A Prayer for Healing

Grief, grief unutterable in the trade winds of your passage. We are here upon a shadow’s generosity, ley lines undone, winds burrowing through the parched soil that say not whither or whence we wander, why we are here and what we have come to fathom. Is there work for our hands the last drop having fallen? Is it the beginning or the end of prayer? Let the tall grass teach us to speak your name, bent low beneath your urgency. Mother of god, mother of us, mother of what is, restore us.

Breezes hurrying in from the far east with transports of nostalgia, what is beauty for if not this, a kind of memory? Now beauty burrowing at the core, speeding the south wind eastwards, where evil is said to lie in wait, where winds are losing their locations, meanings have been undone, storm, outrage, blistering skies call up the flood beyond its natural ebb. Tell us what part to play, instruct our hands, where is the needle, where the thread?

Give us this day should it be our last, and we bound upon its darkening skies to take as the spoils of memory one seed of our world, a future will harvest. Here we wait at time’s unseeing edge, cousin to tempests, born to the air, raucous bunch if ever was bounding up daybreak’s broken stair.

Word is, dancing will do in the fissures of headlong, feet never touching the earth, leaping, howling ever falling, gone to the wild on the wave of a windswept, turning and tumbling and tripping the light foot, race to the wild to conserve what remains. Leave mourning to our mother of sorrow, her grief in the pollen that laces the aster, her brace of winds bleating hard from the north.

The poppy turns back into herself at the turning of our longest night, did you mix sorrow in the dying soil with just enough grief to drive her into California gold? Needful it is Mother that you return, forgetting feeds on our world, a toothed poison gnawing our roots.

I know you by some other sense than sight, a practiced touch wiping sweat from my eyes, transplanting the parched bush close to the fence, its blue berries hardened to lethal pits, your whispering, a quickening breath, you say you are not weeping but you seem so old, you who never began, began with us, trusting this precious to our hands and we have failed you. Give us this day some humble work, some small, seemingly dispensable toil, show us how many hands it takes to hold the waters back, here we stand at the outcrops of time, Mother, to work for you.

There are strangers out on the trail tonight, they carry messages. Send us the woman to enter the trance, the women who summon the guardian spirits, bring back tales of the new weather’s force, the tread-path of walking between, the whiplash of raising up storms and bring our longing back to its source.

Death: delirious forester, lay down your knife, your work goes on, you are no longer required, you who were planning to carve out a unique death for every dying thing, off they all go by the barrel, your hopes shattered. Death, endangered species, sit down with us beneath this heart-sick oak to mourn the passing of your necessary. Rivers on their way to the sea don’t speak of dying, you, creation’s sister, leave it to time the great sweeper, mighty the broom, invincible the brush, we have no need of death, you weary forester.

Bare, barren, most barren the soil, most achingly barren, awaiting the touch that brings back life. She sees the future sprouting among the ruins, our beginnings beginning again, forms spread out on the sand, fish forms, mollusks, single cells, a gill, a fin, a tail not meant for walking. Are there takers? She summons the seed-carrying winds, they have been carousing in emptiness, she touches the fingers of both hands to her breast, the gesture of continuance, puffs out her cheeks, sends forth the teeming breath; earth begins again bearing her own fertility, settles the name of mother on the soil, invites the sky knee bent to render homage, hurries to make the flowers first, beginning with the brindled rose; coiled fire leaps up out of the soil, requires taming, she pricks venturing into spring, harvests autumn, beholds the bark climbing the winter tree, the hoar berry ripe, the stunned leaf yellow, invents the three-stringed harp, begins the long wait for the harper, the one who will sharpen the lathe at work by day, at rest in her lap at night, singing the blueprint of possibility.

I’m not at all sure I can claim this piece of writing as my own. It showed up on several distinct days with a flood-like pressure that made me feel exhilarated but uneasy, as if I had left a faucet open and didn’t know how to stop the flow. I wrote the words out fast on the computer not sure what form they should take. Was this a poem, a rushing piece of prose, did I even understand what it meant? I reassured myself by remembering some words of T.S. Eliot I had read when a freshman in college, not that I was (or am) sure that I had them exactly right. “A poet is in no better position than anyone else to say what his poetry means.” I had taken dictation, or so it seemed to me. Why fuss about meaning or origin?

This cataract of words, however, was having a considerable, negative impact on my mind. I said things I didn’t remember saying to people to whom they should not have been said. A client experienced me as “weirdly other,” saying things she did not understand. My driving became difficult; I would struggle to stay awake but would fall asleep and drift over the double yellow line, fortunately when no cars were coming towards me. I had a trance-like sense of the world around me, which looked intensely beautiful and flooded with presence but in the next moment I would find myself suddenly awake again. Several times I pulled over to the side of the road to ‘catch a few winks,’ as I said to myself, but would find myself instead writing down words. My partner experienced me as “just not there”; apparently, I would stop in the middle of the kitchen with a pan in my hand and stare fixedly at nothing. After many tests it was determined that I had not had a stroke and that my brain was “100 percent the way it should be.” But I was growing tired and I found it difficult to sleep at night. Finally one day I got the words that would turn out to be the end of the piece: “[She] begins the long wait for the harper, the one who will sharpen the lathe, at work by day, at rest in her lap at night, singing the blueprint of possibility.” What’s that? “At rest in her lap at night?” So be it! And with that, the whole thing came to an end.

When I started to pull together the scraps of paper from the glove compartment of my car, littering the floor around my bed, under my pillow, on the sheets of paper I printed out from my computer, the words stopped rushing about and seemed willing to stay in the order I sensed they had when they’d first shown up. What was needed now was quiet, patient work to find their correct form. I first wrote them out as a poem but the line breaks required the words to give up their momentum; things went better when I worked them as prose, although I had to apply more commas than had seemed necessary when they were little verses. It was odd to work with words I didn’t fully understand; and there were so many of them. The work became an exercise in getting rid of some lines, perhaps the most obscure, but then again I didn’t know what made some more obscure than others. Nevertheless, as I kept working with them they began to lose their strangeness and a meaning, admittedly only my interpretation, began to emerge. They were evidently a prayer to the great mother of us all requesting healing. And they bore dark witness to the disaster of nature occurring around us. Their purpose was evocative. It wasn’t necessary to understand each line or every image, but it was essential that, to my ear at least, they evoke something.

About the Author

Kim Chernin is the author of many books in many genres. She has written and published fiction, non-fiction, creative non-fiction, poetry and essays, including In My Mother’s House; The Hungry Self; Crossing the Border; The Flame Bearers; My Life As A Boy. These books are deeply concerned with women’s lives, as are all the books she’s published. She lives in Point Reyes Station, California, with her life-companion of 30 years, Renate Stendhal.

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