Thursday, June 25, 2015

Numinous Nature: A Review of Smoky Zeidel’s Sometimes I Think I Am Like Water

A few months ago I had the pleasure of reviewing Smoky Zeidel’s captivating novel, The Storyteller’s Bracelet, also published by Thomas-Jacob.
Sometimes I Think I Am Like Water, a collection of poems, once again showcases Zeidel’s craftsmanship and her deep connection to nature and the importance of ritual communion with it. What I enjoyed most was the way the poems create a dynamic tension between formalized religious rituals and the direct experience of the sacred and numinous found in spiritual practices tied to the flora and fauna all around us. It’s better still where they merge, such as in “Crescent Meadow,” with its “cathedral of Giant Sequoias” and the multi-level meanings assigned to “communion” in poems such as “My Heaven.”
“How to Read a River,” the opening poem, operates as an invocation. “You have to learn how to read a river/before you can safely cross it,” are the opening lines, and  the third from last is, “Take my hand and we’ll cross this one together.”
I am better for having accepted the invitation.
The poem “I’ve Always Thought I Am Like Water,” which reminds me of the sentiment and power of Pete Townshend’s ballad “The Sea Refuses No River,” contrasts the fluidity of water with the immovability of granite. Having grown up at the Jersey shore, by the ever-renewing ocean, I experienced this dichotomy when I moved to the desert in Arizona when I was almost 30, in the shadow of mountains that are unchanged after millions of years. That moment of realization, similar to the experiences in David Abram’s The Spell of the Sensuous, enlightened me to the profound power of our surroundings, and affected the path of my life in profound ways.
“Epiphany” is a poem that operates like a prayer, unlocking entry into a meditative state of connection with nature, where the participant can move to a resonant level of energetic collaboration where we “learn being alive is not the same as living.”
“Falling into the Stars” reminds me of the “focused nala” meditations taught by Hawaiian shamans, which help remove the perceived barriers between our senses and a full experience of nature, where we can hear the sounds beneath the sounds we normally focus on and see nature operating on an almost microscopic level (a psychedelic experience without the psychedelics). Zeidel writes of “setting my vision to soft focus,/ … soon I would find myself/sinking into the earth,/drifting into an open-eyed sleep.”
Again reminding me of Abrams are several instances in the poems, such as in “Falling into the Stars,” where nature’s artistic contributions to our everyday lives are invoked: “gray squirrels/chittering a lullaby finer than anything/Brahms ever wrote.” How different this experience of squirrels is from the way they are perceived in suburbia: as intrusive nuisances to be disposed of.
The collection ends with a final poem, titled “Hush,” that closes the circle created by the opening invocation. Having journeyed through the woods, conversed with the flora and fauna by the rivers and in the trees, contemplated death, and engaged in ritual, the author asks us to “Be silent./Be still./Listen./Hush.”
What a beautiful, all too rare sentiment from a writer and storyteller.

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