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


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


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


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


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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