POEM: Hommage a Mary Oliver

You do not have to get over it.

You do not have to saddle up and hit the trail

and light out leaving behind everything you once loved.

You are allowed to let the wounded bird of your heart

sing silently in the dark for as long as it wants.

Tell me about hurt, yours, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile there is a hot cup of tea, or coffee.

Meanwhile the birds at the feeder, cardinal, bluejay,

goldfinch, are waiting to be fed.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clear air,

can still catch your attention as you cross the street

as the cars wait for your passing

as you look out the window from your desk.

Whatever your wound, no matter how long it takes to heal,

the real things of life will wait for you to catch up

with them, will call to you to refill the feeder

and drink your tea before it gets cold.

Photo by Jonny Gios on Unsplash

(Originally written in response to her death in January 2019; reposted today in honor of her birthday.)

When I became a Buddhist

I became a Buddhist according to the rules back in April 2008. “The rules” in the Tibetan Buddhist lineage I signed onto say that you take refuge, in the presence of a lama (an accredited teacher, doesn’t have to be a monk), in the Three Jewels: the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. The authority, his example and teaching, and the community of practitioners. 

I was involved with my local TB community for about five years after that, if memory serves. Then my husband and I separated and we gave most of our meditation paraphernalia to the community, a move I now deeply regret. (I especially wish I still had the incense burner, a beautifully decorated wooden box, and the gilt statues of Tara and Chenrezig, aka Avalokiteshvara. I don’t regret the separation.)

I think I really became a Buddhist, though, just a few weeks ago, one morning in the shower when I was stretching to wash my back and thought, “Everything hurts”.

I meant that literally; it seemed like every muscle in my body was aching at the simple, normal exertion of taking a shower. But I realized in that moment that I also meant it metaphorically, or universally: Everything hurt. I had realized for myself the First Noble Truth of Buddhism. 

The First Noble Truth is usually translated in English as, “Life is suffering”. That sounds pretty grim, but the word for “suffering”, dukkha, can be translated in a lot of other ways. Western Buddhist authors right now tend to use words like “unsatisfactory” rather than “suffering”. We are perpetually, inevitably dissatisfied with life. We may not be “suffering” like a starving child in Africa, like a family trying to get out of Ukraine, like a homeless addict, but we are unsatisfied, unsettled, never at ease, no matter how much material success or social satisfaction we achieve. Something is wrong with life, or with us.

Everything hurts. 

Over the past few months, I’ve rediscovered Buddhism through author Tara Brach, who is a psychologist as well as a meditation teacher trained in the Insight tradition. I’ve been reading and listening to her books, doing my best to do a bit of yoga and meditation every day (believe me, a little movement first makes meditation easier), and using the prayers I learned from my Tibetan sangha. And while it hasn’t made everything magically better (and under “everything” I include my physical and mental health, the ongoing pandemic, the political madness here in the U.S., and just everyday stress), these practices have demonstrated that they are exactly the tools I need to engage with the mess I’m in. And yes, things are better, just not “magically” better.

POEM: For JRR Tolkien

I would like to think, professor, that at your death

You found yourself in the woods: Not a dark wood 

Like Dante’s, but a deep wood, a green wood, 

Like Fangorn, like Mirkwood before the shadow.

And in this wood shone a light that passed in long beams 

Like kindly fingers between the slim and the girthy trunks, 

Parting the shadows and leading you forward 

On the path to the heart of the wood; and 

You followed this light with quickening footsteps 

And quickened heart, seeing it grow brighter 

And brighter until at last you saw, in a fair clearing, 

Those Trees of silver and gold that had grown 

In your imagination, that undying land, and beneath 

Their fragrant boughs awaited your own Luthien, 

And the true Varda, daughter of earth and Queen of Heaven, 

To show you the One who had created you to be a creator.

(On the anniversary of his death)

POEM: Solstice

If only for one day 

If only for one moment

Like the tombs and 

Monuments of Neolithic Europe

Stone places with mysterious names

Brugh na Boinne, Bryn Celli Ddu

That on the summer or winter 

Solstice allow one ray of light 

To illuminate the interior

Passing through a distance 

Of stone and darkness

That has to be walked, or crawled, 

Like an unbirthing, 

Returning to the Earth 

Mother’s womb—

If only for one day, one moment

Go into the darkness 

Of your heart and let it 

Penetrate, the light 

Of knowing and feeling

That you are loved.

POEM: Pulse

POEM: Pulse

49 pulses

49 rhythms of sorrow and joy

49 dancers

their bodies pulsing with life

their bodies pulsing with ecstasy

their bodies pulsing with joy

49 people

brown people, black people, white people

49 dancers, 49 victims

49 lovers and beloveds

49 humans capable of all the human emotions

And 53 wounded

53 who have to live 

with the deaths of 49 others

with the scars of bullet wounds

with the entry and the exit or maybe 

where the fragment is lodged in their flesh

and can never be removed or fully healed

49 and 53

memory for their names

roses for their graves

a feast for the survivors

silence and shame for their killer

Pulse Nightclub, Orlando, FL, 2016

For Christians who love to quote Leviticus

In times of spiritual doubt (which is a lot of times), I often go back to reading the Daily Office from the Book of Common Prayer. Right now it is still Easter season, and the lectionary has readings from the Gospel of Matthew, Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians (the New Testament text that is the source of “the Rapture”), and the book of Leviticus.

Certain kinds of Christians love to quote Leviticus, despite Paul’s frequent insistence that the Law of Moses is not binding on Christians. They don’t quote the parts about not eating shellfish, or not wearing clothes made of linen (a plant product) and wool (an animal product) interwoven, or how to make the sacrifices in the Tent of Meeting (or Tabernacle in older translations). They love to quote bits that can be used against LGBTQ people when taken out of context, as I’m sure my readers know.

But they also don’t quote the parts of Leviticus that are like this, from this morning’s Daily Office readings:

When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the LORD your God.

You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; and you shall not lie to one another. And you shall not swear falsely by my name, profaning the name of your God: I am the LORD.

You shall not defraud your neighbor; you shall not steal; and you shall not keep for yourself the wages of a laborer until morning. You shall not revile the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind; you shall fear your God: I am the LORD.

You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor. You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor: I am the LORD.

You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.

I see Christians of a certain type, usually the type who quote Leviticus to justify their hatred for queer people like me, doing stuff like this every day. Or not doing it. Leaving crops incompletely harvested so that poorer people can glean? How can you make a profit doing that? Swearing falsely by the name of the LORD? I think that translates to committing perjury with one hand on the Bible. Not holding back a worker’s wages? Hm, sounds like wage theft to me. Reviling the deaf and putting obstacles in front of the blind? Reminds me of Trump making fun of that disabled journalist.

The Old Testament, or the Tanakh, to use its proper Hebrew name, is chock-full of texts like this, condemning the exploitation of workers and of the land, calling for impartial justice in the courts instead of favoring the wealthy, insisting that “strangers” or “aliens”, i.e., immigrants, be treated with compassion, and telling people not to slander others or lie under oath. Yet Christians who claim to love THE BIBLE above all things somehow have never read those parts… or just decided to ignore them.

I wonder if they’ve read that parable about the sheep and the goats….

Absence instead of presence

We are in the Sacred Nights of Antinous, remembering the Beautiful Boy’s death and deification and honoring the powers that made it possible–Osiris, the goddesses Isis and Nephthys and Persephone, and the serpent power of transformation. Today, the 29th of October, we honor Antinous in the underworld. He passes through the gates of the realm of the dead, defeats the arkhons who would deny liberation to mortals, and becomes the ruler of his own underworld realm, Antinoos Bakkheios.

I think today of my initiation into this mystery, the anniversary of which is about three weeks ago. I have followed in his footsteps and passed the gates to confront the god of the dead on his throne, to die and be reborn as the god.

Today his shrine is stripped, the triptych of his aspects reversed so that I see only its blank white back. But it is not the only thing empty today. There is also an empty bird cage covered with a cloth. On Monday I lost my best friend, my bird companion of 21 years, my cockatiel Rembrandt. He was old, and he had been failing slowly this year, and he died in my hands. To say I was devastated is the bare minimum. He was not merely a pet; he was a pillar of my cosmos, particularly after my separation and divorce. We had two birds then, Rembrandt and Sandro (after Sandro Botticelli); Sandro went to live with my ex and the woman he left me for, but there was never any question that Rembrandt would remain with me.

Blank shrine. Empty cage. On the 27th, the fourth of the Sacred Nights, we reflect on the Ananke Antinoou. “Ananke” can mean necessity, fate, or destiny. Death is the fate of every mortal creature, human, animal, plant, or whatever else. Rembrandt had his ananke just as Antinous had his and I have mine. Even if a mortal becomes a god, they must undergo death to do so.

Tomorrow we will observe Foundation Day, when the body of Antinous is found, his deity proclaimed by the Egyptian priests, and Hadrian vows to build a city in his memory. Antinous is divine, immortal, able to die and revive again and again. Rembrandt will not come back. He will never again perch on my hand and lower his head, asking me to pet him. He will never lift his wings in the shape of a heart and make soft clucks and whistles with his face pressed to mine. He will never sit on my shoulder and fall asleep as I watch a video on my laptop.

I lift my grief, my loss, and toss it into the Nile, into the underworld, in the hands of my god. Rembrandt flies free in the otherworldly realm of the Forest Lord. And it is raining.

Two Hundred Boxes

(With apologies to Tennessee Ernie Ford)

Some say robots will take all our jobs

I won’t mind if they take all the jobs

Let the robots win and I’ll shed no tears

I haven’t had a bathroom break in years!

You pack two hundred orders, what do you get?

Another day older and deeper in debt

St. Peter, don’t you call me ’cause I can’t go

I owe my soul to the Amazon store

I was born one mornin’ when the sun didn’t shine

Went to the warehouse and got on the line

I packed two hundred orders for Amazon Prime

And the foreman said, “You’re doin’ fine!”

You pack two hundred orders, what do you get?

Another day older and deeper in debt

St. Peter, don’t you call me ’cause I can’t go

I owe my soul to the Amazon store

Lived all my life in an Amazon town

Mama said don’t let the company down

Coughin’ and sneezin’, I worked on the line, 

And Mr. Bezos said, “You’re doin’ fine!”

You pack two hundred orders, what do you get?

Another day older and deeper in debt

St. Peter, don’t you call me ’cause I can’t go

I owe my soul to the Amazon store

Home from the warehouse, I get online, 

Order my groceries from Amazon Prime,

Watch a new series on Amazon, too, 

Go to bed early, what else can I do?

You pack two hundred orders, what do you get?

Another day older and deeper in debt

St. Peter, don’t you call me ’cause I can’t go

I owe my soul to the Amazon store

When I die, no funeral for me

I still owe money to the store, ya see

Just pack me up in the biggest box

And ship me to heaven from the loading dock

You pack two hundred orders, what do you get?

Another day older and deeper in debt

St. Peter, don’t you call me ’cause I can’t go

I owe my soul to the Amazon store

The stone on my heart

I think my mother was a witch.

This is not a story about facts. This is not a report of family history or sociological study of the Craft. This is a story. It is not about facts at all.

First of all, there were the books. Not the bodice-rippers and horror novels stashed in the headboard bookcase of her bed, nor even the wildly explicit novel about the Roman emperor Elagabalus, one of Rome’s more… flamboyant emperors, that I peeked at when no one was home. But the newspaper insert with excerpts from Linda Goodman’s Sun Signs. The illustrated book about witches with pictures of women holding chalices, clad only in long hair and cuff bracelets. The little book about talismans, and my mother’s conversation with the rather odd lady who worked the circulation desk at our neighborhood library and kept a pet tarantula. I never knew where these books came from; they were just there, in our house, to be stumbled over and perused cautiously. I was never warned off from reading them.

Then there were my mother’s amateur theater friends. I did amateur theater, too, though not as many plays as my mother, which is why I’m not particularly shy about taking my clothes off in front of people. I spent a lot of my childhood in crowded dressing rooms, and a lot of it in church wearing vestments, too. Dad had stories about one woman, call her Tara, who claimed to be a witch. She had seen ghosts in the theater, a basement black-box theater with some decidedly spooky storage areas. (Spooky and probably fire-hazardous.) She wore black all the time. One time, he said, she had summoned something and been unable to dismiss it, and it still followed her around. My father, a self-described atheist, related these stories with rational seriousness.

My father, while a good nurturer, was also chronically unfaithful, always in search of more sex. Was my mother making talismans to keep him from straying? Was she looking for love spells to keep his libido fixed on her? Did she charm herself to conceive at the age of 39, with a tumor lurking in her uterus, to keep him from leaving her? That tumor was my secret twin.

A couple of years ago, before the corona times, I had a soul retrieval done. The healer did not so much bring back parts that were missing as clear out extraneous gunk. One of those extraneous pieces was something lodged on my heart. My healer said it was a piece of my mother.

My mother was raised Methodist and sang for years in an Episcopal church choir. She liked the Episcopal church but did not convert. She was neither religious nor superstitious; she sent her daughters to church but never went to a service herself, though she supported all the bazaars and church suppers and bingos. She had none of those little ways that people talk about in witchcraft books, inexplicable things that their mama or nana or that strange aunty did. And yet. She read horror novels as lightly and voraciously as many women read romances or mysteries. She had a way of looking at you, a way of talking to you. She could be both hilariously funny and mercilessly cruel with her words.

Am I the daughter of witches? Does the power run in my blood? I don’t know, and yet. This is a story with an ambiguous ending. What do you think, reader?

When you really can’t go home again

“Home” is such a small word to mean so much. You can hardly say it without longing in your voice. Literature is full of statements about home that fall from people’s lips even if they haven’t read the source: “You can’t go home again,” “Home is the place where, when you have to go there,/They have to take you in”. Maybe Spielberg’s E.T. was so successful because everyone, anyone could recognize the little extraterrestrial’s longing for his home and feel something of the same thing.

What happens, though, when you find out you really can’t go home? When you go there, and they’re ready to take you in, and yet you realize it’s not really yours any more and you don’t want to stay?

The last year and a half has been hard for everyone, except perhaps the culpably rich. I’m sure I’m not the only person who has hit burnout or some kind of blockage in their spiritual life, along with other areas. I’m sure it’s not limited to pagans and polytheists and magical practitioners, either. We’re having a pandemic, for gods’ sake, and a lot of people are not getting the help they need to get through, and a terrifying number of people are just outright denying it.

I’ve been tired. My spiritual practice has dwindled to what might be an all-time low. The gods are mostly silent right now, and I think maybe they’re tired, too. I think the gods care that over four million people have died, globally, and that many of those deaths could have been prevented, and the pandemic isn’t over. So here we all are.

A few weeks ago, I hit what felt like the bottom. Or the opposite of hitting the bottom; not having any ground to stand on. And after reflection, after prayer, with the blessing of my gods, I decided to start practicing Christianity again.

It was a matter of practice, of things to do. I grew up an Episcopalian, with an emphasis on praying together in the liturgy rather than on believing certain things. I never had to swear to any particular interpretation of a dogma, like exactly Jesus is present in bread and wine or the sequence of events at the Second Coming. Just sit, stand, or kneel with everyone else, sing the hymns, say the prayers. And if you want to be hardcore–which of course I did, and do–say some kind of Daily Office, morning and evening, and have private prayer as suits your temperament.

I told myself that it didn’t matter what I believed, that my gods weren’t upset about the decision, that it didn’t mean I would turn into a raging anti-queer anti-vaxxer; that I just needed a stable practice, and a community that was local and in-person and supportive. I went back to the church where I grew up, a small congregation in a small building (and even smaller now, in late summer, during a pandemic). I started saying Morning and Evening Prayer from the Book of Common Prayer. I got in touch with some old friends of the churchy persuasion. I felt enormous relief to be doing something simple, stable, familiar, even dull.

Two weeks later, I’m done. Thomas Wolfe was right: you can’t go home again. Even, sometimes, when you are welcome there. When they willingly take you in.

I grew bored with the Office. The words tripped off my tongue, but they didn’t engage my mind or my heart. I liked the same Psalms I have liked for years and disliked the same ones, too. Jumping into the first book of Kings was a bit like starting to watch an HBO drama two seasons in and not being sure why all these elaborately costumed people hate each other so much, and it wasn’t the least bit relatable. Over the last few years I’ve come to feel pretty strongly that the “Old Testament”, or more properly the Tanakh–the Torah and the other Hebrew scriptures–belongs to the Jewish people, and while there is wisdom and poetry in it that anyone can appreciate, it’s not my story. It’s just not about me.

I did some private prayer and deliberately took an approach of getting to know Jesus better, of trying to make contact with him. “Come unto me, all ye who labor and are heavy-laden,” he says in the Gospel of Matthew, and I sincerely wanted to go to him and put down my burdens–my confusion, my perfectionism, my burnout, my sheer weariness. But it was like calling for someone because you think they’re in the next room, only the room is actually empty. I have never, in over fifty years of life, much of it spent in the Church, had any real sense of Jesus, specifically and in particular, as a person or as a deity. He is the lead actor of a magnificent theatrical production who goes home immediately after every performance, never greets fans at the stage door, never reads or answers fan mail, simply plays his part and then disappears. And no one, not even the Christian writers most helpful to me, has been able to tell me how to contact him.

As I write this, part of me is decrying my pride and hubris and impatience at giving up on a practice after only a few weeks. I’d like to remind that part of me that I practiced Christianity for decades before really and truly committing to polytheism. And the results have always been the same: silence on the godphone, feeling that I don’t really even know Jesus and reluctant to ask him for what I need, feeling “sinful” but never sure what I’ve done wrong (confessing personal lapses that I now see were rooted in my then-undiagnosed depression and ADHD), confusion, frustration, and ultimately seeking elsewhere for a practice that makes sense to me and genuinely supports a thriving life.

I don’t know what happens next. But I have some core practices to fall back on, and Antinous and the Forest God are still there, still listening. I could start by cleaning their shrines.

POEM: The Flower Goddess

The power of desire is a thing that ought to be

worshiped: how it thrusts down deep into the earth,

knowing what it needs, seeking mineral-soaked waters

The way it raises a stem, grows taller, becoming

slender and alluring, extends one leaf, then two,

then many, to the satisfying sun; how, never losing

its ground, it seduces air and light and swells

at the attention, erecting a bud; how it never

forgets to push away that which is unwanted

(what thorns are for); how it opens, petal by

petal, that small bud turning into a display

that spirals inward, like a galaxy, like a dancer,

until her golden, glistening heart is revealed,

wet, lascivious, indomitable, capable of turning

death and rot and decay into perfect beauty.

Two poems and a flower crown

Colors for Antinous the Lover


Like the fertile earth wet

With heaven’s rain, seed of Zeus,

Black like the noonday shade beneath

The cypress tree where lovers lie between

Its roots, black like the depth of night in which

True knowledge is gained, not by sight

But by taste and touch


As the Nile lotus, the ornament of

The Pharaohs, blue as the summer sky,

As the precious lapis lazuli inlaid in a collar,

Blue as the flame of desire in lapis eyes,

As the shadows cast on the afternoon wall

By lovers coupling


For the hyacinth, a fragrant life

Struck down, for the amethyst and its

Purity, purple for bruises and for sorrows,

Purple that is neither red nor blue nor pink,

A flame of the soul and the spirit of a body,

Purple for the drag queens and purple for the dandies,

Purple for the leather daddies and the lipstick lesbians,

Purple for Marsha and all her trans siblings,

Purple for our queerness, our sovereignty, our royalty,

Purple for all who worship the catamite who became a god,

The unconquerable Antinous, the Lover of body and soul

Andrew Hozier-Byrne in a flower crown

Colors for Melinoe

Melinoe, black

As Egypt, black

As Nebthet, mistress of

Wesir, mistress of the temple, black

As the vulture’s wing, the jackal’s eye:

Guide me on my journey through the Duat.

Melinoe, white

As Selene, white

as salt, white as snow,

White as old bones stripped

By vulture beaks and scoured by the rain:

Shine on my road in the night.

Melinoe, red

As Sekhmet, red

As bloody jaws, red as rage, red

As the sunset spreading over

The desert, red land west of the Nile:

Burn me clean with your passion.

Melinoe, golden

Lady, saffron-gowned, golden

As the autumn leaves, as the sandaled feet

Of Ariadne dancing the labyrinth

In the stars, golden as honey:

Turn wisdom to sweetness in my heart.