a grief ceremony

you will know when the time is
as the wounded animal of you knows
as the ninth-moon  mother of you knows

you will know where to go
to the river, down the canyon
into the thick dark growth of this place

for you must enter the chambers of Grief
bowed low
hands and knees

lower still
crawling, branches
thorns grabbing hair

you must learn about life as it is
under here. spiders ants, fungi, soil
a world far removed from your daily wanderings
up there

you will crawl until you can go
no further. you will know
the place. know it in your chest

you must start digging
no tools. fingers, knuckles, handfuls
of raw earth

dig until your fingers ache, until they
bleed. this is not a symbol, this is not a
metaphor. this is real. keep digging

when you touch roots, do not harm
them, for they are reaching for the same
purpose. you have much in common

your fingers will grope around dark, moist
shapes not meant for your understanding
do not disturb them. keep digging

if you begin to cry, give your tears
to the earth, and keep digging
it is not yet time

you may only stop digging
when you finally reach
water

you will then hear her coming a long way
off. you will feel her moving through the
earth, hurtling down canyon towards you

you will first feel her in your belly, cords of
agony tying knots around your
gut, waves of cold spring runoff, dark and fetid

she will cascade into your chest, gripping your
soul, squeezing your lungs, it will be hard
to breathe

she will flood your throat, clogging your
nostrils, eyes swollen shut, floodwaters battering the old
concrete dam of you

there will be a crack, the sound of a falling
tree, a  moan as deep as the
earth, a tremor running to the core of your
being

the dam will break
you will not recognize the sounds leaping from your
throat, they will frighten you

you will not understand the violence in your
body, the convulsions and contractions
for you are now more Grief than Human

the cold waters of Grief have their own
way, nothing could have prepared you for
this

she will toss you against the canyon
walls, beat you into the
sand, tear you muscle from skin from bone

your sorrow will seem small in this massive
flood. you will feel the violence and loss
of a thousand generations, and be humbled

you will taste soil, salt, blood
that is not your own. your grief will find
a home here

when she is finally finished with you
you will find yourself lying above a large
dark moist opening in the belly of the earth

the pains in your gut have subsided
tears dried
your grief delivered into this sacred womb

you must now cut the umbilical cord
with your words of love and gratitude
like a sharp knife

you must close this opening
with soil, each handful a prayer
a blessing

you will crawl back through the thicket
emerging into the dayworld as one
newly born

for this is indeed the first hour of your
new life. greet her with great reverence
songs of praise

you must come back here
tending your Grief
feeding with tears and holy offerings

for the canyon does not flood
just once, and dams can be
rebuilt

this is how you must give yourself
to Grief. over and over
canyon walls widening and deepening


Printed in the collection, “Small Black Tent: a hymnal”

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