that hangs among us like thick smoke./Tonight at last I feel it shake.
-from Samhain Annie Finch
In the poem above, Annie Finch describes the thinning veil of space/time through which ancestors can make passage during rare nights of the year. As Autumn ripens, we become more aware of the winter coming and the weight of that cold on the other side of this season. We just left summer, head towards winter. Leaves change and trees are stripped bare. We are in transition. In the prison across the past few weeks, we have all felt this. It creates tension and, sometimes, sorrow.
Our theme this past week was histories–familial and ancestral. We used the frame of this thinning veil of Samhain or Halloween to offer the opportunity to speak to those relationships that have passed or changed: mothers, grandmothers, fathers, children, those beyond our reach. When you are in prison, the relationships that are out of reach feel and are enumerable.
This theme was difficult. The lives we live are one world and our grief is another. Through the medium of poetry and writing, the veil between these worlds thins. It doesn’t take a calendar or a clock to measure the presence of grief; it is always there. If we pick up a pen, it is an invitation for that grief to come forward and tighten our throats.
In writing and discussing our families, we opened the door to grief. We held it for each other and struggled as a group to move our way through it. At a certain point, we stopped writing and talked about other things, tattoos, dogs, sleeping patterns, just to re-achieve equilibrium. There is often so much grief to work through, we have to move through it just a moment, a page, a sentence at a time. And gently too, slowly, so that the thinning veil does not become a floodgate but a safe passage for expression of loss and self-revealing truth.
Below is the poem created from a single relationship and shared read back lines from the circle.
Histories – 9.25.14
Make your presence known,
how we are the same, different.
We only met once:
Hoards of memories.
I raised my children alone. We are not
The same mother, mother.
You wandered and squandered your love.
Who do I look like?
Perhaps a poet, an essence
Beyond the 5 senses.
Here, inside myself, inside
My own story, I am home.