Poetry – A Celebration of Authenticity- July 31, 2016
PRELUDE/SILENT CANDLES Music – Beethoven
OPENING WORDS/LIGHTING THE CHALICE
The element of fire represents passion, veracity, authenticity, and vitality. If the chalice is the supporting structure of Unitarian Universalism, then we are the flame. We are the flame, fanned strong by our passion for freedom, our yearning for truth-telling, our daring to be authentic with one another, and the vitality we sustain in our meeting together. In all of this there is love.
RESPONSIVE READING – #592 The Free Mind
INTRODUCTION OF THE THEME
Peter Friedrichs tells a story of a time he was working as a hospital chaplain. He was talking to an elderly patient who told him she was afraid to talk to her doctors. He tried to reassure her that they were there to help her, and suggested that she just “be herself”. “Be myself”, she said. “Of course I’m going to be myself. Everyone else is already taken!”
We called the service “Poetry – A Celebration” knowing we wanted to use my mom Mary McDonald’s poetry . As we read the poems we realized that the theme of authenticity emerged. What does authenticity mean? Herminia Iberra described it in 3 ways: One, being true to yourself, second, maintaining coherence between what you feel and what you say or do, and third, making value based choices. So our revised title is “Poetry – A celebration of Authenticity”
People in our society often find themselves trapped in a way of life imposed by a religion, or the situation they were born into. It can be a hard road to break away from these strictures and to find an authentic life. This is the journey
illustrated in my mother’s Mary McDonald’s poetry ; her longing for authenticity, and the drastic steps she had to take to get there.
Mary grew up in the 1920’s in a Catholic family. This was a closed world, where Catholics only socialized with other Catholics. Life was organized around daily attendance at mass, sometimes even twice a day. Womens’ roles were tightly centered around homemaking, the kitchen. Men ( as in God the Father ) were seen as superior beings, so a young girl in this environment would be at the bottom of the ranking system. Being a girl in this setting was not a celebrated event. This double standard is evident in her poem about her Mother’s experience at school:
I am the bearer of the tales my mother told me,
tales from the Ontario woods
she grew out of
at the turn of the century.
Her father took her to school
when she was six.
teach her to cipher, read a little.
She’s not to take geography.
And when Miss Baker bent
to Martha’s slate,
white cotton tucks
in the teacher’s shirtwaist
brushed the child’s face.
And this, the child thought,
is what I will be.
Her father took her,
when she was nine,
from her schoolhouse desk
to the fields and the farmyard.
There’s a red fox who turns
traps upside down,
snaps them on the dirt.
Martha, you watch, keep him
away from the chickens.
And there’s the cows for you to milk.
Mornings, she hid behind the maples,
hid from cousins
carrying milk pails;
noisy on the road to school.
Martha held the ends
of precious cedar logs,
while her father raised his axe,
till the logs were halved,
then quartered, till he heaved together
the split-rail zig-zag fence,
till her long-fingered
* * *
See, my knuckles,
from the milking,
from the fences.
And my breasts,
I never had any.
Today, in the teacherage,
my mother makes our supper
on the woodstove,
moves in soft turns as if
stepping between twigs, secretly,
the turnips and salt pork her prey.
She sniffs, licks,
lays out a cache for tomorrow.
And at the schoolhouse social,
if a farmer takes her to dance
from the bench behind the bookcase,
her arms stiffen, she is all
thin brown rail.
My Mother grew up internalizing the Catholic beliefs she was taught: the catecisms, the saints, the commandments. But it provided her with an unlikely set of playmates:
I’m not a lonely child, they
come upstairs to play
from off the stacks of glossy pictures
in Father’s office.
(Holy articles to sell his flock)
Mother says only, “Don’t play so much alone.”
Michael Archangel wakes me.
His sword glints morning, white
muscled wings beat out
the darknesses of corners.
St. Francis, friend
of beast and fowl,
bare feet, hair shirt, comes to light
beside me on his wooden stool
to fast at breakfast.
Smells of cave.
Mother says only,
“Who let that bird in?”
At backyard scrub,
are all mine.
St. Joseph’s too intent
on shouldering lilies
to perfect symmetry.
St. Benedict’s whirling habit
hobbles his legs.
St. Helen steadies her halo
with boneless finger.
Or else they fall into contention on who
has patronized more places/people.
It irks me that their well-placed folds and faces
stay tidy whatever
Mother says only,
“Must you get so dirty?”
I am not above
bargaining with any
or all of them
for intercession from high places,
or in mischief.
Mother says only, “Practicing your Latin, dear?”
Her parents moved from Ontario to Alberta. Her Father was a schoolteacher, and taught in rural one room school houses. Every year the school superintendent would discover her father’s near deafness, so at the end of the year they’d be sent on their way to find another school. The family spent years moving from one rural schoolhouse to another. This constant moving made their isolation within the faith more acute. Mom would later title one of her books “Home, Where Art Thou?”
My mother is boiling potatoes
on the narrow gas stove
in our rent-by-the-week housekeeping room.
She jabs the gas jet, her lips as pinched as
Hawr-umph aaaaack, my father’s noisy coming-in:
Well, Martha, I have a school this time. He waves a crumpled envelope.
Postmarked Hope, Alberta.
My mother twists her head around to him.
I think of necks of horses in the field
beside the teacherage we left,
the white mare’s shying.
My mother makes a sound that cats make
at a garter snake.
Where is it? the train to Nowhere, Alberta again?
Every year a new address
Every summer General Delivery.
What will my folks back in Ontario
think? My sisters say
Where is this place? They say Where will we
send the maple syrup to?
Out of his pocket my father takes his
map of Alberta, thumps it flat
at the torn creases. My brother Joe brings out
a ragged railway timetable.
Let’s see, find Hope .
Crow’s Landing School should be
somewhere in here.
Half-way between a wriggly thread of blue
and a thin black jointed line
My father’s finger jabs an empty spot.
Sharing of Abundance (Stephen Lewis Foundation) Music – Simple Gifts
POETRY 2 – NATURE
Growing up in the country, Mom felt a close affinity to nature. It was her playmate, her inspiration, her spiritual source. Every time they’d move, her first instinct would be to explore the nature surrounding them. It acted as a refuge for her between home and church.
In one of her books she quoted Wallace Stegner’s book ”Finding The Place: A Migrant Childhood” that speaks to her experience with nature:
. . . . . there is something about living in big empty space, where people are few and distant, under a great sky that is alternately serene and furious, exposed to sun from four in the morning till nine at night, and to a wind that never seems to rest . . . . there is something about exposure to that big country that not only tells an individual how small he is, but steadily tells him who he is . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Everything I knew was right around me, and it was enough.
This next Poem expresses the sacredness she found in nature:
The young grass
pulls my feet beyond the fences.
A wild slough-smell
tells the way to the willows.
In the soupy water
the polliwogs will be darting
willy-nilly, easy to catch.
The little blue butterflies will be
everlastingly looking for something
and prairie buttercups will be open,
coins in the pockets of
the young grass.
I kneel a moment.
Sounds of trickling hang in the air,
continuous, like quiet applause
as if music had been playing.
I slide beside a willow bush.
Whirligig beetles and water-striders flick
over the slough.
A hand of willow leaves brushes
my hand. From the far bush a clear
chip chip chip all on one note,
then tseep tseep, high and sweet.
I lean to the willow branch.
It’s smooth and silky, reddish-brown.
My lips touch it, my tongue moves over
tiny knobs, slicknesses,
scars from lost twigs.
Is this a kiss?
Musical Interlude – Chopin
POEMS 3 – GROWNUP
Mary grew up, spent a year at normal school, and became a teacher herself, also supporting her now elderly parents. Began her own circuit of teaching in rural schools. When she was teaching in the district of River Q’Barre a farmer in the area, Ranald McDonald, proposed marriage, and seeing it as away to escape her over bearing mother, she accepted.
Mary and Ranald were married. After a brief honeymoon in Banff, Ranald dropped her off at an empty farmhouse and went back to his mother’s farm to continue the harvest. Whereas she went back to her mother in Edmonton.
After this auspicious start to the marriage Ranald was convinced to move into Edmonton, where they lived and raised 3 daughters.
Mary returned to teaching fulltime as well as raising a family. At this time female teachers were expected to give up their careers and become full time homemakers.
The marriage might have been an escape from her mother, but not the church. Teaching in a Catholic school system, she was as tethered to its rules and obligations as before. During this time she did not write any poetry. I feel she had a strong sense of privacy about her family, and she also needed to keep up a wall about her true feelings.
In the 1970s Mom divorced Dad. It was a rough time for the whole family. In our strictly Catholic world this was shocking, a scandal. Shocking for the relatives, the neighbors, the whole Catholic community. She had cut the ties with her Catholic life, and had to find a new way of living without guidelines.
Only when she was older, the children grown, and she was alone did she start to write again. She was now free to become the person she wanted to be. Her poetry writing became prolific, and she wrote as if driven . Her poetry from this time reflected her new felt freedom. She was writing full time now, published two manuscripts, and was involved with the Stroll of Poets.
If Dance gets into the spiral hall
of DNA, it will not leave
at closing time, will make a scene,
demand more music,
jig like a two-year old who hears
a fiddler on the mall,
even if the body is 75.
Dance pulls out the arthritic arm,
pries open the fingers,
takes a joint for a spin.
Dance embarrasses the demeanor
of a seventy-something.
Here I am in the back row
of the Dance Moves class
with the thirty-somethings
at the Community League hall.
Puttin on the ritz
Puttin on the Ritz
The air in the hall
is tight with youth
Footnotes from previous lives:
Trying to recapture
the satisfaction of the whack of heel
on the jazz downbeat,
the rush of the reach
out of my rib cage
on the upbeat.
move out of sight
too fast, like calendars,
too little time.
Trying to grow old
gracefully. I know I can
retain the moves
if someone will reduce them
to slow motion, say
With this next poem, at the age of 82, she won the CBC National Poetry contest:
I have spent my life
trying to cheat conventionality,
to escape the accepted
like the time I was called
to the principal’s office
for allowing one of my students
to dress, at Hallowe’en,
as a bum with an empty flask in his pocket.
At eighty, I decided on a Seniors Lodge:
This tower of brick and glass appeared
as powerful and mysterious
as the castles of my childhood books.
It was inhabited by mythical figures
who sat on guard in easy chairs
at the wide entrance,
and pushed their walkers in and out.
The surrounding formal gardens must have been
picked from the pages of the Summer
Seed Catalogue: circles of nasturtiums,
triangles of snapdragons, rows of
marigolds, all stood stiffly hemming
the boundaries of the building.
I want wild!
I need a field of native grasses
with the sharp smell of humus and leaf,
where I might discover purple shooting stars
and buttercups; or wild violets,
and a robin that doesn’t fly off the fence
until you get right up to it.
One day I entered with my magnet card,
stood in the lobby, crisscrossed by moving
walkers, and felt a sense
of being adrift, of being, perhaps, a thought.
Was I living a real life here? I needed proof
that I occupied space, that I bled, that I breathed.
I took myself to the stairwell, with its island
of light, to find if I had a shadow.
I did, and I am here, where nobody else reads,
who tell me they’re saving their eyes.
I suspect that most of them
have never found the treasures
that are hidden in books
I have now made the decision to take up haunting
as a vocation in the hereafter.
My bag would be packed.
I will not go home first, to become
the holographic swivel of my den chair,
or the pale light you think you see
in the upstairs landing.
Footloose, I shall drop in the shape of a slug
on the lips of the smiling evangelist
who speaks in tongues.
I will confound the network.
I shall hang on windy Mount Everest,
its face as clammily white as my own.
I will hallooo to other challengers:
Look! No piton! No oxygen!
And should my new country be tragically empty
of books, even words, then I must haunt,
with disembodied hunger,
the libraries of London and New York,
stream through the 88 miles of shelving,
wriggle out each book that beckons,
curl into a fan-back chair in the great foyer,
Her life had come full circle. She found acclaim and acceptance in the local poetry community.
To be who we are is to offer to the world the greatest gift we have to give. To invest our lives and all that we do with sincerity, authenticity, and deep commitment leads us into relationships with other authentic selves. And in entering in those relationships, relationships that are sacred in the true meaning of that word, we cannot help but bring our collective power to bear against the forces of injustice, hatred and oppression. Our collective wholeness will, by definition, heal the world.
In music – Brian Eno
Poetry 4 Conclusion Poem
I congratulate myself
on my intelligence. I know
all religions are invented
by man, sometimes in rebellion
against another faith.
I do not find I need
the Ten Commandments
and the Six Precepts
to determine my behavior.
Nor do my morals depend
upon the sermon. So I
do not go to church.
And yet, there are days
when I let in the power
of my unconscious mind,
when I rely more on
instinct than intellect,
and I am overcome
by the miracle of existence.
I approach the country church,
its spire rising above
a cross over the wide doors.
And inside: a different light
through the stained-glass windows;
a different air, leavened with ozone;
the pews, so plain, so hard.
I allow myself to be calmed
by the flickering candles
and the steady gazings of the
Closing Words/Extinguishing the Chalice
Our deepest calling is to grow into our authentic selfhood, whether or not it conforms to some image to who we ought to be. As we do, we will not only find the joy that every human being seeks; we will also find our path of authentic service in the world.
Closing Song: Carry the flame of peace and love until we meet again