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Gudrun Mouw Posts
When it was suggested I address the alcoholism issue that is so much a part of the foundational background of Wife of the House, I was reluctant.
In the poem, “Dream,” I created an imaginary camel ride in order to release anger about the disease of alcoholism in my family:
…grinning he humps towards a steep bank
for a drink at the bar
I pull in reins urging
don’t leave the caravan…
It was a long time before I achieved the detachment it took for me to write the poem near the end of the book, “Song to End Estrangement.”
How private pain is
may it heal and and soften
the rough grain
of our lives…
…may I be freed from that aching need…
healed from that heartbreaking pause
before I depart.
When my ex-husband was on his death bed due to alcohol induced neurological failure and before he could no longer speak, I came to the hospital to visit him. He grabbed my hand and said, “I have always loved you.” Years of pain eased in this one encounter; still, it doesn’t mean I have forgotten the terrible damage the disease of alcoholism has caused the entire family.
My personal journey consists of releasing guilt, shame and regret to a power higher than myself. From the intention to surrender and to accept the things I cannot change, comes relief and the space to practice gratitude. Gratitude was not always easily available to me, but now that it is, I much appreciate its tremendous healing power.
During the time I was writing the poems in Wife of the House, I remember a water heater accident when my hair caught on fire. By the time I arrived at a twelve-step meeting later that week, I had accumulated a long list of complaints about how much misery I was experiencing. It was gently suggested that I might try to practice gratitude. My mind did not respond well. Gratitude? Gratitude? How can I be grateful for the terrible things going on?
It took years of persistent effort to realize how my judgments and opinions about my problems were the problem. For me, to be mindful, to be a yogini meant changing what I needed to change with wisdom and also finding a way to be with what I am not able to change, rather than losing myself to reactivity.
After my first public reading from Wife of the House, someone said, “I felt so present during the reading. I went into an altered state.” That’s what it’s all about, I thought, remembering from my literary studies how poems are best when they “poke holes in consciousness.”
Before I read the poem, “Dream,” I said that it was about the nature of what I had heard the Buddhist meditation teacher, Jack Kornfield, call “the wanting mind.” The poem begins:
I wanted to ride the elephant
but got the camel instead…
The audience laughed, because we recognized how the wanting mind can place us in hilarious predicaments if we let it.
I also read, “Paradise Canyon” which begins:
Wind for weeks you’ve had your way
with air you won’t bed down
and be satisfied…
We also know that aversion such as the hatred of wind can function as a friction to bring us higher lessons. It felt meaningful to share those moments (when poems poked holes in my consciousness) with a larger audience at the book release reading. It is healing when we honor our common humanity with laughter and also with tears:
…he switches on the light
he returns to the center
holding the dark
at four corners.
from “At My Window”
After the reading, I woke up at 1:00 am. It was my birthday. I woke up to a poem. I was tired and yearned to go back to sleep, but I could not for 3 hours because the poem seemed to need to make sure it made a strong enough imprint so I would not forget. So, eventually, I went into a quiet, deep relaxation practice that my students do at the end of yoga classes, and the poem remembered itself with ease.
Birth-Day After the Age of Reason
I think I may be
Is that a problem?
The mind goes quiet,
the body still.
I am the stars,
and the stars are me.
Reading the Wife of the House Proof I meet myself some 30 years ago, so many sharp edges and plain language familiar as a blank page about to tell what has been hidden. I don't know whether to be astonished or ashamed of who I imagined I had been. The ash tree rains leaves ten days to the end of yet another month waiting for the slightest shower.... I jubilate when a damp, night fog feeds gratitude after the sudden death of delusion, and as deer pluck the garden back to the heart of green, I am glad to help. Gudrun
During the time I was working on the poems for Wife of the House, I wrote an article for the Premier Edition of the PRACTICAL MYSTIC called “Poetry as a Spiritual Journey.” The article still seems current. Certain excerpts make me smile, because I am surprised that I knew these things then. It’s a bit like a parent suddenly thinking, wow, when did my child become a thoughtful and conscious being. Here is a quote from the article:
The concept of a spiritual quest didn’t occur to me in the beginning. All I knew was that, through the reading and writing of poetry, I experienced a joyful, creative energy such as I hardly knew existed. I wanted to develop this heightened state of consciousness….Spiritual teachers who subsequently came into my life showed me the possibility of achieving greater mental clarity [through…the] process of quiet observation and meditation.
…I often like to write poems beginning with [an area of concern] or a lack of comprehension and depict [a] clarification which is discovered by the end of the poem.
An example of such a poem in Wife of the House is “Full Moon,” which begins with:
She sits hungry
she cannot eat…
on the tree
will ripen and break loose
This search for discovery depends on an attitude that the poem itself is guiding me. Consequently, I work as a scribe, and the voice of the poem is a gift of higher consciousness from everything around me. If a poem is faulty…, it is because I’m not a pure instrument; I don’t always hear or see, unhindered by old programming.
Also, I don’t always know what a poem’s gift is; sometimes, it takes years. Just recently, looking at the first poem in Wife of the House as something I might want to read to an audience, I was shocked to see something I had never wanted to acknowledge before. “A Young Girl’s Dream” is about a dream that had haunted me for many years. The last stanza,
She tries and tries
to keep from going bare
to her feet
I understood, at last, is about the aging process. The dream was prescient, and finally I am able to admit, though blossoms may fall away, each age has its own special beauty. Going bare can also be about feeling free to be transparent.