The Smallest Saviors

The Florilegia Project #3:
Winter Solstice

I laid all my sticky-note sparklets out on a table at the library today, and proceeded to move them around a bunch, like I was making one of those conspiracy-web murderboards you see on TV. (Nobody judges your weird projects out loud at the library; that’s part of a library’s considerable appeal.) I looked at the mess of disparate phrases, composed of widely varying tenses and subject matter and points of view, and I thought No way do these all fit together. Maybe I can make two or three short poems instead. Or just use the phrases that are sparkling at me now.

Even as I was making excuses and wriggling around my own rules, the phrases started to pair off, then to stack up, pile on, and finally join hands in a circle. I had something to do with this, clearly, but exactly what feels more mysterious every time. You know the school of creativity that asserts the artist is primarily a channel for some larger Mystery that’s actually the one gifting the words or the notes or the paint splotches? I don’t quite hold with that, but today’s “composition” is the closest I’ve come to feeling it.

This is one of the wild and unpredictable magics of words: they can be strung together in some very odd combinations, and they’ll still produce meaning. It’s a strange feeling to watch this coalesce in real time, and also it’s easier to see with words that are not your own. You don’t suffer so much from the usual illusion of control.

Emergence Magazine ran an interview with the storyteller Martin Shaw (which is 1000% worth listening to—or reading—in its entirety) in which Shaw points out that what you spend your time on is, essentially, your god. “In whose temple do you serve?” is how he puts it. I serve, daily, in the temple of words. And words are a trickster god.

Among other things, they mean very much what you want them to mean, or fear that they mean, or need them to mean in the moment, et cetera. (We can argue later over whether “you” is individual, or corporate, or cultural, or total bullshit because “it’s in the dictionary,” etc.)

So here are some words—none of them mine—and some punctuation and line breaks and arrangements, which are the only parts I’ve contributed here, as usual. I put those things together; now you get to contribute the meaning.

The Smallest Saviors

Some seasons can take too much from us. 
Loneliness is a plate of darkness 
which must be consumed. 
The past is as fragrant as line-dried linen.
Back then, time was still harmony
not money.

When did we stop hearing the songs
from the inside of things? 
How everything glistens
and how we must risk
everything?

The gradient of the spirit: 
night-beast in the swoop-down. 
The ways I tear myself apart
on too many fine days. 
Form is made by reaching among shadows
for light just beyond 
yourself.

Who we are is what we hear. I will speak
with a voice of loyalty
and faith to the far shore. 
In a mist, a walker might find himself
a stranger. Water goes 
where water goes. 
The rain gives its whole self away.

Let this day 
be the curvature of field and fern.
It's all written here. 
We just can't read it.
Yet. 

We arrive late, but the afternoon 
is patient with us—
running slowly, dark and deep:
the old, ungilded way God touched you;
the song-light of evening. The kind of light 
that rests on your shoulders
the way a cat lies on your lap. 
Just enough to feel 
companionable.

It is not catastrophic: to be free. 
Walk, where and when you can
—and go tonight
—and go alone—
Your body dedicated to anticipation. 
Everything sweeter
and more fragile, now. 

(The prayer I said, speaking 
to the otherness of the night
—this comely small up of country
exactly fitted to my mind:
Will there still be singing?)

Trees sound different at night,
and they smell different too:
great rambling houses, 
with all the windows thrown open,
and the wind and the summer rain
rushing through them. The feral incantations 
of our dreams. 

Here, in the fading night,
there is nothing else to do, save 
be present. Without words,
the altar of the place and hour 
is raised. 

This is the true terrain that calls 
the walker back again. This
cracking open:
accumulation of life lived
while grasping at connective tissues.
The artifice is part of the wonder. 
What is the soul, if not the sum 
of the flights of a thousand birds?
Are you here just because 
you want to touch wild animals?

Life is intense
and the printed page is so faint. 
Fast as the dream of a hunting cat,
the world will carry on 
without my words. 

—How small a thing can be pleasing:
so blessed
I don't know what to do. 
To conclude 
is not in the nature of the enterprise. 

Sources for all quotations—and it’s all quotations—are available here and here. They include Terri Windling, Robert Macfarlane, Anne D. LeClaire, Thomas A. Clark, Christine Valters Paintner, David Budbill, Sandy Coomer, Ada Limón, and Guy Gavriel Kay, just off the top of my head.

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