In the Canyon II (Fear/Breaking)
[Abiquiu, NM; June 2, present day]
Sun lavas over the cliff lip into my first full canyon day while I watch from the marsh of residual night.
When put in touch with the priest who’d lived here for each of the last three Octobers, I’d written to ask how much food to bring, what other supplies.
She’d replied with two questions:
What is your experience with solitude?
How are you girding yourself for this time?
At a sound like a Cessna, I turn to see only a hummingbird.
Pressure builds in my chest.
I’ve felt this before,
but only when confined—
in a cave’s crawl-length, in a crowded tent. But here,
nothing but space,
but air—for me, for a month, alone.
Knowing the root of anxiety is anxere, to be without breath,
I inhale. I try. But breath
is a strangler fig, a ribcage tourniquet. My hands and feet grow honeycombed, carbonated. The dog barks at something only he can see. I ache for a return to bed, for the child’s comfort of sheets overhead—If I can’t see this day, it can’t see me.
Rifling books at random, I find:
God, at Creation, poured light into vessels. Unable to contain it, they shattered and fell.
Tikkun olam: Jews gather these shards to repair the world.
But there was a second shattering, a second type of repair:
Tikkun hanefesh, repair of the soul.
Inherent in brokenness
is breaking open—the ability to hold more than when whole.
How much will I hold when this is over?
--First appeared in Cave Wall
While working on Pelvis with Distance, which is an autobiography-in-poems of the artist Georgia O'Keeffe, I spent a lot of time in the high desert of New Mexico, reading through O'Keeffe's archives and hiking and camping in many of her favorite places to paint. Once that research was complete, I found a primitive cabin way out in the desert in Abiquiu, in a small private canyon where my nearest neighbors were a five mile hike away. There was no electricity, no internet, and no phone, and in a month of that deep solitude I was able to write a poem a day and complete my book. It was simultaneously one of the most terrifying and most wonderful things I've ever experienced. This poem is part of a sequence that grew out of that time.