Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Bisti / De-Na-Zin : Badland Poetry - Words in the Empty

Shape of Absence
photo by RPodunovich

“Nothing is less real than realism. Details are confusing. It is only by selection, by elimination, by emphasis, that we get at the real meaning of things.”
― Georgia O'Keeffe

As a writer whose work is so deeply influenced by nature, I enjoy adventuring to unfamiliar landscapes. I open myself to the natural intelligences of a place, curious what it will evoke emotionally within my inner landscape. That resonance between outer and inner nature fascinates me. 

Adventures into nature provide a reset, one in which I can shift from the overwhelm of modern life to a sense of awe. I can let go of my constricted, anxious self limitations and find an expanded sense of connection to a greater system; one which is magnificently organized and intelligent and enduring. While there can be an ease that arises in the outdoors, there is also the necessity of being prepared, especially in a "wilderness". One is venturing into the unknown after all, into risk, into variables beyond the control of humans (though there is the reality that no wild place is now outside the pollution of "civilized" endeavor).

Beautifully Petrified
photo by RPodunovich
Though Bisti / De-Na-Zin is a declared wilderness area, I was unprepared to meet it as such. I was deeply humbled by the "badlands". So much so that about a mile into the hike, I panicked. The letting go, meeting a place and self expansion that is often so inspiring, felt terrifying. I can laugh about it now, but I actually broke down in tears as the sun, heat, aridity, lack of sheltered spaces, and a sense of being trapped in an empty vastness overcame me. Nothing about this landscape felt familiar: a disappearance of anything tangible. There was a striking lack of noise, movement, or discernible activity of any kind. All I could hear was an occasional breeze or children laughing in the distance, my own ears ringing. I saw four birds that flew off promptly before I could even really discern them. I saw 5 red ants. I felt like this place could take me, if it wanted to. I would become dust, my bones petrified like wood, forgotten in the immensity of time. The resonance from my inner landscape was one of existential dread. 

I found welcomed shade in some bizarre rock formations, made sugary chai, offered incense to the place, wrote a poem. And then I felt so peaceful, so quiet, so still. So relieved as my thoughts just stopped and I met the stillness of deep time. This place was once a riverine delta that lay just to the west of the shore of an ancient sea. That salty water was in my tears, found its way back to the echo of itself in the desert. Do I recommend a trip there? Of course. 

Words, Incense, Tea in Silence
photo by RPodunovich
“You bathe in these spirit-beams, turning round and round, as if warming at a camp-fire. Presently you lose consciousness of your own separate existence: you blend with the landscape, and become part and parcel of nature.”
 ― John Muir, Wilderness Essays

Bisti / De-Na-Zin

walk into beyond.
the empty

            gets inside your head,
            into thronged mental spaces,
            sticky taffy of jumbled ideas,
            hoarded theories, cerebral perseverations:

panic as they evaporate.
relax your contracted chant of identity,
the solo of self-importance you were singing
no longer has a discernible tune;
            let the tempo be longer,
            millennia between the notes—

time and the elements eliminate all of it.
resistance is impossible
in a place that captures all water,
slowly disappear it, a thirst never sated,
every last bit of moisture,
of your frantic holding on,
            will be shed now as your own
            wet tears.
light a rope of incense,
make tea on the ultra-light burner,
            its spicy flavor is the only reminder
            of a modern dream you were having
            before the sun and echo
            of ancient shallow seas and a petrified forest
            woke you.

-Renee Podunovich, 2019