Friday, August 30, 2013

Strip the Willow

[click to hear samples on amazon]

New Fortnightly Post ~ "Every Chocolate Flake"
featuring the poem "Strip the Willow" by Tammy Sandel

strip the willow

I keep going back
to Scotland
which I can only always describe
if people know and care to ask
as Magic

Here’s how you get there:

Journey many hours in the air
then more on a train
where people speak your language
and if you listen hard
you can almost understand

Ride your train through towns
with ancient names
that bloom on your tongue
as you try to roll Glaswegian R’s

Pass sheep inside a stacked stone fence
sometimes a dog running herd
or a shepherd with a staff
and Scottish temper
hurling the staff at fast cars who spook the flock

Other men on this trip nod and tip their hats
like Texas cowboys at the VFW,
wanting nothing but to help you
find your way

The air smells of peat and hops
but you won’t know that yet

You arrive in the dark and sleep late
waking up to a gardener whistling
“Cracklin’ Rosie”
happy tune to welcome
a bright new day

Your clean your teeth
with water so icy it must be pure
and take breakfast
with a lovely girl,
your first Louise

You call home at a decent hour
from a plexiglass phone booth
repeating the numbers twice
distracted by the purring Irish accent
in the booth next door
assuring your parent-loves that you are safe and happy
and you are

You are here to LIVE
to dig in, drink deep
soak up every scrap of knowledge from class
and country and Meadowlark
(even the pub name sounds pretty)

What will happen next?

You cross a small bridge
with other students travelling
one single path to class,
swans swim on the loch below
a castle shimmers beyond

You search their faces
want to know them, their accent and fashion
and you open yourself like a daisy
bringing all you can to the surface
to be shared straight away
so you can meet them, eat them all

You ride horses with Norwegians
study marketing with the French,
opera with the English,
and share coffee with the professor
who turns out to have a different idea
of cultural exchange
well, that’s experience, too

You walk in the drizzle
noticing patterns,
join the old women limping their way
to worship in an old stone kirk
kneel to strolling Westies
who pause a moment before trotting
back to their master

You take a job on Thursdays
noticing rhythms,
serving single malt to blokes
who take squinting measure of their glass
and American-you
discussing their politics and futbol
and once, the mystical power to heal

Finally convinced of successful outreach
you let in some other Yanks
just a few
who prove as interesting and layered
as Mumford & Sons
modern gospel
yearning, jubilant
triumphant horns over bluegrass over bass;
their family stories and characters
draw you in,
warm your belly
and inspire

They teach you the accent and fashion
of your home country
that magnificent, arrogant one
that you alternately hold tight and apologize for

And some teach you by learning with you
jumping in to Strip the Willow
whirling ceilidh dance of
laughter in a big wide barn
celebration of freedom and joy and youth

Tall and rangy Montana
gathers you up like hay
gives you a greater sense of yourself
of your power and insecurity
the way a mirror reflects the beauty and the flaws

A person can do this
just like a place

So in Scotland, you meet
music from voices past
ideas of future film
all of which you somehow already know;
a boy climbs through your window with the moon
stretches his long limbs over yours and
helps you weave a blanket of duvet, wool, and sky

When I remember who I am sometimes
it’s that girl in Scotland
that long-walk every day girl who sought out the wonder,
the soul behind the eyes
who was blessed to have beginner’s mind
come easily

I still see all the shades of mist
and I’m never ever certain of any one thing, for sure
except for love and magic

In Scotland
there were vignettes of simple, stunning beauty
all the time
I climbed Dumyat and
took communion with a lab,
found the heather
and tasted every chocolate Flake;
I knew ‘rapture from an orange
and ecstasy from a blade of grass’*
and it never went away

Why does it happen when it happens?
How’d I get a gift like that?

Is it a specific place we must find,
a person we must know, or
the ripening of our own body inside our skin?
all those things, or none of them
and a commitment to saying yes

I heard bagpipes in the distance
and was completed,
or transformed,
or maybe just returned with gentle magic
to myself.

tammy l. knox sandel, 8/17/13

* Leo Buscaglia, who is (also) not Scottish

For this poem and more
please see my new post
"Every Chocolate Flake"
on the
The Fortnightly Kitti Carriker
A fortnightly [every 14th & 28th]
literary blog of connection & coincidence; custom & ceremony

Highland Wedding at Blair Atholl, 1780
by Scottish painter and illustrator of historical subjects,
David Allan, 1744 - 96
[learn more about this painting and the ceilidh dance]

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