White Owl: a poetic song of thresholds

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I sit here in northern New Mexico, while standing on the lip of the end of the month of April, experiencing with you this month’s poetry of the human story, both tragic and triumphant. I reflect on these things while in this great land of red clay and shadow because I, myself have just crossed a threshold. The two year journey of my formal spiritual director’s training has come to an end, and I find myself joined into the larger journey of providing rich opportunities for the safe and the sacred- lovingly held spaces for people to mine the gems of their own souls. The threshold of new vocation or pathway is also a sacred “rite of passage”.  I’d like to share with you a portion of the lyrics from a Josh Garrells song, entitled “White Owl.” It is a song (and a poem) that has became dear to me as I have gingerly tiptoed across the many changes occurring presently in my own life.  Enjoy and dip into the imagination of the colors of this song and your own current threshold; “take the flame tonight.” For an even richer experience, check out the video as well:

White Owl
When the night comes,
and you don’t know which way to go
Through the shadowlands,
and forgotten paths,
you will find a road

Like an owl you must fly by moonlight with an open eye,
And use your instinct as a guide, to navigate the ways that lay before you,
You were born to, take the greatest flight

Like a serpent and a dove, you will have wisdom born of love
To carry visions from above into the places no man dares to follow
Every hollow in the dark of night
Waiting for the light
Take the flame tonight

Child the time has come for you to go
You will never be alone
Every dream that you have been shown
Will be like living stone
Building you into a home
A shelter from the storm

Like a messenger of peace, the beauty waits be released
Upon the sacred path you keep, leading deeper into the unveiling
As your sailing, across the great divide . . .

Be wrapped in the warmth of love and peace . . . .

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Small Rites Bites: poem, to be 13

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photo by Ginny Schneider

Another great “rite of passage” poem added to my collection, perhaps now to yours. It captures the vulnerability of that in-between time, that liminal space, that threshold between childhood and adulthood. The awkwardness, the newness, the silent floating question, “so, do I now sit at the kids’ table or the adults’ table?” We all know that moment deep down inside, Bruce Guernsey has been able to capture a bit of it for us . . . .

June Twenty-first

Bruce Guernsey

My mother’s cigarette flares and fades,

the steady pulse of a firefly,

on the patio under the chestnut.

The next door neighbors are over.

My father, still slender, is telling a joke:

laughter jiggles in everyone’s drinks.

On his hour’s reprieve from sleep,

my little brother dances

in the sprinkler’s circle of water.

At fourteen, I’m too old

to run naked with my brother,

too young to laugh with my father.

I stand there with my hands in my pockets.

The sun refuses to set,

bright as a penny in a loafer.

Small Bites: poem, “Learning to Dance”

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Ginny and John hanging out as brother and sister before meeting up with their dates for the prom.

It’s a great month to create collections of poetry that reflect thresholds in our  lives. Gathering a meaningful collection of quotes or poetry and storing it in a journal or a laptop can become a sacred space or resting place to enter into when you just need to be reminded of those “certain” things that we so often forget- those things that change with the ingredients of time and experience, such as: awkwardness at 13 can lead to elegance at 30, stammering in middle school can evolve into eloquence in graduate school, and a first dance in adolescence can be the doorway into the school of life experience. Here’s a lovely example of this by poet, Charles Fishman. Feel free to sit in the hammock of his words for awhile:

Learning to Dance, 1956

For Marlene Broich

It was the 50s, and all of us

were kids, but you were older—

almost a woman—and you would

teach me to dance. You were

the dark-haired child in a family

of blondes, slightly exotic, wilder,

my best friend’s sister.

In your father’s basement,

you took my hand and showed me

how to hold you—how to hold

a woman. I was fourteen and knew

already how to be awkward. You knew

I was falling into shadows.

When I breathed 
your hair, I was no longer in the forest

but had broken through

to a clearing where tall grasses whispered

and swayed, where white-petalled daisies

and violet clover blossomed in profusion.

You moved me deeper into the music

and made a meadow spring up around me.

Your body showed me that I had strength

to change the moment, if only the quiet

power of a summer breeze . . .

When you said I would be a good dancer,

that I had rhythm

that I could swing,

I held you close: some day,

I would find the one

who would pull me near to her in love,

not mercy; I would dance with her

and learn her secret names.

Crossing the threshold: love poem to a 14 year old boy

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Sometimes you open your eyes to the glinting squinting morning world knowing something has changed. Your child has grown a bit taller, an adolescent voice resonates in deeper or brighter tones, an awakening happens that allows a son or daughter to see the world in a different way- somehow the shades have been pulled up and the windows have been pushed open. Recording the tiny thresholds of a life by playing a song, or creating a piece of writing, such as  a poem, can be a valuable threshold marker, for the maker and the recipient. Here is one I wrote to my boy at age 14, and later gifted to him as a token of his mother’s love at any and every age, tough or tender, smooth-cheeked or speckled with the raw red signs of growing up:

To My John

You came to me wooly and white,

big and soft and brand new,

dragged around by your sister in

the arms of awkward love;

strawberries, red and ripe

marked your birth.

I’d dip my face into your curly hair,

soft peaks of meringue near

sweet pink cheeks and let your little

body curl up inside the cave of my

ribs all tucked up in love.

Now you’re 14, voice falling into

deep rich places, body growing taller

than mine, hair tufts of spun gold.

I still love you more than all of the

strawberries in the world- I love you

redder, I love you sweeter; I still tuck

the curl of your soul into my heart,

the curl of your body in mine as I

sneak a cuddle at bedtime.

I still look at you and see all the boy

you once were and all the boy you’re

becoming, and feel proud, moved,

and deeply in love.

– Gina Marie Mammano

Where are the small markings of your love today?

Crossing the threshold: a poem marking a daughter’s 13th year

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April is National Poetry Month. Honoring a threshold for yourself or your child can be marked by writing a simple piece of poetry. Bittersweet. Insanely happy. Contentedly present. All are valid emotions and valid ways of marking the passages in our lives. Here’s one I wrote marking my daughter’s 13th year awhile back:

A Chunk of Me

walked out the door

with size 2 pants and a

skateboard shirt.

I don’t know how

to bring her back;

she will experience my world

in size 12-year-old thoughts,

I will experience hers

in size 39.

I reel back the invisible

fishing line

I’ve attached to her

ankles

in the hope of synthesizing

her soul back into mine,

but like all good fish,

she slips away.

– Gina Marie Mammano

After the gathering: “The Archaeology of Hospitality”

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I included this poem in a scrapbook created after my daughter’s rite of passage. It is by my friend, Drew Ward, and it captures so eloquently the magical richness of ruminating over gatherings and events evidenced by the artifacts of smudged glasses and dirty dishes.

As we fill up our minds and souls this National Poetry Month with good, nourishing thought-food, may we enjoy this tasty poetic appetizer on the benefits of gathering together:

The Archeology of Hospitality

They participated in a rich exchange of ideas and raised eyebrows,

Trading on a wealth of possibilities,

Freely spending the currency of their lives and voices,

Investing in each other,

Creating a common market of generosity

Generated from renewable resources of broken hearts,

Passing touches

And homegrown vegetables—

They were a community.

In the early morning light

They stand on the counter like monuments to another time—

Dirty bowls,

Lip-smudged silverware,

Finger-smudged glasses.

Emptying the sink will be an excavation,

A dig through strata of tableware and cooking utensils,

Uncovering relics

Of last night’s brief backyard civilization,

Where a moonlit people

Ate and talked and worshipped,

Laughed and sang and made a world together.

They made alliances of an hour

Or of a glance

Or spanning the precarious epoch of a joke.

They participated in a rich exchange of ideas and raised eyebrows,

Trading on a wealth of possibilities,

Freely spending the currency of their lives and voices,

Investing in each other,

Creating a common market of generosity

Generated from renewable resources of broken hearts,

Passing touches

And homegrown vegetables—

They were a community.

And though I’m up to my elbows this morning in soapsuds

And the artifacts of a bygone culture,

I smile,

Knowing they are not lost—

They have merely passed out of the door,

But not out of the world.

And Tuesday another great people will arrive

To leave their own indelible mark

Scattering remnants of their habitation

On countertops and coffee tables—

Leaving us forever changed.     —Drew Ward (7/11/06)

 

Beautiful, isn’t it? . . . .

First rite of passage: reflecting your own journey – “Turn Around”

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Me, age 6.

One of the tunes I chose to share at my daughter’s first rite of passage was a real tear-jerker. I didn’t choose it for that reason. It was a song recorded by Nanci Griffith that happened to pluck at my heartstrings just at that moment, resonating with the internal music of my daughter’s coming of age. The song was “Turn Around” and I’ve included the lyrics further below.

Sometimes you need to make room for the rite of passage (your own) within the rite of passage (your child’s). Don’t negate your own feelings during this time of change. Honor them as well. As your daughter, or son, is crossing a threshold, so are you. Your shining bridge is a parallel one to theirs- equally important, equally paved with bitter and sweet. Take the time to take the time. Savor the flavors of this journey for yourself. “Turn around” for just a moment.

“Turn Around”- composed by Harry Belafonte, Alan Greene and Malvina Reynolds

Where are you goin’ my little one, little one? Where are you goin’ my baby, my own?

Turn around and you’re two

Turn around and you’re four

Turn around and you’re a young girl going out of the door

Turn around, turn around, turn around and you’re a young girl going out of the door

Where are you goin’ my little one, little one? Little dirndles and petticoats, where have you gone?

Turn around and you’re tiny

Turn around and you’re grown

Turn around and you’re a young wife with babes of your own . . .

Kind of old fashioned lyrics, I know, but it spoke to some ancient mothering place inside of me . . . perhaps to you as well.

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Me, reflecting, age 47.