Monday, February 18, 2019

Grandmother Wisdom: a Chat with Annell Livingston and Barbara Mackenzie

Sherry: A confluence of recent events, including the Womens’ March in January, and the suffering of the children at the southern border, had Annell Livingston, Barbara Mackenzie and myself talking about the need for Grandmother Wisdom, or Wise Woman Wisdom, in these times.

Long ago, a matriarchal culture lived peacefully on the earth. Patriarchy (and its warring “us and them” perspective, not to mention the emphasis on profit over planet), has been terribly damaging to Mother Earth  and all her creatures. We are the only species who destroys our own habitat, along with that of other creatures. It is mind-boggling. I wonder when survival will finally come before “economic interests”, and am reminded of this quote, from the documentary Awake: A Dream of Standing Rock :

“In prophecy, it is said in times of terrible trouble, first, the young will rise. Behind them will be the mothers and grandmothers. And after that, the warriors will rise.”

We are seeing this now. The young are rising, women are rising, and indigenous people are rising and speaking truth to power. Grandmothers, with our lived history and life wisdom, are rising.

Annell Livingston, of Somethings  I Think About, lives in Taos, New Mexico,  under the gaze of Taos Mountain. Annell, you live among a very ancient culture, the native people of the Pueblo.  Do you feel its history in the land around you? Will you share your thoughts about Grandmother Wisdom with us?

Annell:  Much has been written about The Wisdom of Women, or Grandmother Wisdom.  Women are taking their place in society, equal to men.  And women have something to say.  In the past,  women have  been voiceless or mute, unheard.   Now women are speaking,  and are speaking for all creatures living on the earth, and for the earth itself.  We speak for the “other,” those who are different, those of color, children, and small things.  We are in a time of reclaiming of ourselves. 

We are awaking in a time of our own making.  A place of darkness.  This is a place of “outcasts,” and we know ourselves to have been the “outcast”.  No longer afraid of aging, or of dying.   No longer afraid of who we are.   No longer afraid of our own bodies.  No longer afraid of our power.  We wrap ourselves in our power,  and wear it proudly.   For all to see.   We laugh out loud.  As Virginia Woolf said, “a room of her own.”  A room where we can be free to be, no longer told we are not good enough.  No longer afraid of what “he” might say, instead we are finding our way.

Sherry: This reminds me of the article “Kali Takes America”, when Vera de Chalambert wrote, right after the 2016 election: “Make no mistake, it is really Holy Darkness that has won this election….the Dark Mother….oracle of holy change….brought down our house in a shocking blow; all illusions stripped in a single night. We are not who we thought we were. Now we must get ready to stand in her fires of transmutation.”

Annell: We are still learning who we are, and who she was… and who she was, back in time to the beginning.  This is the “Wisdom of the Grandmothers” painted on the walls of the cave.   As we run our hands over the stone walls, we find what is now, and who we have become.   The follower becomes the followed, moon in the sky, what we have been seeking, is ourselves.  We see what has been painted over, erased. 

We are finding our way with the help of the Grandmothers; we are one with all that is, the endless possibility of form, taking new shape at the speed of light.

The new space is filled with the presence of mothers, and everyone is a daughter.  Shaped by the movements of white-haired women and ringing with the laughter of old lady friends.  A place filled with the love of women for women and the play of little girls.

Starlight in darkness, lit up with her thoughts.  She is the maker, the builder, the doer, the finder.  We claim this space for our own.    In the past we have been invisible, called a witch, tortured, burned at the stake, a time governed by fire.  We have been prohibited from practicing medicine.  She knows her time has come; it is now that she listens and is heard, no longer alone.  The Age of her Resonance.  

My only qualification to speak is that I am a woman, old enough to be a Grandmother. I live in Taos, New Mexico, in one of the most beautiful places in the world.  I live on the mesa west of the village of Taos, above Taos Valley.  I can see Taos Pueblo from my back window and hear the drums beat as they drift over the sage brush.  Taos Pueblo is at the foot of sacred Taos Mountain.  The Mother Mountain.

Taos Pueblo is one of the oldest continuously occupied communities, over a thousand years old.  And the people of Taos Pueblo honor their traditions.   It is known for being one of the most private, secretive, and conservative pueblos. (There are eight Pueblos in Northern New Mexico.)  The people almost never speak of their religious customs to outsiders, and because their language has never been written down, much of the culture remains unknown to the rest of the world.  Taos Pueblo has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Taos Pueblo is a reservation of 95,000 acres, and about 4,500 people live in the area.  The people of Taos Pueblo speak a variation of the Tanoan language.

Sherry:  I am fascinated by your desert landscape, with its ancient history. I would love to share the poem you wrote that began our conversation about Grandmother Wisdom, if I may:

A Woman Gives the Full Moon Names

Native tribes have names
For the full moon
To mark the passing of time
A woman could give the full moon

Names to mark the passing of her life
Beginning with the time of birth moon
Little girl moon
School begins moon

Time of the young woman moon
Time of marriage moon
Time of children moon
Time of the full woman moon

Time of old age moon
Time of death moon
The circle 
Of the moon complete

Sherry: We are in the time of Wise Woman Moon, time for grandmothers to arise and share their earth wisdom, ignored and dismissed by the patriarchy for far too long. Thank you, Annell.

I came across this quote by Sharon Blackie, author of If Women Rose Rooted. It speaks to the rising of the Divine Feminine, and our herstory:

"If women remember that once upon a time we sang with the tongues of seals and flew with the wings of swans, that we forged our own path through the dark forest, while creating a community of its many inhabitants, then we will rise up rooted, like trees.......well, then, women might indeed save, not just ourselves, but the world."  Truth.

Barbara Mackenzie, of signed….bkm, is one of our very first Poets United members from our beginnings in 2010. She  lives in northern California and is 1/8 Sioux. Barbara, I know your culture reveres your elders. I resonate deeply with your beliefs and traditions, and admire how your people live with reverence for Mother Earth.

Barbara: I did watch a lot of Standing Rock and was deeply moved by the experience.  I know, however, man has and is always capable of cruelty to other humans -  it does not matter the color of skin.  Each race should be proud of their own. 

My mother was Native American when it was not cool to be so - she was only 1/4 but carried the skin and hair;  she paid a deep price for it. We are all gifts, no matter the color, and embracing our heritage is important.  Not all Natives love the Earth or its promises - I have seen this.  They too are human - we are all children of this great mother, and must do what we can to protect her.

You are right; it will be up to the young now to save her - our generation and economy has left her a mess,  though we did bring attention to the issue - like Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring.  So much more to do.  A population that is a burden for her, a free and entitled generation that do not even know where their food comes from. 
The earth will win out. She always has.  We may be gone. She may have enough of us.   Maybe the few words we write while here will make a difference- maybe we can be a voice for her.

Sherry: This is what I fervently hope, Barbara. So many of my poems are pleas for awareness and action. We do what we can. 

Would you talk to us about Grandmother Wisdom, about prophecy….anything you wish to share with us from the wealth of your cultural traditions. We are all ears!

Barbara: My Great Grandmother Elizabeth was full Dakota Sioux, she was orphaned in the Minnesota Uprising in 1862 in New Ulm, Minnesota.   And so the story was passed on from generation to generation, from grandmother to grandmother.   Grandmothers are keepers of the stories, and ensure their wisdom moves forward with each generation. 

It was passed to me by my non-native grandmother who married one of Elizabeth’s sons - she guarded it and passed it to all her children and grandchildren.  She told how Elizabeth and her sister were in the tall grass, hiding, after their parents were killed. A brave came by and picked her up on horseback - she never saw her sister again.   

She was left in South Dakota near Fort Sisseton and there she would live out her days, have her children, and pass the blood of the Native American to her offspring.   But all grandmothers pass a piece of their soul with each generation, either through blood or story. And it is in these stories that we find our own wisdom and shelter. 

Sherry: That is an amazing history - or herstory! I recently learned that the egg that determined who we would be was formed inside our mother’s fetus while she was in our grandmother’s womb! Our beginning starts with them, not only our mothers. Perhaps this is another reason that our bonds with our grandmothers are so strong.

Barbara: The current ways of the world are not their ways - they knew the earth; they held the sky in their hearts.   My story-telling grandmother was born in a log cabin, born Swedish and Norwegian, the first of 12 children. Her father would be the one who brought all 12 children into this world. He was not a doctor but a farmer, who knew the gift of life as the deer knows her fawn. 

She would grow, others born, and stayed with her grandmother as the family moved west to Sisseton for land.   She would join them a few years later and become the mother of 11, after she married my 1/2 Native grandfather.   She would become the greatest influence to me and my brothers and sisters - her patience and eternal beauty was as earthly and whole as the earth.   

She believed in all people, and the gift of her stories and her love were her legacy until her death after 99 years.   She touched more souls and lived through more hardship then one should be able to bear, but she loved life, nature and her children.

Sherry: I love “they held the sky in their hearts". It sounds like your grandmother left many gifts to your family.

Barbara: Grandmothers are messengers, they are goddesses, carrying the light that is past for the world. Let us learn from their bloodlines the way of the earth, for she is our first mother and we have been put in charge to protect her.   She has many things to teach us, about ourselves and those around us.  From her we are born and unto her we will again rest.  

Sherry: Barbara, thank you for writing a poem especially for this chat. Let’s share it with our readers:

Statue of A Sioux Woman 
in South Dakota
Artist: Dale Lamphere

Wisdom of Grandmothers

We collect wisdom in shards
And nettles
Dropped by winged women from the sky
We gather wisdom like souls that gather on the backs
of the great whales (centered and secure)
We (woman) harvest wisdom one seed,
one kernel at a time
We trash the harvest throw it to the sky gods for blessing
and health
We knead her and bake her we eat of her body

As a grandmother wears her offspring in each line on her face,
so too we wear Wisdom

Climb to the moon she says cling to her as the fetus to the fertile womb(man)- she will give you strength she will show you
your given path
be it wood or water -
be it desert or stone

Listen close (your ear) for the cry of the whale
Listen closer still (stillness)
for the call of the winged woman - she is Wisdom
the guardian of the gate
Call out to her at the water’s reflection and she will reveal 
her face
Round and full
Filled with the giving

Sherry: “Listen… for the cry of the whale”… I can see the winged woman’s face, round and full with the giving. What a glorious poem this is! Thank you so much, Barbara, for all you have shared with us here, and for this incomparably beautiful poem.

Let me leave you with my anguished wolf howls, and my insistence that our consciousness and our way of being on this earth can yet transform. Because it must. And there is no “other”. There is only you and me, human beings, alive on Planet Earth.


Listen to the song of the ancients,
Grandmothers and Grandfathers from the Old Ways.
For we are the seventh generation,
the white buffalo calf has been born,
and the time of prophecy is at hand.
On the wind, I can hear Grandmother weeping.
She is calling to us to stand for the water, the air,
the forest, the earth and all its creatures.
What world will we leave to the children
seven generations from now?

The Black Snake slithers across the land.
Oil spills into rivers.
Mother Earth's womb is torn asunder by fracking.
Whales choke on plastic in a dying ocean
and the two poles are melting, week by week.
A madman sits in the throne of power
with money as his only god.
All protection is being stripped away;
men with dead eyes stalk the halls of government,
claiming truth is false news
and outrageous lies are truth.

In our hearts, Wild Woman stirs in protest.
This is our earth, the home that we love.
You cannot threaten our children's future
without incurring our wrath.
The Grandmothers' blood runs through our veins.
Our backbones grew strong in birthing.
Our hearts know truth.
We will never believe your lies.
When it comes to our children,
we have no choice but to fight.
We are gathering in front of 
the White House walls
in peace, but with hearts like banshees.

We are standing by the sides of rivers 
and sacred burial grounds.
We cannot turn away, for our beloveds are buried here
and our children  - and yours! - need this water to drink.
You have dotted the landscape of our nightmares
with strip mines and oil derricks and fracking.
Everywhere are nuclear power plants
that threaten our combined existence.
And now you rattle the sabers of war
and cast eyes on our fresh-cheeked children?

No! It is Enough.
We have lived men’s ways for millennia,
and look what a mess we're in.
The Grandmothers and the Mothers 
and the dancing Maidens
and the strong little rainbow children are rising
with fire in our eyes and transformation in our hearts -
with compassion even for you men in the halls of power,
wounded and empty, whose dead eyes proclaim
you have never felt truly loved.
Here is a secret: even a billion trillion dollars
will not ease that wound.

Instead, hug your sad-eyed sons and smile
- not like crocodiles -  at your unhappy wives.
Trade in your gold walls for a chance to be real,
and let the rest of us live in peace.
This war is a holy war of light over darkness
and truth over lies.
You have might, but we have Right
on our side,
and wolf howls in our hearts
that will never be silent
until social justice is
the rule of the land.

As humans, we have been less than we were meant to be. But we can rise. Our Grandmother Spirits, that have survived so much, and learned to fly, know this. We are rising, as a morning bird seeks higher ground.

My friends, we must never stop dreaming and believing. But we also need – most urgently – to act, to vote, to march, to contact our elected officials and insist they address climate change, to speak up for social justice, and to protest all that is wrong. We must actively strive for change.

There is much we can do: protect forests, plant trees, oppose projects that damage the earth, stand with the oppressed, and be a voice for those who cannot speak. And we can write our poems, hoping they send some good, caring energy out into the world and touch some minds and hearts along the way.

Thank you so much, Annell and Barbara, for this timely and important conversation, and for sharing your thoughts and poems with us. I feel inspired and hopeful, and I hope our readers do as well.

Do come back, friends, and see who we talk to next. Who knows? It might be you!

For those interested in reading further on this topic:

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Poetry Pantry #440

Our snowfalls here on Vancouver Island are rare and usually don't last very long. But we are not very well prepared for it, so it causes havoc on the highways. Several major arteries were closed yesterday, and some ferry crossings were cancelled. In the top photo, someone tried to insert some humour into the situation. 

We hope you are all staying warm, where you are, and that our friends in the southern hemisphere are not too hot. Did you catch Rosemary's feature on Friday?   She featured a friend of hers, Melbourne poet Ken Smeaton. I loved his description of the poem as "the last, great, non-commercial art form." Very clever.

On Monday, we have a very special feature for you. Annell Livingston, Barbara Mackenzie, (one of our very first members at Poets United), and I are chatting about the need for Grandmother Wisdom in today's world. We think you will enjoy this important conversation, which is one of my favourites of all the Monday features. Do stop in and read.

On Wednesday, Susan's Midweek Motif will be: Fun! I think we will all have fun writing responses to that prompt. Smiles.

Let's waste no time diving into the Pantry, and seeing what goodies await. Thanks for being here. I can't think of a better way to spend Sunday morning, than reading your poems.

Friday, February 15, 2019

I Wish I'd Written This

The Poem

Welcome to the last, great
non-commercial art form.

Remarked, unsung,
oxygen, in the swamp of images.

Gaze on these words, reckon
how deep you can go into my dream.

Immerse in my clear stream,
nourish the meadows of your attention.

Listen to my water song
and drink deeply.

Escape in me to other worlds, where I whisper
silk across your skin, drip plum juice off your chin.

If you are uncomfortable here,
let me walk with you, I will be your guide.

The way to read a poem is often.
Walk with me often to the end

where I will leave you,
your heart full, my burden eased.

– Ken Smeaton 
from Love Poet Live (Melbourne, Eaglemont Press, 2001.)

Ken's an old mate of mine from when we were both performance poets in Melbourne. I featured him here once before, in 2011 (click herewhere I detailed our early connections. We caught up after a very long time when I visited Melbourne a few years ago. 

Now I've just finished proof-reading his forthcoming 'new and selected', titled Who Among Us? ('The Poem' is one of the 'selected'.)The b
lurb says:

Ken Smeaton was born in Ballarat, educated in Canberra and lived and worked in Melbourne from 1970 to 2017. He is known throughout Australia by his poetry organising and his commitment to live readings and performance. Retired, he is living in Newstead, country Victoria.

Speaking of live readings, he's all over YouTube with his RealPoetry movies recording performances by other poets and himself, if you'd like to have a listen. (He continued being a performance poet in Melbourne long after I had moved elsewhere.)

It's just been Valentine's Day, and the above poem (originally from a book called Love Poet Live) reads almost like a love poem from a poet – or poem! – to readers.  

I published one of his books, Real Face, long ago when I was an independent publisher of Australian poetry. Among the pieces he has selected from that for the new book are these three actual love poems, as romantic as anyone could wish, which I'll share with you too for Valentine's Day:


Her fingertip
touched on my skin.
A surface-skipped pebble
woke an ocean within.

Live a Dream  

You don’t talk unnecessarily.
You are as quiet
as if you live
in a faraway garden.

I’m sure you do.
I gaze into your eyes
for long periods
to join you there.

A Rose 

After dark
in the caravan park
a thief creeps
to the only garden.
Secateurs and glove
a snip for love
and on his darling’s breast
a rose.

Note: I suppose I should mention, for Americans, that a caravan is what (I think) you would call an RV or camper trailer.

Material shared in 'I Wish I'd Written This' is presented for study and review. Poems, photos, and other writings remain the property of the copyright owners, usually their authors. In this case, Ken Smeaton holds the copyright in the poems: The Poem © Ken Smeaton 2001; Suddenly, Live a Dream, and A Rose © Ken Smeaton 1987.