Ehsha Apple (A. Farmer):

All caught up in the Decemberness and 2012 deadlines, I’ve fallen behind in writing to y’all. Have a look at this conversation from May. Chime in if you have some input. Cheers!

Originally posted on The Bad Witch Files:

A few posts back, I – admittedly – misquoted the Wiccan Rede and was called on the carpet by a reader and fellow blogger, Drea.  I love when this happens. It keeps me on my toes now that I am permanently on the other side of the desk (and cauldron it seems).[1]

But, let’s face it. This is a blog, not doctoral work; and sometimes I slack off. I often write my posts right off the cuff, with no reference books at hand – I do this between feeding chickens and drinking coffee. Often I misspell thinks. On occasion, I commit the crimes of comma splice, poorly phrased modifiers, and usage error, and (gasp) I have been known to mis-cite or misquote.

As ever, the misstatement didn’t change the crux of anything I was arguing, but it sure did open a can of worms…

View original 2,869 more words

Put that in your pipe–Yerba Lenna Yesca

I thought for a minute about writing about Ymir and his proto-productive armpits (like a good Heathen), but then I found myself giving a mythology lesson instead of actually reflecting on something. Then I reflected on the lesson I gave last night about the Tetragrammaton (YHVH) and looked forward to the lesson on the Shemhamphorash but then remembered—“Damn, I can’t blog about that.” I know I want to write about yoiking (a Sami practice) and how it parallels to the vocalizations in Völvaspæ, but I want to do that later. I ran across some interesting Yucatan death gods in last week’s research—only to find that their names (the ones that begin with Y) are corruptions of the correct names.

So, with my end-of-term grades two-thirds-finished, I decided to take a short break from the academy and visit with y’all and have a little herbal lesson.

I used to smoke. On and off for most of my life. Not while pregnant or nursing, mind you—that was a stretch from 1993-2000ish. I teased that I was so good at quitting that I liked to do it often. Aside from one (or three) of those crush-the-filter because it’s too fun not to evenings recently, I’ve been tar-free and following “doctor’s orders” since early-July. That doesn’t mean that I haven’t found alternatives.[1] Now, don’t get any crazy ideas—I believe that cannabis should be legal, but it ain’t in my state (check yours); so, THC is not, um, on the menu.

Katt Williams on the “nature” of weed. Go ahead, watch it–I’ll wait.

I have never been one to shy away from putting “that” in my pipe and smoking it.[2] Turns out that mugwort can make you dream of bridesmades and the impending zombie apocalypse. Morning glories, various nightshades, digitalis and other lovely botanicals have entheogenic effects—but I don’t recommend an untrained hand in the preparation as “Seeing God” might be just what happens for ye. I don’t tool around with it. Um, anymore. Damania, passion flower, mullein, sweet fern, blue lotus? Have at it. IMHO, smoking wormwood is a lot like eating Domino’s Pizza—you could and it won’t hurt but why would anyone do that? Especially when there is perfectly good Absinthe on the shelf.[3] Most people prefer teas to smokes anyway. Me? I love to burn shite.

A little wild tobacco and dittany of crete in a sensor? Breathe . . .

When I took “union breaks” prior to July, that meant stepping out on to the porch to grab a dose of arsenic and formaldehyde. Not so today.

While I don’t light up the flora like I did in my youth, I have a favorite smoke: Yerba Lenna Yesca.[4] Sometimes it’s touted as being a weed-free high, but it’s not. While YLY serves to relax without stoned-lethargy—especially when I have a cough, which seems to be always these days[5]-anyone who says that YLY is “like pot” has never actually been high. We seem to use herbs a good deal for our “spells” and such, but sometimes we should stop and think of a more direct approach–it’s what our predecessors did.

Union break over. Back to work.

This post is part of a year-long project. Rowan Pendragon’s The Pagan Blog Project; “a way to spend a full year dedicating time each week very specifically to studying, reflecting, and sharing . . . .    The project consists of a single blog post each week posted on prompt that will focus on a letter of the alphabet” (http://paganblogproject/).


[1] Googled “things to smoke” and found this: http://www.newgrounds.com/bbs/topic/406903/1. Laughter is the best expectorant.

[2] I bought the husband a hookah a few Yules back and have acquired a stash of unsmoked shisha—“Th’damn thing takes too long.”

[3] Never drink Absinthe straight. It tastes like the green Formula 44 of childhood nightmares.

[4] It translates as “woody-herb for burning.” Helpful, eh?

[5] Ironic, no? Smoke to quiet a cough.

Yes, More American Poetry-And Aztec Gods

Robinson Jeffers January 10, 1887 – January 20, 1962 Photo at Tor House by Nat Farbman, 1948

The old pagan burials, uninscribed rock, 
Secret-keeping mounds,
Have shed the feeble delusions that built them,
They stand inhumanly
Clean and massive; they have lost their priests.
“Delusion Of Saints”~Robinson Jeffers

Last Friday, my day wouldn’t maintain its gyre. I was supposed to grade and then blog (and then bake lasagna) but I couldn’t seem to keep my hands off this one. So I put it aside and did what needed doing. Now I can get back to what wants doing.

I meant to just write about Xochiquetzal and Xolotl (as you can see from my brief post earlier today)—but the Aztec pantheon has always made me do handsprings into some murky memories. So, inevitably, I ended up trolling an opaque lake or two in my psyche. I posted my X post and had to revisit my psychic acrobatics.

The first of these handsprings is Robinson Jeffers. I know, another American poet. However, though I’d love to tell you why Jeffers wants America to  “Be Angry at the Sun”  or how his  “Shine, Perishing Republic”  (or even “To the Stonecutters”) bleeds wretchedness for the America Whitman dared to hope for, I’m just going to tell you about the mythology in his poetry.

And about how detecting it almost ruined my life.

Almost a solid decade ago, I was finishing graduate course-work. It was my intention to  do  American poetry—I especially loved the middle generation: Jarrell, Bishop, Lowell, & Co., as Suzanne Ferguson calls them. Anne Sexton, Marianne Moore, William Carlos Williams, Wallace Stevens, Ezra Pound, Sylvia Plath, John Berryman. But it wasn’t until my last poetry course that I got sufficiently exposed to Robinson Jeffers.

And the whole course was so traumatic that I’m surprised I still like Jeffers. Heck, I lurve Jeffers—he’s right up there with O, Captain and Huffy Henry. But, like I said, the course was traumatic and I shifted my interest to film. (I talked about it more than I should have in  Unnecessary Roughness.  So, I’ve already said too much.)

Damn, grad school made me stop writing poetry. It’s not until this moment that I realize it made me stop reading poetry for goin’on ten years. Feck.

This is from my class notes—if you’re not into academic blahbiddy-blah, go ahead and skip it; the point will remain the same:

I chose Robinson Jeffers as the focus for my final project because I had detected something in his poetry that was unlike anything coming out of the Modern era. It seemed almost non-Western, certainly non-essentialist in that it seemed like there were some larger forces creating the cohesion between his lyrics and his narrative poems. At first glance, I contributed what I was hearing to his philosophy of  inhumanism,  the notion that androcentricity is the dividing force in American culture. As I read and re-read the narratives–and even more markedly in the lyrics—I had the feeling (as Jeffers would put it,  the certitude ) that everything was off-center from what I had come to expect from a (particularly male) Modernist. The characters are allegorical, never one dimensional or interchangeable like Hemingway’s injured men and officious women. The function of myth in Jeffers’s poetry didn’t fit the bill I expected either; Eliot’s allusions are indefatigably Western: Christian or  Classical  mythology. Jeffers’s system of allusion includes multi-layer planes of Judeo-Christian myth, Greco-Roman myth, and North American aboriginal myth, often within the same figure.

. . . .

His amalgamation of Anglo-Christian mythology with Native American and Mexican folklore creates a completeness in Jeffers’s narratives that is unparalleled in most Modernist texts that forget (or ignore) the previous cultures of this geographical location. Further, there is an advanced layer of scientific schemata; to his spiritual philosophies is added a conception of microcosmic certitude. From these manifold perspectives, Jeffers combines realism and spiritual philosophy into his idea of  inhumanism,  a unique device in his texts. 

And that’s not even the paper—it’s just  notes.  What the paper ends up doing, as you can prolly guess, is to walk the reader through the  amalgamation  of Jeffers’ use of myth. When I began a close reading (of, specifically,  The Roan Stallion  and  Tamar —but also  Shiva  and  Cassandra ) I was astounded at his use of non-Western mythology. I was further astounded to discover that, in using non-Western myth, Jeffers was able to create a non-essentialist landscape: his poetry tends to be very critical of assumed patriarchal roles.[1]

After a really horrible semester in which a junior-classmate was allowed to run roughshod all over the rest of the course, I had a hard time getting arsed up to write anything for my final. In the end, I wrote the paper from the perspective of a feminist Pagan shouting  Boo-yah!  for Jeffers. And really, there wasn’t any theory in the paper—it was simply a close reading that reveled Jeffers’ non-Western, non-patriarchal content. But my (female) professor was (is) staunchly anti-feminist and told me that I “wielded feminist theory like a blunt object”  and granted a B—an insult. The big problem was that I had asked her to lead my dissertation. A week after finals, we agreed that  perhaps my interests lie elsewhere.

I tucked the paper and her comments away and never looked at them again. I tucked all of my poetry books away and dust them occasionally. I made a complete 180 and moved on to Alfred Hitchcock. (Anthony Hopkins, squee!)

I was convinced, given this and a completely different but equally wounding experience with poetry in academia, that poetry just wasn’t for me. I knew that the professor was unnecessarily rough with me, but I retained that awful nagging that it just wasn’t good. In my mind it became a spotlight of shame, The Worst Paper Ever, and I would cringe whenever the memory would rear its head. God forbid anyone try talking about Jeffers.

And when I imagined the paper, I simply saw a twenty-six page jumble of words and half formed ideas. I expected to open the file and see crayon scrawled across my screen:  Jeffers good. Patriarchy bad. BAM! I whack you with my anti-phallus.

But that’s not what happened. I opened it last week (rather than grading) and glanced it over. It’s actually quite elegant. It’s entirely logical. And my memory of the paper is correct—there is no feminist theory in it. Sure I imbedded some feminist-flavored arguments, but there’s no mention of theory. The paper is foremostly about mythology. Now, I wonder if she even read beyond the first page. I honestly wonder. And I feel a little less stupid. It’s not the worst paper ever; it’s actually quite good. (I do feel some regret about having changed the path of my life over it, but que sera, sera.)

That bifurcates my brain in a way that only Jeffers’ narratives can do.

My first thought—and the one that is nagging at me with its immediacy—has to do with re-reading my old blogs.

I was convinced, given two equally wounding experience with pagan “friends,” that this shit just wasn’t for me. I knew that the others were unnecessarily rough with me, but I retained that awful nagging that I was just Bad. In my mind I became The Worst Witch Ever, and I would cringe whenever the memory would rear its head. God forbid anyone try talking about blogging.

After a year of being told that I had written this or that I went back to see what was what. Turns out, I’m not crazy.[2] I opened the old Files and expected to see blood spatter across my screen:  This and That.

But that’s not what happened. Over the last few weeks, I’ve realized that most of my arguments are actually quite elegant (as blogs go). Most are entirely logical (as blogs go). And my memory of previous posts is correct—there is no this or that in them. Sure I imbedded some double entendre footnotes for the two or three folks (like The Husband and The Bestie) on the in, but, despite my having told you that this blog would be a tell-all,  there’s no overt mention of this or that. The posts are foremostly about Witchcraft and ethics in general. And I feel a little less Bad. I’m not the worst Witch ever; I’m actually quite good. (And to round off that parallel paragraph—I do feel some regret about having changed the path of my life over it, but que sera, sera.)

My second thought gets more to the crux of what this post is supposed to address: Aztec mythology.[3] In the Jeffers paper, I wrote quite a lot about Tlazolteotl, with whom I have had a strong connection since the late 90s. And that’s my second handspring.

For the weekend.


[1] And, I think I told you, I gave my American Lit class an assignment to create a distinctly American mythology. I didn’t remember writing this, but I said of Jeffers:

The narrative poems are complex labyrinths. Jeffers draws from various intersecting cultural mythologies to invent a distinctive, unified, specifically American mythology. In doing so, Jeffers formulates a (nearly pantheonic) lineage within specifics of time and place, as well as revelation of the surrounding world–suggestions of war and human political developments–but the allegories have a ostensible agelessness. . . . I don’t mean to infer that Jeffers is imitating the mythologies of other cultures; my position is that Jeffers is creating a uniquely American mythology and that thematic intersections are inevitable.

[2] Have you been watching Homeland? (Spoiler alert.) I have been feeling a lot like mid-season-two Carrie Mathison: “I was right!”

Xochiquetzal (and Xochipilli)

Aztec goddess Xochiquetzal, from the Codex Borgia

Xochiquetzal (shOw-chee-KET-sAl), the eternally young Aztec and Toltec goddess of love and flowers who symbolizes enlightenment, is also frequently called Ichpōchtli which simply means “maiden.”

This strikes me. I have struggled with all of the different names I have been called—both legally and otherwise.[1] But that’s not why it strikes me. I am only dwelling on that because I have a smattering of initiates that are facing the point in their training where they need to start thinking about their first aspiration names.

For those of you not familiar with the tradition of taking an aspiration name, many magical organizations have a practice of translating a stated aspiration, or motto, into a usable name. Unlike some traditions which names are given to initiates,[2] my students have to make a name for themselves. In our tradition, one can (and should) make an acronym of or abbreviation for (or otherwise truncate and obfuscate) the motto rather than maintaining a direct translation. (Obvs, this can come from divine inspiration and/or/in dreams.) For instance, “Speaker of Words of Power,” would translate as something like “ræðumaður öflugum orðin.” That’s a mouthful to say the least. So, one might apply some numerology (or simply basic aesthetics) and arrive at Ræth Ov Orthin (or Orth if you don’t mind a singular “word”). Still too long? Ræth Word, Ræthword (or even Raithword), or Orthraith, Allraith; you get the picture. Of course, if it didn’t conjure images of the Hundred-Acre Wood, we could go with R.O.O. (or Roo).

Trick is, this name should change with each elevation as your aspirations should grow and change with your training.

This means I’m two names behind. Perhaps two aspirations behind. Needless to say, it’s under my skin.

Mostly it strikes me since I have been spending so much time in the care and tutelage of Frejya, who is often simply called “lady.” It seems that many of the goddesses to whom I’ve been drawn over half-a-lifetime[3] have an awful lot in common. No duh, you say. That’s how it works.

Virginia Woolf’s place-setting from Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party (1974-79), which I lurve. Like, a lot. In reverence to  and reclamation of the divine female, all the dinner plates are intended to look both like flowers and va-whoo-has. Bertie introduced it to us back when it was still in crates, looking for a home. Xochiquetzal is not honored, nor is any other Mayan, Aztec, or pre-Columbian goddess/woman at the table (the only pre-Jacksonion figure is Sacajawea). Though “Primordial Goddess,” “Fertile Goddess,” “Snake Goddess,” “Amazon,” and “Sophia” are among Ishtar, Kali, and Hatshepsut, Coatlicue, the Mesoamerican earth goddess, appears on the Heritage Floor with Omeciuatl, Xochitl, Chicomecoatl, and 995 other female figures.

But when it works the way it’s supposed to work, I can’t help but stop and smell Xochiquetzal’s flowers.

No, wait, that’s not what I . . .

Xochiquetzal is the patron goddess of weavers, also much like Freyja. She is the daughter of Tlazolteotl, goddess of childbirth and shriver of sins (much more on this later). Xochiquetzal, like Freyja and Freyr, had a twin, Xochipilli. She was married to the rain god Tlaloc before being kidnapped by Tezcatlipoca, “Smoking Mirror,” the god ancestral memory and of sorcery. Not exactly a psychopomp (as Aztec worldviews create a lore that is vastly different from a Western mythos of an “underworld”) but there are some connections–which I will deal with in my eventual Ehsha post about Xolotl, the dark twin of Quetalcoatl.

She is also said to have been one of two who survived the great flood that ended the fourth age on Aztec mythology.

It bears saying, with 16 days left of this cycle, that many (like me) believe that the Ragnarök tale, like the Maya Periods and the Aztec Cycles, are not exactly eschatological[4] but cyclical. Consider the survival of Líf and Lífþrasir to repopulate the earth.

Likewise, Xochiquetzal survived The Great Flood with her husband, Tlaloc, to give birth to children without the ability to speak. As the myth goes, a dove brought the children speech, but gave to each a different language. Like the Tower of Babal and a slew of other stories involving a flood and/or a high place–like a tower or a mountain.

My last fun point about Xochiquetzal is that she is said to have seduced a priest and then transformed him into a scorpion—just because she could—as a mark of her power. She encouraged sex for pleasure’s sake. For this, she is honored as the patron goddess of prostitutes. (See my post on Temple Prostitution.) There is a safe haven in Mexico City for elderly prostitutes: Casa Xochiquetzal. A sign over the door reads: “No soy buena ni mala, soy mujer.” (“I am neither good nor bad, I am woman.”)

The Dinner Party at The Brooklyn Museum

 

This post is part of a year-long project. Rowan Pendragon’s The Pagan Blog Project; “a way to spend a full year dedicating time each week very specifically to studying, reflecting, and sharing . . . .    The project consists of a single blog post each week posted on prompt that will focus on a letter of the alphabet.”


[1] Now, now. I have only ever had one surname; my husband’s surname got tacked on to that in the 90s without my doing. But I had three names before I left the hospital and a slew of nicknames thereafter. A background search for my name will illustrate nothing more interesting than a change in socio-economic status. Sorry gang, no hidden relatives or appellations in Appalachia.

[2] Dig this video of a “Cherokee” naming ceremony. Don’t cha just hate it when folks are fooled into believing something is traditional? I mean, it looks like a fine-enough thing (if you were to take the plains garb off the (presumably) SE dude)—traditional, it ain’t. I encourage everyone to watch Reel Injun to see something like the crapola that plagues me on a daily basis. Like my momma reminds me all the time, “Some people just don’t know no better.”

[3] Twenty-five years is more than half my life—I just mean that I’m hoping for another half to this lifetime.

[4] Not to be confused with scatological, which I do–all the freaking time.

Smells Like American Poetry

I’m so ugly, that’s okay
‘Cause so are you.

“Lithium.” Kurt Cobain

 

The married couple sleep . . .
The sisters sleep . . .
The men sleep . . .
And the mother . . . .

The blind sleep, and the deaf and dumb sleep,
The prisoner sleeps . . . the runaway son
sleeps,
The murderer that is to be hung next day, how does he
sleep?
And the murder’d person, how does he sleep?

The female that loves unrequited sleeps,
And the male that loves unrequited sleeps,
The head of the money-maker that plotted all day
sleeps,
And the enraged and treacherous dispositions, all, all
sleep.

“The Sleepers.” W.W.

 

I rounded out the semester with Emily Dickinson, a delightful (even if overused) pairing with Whitman. I tried explaining to my students the different ways of critiquing poetry. They were all surprisingly fine with a formalist approach but couldn’t wrangle New Criticism. It’s usually the other way around.

Student: “I think with writers like Poe and Dickinson, it’s just too difficult to separate how they lived from how they wrote.”
Me: “And how they died? Does that influence your reading of Poe or–for next semester–say, Plath?”
Student: [adamantly] “Ho, yes. Especially when they commit suicide.”
Me: “So how do you listen to Nirvana?”
Student: “Well, I don’t really. But, yeah. I hear ‘self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head’ when I hear ‘Lithium.’”
Me: [damned impressed that he referenced "Lithium" instead of "Teen Spirit"] “So, how does that work for someone like me? I mean, I remember Cobain as ‘alive.’ I watched him on MTV. I remember when he died.”

They were all disconcertingly visibly stunned at this revelation. I was not about to tell them that I remembered when John Lennon died. Or (shite) Elvis.

Ah, death. Death and sleep. The two great levelers, Walt would say.

My students were able to manage New Criticism for Bradstreet and Wigglesworth and even Wheatly to some extent; but Dickinson, like Cobain, was more famous for her life (and his death) than they could get past.

Then I thought about Al.

I’m started a new course tonight. I mean–it’s a new set of students, I’ve taught the course before. Just before they finished the course prior, I asked them what they wanted to take on in the next phase. One of the students wanted to know if we could cover more about Thelema; but another “just [has] a bad feeling about Crowley.”

Yea, yea. He was a shitfucker–and I mean that literally–but can we even begin to apply something like New Critical approaches to the study of Thelema? I can if I accept that it was an inspired work, meaning it came from Aiwass and not “just” Al. I have to say “just” since I believe our HGA is also part of our own psyche. If our higher-self elevates our work to greatness (I’m not claiming that Crowley’s oeuvre is “great,” it just a statement for argument’s sake), does our baser-self not degrade our work? Can we approach Thelemic texts and rites without thinking about Crowley’s proclivities? Admittedly, some folks find his lifestyle revolutionary and subversively enthralling. Some, I acknowledge, just find Crowley gross.

How, as a teacher, do I remain objective? I mean, I have fairly strong feelings about the whole affair. And the more I learn, the stronger my feelings become.

It’s why I don’t teach Hemingway.

Papa and The Beast, hmmm.

As ever, I’ll let you know how it goes.

B, Q, and, maybe, 93

Xylomancy

Weeping Euorpean Beech

Trees have always been invested with symbolic significance, especially to us Pagan folk. (I think of the Craft names, the titles of books (i.e. The Golden Bough), and the Covenstead names related to tree species.)

We have Yule logs and stavs and bell-boughs.

But I’ve never used a tree for divination. Isn’t that odd?

Xylomancy, divination that interprets omens in pieces of wood (their shape, their position and formation on the ground, as well as appearance and movement when burnt), is new to me.

Just last spring, I tried my hand at ovomancy and found it messy and not very insightful.

Pyromancy is my style, so I think I’ll have a go at some pre-Yule-log xylomancy as the nights get colder. But like ovomancy, I have no idea how to interpret what I see.

Obviously if a branch were to fall in my path, I should expect a surprise or a sudden obstacle. If I were to employ the bark-peeling method, how would I keep subconscious human motives from altering my interpretation of signs? If I were to toss the bark on the ground, I’m faced with the same problems I had with tassiomancy and ovomancy and now xylomancy. What’s it all mean?

Knowing me, I’ll draw lines on them and they will turn into new I Ching sticks.

I may give it a try and get back to you. But I really expect that I simply go into a trance while gazing at the fire—not that this is a bad thing. It’s just not xylomancy.

B, Q, 93!

 

This post is part of a year-long project. Rowan Pendragon’s The Pagan Blog Project; “a way to spend a full year dedicating time each week very specifically to studying, reflecting, and sharing . . . .    The project consists of a single blog post each week posted on prompt that will focus on a letter of the alphabet” (http://paganblogproject/).

Walt Whitman

I teach American Literature so I have had my hand at teaching Walt Whitman for a good decade or more. I took a graduate class called “Whitman and Dickinson” in the late 90s. But, unlike my ongoing affair with Giles Deleuze, it wasn’t the academic jargon and the erudite theory that made me fall for W.W.; it was the gritty repetition of work-a-dayness that I discovered while still a lower-class grub in high school.

Strangely, this had nothing to do with my English Teacher, Mrs. C, one of the best teachers I’ve ever known (and who, along with an eighth grade teacher guy named Miles, may be the reason I became an English teacher myself), who was more for Shakespeare and Madrigals than she was for Howling beatnicks. It’s too bad. I could have used some advice about what happened Under the El[1] before finding out about that particular brand of up-close-and-way-too-personal by myself.[2] However, nothing coarse or profane ever worked its way into Mrs. C’s class. I mean, the randiest thing I remember from that grade is The Mayor of Casterbridge. (Mr. B the year before taught us that there was nothing in poetry except sex and death and childhood memories. Only he said it like it was a bad thing.) It was Miss Louise, my drama teacher and the choral director, who chose the musical Working, the songs of which are all based on Whitman’s poetry, when I was a Sophomore in the mid-Reagan years. It was at the point when I too heard America singing and fell hard for the hairy, horny, horn blower.

The mason, the waitress, the farm worker, the fireman, the factory worker, all had a beautiful place in a poetic flow of a nation’s infrastructure.

And I was not a product of the academy; I was the child of a factory worker and a truck driver, granddaughter to sharecroppers all around.

So, you see, it’s no surprise that despite my deep and abiding love for My Captain, I was never able to convey such adoration to a set of undergraduates who longed less for urban poetry and more for the imminent end of the semester.

After I left high school, I went to work at a factory too. The bend-lift-straighten-flip-turn-dump-bend-lift repetition of my days and nights and overtime-weekends would send me into reveries of singing my body electric as I watched products, from which I was ultimately estranged as Marx called it (little did I know at the time that there was a word for what I was feeling-like-a-cogg-in-the-machinery), roll up the undulating conveyor belt like pink salmon driving to their spawny-death.

Death and sex and childhood memories.

But now, PhD’d, clean and respectable, only occasionally getting tipsy and committing candor that horrifies my peers, I don’t read Whitman for the joy he brought me—I teach him for the core curriculum. You see, I was told not to let my students see that I am “human”—and though I usually chuck that advice where it belongs, every once-in-a-while I think, “They don’t need to know that side of me.” And in this case, it’s true. They don’t need to know what happened to me on Ashland, on Kedvale, on Morgan, in Burbank, in Brighton Park, or at that fancy South Shore penthouse. Aw, hell, nobody needs to know that shite.

So—I suck at teaching Whitman.

Until this year.

This pretty little thing wandered her way into my life and scared the feck out of me. I didn’t see myself if her, if that’s what you are thinking. She just loved Whitman. For his grunge—not in spite of it. We stayed up all night talking through a common-mess we’d both been marinated in, and we might have had a spot too much to drink. The next day, I did not have a clue about what I was going to do in class. I’d make a quick PowerPoint, I guessed, and force-feed Leaves to begrudging, entitled George Strait fans. Then I thought—how would I teach this to Hazey? I imagined a sympathetic audience instead of a hostile one.

I made a Power-Point, yes. But I set it to run a series of 19th century faces and bodies—mostly bodies, some human, some not: white men, white women, poor folk, old folk, slaves on the auction block, prostitutes, pigs in the streets of Manhattan, the Golden Gate and the water below. Then, I did the unthinkable. I didn’t lecture.

I read:

I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.

I loafe and invite my soul,
I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.

My tongue, every atom of my blood, form’d from this soil, this air,
Born here of parents born here from parents the same, and their parents the same,
I, now thirty-seven years old in perfect health begin,
Hoping to cease not till death.

And then I’d tell a little bit about Whitman’s life—kinda like I was talking about my granddad. How he thought abolitionists were full of shite and hot-stink while he lived in New England but then he moved to NOLA and saw what he saw and knew what he knew. All while these images of bodies flashed behind me. And through urge and urge and urge, I think they heard me. The way I meant for them to hear me. The way W.W. meant for them to hear him. I’m sure of it because one young man, the one who had said horrid things about Bradstreet, sat in the back with his eyes welled-up and the edge of his desk in a white-knuckled grip.

At that moment I thought—this is sort of like magic.

OK—not magic—but teaching magic.

I have taught students from a purely theoretical standpoint where I’ve totally thrown my back into the teaching before—and they got it. They didn’t loooove it, but they got it. When I didn’t throw my back into it, they seemed to love it much more. And Whitman is very Pagan-friendly in his god-imbued-nature-and-humanity-is-cool-especially-when-united-in-its-stinky-and/or-naked-ness anyway. So, next semester when I have a new set of preps in ground classes (well, one brand-new—one I haven’t done in a few semesters) and two brand-spanking new preps Online, I think I’ll take the less aggressive route and let the material do the work for me.

I mention all this because it’s (conveniently) a make-up post for my W week and I am starting a new set of classes this upcoming week and I’m a little twitterpated, as usual. I have a full-to-capacity Seekers class (and running-over—I may have to tell two students that they had to wait for the next session, I hate that feeling!!) and a comfortably full Neophyte class and straggling students at other levels. My concerns run from “Where is everybody going to sit?” to “Will I get back in time from belly-dancing to change before teaching X, Y, or Z?”

Maybe I’ll just flash naked bodies on a screen and call it a day.

This post is part of a year-long project. Rowan Pendragon’s The Pagan Blog Project; “a way to spend a full year dedicating time each week very specifically to studying, reflecting, and sharing . . . .    The project consists of a single blog post each week posted on prompt that will focus on a letter of the alphabet” (http://paganblogproject/).


[1] A line from Howl.

I wrote a poem called “Under the El” in 1990 while organizing and performing in local “Slams”—remember those?—making a prolonged metaphorical connection between the poet and the rapist: “I use my tongue / to invade your space . . . my verse / [fills your mouth] / with the bitterness / and you can’t breathe / gasping / gulping / your chest won’t expand / and yeah . . . you really don’t / want me / to / stop.” I look back at the absolute violence of the entire poem (bits of which I will not publish here) and I wonder how the feck, given the first-hand nature of it all, I got out of the 80s alive.

I also wrote a poem about heroine—called it “screaming Hyacinths”—and proclaimed myself, “a fabulous junkie.” At that point in my life, I felt that “Scraping the bottom / with my mirror and razor / was better than floating in cinder-block / office wall mediocrity.”

[2] I mean, I was with my sister when she was mugged when I was only three-years-old, saw my first DB while in second grade, and was never really a stranger to sexual cruelty—but this shit is different, y’all.