On the Making of a Turtle

On Saturday I made a turtle. Or, more accurately, I carved a turtle out of soapstone, pictured below. I was a part of a workshop hosted by the Woodland Cultural Centre. A shout out to both Richard Morgan who led the workshop and Naomi Johnson at the centre who organized the event. It was quite remarkable.

At one level it was especially interesting because in our part of the world, the turtle is a primary character in some indigenous creation stories. I won’t tell that tale now, but one version of it can be found here, but critical to the story is the turtle, who agrees to have the land where we now live built on its back. For this reason, North America is known in some Indigenous Communities as Turtle Island. In the story, the turtle exemplifies self-less giving, a willingness to take on the world, as it were, for the good of all. For those who are interested in reading more about this fascinating creation story, you will find that other animals also give much for creation of community. And as a think about the act of carving, I can also see that the rock that gave itself for this piece of art, too, was generous. This is, I think, more significant than it first appears, since in some Indigenous traditions rocks are considered grandfathers and grandmothers, elders in our midst. They, too, give themselves in order that something marvellous should occur.

What also struck me as so very important in this Saturday adventure was the conversation we had around the table as we scraped away at the Brazilian soapstone with our files. Some people spoke about the many negative stereotypes that persist about the first peoples of Turtle Island, some spoke of their personal experiences of these, but a consistent theme that resonated was the role of art in healing these pains and others. Our instructor had also worked as a social worker and spoke of how carving had helped some of the young people he worked with work through their trauma. As he spoke, though, it struck me that it wasn’t only the art that healed but the fact that it was art done in an environment dedicated to well being and healing. Alas, I’ve also seen art used as a means for competition and control. But when art is done in an environment of grace and acceptance, it can release powerful emotions. I experienced something of this last Saturday. Of course, this isn’t just true for those carving, but all the arts, including but not limited to painting, dance, song, story-telling, poetry, etc.

Martin Luther (a famed theologian of the 16th century) in a commentary on Psalm 101, called the Holy Spirit the greatest and best Poet. Most immediately, he was referencing the poetry of the psalm. But as the great linguist he was, he also knew that the word for poetry comes from the Greek word for “to make.” The Spirit, then, is best maker, the best artisan, the best artist of all, as is evident in creation’s beauty. Whenever we have occasion to experience creativity, it seems to me that we imbibe something of Creator’s Spirit. I certainly felt that way last Saturday, and for that I am so very grateful.

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These Arms

My arms grow longer the
older I get. My
hands droop closer to
the dirt that will
one day vest
me.

So, too, these longing
arms reach higher
to the sky,
grasping
after the sun:
the heart at the hearth
of humanity.

When these arms are long enough
they will wrap me round thrice:
for the self I was

now coming to be

and then at rest, disarmingly.

Infinity on Edge

I recall – at age eight – a
field full of
triangles made of
six hay bales:
three kissing the earth
two holding the centre
and one with an eye on the sky.

This field was my playground;
I a fighter plane,
those bale stooks mountains,
and my flight a
reconnaissance.

O, to be eight again.
A magical age:
two zeros on
top of each
other –
infinity
on edge.

I heaven I suspect
I will be eight for
eternity, flying
reconnaissance,
leading me
to You, where I will
know myself anew.

I Become What I See

This cloud is a
masterpiece. Wisps
of white stroking a blue
canvas, evoking

breath of mother on child’s cheek

or

slip of fish with current.

So gentle these clouds
that slowly grow
with time and travel until
one day they weep into life
or perhaps rage in violence.

From my vantage point
at tiller, I cannot but
stop breathing – for a time – as
this beauty evaporates
me. Now ascending into
this scene I become
what I see:

Your breath on my cheek

a silver streak in living water.

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in skies, if not eyes…

This loss is lamented.

Conversations that might have been
are never to be, and

words that
breed hope,
feed joy, and
nurture love

have fallen by the wayside.

Weeping tarries for this time
lost. Words that might have flown

have fallen to the ground, now
buried in soil.

There they are lost to us.
We can but hope that
the earth holds them
safe in her womb, where
one day they might be born
anew when muses tap
poets, and kiss
artists, and
set stars
in skies, if not eyes…

The Poetry of Your Prose

I can smell You in this text, in
these words bearing
Your breath

Your warmth
Your concern
Your passion.

I can see Your neck’s nape

in this ‘r’
in that ‘j’.

My flesh meets Yours

in both belly laugh
and anxious palpitation

at Your tales.

I can taste You as

tears flow from eye to tongue

at the poetry of Your prose, Your poise.

Take and read. Taste and see. The Lord is good.

And Again Tomorrow

I saw You from afar, and
yet, not so very far away
from my eyes,
looking down now
at my feet. I
found You just
below my gaze,
in my heart, where
you twisted my desire
in Your direction.

I felt a little unsure, a
little at sea – my feet
not up to the feat of
rolling with these waves – and
so I looked up to the horizon,
and there You were again,
Your eyes on me; You smiled
enigmatically, and I knew

I would never be the same again – just
like yesterday, and like
tomorrow too,
I suppose.