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The Uses of Sorrow | Mary Oliver
(In my sleep I dreamed this poem)
Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.
It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.
…And today I felt like I was drowning in this ocean wave of grief and pain and lostness. I felt overwhelmed and raw with too many emotions trying to come out all at once…Then I knew I needed to quiet the ocean of noise in my brain. The only way I know how to do this is to Write! So here I have been writing in this journal on and off all afternoon/night. I don’t think the noise in my brain has died down yet. But it feels cathartic to see my thoughts and feelings in black permanent ink on a white page…-I need my poems to truly expel all this grey emotion. I’ve been purposely staying away from working on my poetry because I don’t want to actually face all these emotions. But I know I’m drowning beneath all my emotions/thoughts…the only way I know to come up and out from under all of this is through my poetry. It is my own life-raft. I need to get back in my life-raft… | excerpted from my journal ~ Greece, September 2016
1.(of a boat) be overturned in the water.
“the craft capsized in heavy seas”
“gale force winds capsized their small craft”
cause (a boat) to overturn.
“gale-force gusts capsized the dinghies”
late 18th century: perhaps based on Spanish capuzar ‘sink (a ship) by the head’, from cabo ‘head’ + chapuzar ‘to dive or duck’.
I am a traveller in a new country called Grief. For much of last year I was lost in a place-less Fugue. I went through the motions automatically relying on muscle memory rather than being present in the moment. There was no need to be present in the moment, this Fugue state carried me through this isolated country of Grief. I couldn’t concentrate or focus on much else than normal daily surviving requirements. Fiction, my own and others, was no longer an escape or a refuge. For the first month and a half after losing A, I just barely existed. But slowly as I got acclimated to this Grief, I started looking for ways to communicate; to express myself more clearly and to process this emotion that remained nameless in its immensity. Music and Poetry were the two life-rafts that rescued me from this storm-ravaged place.
A New Project
Newton’s law of motion states that “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.”. Grief capsized me completely but through the twin life-rafts of Music and Poetry I was slowly Emerging: Emerging into a new direction, an altered me. When you sink, the equal and opposite reaction is to finally rise and emerge. I have found a way to breathe again. I have a way to stop drowning in this Grief.
The only way I was going to emerge from this Fugue state was to truly give in to the terrible emotion. To let it embrace me without fighting it. The only way a drowning swimmer can be rescued is if they don’t fight or struggle but simply relax and let themselves be rescued. In much the same way, I needed to just let this Grief encompass me in her watery depths before I could be rescued. Slowly I started rising up from these depths and as I began to rise, words started rising with me. At first I could not grasp the words so I just let them rise around me. But slowly the words became clearer to me as I immersed myself in others Poetry; poetry by Dylan Thomas, Pablo Neruda, Leonard Cohen and Rupi Kaur, and let Music be the soundtrack to drown out the cacophony that was the silence of this Grief. Slowly I could grasp enough words to form a line then enough words to form a verse then enough words to form a stanza. As I journaled I realised that these were my emotions becoming words becoming poems. Poems that expressed what I could not, did not want to verbalise in conversation.
What was emerging from my immersion into Poetry, Music, Art and through my journaling was a collection of emotions in words: a collection of poems. Suddenly I could focus again creatively. I had stopped struggling and in my surrender to this emotional drowning I had found a way to rise up and to begin emerging again. So this is what I have been working on for the last few months and will continue to work on for the next few months. A new project. An anthology of poems that could finally name all these unnameable emotions that Grief drowns one in. An anthology that I am calling…
Every year for the last five years I have chosen One Word to theme and propel my New Year. Last year my word was ironically RISE. But although most of last year felt like the opposite of Rising, felt closer to drowning, it was the gift of words in the form of Poetry that did have me eventually Rising.
2016 has forever changed me. I’m carrying a box of loss that is forming a new version of who I am. So for 2017 I have chosen a new theme, a theme of hope. A new word for a different me. A me that is navigating an altered topography of where I am going, who I am now and who I want to be. I am ready for a new dawn.
So this year my Word of The Year is:
verb: emerge; 3rd person present: emerges; past tense: emerged; past participle: emerged; gerund or present participle: emerging
1. move out of or away from something and become visible.
“black ravens emerged from the fog”
synonyms: come out, appear, come into view, become visible, make an appearance; turn up, spring up, come up, surface, crop up, pop up; materialize, manifest oneself, arise, proceed, issue, come forth, emanate
2. become apparent or prominent.
synonyms: become known, become apparent, become evident, be revealed, come to light, come out, transpire, come to the fore, enter the picture, unfold, turn out, prove to be the case;
3. recover from or survive a difficult situation.
late 16th century (in the sense ‘become known, come to light’): from Latin emergere, from e- (variant of ex- ) ‘out, forth’ + mergere ‘to dip’.
[**PostScript: The image of “From the Sea” by the Serbian visual artist, Bojan Jevtić, helped inspire my theme for my new W.I.P poetry anthology: Capsize. I found that this particular image was able to vividly portray how this loss, this Grief makes me feel. It was the picture that has inspired my new words.]
Embed from Getty Images
Lost in the mists of time
The dragon lies sleeping,
His hot breath forms clouds
Holding the fierceness that is his beauty.
Dawn dances over his scales
As his muscles ripple in harmony,
Her soft light touches each horn
And his heavy tail slides into sight.
The walls of air fade into sky
While dawn blushes in joy,
Her lips curve into a smile
Anticipating his wakefulness.
As dawn’s sweet singing
Fills the dragon’s lair,
His eye opens to gaze on her
With a passion aflame with fire.
Embed from Getty Images
I feel dreams cascading down the waterfall of my memory.
I feel the power of life terrible in its fragility.
I look inside myself and feel the whisper of sadness raining beneath tears
I close my eyes and I am covered in sound.
I remember the strength of Africa –
An aged land that holds the key to the mysteries of life and death,
Love and hate, joy and fear, quiet and chaos.
I shut my eyes and see the brilliant white light caught in the forked
As the air crashes around me with the thunder of her power.
I hear the echoes of silence caught between the whispers of God’s heartbeats
Then Africa rains, freely and unashamedly she mourns the death of another day.
Embed from Getty Images
I do not have a name for this feeling,
This deep wide open space within me.
My eyes search for blood saturated sunsets,
My mouth yearns for the raw taste of dust.
My ears listen for the screech of crickets,
They hear the rustle of grasses.
My skin aches to feel the gentle heat of its sun,
I see endless plains behind the veil of closed eyes.
I dream of the acridly fresh smell of a summer storm,
My spine shivers as the sky turns dark green.
I watch forks of electricity shock the noon sky,
And the ancient dragon cocoons into a blue chameleon.
An eggplant curtain is torn open as showers of hard stones bruise the earth,
Steam rises as the hard ground melts before baking.
I fall asleep to an orchestra of sound and chaos,
Crickets screeching, frogs bellowing, snakes hissing.
I hold my hand in front of my face and all I see is a vacuum of shadow,
The eye cannot measure the boundaries of this night shadow.
Only the fireballs of space draw its shadow in pieces of light,
These ancient guards of the night know the depths of Africa’s soul:
As I know the untameable wildness within my African heart…bani gama lako? *
© All Rights Reserved Kim Koning.
The Drakensberg (‘the Dragon Mountains’) is the highest mountain range in Southern Africa, rising to 3, 482 meters (11, 424 ft) in height and is site to the World’s second highest waterfall, the Tugela Falls.
Drakensberg translates to Dragon Mountains or as the Zulu nation calls it Ukhahlamba “Barrier of Up-Pointed Spears”. Both of these names are appropriate. To me, these mountains always resembled a sleeping dragon.
I grew up in the lush verdant green lands of KwaZulu-Natal, embraced by the warm, maternal currents of the Indian Ocean on the east and fiercely guarded by the mighty Dragon, the Drakensberg Mountain Range, on the west. To this day, I believe that this mighty mountain range is the most hauntingly beautiful place in the world. When I think of “home”, these peaks and valleys of “The Dragon Mountains” will always be the home of my heart no matter where I am in the world. They are my “True North”. This “Dragon” / “Barrier of Up-Pointed Speare” is my place of peace.
* “bani gama lako?” (Zulu) translates “Who are you / What is your name?” *
“Stretching majestically for 245km, the Drakensberg mountain range forms a natural barrier between the western reaches of KwaZulu-Natal (South African Province) and the Kingdom of Lesotho. This is a mountain range of spectacular natural beauty where golden sandstone and soaring basalt buttresses rise above pristine steep-sided river valleys, rocky gorges and high rolling grasslands. With an elevation of over 3 000m, these magnificent mountains offer exceptional conditions for walking and hiking. In the summertime, clear morning skies puff up with towering cumuli-nimbus clouds in preparation for the daily afternoon thundershower. In winter the days are warm and dry. But a balmy 20°C afternoon will plummet with nightfall to below zero, and snow regularly illuminates the peaks.
The Ukhahlamba-Drakensberg Park offers a natural haven of incredible variety. High up in the Berg the weary walker is rewarded by the hardy and fragile mountain flora common to high altitude climes. On the slopes of the Little Berg the vegetation is called Montane. A variety of different types of grass proliferate, whilst in the secluded valleys, unique plants and trees flourish, especially proteas, cycads, tree ferns, cabbage trees and the giant yellowwood. Common flowers include lilies, lion’s tail, agapanthus, watsonia, helicrysum, erica and the distinctive scarlet spears of the red hot poker.
In its remoteness and height, the Berg offers a magical window open to the fascination of the skies. The sun blazes as an oasis of light, warmth and life. The eager star-gazer is rewarded by a Milky Way that arcs across the night skies in a marvelous mass of stars. The various planets shine forth brightly, unimpaired by buildings or the interference of city lights. The well-known celestial constellations, Orion and Scorpio, are clearly visible and the Southern Cross marks the way with its two pointers. A rising moon in the East, large and glowing, and the setting sun over the Drakensberg peaks, is a wondrous daily experience.” … Excerpted courtesy of DrakensburgMountains