Now this moment. I find myself sitting back to breathe, review photos from the Sisters Singing events, and to be with that last remarkable night in Seattle. Frankly, it left us all breathless, and me without words. Now that I am emerging, and reviewing our nine remarkable months of touring for Sisters Singing, I find myself thinking about a moment that later showed us how much the evening in Seattle was navigated by Grandmother Spirits with great care and delicacy.
I was in the women’s bathroom, fifteen minutes before we were to begin. I’d just completed a now-familiar ritual: find a quiet place to go over the program (this time a hallway backstage), jot down a few last thoughts, take a deep breath, make that last offering of thanksgiving, then into the local bathroom for a brief moment of final tending. I was there before the mirror, choosing earrings I believe, when Anne Mize walked in. A vibrant, small-boned blonde woman, she apologized for arriving late, saying that she had just the day before gotten off the plane from Africa. How lovely it was to hug her, to see and touch for the first time another of the sisters whose name I had heard for so long.
Anne was clearly happy to be there, but wondered whether her jet-lagged energy would dissipate before the end of the evening. She was scheduled the read last on the program. Could she read towards the beginning instead? In a flash I went through the flow of the evening, and suggested that in fact I thought it would be terrific if she could read first. This would have daunted many writers. But she smiled. Yes, I’d be happy to.
OK. About ten minutes to go. I sat back for a quick moment in the hallway to re-arrange some things in our carefully planned program. Pesha Joyce Gertler, a beloved Seattle poet and writing teacher, was originally scheduled to read first. It was easy to see that she would be wonderful as a closure to the evening. Moving quickly, I found myself putting Pesha just before the poet Beth Coyote, who would now be the last to read. I just had time to walk out and find Pesha and Beth seated in the audience and explain the change before it was time to open the evening.
In those last minutes the evening became woven together in even greater beauty. It was as if the grandmothers noticed a small thread out of place, which they neatly fixed at just the last minute.
But at the time there was only movement, coming to the stage in the theatre Downstairs at Town Hall Seattle, greeting 150 people in the audience, thanking the Seattle community, and diving in. Here were the Sisters, in our ultimate event before we would take a break from tour. I opened, as I have so often, reading from my Introduction about sistering, the carpenter’s term for putting a piece of unseen wood next to another beam for extra support--that quintessential definition of what it is to sister another person. And how lovely to once again call the brothers as well as the sisters into the circle, to remind us all that as we love, pray, write and create, we are all sistering each other, and the future, and the world.
And then like unrolling a finely woven carpet, I had the happiness of introducing the sisters. One at a time each stood and gave us the offering of a moment––some time when she had touched the world of spirit and returned with a poem, a song, a story. And to begin with the music of Alysia Tromblay was like morning air and dawn prayers fluttering through us and into the room. Alysia reminded us that at any given moment, somewhere on the planet, someone is praying. Then she opened with an ancient Tibetan mantra, which she chanted before and after her song “Awakening Heart.” Waking the morning, a bird is singing, far away and distant, getting closer to here… Perhaps the best way to imagine Alicia's music is like a prayer bell echoing in a human voice, soft and tinkling at times, deep and resonant at others, always nurturing, always a full-bodied call to prayer.
Ah. Then how lovely to welcome Anne Mize, a wonderful presence, the poet one who travels the world and turns it into poetry. She read “Arctic Wolf”, then “Sunrise at Dark Canyon,” reminding us as we set out into the evening’s journey This once, don’t shield your eyes. Choose to stand on the edge, and be your full self, melting.
Thank you, thank you, and the Sisters were weaving their magic and we were on our way. Linda Barton followed and how wonderful to hear her read two poems including “Fire Dance” from Sisters Singing, set in the Himalayas––another journey in another land, another welcome into the mystery.
We were in the hands of gifted guides. And still who could have imagined what it would be to enter the sublime music of Jami Sieber as we continued to unroll the fine carpet? Jamie, that Sister who draws prayer out of the electric cello as if her hands and body blend with the instrument and become one. One great movement of music and praise. One great offering of self and beauty. She offered her etheareal instrumental song “Benediction”, the notes and rhythms set beside each other so as to make a poem.
Blessings. And how blessed it was to then welcome Carolyn Davis Rudolph to the stage. Carolyn, who for many years was one of the “island people” in Seattle–arranging life around water, crossings, and ferries. Now deeply braided into life in Santa Cruz, Carolyn still has many Seattle friends, all of whom came out to hear her read. Her “Everyday Offerings” is a fresh, funny, and keenly insightful piece about one women’s search for God, and I was thrilled to hear her offer it to us all, fully embodied. We saw the beautiful woman that search had created, and we were hopeful.
Yes–for then it was June Bluespruce standing before us, glowing in a ephemeral way, as if some wisdom had flowed from the universe and now lived in her cells -- or, (and perhaps this is the same thing) flowed from her cells and now lived in her consciously. Her poetry of love and longing echoed and vibrated all of us, including “Heart Wood” for her son-I have loved you all your life/but can’t seem to let you know it/words too explicit/voice too loud/timing’s off//I give it up, let go/pound sympathetic rhythms/while you count out heartbeats/on soft rounded wood//who needs words/when we have an ocean?
And now the heartbeats were moving, as I introduced Jami to sing “In the Arms of the Mother” written in the 1990’s in war-torn Croatia. She told us that after speaking with Croatian women and mothers, hearing stories of rape and kidnapping, she and her friend the singer Rhiannon had gone to the Adriatic Sea to swim. From that came moment in the ocean came Jami’s haunting instrumentation and Rhiannon’s lyrics and music, a simple, rhythmic chant, not unlike the rocking waves of the ocean. In the arms of the Mother, the great Adriatic mother/in the arms of the Mother, I lay down.
This was alchemy... June as mother evoking the ocean, Jami singing of the Great Adriatic Mother… I had not consciously seen these threads when planning the event. Yet we were all of us the fine threads the grandmothers used to weave evening's beauty, doing our best to listen deep, be where they wished us to be, to do what was required, to stand deep within our own full and true hearts.
After everyone took a moment to move and talk and touch each other at the intermission, the healer and vocalist Coleen Renee came to the stage and offered her music a cappella, joined by two friends with whom she has sung for many years. They were wonderful. Coleen told us that the man singing on her right was a quintessential “sister” as described that evening in my Introduction. Coleen’s music offered us the gift of sitting inside the human voice. Braided together by their threesome, simple, ancient, beautiful–and joined by all of us as they call us to sing with them. It was pure benediction.
Then Katie! Katie Nelson, writer, artist and muse extraordinaire, who has been a friend and support to Sisters Singing from the beginning. Her “In the Garden of the Heart” is a quintessential piece about the erotic abundance of a garden. For a garden to be alive there must be sex, lots and lots of sex… Hearing Katie read, to sense her great love of the physical, sensual world, was thrilling indeed. Marcia Moonstar followed her, evoking the goddess directly with her poem “Earthia” – the goddess who tells us: Once a day lay your body upon my body. Marcia, a priestess of the goddess right in our midst. The earth, the garden, the body of delight.
Can you see the grandmothers above and behind and within and at the center of the stage, weaving it all together? Next Jami returned to offer “The River Between”, and now everyone was swaying in their chairs, many were dancing in the aisles, off to the sides and in the back, swirling ecstatic movement. The body of delight, the garden. Many people become one.
And still there was more, for next I returned to the stage, glowing and well-used by the spirits, to introduce the final two poets. Pesha Joyce Gertler, beloved writer elder, stood before us as muse and possibility. She read “Meditation Journey” evoking the great movement that lies within the apparent stillness of meditation. Then she offered two more stunning short poems, including “To The Wind".
If you do not give your name to the wind/ if you do not yield to the notion of Paradise/ how will your clan find you/ how will they know it is your hands/ that are missing from the circle/ your dreams that could fill the holes/ in their own?
So beautiful. Now we were sighing and there were tears in the audience, for Pesha had found words for a great longing to find that place and that clan where we belong and can offer our hands and be easy and of use. And for long moments that night, we touched that feeling: what is is to be held by the sisters, and in the arms of the mothers...to be held within a great and soft and unyielding embrace.
And now the alchemy was growing on its own, we had been spun and blended and joined together just so. I was out of my mind now, grinning like a happy Fool on stage, just happy to have midwifed such beauty. And as any midwife knows, we are not responsible for the beauty we help to birth. It is its own beauty. How lovely then to introduce Beth Coyote as the final poet: Beth the midwife whose hands only hours before had been welcoming a new being from between the legs of a mother. Beth stood in that calm and steady birthing glow that is like no other, and read her poem Milagros—miracles––It is a milagro to be here. Then she offered as the final poem of the evening, “Mothers Do This”:
In the ambulance, I held you in my arms
you were small and limp
wearing a nightgown with light pink flowers
I thought you might die
sirens pitching through country roads
I was making deals, please take me
I can go in her place, take me
I knew then I would do anything
mothers do this
they give all the bread to the children
so the children might live
they stand in front of soldiers with guns
they swim across with the baby on their back
everywhere, mothers are holding out their arms
walking forward into the burning fields
saying, take me so she might live.
Mothers do this. We were now entirely in Her hands. For I had not realized why Beth had to read last, what it would be to have Alysia Tromblay come to the stage next to close the evening with music. She offered her voice of prayer and lamentation to “Mother Mercy,” which she wrote in New York City after September 11, 2001.
Mother mercy, I hear your wisdom call
May I answer with the sounds of forgiveness…
Mother compassion, if I’m willing can I stay
and learn to love your way one more day…
So I may move a mountain with the humblest of seeds
dare to whisper I’m willing to receive,
move a mountain with the simplest of needs?
Oh mother, have mercy on me.
As we ended we had been pulled as if by moonlit tides into a place together, beyond words, beyond music, beyond human sounds and intentions and into a place of breath and depth. A great applause filled us all, a final gladness, as if we had reached all possibility.
In the arms of the mothers. There we sat, and sang and danced and hugged and wept. There we hoped and promised and intended for beauty. There we insisted we believed such beauty could live forever.