When he died they hunched him up
like baby in womb, curled him
into a shallow scoop in the cave-floor,
planted him like a seed as he slowly stiffened,
covering his slumped and earthen limbs
with a layer of red ochre,
sprinkling him with wildflowers—
then turned away.
Moon comes back each month, so bright,
then curls itself into a dying crescent—
baby struggles out of a woman’s darkness—
petals of delicate blue, pale yellow, in the wet woods,
how do they know
when sun is past dying and comes
to life again?
This is older than cities or books,
older than prayers or earnest discussions,
older than farming,
something buried and burst open
long before words, ideas, church or temple or crudest holy place,
older even than itself,
Tim Myers is a writer, storyteller, and songwriter. He is the author of nine children’s books and, most recently, a poetry chapbook, That Mass at Which the Tongue Is Celebrant. He teaches in the education and English departments at SCU.
The buried life
On making a poem
Our son Seth, currently living a bachelor life that’s included two rough-and-tumble years in Fairbanks, recently told us about “Hobo Hash.” The recipe is, to say the least, flexible; though it often includes eggs and potatoes, even those aren’t strictly necessary. You simply mix together what you’ve got. This, of course, is stew, a dish for which we have at least 8,000 years of archaeological evidence, with the supposition that the invention of pottery 10,000 years ago led directly to its invention.
And though it’s a homely metaphor, I think it’s an apt one for the writing of poems. Humans are always making and combining things. A poem, like a stew, usually comes from what’s near to hand. Again and again I find that whatever’s been knocking around in my mind will suddenly, mysteriously, come together in a poem. There are rules: As with Hobo Hash, you can’t just dump in anything—eggs and whipped cream don’t go together. And stews don’t always turn out the way they should; many of the poems I write aren’t really edible.
But the ancient art of making a poem results, often enough, in nourishing food for heart, mind, and spirit. And a good poem often reveals a harmony among disparate elements that we hadn’t suspected before.
In this case, I’d spent years fascinated with the dawn-of-humanity burials archaeologists have discovered around the world. (I’d read a particular account a few days before this poem came to be.) Many include the body placed in a special position—often the fetal position—and covered with red ochre. A good number include flowers strewn over the corpse, discernible across the centuries to the expertise of paleobotanists.
There was more in my head at that time, too. I’d become a parent, and that mystery, having filled my life, is always with me. And I watch the moon endlessly, wondering and, to some degree, adoring. And when we lived in upstate New York near the Canadian border, I saw how the wildflowers tended to be smaller and paler there. So all of this was churning and bubbling inside me—not so unlike a stew simmering in a pot.
And of course my endless longing for God. —TM