Monday, September 25, 2023

A Geography of Hearts


District of Tofino photo

He sits, peaceful, unhurried,
humble, wise, arranging his medicine
on the prayer cloth.

Carefully, he places them:
the rock, the antler,
the abalone shell, the sage,
the eagle wing, the tobacco,
and the pipe.

We sit in a circle, silent,
stillness deep within.
Thoughts are suspended.
Waiting is what is happening.

Then, around the circle he walks,
holding the abalone shell,
using the eagle wing
-the entire wing of an eagle -
to blow the sage-smoke
over us.

Each in turn bathes in the smoke,
lifting it to our faces, over our heads,
down our arms and legs, over our shoulders,
to cleanse our spirits.

The medicine man returns to his prayer cloth.
Sitting, slowly, he fits the pipe together,
tamps the tobacco down,
lights the pipe and draws.
He points the stem of the pipe
and breathes a stream of smoke
Above towards the sun,
Below towards the earth,
in each of The Four Directions.

The pipe passes. One by one,
we breathe in the sacred smoke
and pass it on.

When it has passed full circle
he dismantles it, puts his medicine away:
the rock, the antler, the abalone shell, the sage,
the eagle wing, the tobacco,
and the pipe.

Then he brings out the drum.
Its beat reverberates through my
innermost being and I am
spiritually filled.

My soul is Rainbow now -
it is many nations, for in all my lifetimes
I have been many people,
and in this lifetime I understand
that geography of hearts.

I am connected forever
to that day, to that circle
to that sacred place,
and to the larger circle
of humankind that we all are.

The medicine man is singing, now,
each word a prayer and a blessing
to fortify our hearts.

When he brings out the feather,
he tells us: "Times are going to
get hard. Remember, your greatest pain
is your strongest medicine."

He looks straight into my eyes.
He knows.
Message received.

And, years later,
though we were warned,
we did not act in time, and:
the world has turned mute
we cannot hear
the whales crying
we no longer see
the birds flying
we no longer speak
words of peace, "Are they slowly dying?"

When the message is as clear to us
as it once was to oracles and seers,
how do we forge the path of change,
come together in our geography of hearts,
speak the Earth Mother's pain
loud enough to heal our world again?

for Brendan's challenge at Desperate Poets: Desperate Oracles

The first oracle is a medicine man who performed a pipe ceremony at the native treatment centre I worked at for eight and a half years on Meares Island (Wah-nah-juss) in the 90's, when there was still so much hope. The italicized words are the second oracle: I opened Ingrid Wilson's Anthropocene Hymnal at random and my finger found these words, in the poem "Silent Sky" by Ivor Steven. How much has changed. I see it here in fewer seabirds, in less birdsong, in fewer bees, in hungry bears and wolves, in dying salmon, in dying rainforests, in drought and wildfires. Sigh.


  1. Hey - I'm just nurturing my little space - I've added more trees, wild flowers, fallen logs, long grass...there are more animals, insects, and least in my little piece.

    And peace to you!

  2. That is awesome, Ollie. The land and its creatures bless you for that.

  3. Question for us: is our greatest pain our greatest medicine, or is the pain too great to salve? If a way of life ceases to exist, does its culture, its prayers and poems an prophecies, become unintelligible? The pain of the contrast between these two oracles is so great none of us can know. Thanks Sherry -

  4. There is sense of connection when one sits in such a circle. I have smoked red willow in such a circle and received a dream. It seems so long ago and like you
    I wonder where hope has gone. sigh

  5. Who can not be filled with a sad longing looking back at the world in crisis we were given and seeing how little has been accomplished n our lifetimes to save it? The lines chosen are poignant and spot on.

  6. Sigh. So much love, loss and connection held in one poem. Love the slow clear telling of the circle - the lingering in that beautiful space. than you for sharing it with us.

  7. A tranquility to the opening verses pinned down by only the essential details. Maybe that's enough in itself, Sherry, to capture tranquility in a poem. JiM

  8. I hope so, but so many aren't listening. In fact, they're covering their ears and going lalalalalalala can't hear youuuu


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