In October of last year, I came across a quote while meandering on reddit. It stopped my browsing in its tracks and I had to pause to write it down. It was written by an author name Saladin Ahmed in order tell a horror story in just two sentences.
"When I was 9, the birds stopped still in the sky and I saw the men that move between moments. They sang silently as they prepared the lake where my sister was to drown."
I felt it was a beautiful verse. Mystical in its recognition of the forces that compel and move us beneath our conscious world. It was tragic and forgiving. I was moved by the passage and compelled to keep it, so I booked-marked the page and filed it away in my head.
Two months later, when my sister passed away, this passage came screaming back into my memory. As I whirled through the snow dusted folds of central Washington in the back seat of my best friends car, I wrote down the words I would speak at her service in a minute, brown, journal I had bought a few days earlier to sketch girls siting at the bars and musicians playing stage. It was the first entry. That quote became the first line. This fragment of poetry I felt compelled to remember became the keystone of my Eulogy. It described lovingly the forces that compel us beneath our consciousness. It describes in horror the glimpses of the inevitable we must sometimes see, captured by accident, through the keyhole of the doors of perception.
With this poetry as my foundation, my thoughts flowed from my heart onto the page. The Rabbi called me to ask me about my sister. To describe her for him. He did not know her. I told him to call my parents. I told him that I had prepared my own words and that I had spoken at funerals before. I was even good at it. I was lucky this time too, I had some poets words to shield me.
At the end of the Eulogy, I also chose a poem to read. I chose a poem that is one of my favorite poems written by a Sufi Mystic in the 12th century. A learned intellectual and teacher who late in his life, was moved to love by a dancer and embarked on a journey of writing wonderful prose for the remainder of his life. I love the poem and I read it often. I have used it to describe how I feel about my art. I have felt it describe women I fell in love with that I hadn't the courage to speak it to. It described women whom I told I loved them and they were not prepared to love me back. I used to pair it with the painting "On Loss and Longing" from my Emanations series. A painting I did a year before this event despite its serendipitous connection. It described my yearning and my drive. It revealed my motivations and my demeanor. It was my reflection. Now this poem took on another meaning for me.
That is the thing with wonderful works of poetry. When a verse finally does break through to the heart, it sets itself up there and refuses to move. It grows with you, like ivy on a tree. Whatever the situations one is forced to cope with, the poem finds a way to describe it. It becomes an oracle. A fragmented part of ones own substance to hold up as a mirror.
Sometimes painting can be like this, but usually, its reflective properties are recollective. Painting stirs up emotion. Poetry illuminates its context.
This poem was the last thing I read, ending my speech with the same tragic yet slightly mystical quality it began with.
Here is the poem.
The Thirsty Fish
I don't get tired of you. Don't grow weary
of being compassionate toward me!
All this thirst equipment
must surely be tired of me,
the waterjar, the water carrier.
I have a thirsty fish in me
that can never find enough
of what it's thirsty for!
Show me the way to the ocean!
Break these half-measures,
these small containers.
All this fantasy
Let my house be drowned in the wave
that rose last night in the courtyard
hidden in the center of my chest.
Joseph fell like the moon into my well.
The harvest I expected was washed away.
But no matter.
A fire has risen above my tombstone hat.
I don't want learning, or dignity
I want this music and this dawn
and the warmth of your cheek against mine.
The grief-armies assemble,
but I am not going with them.
This is how it always is
when I finish a poem.
A great silence comes over me,
and I wonder why I ever thought
to use language."
This last year has been a trial for me. I watched as in all facets of my life, the things I poured my energy into unraveled. Things that I wanted so badly to work simply dissolved. I have had to learn to let go. To love without possessing. To find success in endurance. Rereading this poem again, I cannot even be sure who the words were referring to then and I wonder who they may refer to going forward.