October 9, 2000

Last night, Sunil, the son-in-law of Bly, had offered to come to the conference room to do an Indian mediation before sunrise for those who wished to attend. As I listened the wind whistle through the cracks in the wall, I kept hoping I would be lulled to sleep so I would not find myself walking downhill in the dark. No luck. Since I was awake, I got up, go dressed and started off across the mesa toward the road. I kept hoping I would find someone else as foolhardy as me with whom I could walk. All I found were these haiku floating along with me:

dark road
the smell of donkeys
where there are none

marching along
on the dark road
the coyote's song

by a nose
the road through sage brush
keeps me in the middle

morning cold
wrapped in my shawl
folded hands

In the room lit by one bulb, I kept my head down as I wrote out the ku on the back of some postcards. When Sunil's voice asked that this light be extinguished I looked up and saw that six or seven guys were circled around him on the stage and another six or seven was in the 'audience'. The meditation had been also held yesterday so it seemed the ones on the stage knew what they were doing and the rest of us were the newcomers.

muffled against the cold

Sunil began to softly strum his tambour and asked us to find the lowest tone we could sustain, to sing / hum it as long as our breath allowed.

the earth's first

It felt very strange to have these vibrations in the chest and in the room that the intelligence could not identify. All there was was darkness and sound. Even our different pitches blended into one sound.

shadow forms
mediating in the dark
maybe no one?

I loved having an excuse to sit in the dark watching the light so slowly come from form to form. By the time it got to the chairs I could see that Craig and I were the only ones in the audience. Everyone else had either left or crept up on the stage to surround Sunil.

With the emergence of the light, Sunil added a note raising us up the scale. Slowly but surely he added notes and variances until the light stabilized and became quite clearly sunshine. When he brought us back he stopped playing and asked if we had any questions. Craig and I took the opportunity to go up to sit on the stage with the rest of the circle. Sunil was so beautiful as he gave his answers. Even the most elementary comment was blessed with his gentle smile and complete attention. The beauty of his person shone all around; brighter than the sun we had sung up.

As the group walked to breakfast together, I found myself walking beside him so I took the opportunity to ask him how to correctly pronounce 'ghazal'. He said the 'gh' was silent! I was surprised as Bly has always said "gay-zul". He smiled in understanding and said that the word should sound more like "rah-zel". I simply could not believe his answer was so different even from others who had said it should be pronounced "ghuzzle". He repeated the word over and over to me hoping I would finally comprehend it. Finally I wrote it down phonically while standing in the breakfast line.

I came back to my room to get a copy of Wave of Mouth Stories for Gioia and to prepare for the rest of the day's activities. One of my 'jobs' was to write out my 'love letter to the earth' and I had the idea I wanted to make it beautiful with calligraphy and for that I needed a table. Someone had pointed out the library to me and suggested it as a warm place to stay between meals and meetings. Most of the couples are here because the males have been influenced either by Bly's Men's conferences or his book Iron John. The wives have tagged along, are shy and smiling and cow-like. They only bashfully admit that they have fallen in love with Martin and his teachings instead of Bly.

Martin began his session this morning by crying because Hannah had dislocated her shoulder and rib. He talked a long time about how a shaman and the shaman's family is under possible attack from jealous people. As he said this, his inner eyes scanned the audience; I felt he was looking for witches. He could not find his subject, was very distracted, and simply rambled on how he missed 'his village' (the town of Santiago in Guatemala where he lived for four years 1976 -1980) and weeping openly and often. The group picked up on his sad mood and soon many other people were weeping. Gioia became uncomfortable where the dynamics were going so she gently told Martin to stop trying to drag his old village around with him but accept that we here, in this room, right now were his village. She was right, but he was not looking for 'right' and continued to moan and cry. More people in the audience joined him in what felt to me was a very wholesome catharsis. No one was out of control or dominating the scene. I felt very comfortable holding hands with others who were weeping out their own silent stories without words.

With a jerk, Bly took over the microphones and began spewing forth a bunch of personal opinions on the politics of the coming presidential election! It was such shit! There is no other word for the offensive contribution he made. It was such a wrong thing to be doing this to the group. He was so insensitive to what many were feeling. Again, Gioia tried to be the peacemaker, but she was so disturbed that she could only fall into her own comfort-zone of preaching. Finally Barry of Berkeley stood up and confronted the presenters with what they were doing. How they had led the group into great sadness and empathy (his wife was bent to her knees with her weeping) and then seemed unable to maintain control enough to lead them through the catharsis. Bly became enraged and began saying very nasty vindictive statements about Barry, the audience at large, the people weeping, and accusing us of being parasites. Other men stood up and began shouting at Bly and at each other. Some were waving their arms around in an aggressive manner. Now I began to feel uneasy and began looking for a way to get to the door. When I saw how deep I was in the row I changed to wishing very hard for someone to save us from ourselves. Surely there were a few professional group workers who knew what to do. Finally, I heard one large man saying over and over. "Let us take a break. We need to get out of this room." I agreed with him with that statement and stepped on more than a few toes getting out of the row of seats.

Before I could escape the room, however, a woman who looked much like Jody came toward me with her hands outstretched to me. She said she remembered me from the ceremony in Elk last year, but unfortunately I had absolutely no recollection of her. I was very embarrassed until she told me how she had been there trying to be invisible. Finally I was able to compliment her on her success! We began to talk and found out we had much to share. Then I found out she was even my afternoon group and I had not seen her there either. It was a very strange encounter. I had planned to give Gioia my book, but she and Bly scooted out of there and back to the Abiquiu Inn so fast no one hung on their shirt-tails to talk.

Right after lunch, I went to the library to begin my letter to the earth. During the morning session I had made up my mind not to attend Bly's workshop. I knew I would say something I would regret the rest of my life or regret that I had failed to say something so it was better to put myself in a better place. The library was so charming, so old-fashioned, so full of good vibes, I wished I had found it earlier. I sat there in a great old Windsor chair, just letting the slower pace of this life flow around me. I stared out the high, small window at the sun that was so brilliantly changing the world into its own work. I felt Martin was expecting a letter from me that portrayed the part of me that echoed the eloquence of the Mayan peoples. But I was not them and they were not me. I wrote something in my most flowery script but it is so awful I refuse to reproduce it here. As I stared at the paper and at the sunshine sparkling on the cliff, I thought, "Why am I sitting in here? I would be much happier out there." In a second I had gathered up my stuff and was taking the shortcut up the creek bed to get rid of these things as quickly as possible. After lying down to catch my breath from the strenuous climb, I got a bottle of water, my camera and headed north out through the other end of the Ghost Ranch complex.

I waded through groups of watercolorists planted along the path like small gardens of exotic flowers.

flowering the sky
with the next rain

Vaguely I hoped I would discover Georgia O'Keeffe's home that she had here, so even when the signs said to go back if one was alone, I continued to find paths to follow. The road ran right up beside the talus of a cliff so that I got views of the cliffs as no where else. Finally I stopped putting my camera back into the backpack and just carried it in my hand. I held the strap of the camera in my teeth while I wrote down the haiku, tucked the notebook back in the band of my hat and hurried on down the trail.

rattle of paper
the poem written down
for the aspens

According to a weathered sign I had gone to the Box Canyon and it certainly seemed there was no way out except to climb up or retrace my path. On my way back out I had Pedernal, the onyx mountain always in my view.

Cerro Pedernal
knifing into the sky
your obsidian

With the low hanging snow clouds over the mountain it seemed that the point of its blade was stuck into the gray sky. As I came back around and under the cliff wall I saw:

stone wall
somehow your face
looks like my mother's

rock fissures
somehow the face
looks like mine

I rested by some of its huge meat-colored slabs until the increasing cloudiness made it too cool to enjoy.

at rest
letting the mountain
watch me pee

I was not the first along this path overtaken by the same desires.

dry season
the only flowers on the path
donkey dung

Time after time I tried to take a photograph of the light coming through a single cottonwood silhouetted against the wet red of a cliff. I would walk a ways, take a shot and then 10 yards farther along feel that this place gave the best view. It was if the great cliff was teasing me, playing with me, moving the tree back and forth as one would a twig before a kitten.

The views were so distant I could watch storms passing over other landscapes while I still walked in sunshine.

an applause of wind
the distant thunderstorm
is over

The faster I walked back, the colder it got. and the more the shadows of mesas and cliffs leaned over my path.

coming to earth
a hailstone


Back within the ranch area, the cliffs seemed to cut off the wind or it was my excitement finding a labyrinth that had been constructed out of stones that made me feel warm enough to want to linger. Maybe it was seeing one so well done or maybe it was seeing the offerings other people had left on the three middle stones. There were rings, stones, money, pens, papers weighted with other stones – messages of love.

the itching
between my legs
a labyrinth

On my way back to my room, Myra and Barry were sitting on the porch before their room carving their prayer sticks for tomorrow's ceremony. Naturally we talked about the morning session and how Barry felt challenging Bly. He refused to say anything against his 'god' but Myra had had it with Bly and was not bashful about expressing herself. She wished she had been able to spend more time with Martin in the afternoon groups. She complained that Bly had spent most of his afternoon session defending his actions of the morning and making fun of those who cried.

I took a shower and hurried down to dinner. I had remembered that Martin had said that one could ask for blessings from crippled people (because due to their lack of mobility they gathered spiritual power). So when I met the woman from another group with MS who is confined to a wheelchair I stopped and asked her for a blessing. She was overwhelmed and flustered helplessly, "I have no power." When I explained Martin's theory she was very touched and gave me a most fine blessing – one that sent me glowing to my dinner.

There was one seat available so I was able to sit at the 'Boy's Table'. As I whispered to Dan about getting my Blessing, Jeremy stopped telling his story to listen. Later, when the woman was leaving the dining room he jumped up and ran forward to get his blessing from her. Her eyes sparkled with shining tears of joy. So easily it is to make someone happy. Even her husband pushing the chair was awed by her power.

I had planned to borrow the light and warmth of the conference room to carve my prayer sticks and to keep myself centered on them instead of letting myself get pushed out of shape by Bly. Also, there was too much was going on in the room for my small powers of attention. A woman was playing the piano off in the darkness of a corner of the room. Without the light for an image of her, only the music escaped. It was easy to think I was listening to Ginger practicing in this very room during those last weeks before she left New Mexico.

 Marilyn arrived to tell me she had gotten in touch with Werner and that he and the cat were fine. She was wearing a new skirt thanks to my influx of funds for all her carting me around. It seems a pattern now for her to show up for the evening entertainment. For some reason she was in her salesman mode; trying to get me to want to get a new white blouse in Ojo Caliente, or buy a tape of Martin's on men's issues. As soon as Martin and Hannah arrived she ran off to be with them. Hannah looked fine to me. I do not know what the problem had been in the morning.

Bly's evening of poetry began with an open mic session. Jeremy started out and set a very high standard. He said his work was not rap, but it had great rap elements in it. He did a good job of combining rap as a refrain and structure but able to put large chunks of free verse in between. He has so much talent, so good-looking, a great family (they let him go to India when he was 15) and obviously all the money he needs. It will be interesting to see if he can survive and flourish with so many blessings.

Then a curly-headed, very shy guy, who kept crying because he missed his daughter (not his wife) read his rather ordinary poems and the group prepared to go to sleep. A couple other poets, so nervous we could hardly make out their true presence, came before us. But only Judith Hill woke us up again with her combinations of sex and nature. As I looked over the other faces I saw dissatisfaction on those who are also poets but were not invited to take part in this open mic feature. So when Bly came to the stage he was already bucking a headwind.

Bly started off with a 'sell shrill' for his ghazal translations book. About 75% of the audience was here because they were his die-hard fans so they were already ohhing and ahhing over his smallest comments. He read some of his most recent poems that were ghazal knock-offs but better than his older stuff when the leaps rarely landed in the right place. There was wild clapping and the energy levels rose. I had thought that I could carve while he read (not a bad idea: let his words be my prayers) but there was simply too much of what he said that I disagreed with. After I put my knife away I had more time to look around at the audience. Right in the front row was the beautiful lady with the mohawk hairdo. With her were two other persons. They did not smile at Bly's attempts to be cute in a night-clubby way. They did not clap at the end of the poems and it was easy to see on her beautifully molded face that she was not impressed. I was shocked at their courage when they simply got up and walked out of the room.

reading his poems
all eyes are on those
who do not clap

This flustered Bly so he suddenly stopped reading and commanded Martin to come up to accompany him on the guitar. Martin looked tired and disgusted but he dutifully got his guitar and sat down.

"Play something melodramatic." Bly commanded. Martin got off his best riffs. "No, a deeper key of G." Bly waved his hand impatiently as he growled at Martin as if he was a student. Martin yanked off the stop bar and threw it on the floor in disgust. Bly listened for a second before saying, "Now that is dark enough for a Norwegian." Martin's face was like stone. The rest of the audience were also getting tired. Seeing some persons carving on their sticks reminded the rest of us how much work we had ahead of us for this night.

When I found out how chilled my room was I knew there was no way I was going to be able to sit in there carving wood with numb, cold fingers. Besides Martin had hinted that he might not even be able to do the ceremony scheduled for the morning. It was easy to decide to simply get a good night's rest. After the good experiences of the afternoon I was looking forward to a cancelled ceremony so I could ramble over another part of the Ghost Ranch.

Copyright © Jane Reichhold 2000.

To learn more about Martín Prechtel and his valuable work, check out his web site.

 More from Holy Ghost October 10.