enough for Woman One, Two
but I’ll give you this; perhaps
with my head raised I can
offer you a new definition of amazing
(though I am certain you were raised
from the warm womb of kindness
by a woman who was also thus)
if you could somehow
raise yourself up and learn to see
then Three is the prize you seek
Three knows more than the world
and has the colour and power of a Queen
knows how grit can polish and
rolls her hips because it pleases her
and takes pleasure gladly in it
the feeding, clothing and making of love
gives out grace because she knows
she can afford the price and pays it
from a deep, old treasure chest
meets you mark for mark
in the heat of an argument
in the depth of her heart.
Your blindness is heavier than your hands
which do not, will not and can not touch me,
but I rise
shake it off and walk unburdened
by the weight of all that is amazing in me
what you could not see between my breasts
or in the sway of my warm, wide hips.
I was glad of the beauty either side of me
beauty of mind and glow of skin
I was gladly not beholden to profanity
the offence of blasphemy that you
could ignore the wonder of me.
the presence of amazing me,
so I rise
I feel delicately the absence
of perfection under your eyes
but I rise
and decide your eyes are not the seeing kind
I entertain the words I might use in response and sigh,
instead onto the higher ground,
seen or unseen,
beauty to the left and right
but mostly in the midst of me.
When does discovery end? How do you know when you have learned enough or all things? I think ‘discovering’ is a present art; could we not practice it endlessly, traversing ever deeper and higher and wider? When can you say you are known or know another enough? We are ever-changing, ever-expanding and always being re-shaped by our being known and knowing another.
this then, is how it can be
in the midst of a storm on the sixth day
of the seventh week but only the 19th hour
now making a star map from definitions
this then, is how it can be to know
but not make knowing a cage
instead just knowing, a long intention
and a longing for safe and true and kind
but knowing is measured so differently
this then, is how it can be to halt abruptly at the pass
the knowing and unknowing
one counts in minutes and hours and questions and answers and singular actions
and the other measures the expanse of singularity
like the universe, one ever expanding idea of another
a deep, blue diamond erupting from an earth stone
a long unceasing listen and look
this then, is how to see one thing as another
by definition of all things and nothing
a half of a half and a whole and an inversion
an upside-down moon, to see a star and not a starry sky
this then, is to kiss your counting – minutes, hours, touches, questions
with a soft, warm, expanding idea to hold them all
your knowing which is one thousand cuts in a stone chiseling me out
and my knowing one gleaming stone that holds the deep ocean and expanding sky
this then, is how it can be
to learn to count stars and the passing of time
in hours, words, questions and answers and
the size of an idea by the weight of warm navigation
from 19 to 20.
I once said to someone that writing requires an ability to recall a moment, a feeling, a person in an instant. To re-enter the past and all we experienced there, then step back into the present. Thus, it is possible to live with much experience and emotion close to the surface of your skin yet not live trapped in the past.
It’s muscle memory; the ability to recall, interpret and re-create those moments into new moments. It requires some remembering and some deliberate forgetting.
I saw a man in the corner of my eye the other day who may or may not have been worth remembering or forgetting but I walked quickly away; without giving myself the chance to change my mind. I think now, in reflection, he is better to be forgot.
At the crosswalk I chose to not look behind me although I was certain I could see his shadow catching up.
Regardless of what we wish for; it’s remembering that happens so fast and forgetting that takes so long.
This was born on an airport concourse, while I was travelling forward. I stopped and breathed and this time, I was not caught.
Remember is quicker than Forget
on the track of a mind.
You are easy
to forget to think about
if I walk quickly in a forward direction
if I do not look back
– I do not think to think about you.
I do not write you down, I do not imagine words to shape you
Out of the nothing, back to the mind.
I do not remember to make you from memory, I would not remember to forget.
I leave nothing in memoriam, but everything is left behind regardless; in nothing-ness.
But – if I stop or pause,
if catching my breath on an airport concourse
at a train station;
driven but not driving and left to wonder
interrupted by a red light –
if I do not propel myself forward from you
in every moment unceasing;
then Remember is quicker than Forget – and catches up to me.
I encounter the memory of you
who taps me on the shoulder,
I collide with you, the thought and thinking of you.
Remember is so quick, Forget so slow.
I wrote this piece in the last few days.
It’s a simple prayer really; it has a lot of uses and it echoes a number of sacred acts.
my body welcomes your body
my blood rises to meet your blood
our body welcomes your body
our blood rises to meet your blood
come to me deep, i am hungry
i thirst over and over
collide in me, divine
my face turns to the sun
turns to the sun to feel warmth
my blood and bones touch your
body and blood and bones
under the sun
i drink you in
my body welcomes your body
our blood rises to meet your blood
i hear the song of the tui
the fantails dance beside me
by this i know, the body knows
death and life are coming
my body touches your body
tells my soul, thirst no more
hunger not, here is our body
death and life colliding
in our oneness
Words About The Body
There’s a ritual many of us partake of each week or month that has a tone of Holy Sacrament. It is visceral, complex and symbolic. We take bread and say that it is the body of man. We do not say it is ‘like’ the body of a man, we say simply ‘it is’. We eat the bread and our bodies respond. Tastebuds activate, tongues moisten and the body welcomes the body back inside. We take wine or juice and pour it. This time, even more primitive, we say that wine is blood and we swallow deeply, blood into our blood. Lips flush, cheeks redden and we taste.
The intimacy of eating and drinking, the act of consuming another person’s body is not unlike other intimate acts. Oneness is the goal, union and communion the objective of these acts. The body willing, the mind open, the heart and soul receiving one person into another. Adopting that personhood into ourselves.
What a gift of beauty, what an act of love to welcome another’s body into your body and to realise the Christ ritual of Holy Sacrament is deeply personal; the idea of communion with the Divine a holy sacred and intimate one.