Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "Thorns and Claws"

This poem has been selected in an audience poll as the freebie for the October 4, 2016 Poetry Fishbowl making its $200 goal. It's spillover from the November 6, 2014 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by a prompt from [personal profile] thnidu. It also fills the "entheogens" square in the public card for the Science Bingo fest. This poem belongs to the series Beneath the Family Tree, which you can find on the Serial Poetry page.

"Thorns and Claws"

As the season warmed,
Busy Fingers the shaman
suggested to Cobble that
he go in search of a spirit guide.

Cobble walked with her
while she gathered the plants
that could open the way
between this world and the next,
then brewed them into dream tea.

The tea was dark and bitter,
with an aftertaste like earth and leafmould,
but it did a fine job of waking his inner senses.

Cobble stood still while Busy Fingers
painted his body with blue clay,
then gave him a good knife
and a fur robe and a push.

He left the camp under the Wide Tree
and wandered down to the river,
which he followed because
it knew where it was going.

Coming around a curve,
he ran into a wall of thorns --
then claws and fur.

An enormous bear reared up
out of the berry patch and roared at him.

Cobble roared back out of instinct,
wanted to use his knife, but
remembered just in time that
hurting an animal during a spirit quest
tended to make the test a failure.

The bear swatted him over the head
with one huge paw, making spots
fly across his vision like birds.

Cobble dropped to the ground
and curled into a ball.

He could hear the bear grunting,
feel hot damp breath against his skin.

Then the air cooled,
and the sounds faded away.

Cobble lay on the earth
and imagined that he could hear
her heart beating, slow and distant,
feel her pulse in the running river,
as if all the usual boundaries between
himself and the world had washed away.

He thought of the bear,
rising up out of the raspberry patch,
fierce thorns and claws protecting
sweet berries and soft fur.

The images were blurred and dreamy, and
the bear seemed to be saying something
that Cobble could not quite understand.

Eventually Cobble came back to his senses,
took three steps, and fell into the river.

Stunned, he looked up and saw
that the bear had been digging for roots,
leaving a long gash in the slick clay riverbank.
There amidst the blue clay, he spied
lumps of pale pink and white
the size of a man's head.

Cobble scrambled out of the river
and hurried to pry loose one of the lumps,
which he rinsed in the water.

Smacking it briskly against a boulder
he revealed a fine nodule of flint
under the layer of chalk.

Cobble laughed, then gathered
as many as he could in his fur robe
and carried them back to camp.

"Shaman, I startled a bear and
dreamed the earth was a woman
and fell into a deposit of flint,"
he said to Busy Fingers.

"No wonder you're covered
in blood and mud," she replied.

Cobble lifted a hand to his head
and found the hair stiff with scabs.
So that's why he still had
a few spots floating around him.
"Perhaps I should go lie down."

"Perhaps you should," the shaman agreed.
"Congratulations. The bear spirit will
guide you -- they are good at finding things
buried under the earth, like your flint."

Cobble went home to his hearth,
where his wife Gulling was waiting.

He flopped down by the glowing coals,
and went to sleep where he dreamed
nonsense about dancing bears
and lumps of flint falling into the fire.

* * *


People like Cobble, with a mix of masculine and feminine traits, may be called two-spirits, a catchall term for the many iterations of genderqueer identity in Native American tribes. Many historic cultures recognize this concept, but the details vary widely.  Cobble's tribe uses the term "one-between."

A vision quest customarily involves a trip into nature for enlightenment. Again, indigenous cultures each have their own version, but all of them require careful preparation and forethought. Here are some general ideas about making a vision quest.

A spirit guide or totem is a noncorporeal entity which offers education, advice, and/or mystical power. You don't choose them, they choose you, but if you know how then you can go looking for yours.

Entheogens are substances which boost the numinous perception of humans. Most of them are plants, and some of those are even still legal. However, the general trend in modern society punishes direct experience of the numinous. An irreducible risk of entheogens is that if you do not know exactly what you're doing, you will hurt yourself, because all of them have protections to discourage the ignorant from abusing their powers. Learn about the safe and effective use of entheogens.

Bears and humans used to get along all right, but now they often conflict. Since your brain is bigger, it's your responsibility to avoid those conflicts. If that fails, know how to survive a bear attack.

Flint is a cryptocrystalline stone that breaks into sharp flakes used as tools and weapons. It often forms nodules, which may wear out of their native chalk and wind up in new deposits along riverbeds or in clay banks. What I described is based on a secondary clay mine that I've seen -- nodules scattered amongst the stones in a dry creek and more buried in the banks. We walked along the dry bed, whacking rocks together to select the ones that went 'ping' like good flint does when you hit it. Heating flint makes it easier to work with, a scientific discovery that took a long time for humans to figure out. Vision quests have given people a number of odd ideas that turned out to work. Learn the basics of flint knapping.
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, fishbowl, gender studies, history, magic, nature, poem, poetry, reading, spirituality, weblit, wildlife, writing
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