Month: September 2011

The flood and the Mother of Waters

Dust. Piles of possessions — a heap of velvet paintings shoulder-high, scooped by a backhoe into a Dumpster. Plants painted in ghostly ash.

The devastation amazes — even more so than 2006. We remember fire’s danger, the devastation that comes with a flare of light, a crackle, a boom. But too often we forget water’s power — the slow, building roar that erodes and dissolves all in its wake. A toxic soup of all we have discarded — shit, motor oil, garbage — a flood isn’t the clear-flowing brook, the fresh-smelling sea.

It’s an old problem. Humans are attracted to waterways for many reasons, building homes and livelihoods on their banks and shores. The valleys are fertile and green. The rivers provide transportation for goods, food and pleasure, a chance to fish and canoe. The sound soothes us — whether waves or the constant ever-onward rush of the stream.

Water is mother. Or as the Taureg put it: “Water is life; milk is survival.”

When I pass over the rivers here, I always offer a prayer and blessing to Boann, whom I consider (via a bit of unverified persona gnosis, I admit) the Mother of Waters — the same goddess called Sinann, or Coventina, or by the name of any river, anywhere. I offer prayers and blessings to the spirits and creatures of the creeks on my routes, as well.

And I’ve continued to do so, in spite of the flood, in spite of the creeks that chewed up bridges and homes and yards. It’s an odd feeling, that continuance of blessing, but I didn’t know what else to do. Curse them for being who and what they are? Beg for forgiveness?

I am not a Christian and don’t believe that natural disasters are the judgment of an angry god. Earthquakes, tornadoes, floods and fires slay the “innocent” and the “righteous” — however you define them — along with the “sinners.” Any spirit that would do so, in my mind at least, is dark spirit — a fomhoire, an asura, a jotun.

No. Disasters are human-defined responses to natural phenomena. The phenomena themselves come from the Earth, the Sun and their cycles, part of a vast cosmic dance. Human lives are not more important than the currents and weather systems that spawn hurricanes, the faults that spawn earthquakes. We are small beings, like every other than inhabit this place — easy to hurt, temporal in nature. Mayflies, when compared to the vastness of time, both cosmic and terrestrial. Microbes when compared to the vastness of space and scale.

The Mother of Waters doesn’t want to hurt us, but she has larger concerns and larger forces that drive her. I’m reminded of the mythic origins of the Boyne and the Shannon; the same tale is told of both. Boann/Sinann, seeking wisdom, goes to the forbidden Well of Segais and its hazels. She draws up its power by walking widdershins around it. Angry, it rises up and she flees — the newly-created river crashing down in her footsteps. It overwhelms her, dismembering her presumably human form, until reaches the sea. And thus she becomes the river-goddess, overwhelmed and transformed by a larger force, a force that can kill as readily as it gives life.


Beith, the birch

The pale lady dances on the old field
the fences graying, crumbling to dust
goldenrod, mullein, Queen Anne’s lace, cornflower
where once cows bustled to the new barn.

But that has ended in the long-ago.
The pond forgets the farmer’s dull tread
as its mud swallows the memory of boots.
The field is wild now, pasture for deer.

The birch wasn’t the first on the dance floor.
She wasn’t the moment of ending
the passage of one song to another.
She is, instead, the scrawl on the wall

that marks the first words of the new poem.
Forgotten the farmer, forgotten the field
and only her high step through the meadow
a wraith in her white sheath, garlanded green.

Quick in the breeze now, a shimmer of hair
as mice clamber in the gold at her foot
the bobcat, all stillness, hunting them down
as she writes with her light foot on the green.