January 18, 2017

Queen of Cups Issue Thirty-Six (Megan Grumbling and The High Priestess)

Captain Lincoln Colcord aboard his ship State of Maine, 1900; Joanna Colcord Photographer

Welcome to Queen of Cups Issue Thirty-Six featuring Megan Grumbling and The High Priestess. The art for this week's issue was originally an 1800s painting of storm-tossed seas with blue luminescent waves, done by a Russian painter. Really beautiful and classic, but then I found this photo in the latest issue of Downeast Magazine and I was smitten. The photo belongs to the Penobscot Marine Museum in Searsport, Maine and depicts Captain Lincoln Colcord clearly in his element on the deck of his ship just as it rounded the Cape of Good Hope. The photographer was Colcord's eighteen year old daughter, Joanna, who was born at sea and knew her way around a ship as well as a camera. The museum owns over 600 of Joanna's glass and cellulose negatives, this one being the most quintessential maritime image in their collection because it's actually taken aboard a ship. Most images of ship captains were captured in the studio. What struck me first was the quality of that woodwork, it looks like an opera house balustrade just took to sea. And then the sea! Yikes, I guess that's what you'd call a swell. As you read the poems in this issue, you might sense some of the spirit of Lincoln Colcord. The poems appear in Grumbling's collection Booker's Point, published in 2016 by University of North Texas Press. Booker's Point has been called an 'oral-history-inspired portrait-in-verse' and centers around old-time Mainer Bernard Booker. Grumbling captures the meandering, oral storytelling nature of Booker often in stylistically formal, metered verse. That juxtaposition strikes me as very 'old New England', ironically, as oral narratives which might appear open-ended and loose are in fact well-honed from years of telling. I've spent at least a few afternoons talking to old timers just like Booker! Many are working farmers who have a million and one things to do, but make it appear as though they have all the time in the world to spend on this one story. So the listener, by association, has all the time in the world too. Give them a few props: shapes of stones in a hearth, 'four warped planks', a red bike like that other red bike from around 1938, then sit back and enjoy. Impromptu oral storytelling is becoming something of a lost art as we have, or take, less time to reminisce, and also less face to face conversation with people who don't already know our stories. Just imagine spending an afternoon listening to Lincoln Colcord spin a tale on the deck of that ship, Joanna on the periphery snapping photos (with a camera, not a sextant) something like this:


Tarot Card of the Week: The High Priestess

The High Priestess, General and Reading for Artists and Writers: One of the most difficult cards in the tarot to unpack! The High Priestess is dense with symbolism. I'll begin by recounting a story on the origins of The High Priestess card from the book Seventy Eight Degrees of Wisdom by Rachel Pollack. "In the late thirteenth century an Italian group called the Guglielmites believed that their founder, Guglielmo of Bohemia, who died in 1281, would rise again in 1300 and begin a new age in which women would be popes. Jumping ahead they elected a woman named Manfreda Visconti as the first papess. The church graphically ended this heresy by burning Sister Manfreda in 1300, the year of the expected new age. Some one hundred and fifty years later the same Visconti family commissioned the first set of tarot cards as we know them. Among these unnumbered and unnamed Trumps appeared a picture of a woman later decks titled: 'The Papess'. The name persisted until the eighteenth century when Court de Gebelin, believing the tarot to originate in the Isis religion of ancient Egypt, changed the name to the High Priestess." Pollack goes on to explain that a major social development of the middle ages was the reintroduction of feminine principles into religion. In fact, the elevation of the Virgin Mary stemmed, in part, from the church's desire "to assimilate a persistent Goddess religion from the days before Christianity". In Pollack's eyes, this indicated the power of the female archetype to maintain a hold and triumph against suppression. It's also helpful to know that ancient moon priestesses were called virgins, which meant: not belonging to a man, a woman who was 'one in herself'. The Latin root means skill, strength and force. 
The High Priestess sits on a thrown between light and dark pillars labelled 'B' (for Boaz) and 'J' (for Jakin), names given to the two main pillars of the temple in Jerusalem. The dark pillar stands for the unconscious, mystery, and passivity, while the light pillar symbolizes action and consciousness. The fact that each letter is inscribed in its opposite color indicates that each absolute contains the opposite attributes, yin/yang style. The priestess wears a waxing, full, and waning moon crown and a sliver moon is tangled in the 'waters' of her dress. The tapestry is emblazoned with pomegranates, fruit of knowledge, possibly the original apple of Eden. Persephone gained knowledge of and became part of the underworld after eating a pomegranate seed. The Priestess has also been associated with Persephone. On her lap, the Priestess holds a scroll labelled 'Tora', an auditory anagram for tarot which also hints at the biblical Torah and is the Japanese word for 'tiger'. It is said that the High Priestess is guardian of the mysteries, the liminal, the threshold between conscious and subconscious states. None are permitted behind the 'veil', but if we peek between the pillars and the tapestry, we see that the hidden mystery is water.
The High Priestess represents a link to the unconscious mind not accessed through our action-oriented lives or conscious thinking. She is intuition personified and often appears in a reading when the seeker needs to be still and listen to the inner voice and wisdom. For men, The High Priestess encourages connection to the anima (inner self as opposed to constructed self, passivity as opposed to activity, accepting as opposed to controlling). For women, The High Priestess indicates the need to trust your inner truth, to embody your genuine self, to embrace (to be) the feminine in a masculine world. The High Priestess deals with mystery, darkness, fears, things difficult to logically grasp and the flat out unknowable. She symbolizes the female mysteries: the moon cycle, fertility, life originating in silent darkness, birth, death. The High Priestess is the deity of poets and artists, she symbolizes and gives justification to periods of passive withdrawal in service of inner awakenings.  There is a strong element of passivity in this card which needs to be put into context. Some readings describe this state as 'withdrawing from involvement', 'being receptive' and 'waiting'. However, the Priestess isn't waiting on external intervention, information, rescue. She has become still and quiet to better receive inner guidance, to hear her intuition, and tap into dreams, synchronicities, the collective unconscious, and the shadow. The High Priestess represents that phase in an individual's life when something is stirring deep beneath the surface. Personal growth is usually signified, but the manifestation remains a mystery. You may recognize the feeling, a subtle presence, something 'happening' under cover of darkness, too deep in the subconscious to be brought into the light. But that's how it should be. The somewhat mundane, but still magical, occurrence of dreaming a forgotten name, or the location of a lost object, is one example of this energy. The High Priestess is also present when a person of Christian faith gives a problem 'over to god', or in the saying 'let go and let god'. What, after all, is indicated in the Psalm "Be still and know that I am God", but the idea of a deep well of inner wisdom, our own divinity tapped into when we position ourselves to receive rather than pursue. The one aspect we haven't touched on in relation to the Priestess is the ferocity inherent in female deities from all mythologies: Isis, Kali, Diana, to name a few. If feminine energy is nurturing, life-giving, protective, it is also beyond emotion in some ways. Feminine energy is earth energy, part and parcel of the natural world, which rains down volcanic ash on small villages, obliterates human construct with tsunami, hurricane, drought, earthquake, nature is indiscriminate. Think of the onset of childbirth, the natural forces at play beyond any human manipulation. That's feminine energy, earth energy. The Japanese word Tora (tiger) sitting in the lap of our beautiful, spiritual, passive priestess indicates coiled energy, an awareness achieved through steady focus. The tiger, and our smaller domesticated tigers, can crouch and observe for ridiculous amounts of time, can even appear to be sleeping, then suddenly pounce. A couple autumns back my older, fatter cat was keeping me company as I raked leaves out of the garden beds. At one point she staked out a position right beside the pile and stared. She sat placidly, meditatively, but her eyes were fixed on the leaves. I remember laughing that she thought the wind-rustled leaves were a mouse beneath the surface when she dove into the center of the pile and took off with a small snake dangling from her mouth. It happened in a flash. That's the kind of receptivity embodied by the High Priestess. One moment she's sitting quietly, intuitively open, 'letting go and letting God', the next minute she's devouring her quarry.
Lesson for artists: The priestess is powerfully creative and intuitive. And winter is most conducive to her energy. Think of water running deep beneath the ice of streams, frogs hibernating in the silt at the bottoms of ponds, soil frozen layers deep, the blades of narcissus and tulip readying to slice through in early spring. Nature is in a light or deep sleep (depending on where you live), dreaming both shadowy and vivid dreams. Though she's not actively creating anything, the Priestess is what we might call in the zone. If you've been tossing an idea(s) back and forth between conscious and subconscious, allowing it to take shape partially under cover of darkness, you're on the right path. Pay attention to your dreams and daydreams, to synchronicities and to recurring words, images, motifs. Continue to 'passively' shape this thing, allowing connections to be made, nerve endings to form, but be ready for a series of lightning fast insights and don't let them get away. Most importantly, retain that sense of receptivity and inner listening in the lulls. 

Introducing Megan Grumbling!

By Piece
A haystack find – he’d once dug, heaved
through straw for something old to yank
out; now, he ascends ladder and eaves
to show me how these four warped planks
of pine, inked with thin sepia scraps
of script, once held. And though time’s split
syntax and grain, we’ll fit it back
together, moved to salvage writ
from splinter, riddling in time
lapse, trial and error as we mistake
how seams link characters. Align
all knowns: That haystack was the place
where Trafton Hatch once manned the High
Pine Railroad. Roadmaster, his sign
once said. And will again, once piece
by piece of Hatch’s slats, we’ve hitched
up letters, traces of a seal,
crate strapping – maybe held a pig
once, something else even before
Hatch brushed it off, penned claim. Hmm – switch
that ton and Hatch, d Mas and Roa
and Ahh – the words, refrained, sunlit.
Soon we’ll return them to the dark
hold of the pole barn, but the glow
is something, as we keep time, mark
it. Proud as Hatch inking his own
name on a pigless slat, we’ve solved
this one. Warm minutes now, it’s whole.

In Stones                                                                                                                  
Above the hearth are people. Ever know
Eleanor Roosevelt? She’s up there, clear
white granite, quartz. Look high up there, her eyes,
nose, mouth. Found them in dry stone walls, shorelines,
backyards of other men, each one a stone
he’s turned, seen something. Each shape has been home
to many souls. Though theirs are slower shifts
than nimbus, see how each old vision’s drift
returns – the hound dog’s jaw bone, hard white flushed
where close to fire; and then the other way,
how it’s a slender witch, her brim, brow, chin
of hairline delves, hollows and knolls, the rinse
and rush of spring, whitewater, glacial crush
of gravel. All are here in our brief hush,
our watching. No one image need erase
another. You could see in this same face
a woman, slim and turned, her long hair swept
away, and there, in back, nape of her neck,
a nice shaped one. She’s here long as this gaze
is held, finds character in rift and grain.
Same stone’s a skeleton – look hard, commit
each shape to memory, the eyes where wet
ran, wore them home. Could find them in the dark,
he could. Face by face, he’s blazed this hearth.

There from Here                                                                                                     
The late 1920’s
 Flat out on bellies, peering in – slight thaw,
 but ice still solid-seeming under crooks
 of elbows, sure and bound for nowhere far
 or whitewatered, when Bernard pipes up, Look –
 we’re moving. And now look – eight feet from shore,
 adrift, digressed, and all damn Lisbon Falls
 hollering Jump. Whim running, currents warm
 on, Waterboro, corn for acres, furls
 against full sprints, grazed skin. Reel back around
 this stretch, how scoundrels steal a bushel’s worth
 of corn each year, sell each foot-long ear gone
 here on the roadside, scores forever forth
 in summer sunslant, troutflash, town line lures
 of rails – if the old Eastern’s gonna cross,
 play chicken, damn long as you dare before
 they brake it, mad as hell at so much lost
 time. Loaf all day up Ossippee, ‘cause down
 goes fast – just stole the farmer’s cart, will gun
 that mountain brakeless, one hell of a long
 ride till the hairpin and the leap, the shunt
 cart sped through beeches soon and rashly gone
 so coppery. So things will get away
 as fro accelerates, each surge across
 this stretch – a horse run off from cart, a chase
 that seems to fill the day. Behind that horse
 somebody pumps a bicycle, pursues.
 From here, could watch the race for miles and miles.
 All catches up, but it may take a while.

Never Looked Better                                                                                               
 Funny how that’s what everybody says
 eventually, he chortles, once an old
 guy’s finally done, is finally laid
 out nice. Thanksgiving, now. Hale in the cold,
 lays off the season’s chore, splitting slow cords
 of rock maple. No hurry. Comes around
 with two gold apples, three green pears. There’s more
 here than he needs. Still cackling. You can count

 on it, he grins. They’ll just go on and on –

 ‘Don’t he look good.’ Must be some kind of art
 or joke, something, I guess from his guffaw,
 his wise-ass wink. Write a poem about that. 

The above poems are from the collection Booker's Point, copyright 2016, reprinted with the permission of University of North Texas Press 

Megan Grumbling's collection Booker's Point, awarded the Vassar Miller Prize for Poetry, was published by the University of North Texas Press in 2016. Her work has been awarded the Poetry Foundation’s Ruth Lilly Fellowship, the Robert Frost Foundation Award, a Hawthornden Fellowship at Hawthornden Castle, Scotland, and a St. Boltoph Emerging Artist Award, and her poetry has appeared in Poetry, Crazyhorse, The Iowa Review, Memorious, Best of the Net, Best New Poets, and elsewhere. She is librettist of the spoken opera Persephone in the Late Anthropocene, co-created with composer Denis Nye, which premiered in May 2016 in Portland, Maine. Grumbling reviews theater for the Portland Phoenix, and serves as reviews editor for The Café Review.

Weekly Writing Prompt: To curry the favor of The High Priestess, I think we should write about dreams this week. One of my disappointments with this culture is our lackadaisical attitude toward dreams. We don't take them seriously, either laughing them off as non-sensical, treating them as a nightly mundanity, or reducing them to lists of dream symbols (Lemon: A lemon suggests you are likely to have a child in the future). What!? Our dreams are accidental poems and stories, pure subconscious creativity-fest. They're full of symbolism, metaphor, motif, unique characters, and the most vivid imagery. All there for the taking. Think back to the last vivid dream you had. Write it down from 'beginning' to 'end'. Some aspects will be clearer and more detailed than others. After you've written it all down, see how it reads. Imagine someone handed you a piece of paper with the dream summary and you're reading it for the first time. Read it as though it were a real event, not a dream, not generated by you. This kind of reading can also help you to interpret or understand your dreams. Now treat this description as you would a rough draft, go back into it and begin shaping. Decide if you have a story or poem. You'll undoubtedly be drawn to certain images, recurrences, characters, plot points, etc, over others. You don't have to 'stay true' to the original just because it happened in your dream, in the same way we don't have to 'stay true' to a real-life event when we're crafting it into literature. An additional prompt for two or a group: After everyone writes a detailed description of their dreams, exchange papers and write a poem or story based on someone else's dream. This is also a fun dream interpretation exercise, as you'll see your dream through someone else's eyes.
*As I wrote this prompt, around dawn, a fox began screaming somewhere close by, insistently and repetitively screaming. The cat and I honed in on which room we could hear best from. She caught sight of him first. He trotted across the field, which is half snow-covered, half brown grass right now, screaming his head off the whole way. Fox scream when they're threatened or frustrated by prey, female fox scream in mating season. So our 'he' might have been a 'she'. This is what a fox scream sounds like if you've not had the pleasure. Some confuse it with a 'bark', but I don't know how. As I watched and listened I kept thinking 'why do fox scream' and felt like the boy in EB White's Trumpet of the Swan who writes down a question in his diary every night before bed. This sounds like a dream, but isn't. Or is it?*

Next Week: Heidi Reszies