Wild Waters, Unsteady Ground

I would have said I was too sensible for love at first sight,
but you arrived, so closely followed by a tsunami and a quake,
that we both went tumbling headlong into that bright abyss.
After that first moment, my feet never touched the ground.
For an endless time we talked with words and light, quick touches,
and we never once acknowledged what was really happening.

So, the question is, what’s happening and why is it happening
to us? In the geology of life is there never a stable site?
Can I be so easily thrown by your voice, your laugh, your touch?
I thought I’d reached an age when these unanticipated quakes
are expected to have died down. I believed that my inner ground
of being had stabilized, and I couldn’t be thrown into that abyss.

A finger smooths my windblown hair. A quick kiss opens the abyss
landing on the edge of my smile instead of my cheek. What’s happened?
Nothing! Oh, no? Your hand steadies me as we walk on rough ground.
A casual arm round my shoulder shelters me from sea winds. Insight
is dizzying; insight is banned. This land was made by volcanic quakes.
I can feel them still deep in my bones — an eons-old echoing touch.

There is peril here for human hearts, no matter how sweet the touch.
Between stars or lurking beneath an unwary heart, wide is the abyss
where invisible Powers move like tsunamis sent by undersea quakes.
Unseen, the Powers rock balances. Something subtle is happening.
Why had I no warning of this? Not even the slightest foresight?
The earth is a sphere – we may fall off this tree-covered ground

and rise up in the endless void, while the Gaia beneath us is ground
between Helios and Selene by light. We are transformed by the touch
of Blind Eros, absurd with his tiny bow, who draws back, takes sight –
fires a dart meant only for gods, but hitting human hearts. The abyss
is the only place vast enough for his victims. His dart just happens
to hit like a comet. I feel like Gaia — roughly shattered by quakes,

pressured, and turned to diamond where radiance shivers and quakes.
No light fancy this – something deeper is running under the ground,
potent and perilous as wine of the gods. This didn’t just happen
but was planned long ago. Ecstasy moves closer in these touches
as we fall, scintillating and burning in the center of the abyss.
Closing eyes doesn’t help; there are no eyes here — only clear sight.

Is this then what is called love at first sight? The Earth quaking,
the opening abyss, and something perilous moving under the ground?
In the most fleeting of touches, ecstasy rises. Love is happening.

A sestina. Copyright © 2000 by Jessica Macbeth. All rights reserved.

If I Were A Witch…

If I were a witch, I might be good
and do the things that I think I should —
because love grows only from loving.

I’d keep my wand clean and fully charged
and see that each kindness got enlarged —
because love only grows from loving.

I’d help the homeless shelter themselves —
this just takes work, not magic or elves —
and they’d learn love does grow from loving.

I’d teach the children myths and the arts
and feed them all fresh strawberry tarts —
so they’d learn we grow best from loving.

I’d refrain from the careless sowing
of hard words and yet harder throwing
of anger that keeps love from growing.

I’m not a witch, but I am trying
to do my best, and not just crying,
because I know I can only grow

from loving.

Copyright © 2000 by Jessica Macbeth. All rights reserved. This poem originally appeared in my newsletter, An Lios

Krowing While You Work

Not My Desk; Marzipan is More Tidy

“Krowing” makes a change from whistling — and while whistling while you work is often a good thing, krowing may well be better, both for you and for the work.

(Krow, krowed, krowing — “krow” is “work” playfully spelled backward. Very early on in school, we learn that many teachers think you aren’t really trying to do the work unless you sit hunched over your paper, tightly clutching your pencil, with your feet all twisted painfully around the chair legs. Ungrounded. It’s best if you frown too. The thing you mustn’t do is look relaxed. None of this actually helps you think better, and it takes a lot of energy while the discomfort is distracting. The fae believe all of this is seriously weird and wonder how we ever get anything done.)

It’s fascinating the way we seem to keep learning the same lessons over and over — until we finally get it really truly deep down. Whoever is in charge of all this seems to be endlessly patient — much more patient with me than I am with myself.

Eileen Herzberg phoned me to say she was planning to run a meditation course and to discuss a few ideas she had about it. “First, I’ll do what you do,” she said blithely, “and start them off with an inner journey to meet their inner meditation teacher.”

I gently pointed out that I had never met my inner meditation teacher, but that it was a really brilliant idea, and I wished I had thought of it. After a brief muddle while we sorted out whose idea it really was (Eileen’s, of course), we went on to discuss how best to set the scene for the inner journey she planned. While we were doing that I took an inward brief peek at my own inner meditation teacher.

The image that flashed up was of a tiny, upright, ancient oriental lady with a face as brown and wrinkled as a walnut shell and bright, bright black eyes. I knew as soon as I saw her that I’d better come back later and listen to what she had to say, and so I did as soon as I got off the phone.

Old Mama Li, she said to me,
Look, kid, you’ve got
to get your act together.
What you’re doing is OK, but
there is so very much
more to be done. For starters, let’s
Keep It Simple, Sweetheart. Choose
one task each day, and do it
as a meditation. It’s all
very well, even necessary, to Sit
in meditation, to rest into the silence when
healing is happening, and it’s
not that hard to do
when you are building
a dam in the burn, or painting, or walking
in the hills — doing something
quiet and fun — but
there is much more to it than
that. Meditation has to happen
all the time. Don’t try
to do this all at once, don’t try
to go too fast. For a while,
take just one task a day. In time, this
will give you the place to stand
so you can move the earth —
if you are silly enough
to want to.

She suggested that I start with getting out my quarterly newsletter on my courses and things the next day. That, she said, would give me plenty to practice on. She obviously knows how very much I dislike doing those mailings — thousands of pages to collate, thousands of newsletters to fold and staple, thousands of newsletters to put in envelopes and seal, thousands of mailing labels to put on, thousands of stamps to stick down, thousands of return address labels to put on. Arrrgh! Boring!

The next day, I tried to focus on my breath while I worked on the mailing, but I kept getting muddled about what I was doing. Then I tried to work in time with my breath, but it was so slow — and I found my breath going faster and faster — or my hands racing while I didn’t breathe at all.

My usual way of trying to get through a distasteful task is to rush madly at it, so I kept finding myself sitting on the edge of the chair, panting.

I felt so frustrated! I’d thought this would be so easy, but I couldn’t seem to do it at all. I even caught myself thinking that I ought to be able to do it; that this should not be a problem for me. I was messing up on something I ought to be able to do easily. When I caught myself ‘oughting’ and ‘shoulding’ all over myself, I stopped. I ‘ought’ not to be doing that either!

I just sat there with a page in each hand, almost in tears of frustration. For a while I simply focused on my breathing with some vague idea of getting a running start at stability that way. Finally I asked for help. Why does it so often take so long to remember to ask?

The answer came at once — focus on the energy of the task. It has its own natural rhythm and focus. Find it.

A rhythm established itself as soon as I stopped trying to do something: collate while grounding myself and the newsletter with the earth, center while stapling and folding, put it in the envelope while connecting with the Source, seal it while filling it with healing energy. This was easy.

Gradually the understanding grew in my mind — each newsletter should have its own connection with the earth and the Source, its own healing energy, and this could be available to anyone who touched it, if they wanted and were open to it. Because each one had its own connections, it would constantly be brimming over with healing energy, more than enough for everyone who might need and want it along the way. Some of the envelopes might be reused and carry the energy even further. And what will happen if the paper is recycled? Hmmm. Like ripples from a stone thrown in a pond, out to the edges of the universe and back. What fun!

Then the mailing labels — each one went on with a friendly energy ‘hello’ to the addressee. The stamps each had a smile attached, and the return address labels each went on with a wash of ‘love you’ from me.

I couldn’t believe it when I suddenly ran out of mailing labels. I scurried around the house to see if I could find any more names and addresses on scattered scraps of paper so I could do some more — it was such fun! When I realized what I was doing, I had to laugh at myself. I went off to the post office with bags full of energized newsletters, smilingly stamped.

When I got to the post office, there were hordes of people waiting, and the clerks were all working frantically. By the time I reached the counter, the clerk in front of me had an obvious headache, a scowl on his face, and a fierce impatience with the world. Besides the newsletters, I had several fiddly things to do — letters to the States and other places, each to be weighed and postage calculated individually. You could see him getting more and more impatient as I handed him one thing after another. Finally, putting all of the bags containing the thousands of newsletters on the counter, I said, “And this is the last.” He touched them — and stopped.

For a moment he just stood there. Then he turned and slowly put them in the big mail sacks a few envelopes at a time. He could have dumped them in a bag at a time much more quickly, but he seemed to be savoring each handful. He came back to me with a cheerful smile spread across his face. “There,” he said, “that’s a job well done, isn’t it?”

I was quite taken aback — it was actually working! Up until then I suppose I had just thought it was a game for me to play by myself. Now I realized that it was something that really could spread out, like the glittering ripples on a pond.

So, what did I do the next day? I forgot. Didn’t remember at all to find a task to do mindfully. And the day after that as well. Then I chose things I really didn’t want to do at all for my special task and then just didn’t do them. There is obviously a big resistance here to enjoying the boring, tedious, mundane things of life. What would one have to complain about? Procrastination wouldn’t be any fun if one were procrastinating on having fun. And I can’t scold myself because that is getting trapped in my oughts and shoulds again, so I really can’t just indulge in feelings of guilt or remorse instead of actually doing something.

The only thing left is either to do a task with the clarity and mindfulness thing or not to do it at all and just leave it undone or do it resentfully — but it feels so silly and perverse not to do it.

I hate to feel perversely silly.

It may provide a bit of harmless amusement for the Otherworld folk, but I’d rather not do it that way. ‘Undignified’ I have no problem with, but “perverse” and ‘silly’ combined are just too much. The thing that had become a regular practice was to have a good laugh at myself when I review my day, just before I go to sleep.

Okay. I wrote the above in early 1994. I added this in the middle of the next year: I’m just recovering from a prolonged bout of pneumonia and am taking this opportunity to reformat and update my disorganized web pages, which have gradually become all helter-skelter. I can do this on my laptop while I technically stay in bed, as instructed. And now, I’m thinking about how I can apply these principles to healing myself. What can I do while confined here — besides my regular meditation and self-healing?

I have recovered to the point where I can go down and up the stairs once a day, and I’ve learned to pause on each step and take two healing breaths. And to take five minutes worth of healing breaths on the landing halfway. This way I don’t collapse before the top. (At first, I unconsciously held my breath as I tried to hurry up the stairs before I collapsed. Needless to say, that didn’t work well. But I can’t climb the stairs very often, so this doesn’t seem much of a task to apply this technique to. It seems that there isn’t much I can be doing with it…

But wait! I’m working on these pages. How can I incorporate meditation/self healing into this? Well, breath seems very important just now. Pneumonia messes that up. So perhaps I could incorporate breathing consciously and in a healing way into this somehow. I’m going to try something for a few minutes…

Ah, yes. I just need to stop at the end of every paragraph and breathe in healing energy for a few breaths. Three slow ones feels about right. It changes the whole energy of what I’m doing. Instead of getting a feeling of self-induced pressure building up, I feel tranquility. I smile while I work. That alone tells me it is right. So. I shall stop here and do another page.

Now here we are in 2018! Have I learned this thoroughly? Do I automatically do it on new things as well? Noooo. Do I need to start again? Yes, I do. These days I’m working on writing my first fantasy novel — it seems that it should (there’s that word again!) be easy to apply the paragraph above to that.

Also, I have to use a walker these days, and I do already get it that I have to monitor myself closely and not push myself too hard at that. The rhythm needs to be to walk, stop and sit and breathe, and walk again. And sit and breathe again. But much of the time I push myself to a hazardous edge before I stop. If I were to insert a little more mindfulness in the walking, I might not be so exhausted so soon.

There are also gentle exercises, I’m supposed to do — perhaps I could find some way to keep myself from rushing things there too.

O! I think I see the key here. It’s the rushing at things that is the problem, not the things themselves. I wonder where that comes from? Perhaps if I could find a way to be aware of that before I fall into a self-created hole — perhaps I could really finally get this? What do you think?

Copyright © 1994, 1995, & 2018 by Jessica Macbeth. All rights reserved. This originally appeared in Crann Beathadh, 1994.

Soothsaying, Omens, Intuition, & Paying Attention

First, let’s get something clear. There are two types of psychic reading. Many people think it is fortune telling, which tries to tell what is going to happen as if the future were fated and we have no choices. But the other type is psychic and spiritual counseling, which assumes that, if we really understand a problem, our possible choices and the likely outcomes, we can handle the situation better somehow.

As a reader, I do not do fortune telling, feeling that spritual counseling is far more useful. Ironically, we get to choose which we believe in — fate or choice. The following discussion is about psychic reading as spiritual counseling, not fortune telling.

One day recently I found myself preparing to do a reading over the phone for a friend. My Faeries’ Oracle was in the other room, so I lazily reached for the nearest deck. It was the Cat’s Eye Tarot, though that doesn’t matter to this tale.

The cards were difficult to get out of the box. All but one finally came out, but that last one was firmly stuck. I was fumbling with the loose cards, the box, and the phone, needing four hands, while being watched by Marzipan the Cat Who Reads Cards. She had been awakened by the kerfluffle. Instead of helping, as she often does, she just sat there with her head tilted, saying, “Well?”

(Rethought: perhaps the fact that it was a cat deck does have something to do with the reading. Cats use body language and pantomime a lot to communicate and they love their boxes, so being stuck in a box should have told me what I needed to know. But I was being obtuse and slow.)

Eventually, I thought, “Wait! Why is this card so hard to get out? Why is it being such a big deal?” I put everything down and actually thought instead of blundering blindly, trying to get the card out. I must have told students over a thousand times, “When you are doing a reading, when you are trying to see and speak the truth, everything matters. Every “distraction”, every obstacle, every sound, every thought. Some of them may not matter much, but all of them need to noticed by the reader and examined for relevance.

IF A “DISTRACTION” CALLS FOR ATTENTION, read it as you would the symbols on a card. Read the traffic sounds, read the pattern and marks in the carpet, read the movement of the wind, the grain of the wood in the coffee table. In actual fact, you could read the clothes the client is wearing — the colors, the style, the way the wrinkles fall. Cards are just tools to bring out intuition — just ink and paper. All of those “distractions” matter too. They are often our intuition trying to tell us something in the Universal Language of Action & Reaction that we all use — cats, trees, and others. Even humans use it, although often unconsciously.

Once you have set up your intention to do a reading and defined the question, everything matters. Pay attention! I’ve said that to students so many times you’d think it would be engraved on the inside of my eyelids. So here I was with a stuck card shrieking for attention so loud it woke the cat up — and it took me much too long to Pay Attention.

The topic for the reading was “What next?” My friend had decided to stop doing her former career. She felt she’d been doing it for too long and was burned out on it. But she couldn’t seem to to figure out what she wanted to do next, what really mattered to her. She knew that it needed to be something that mattered to the world as well as to her. But she couldn’t figure out what she truly wanted to do.

So, finally prompted by that stuck card, I asked my friend. “What is it that’s stuck? Let’s think about this for a moment.”

It turned out that what was stuck was her! She was in a box, didn’t realize she was there, and therefore couldn’t get out of it. That was what was stopping her from finding her new path. Her box was that she felt there were many things she couldn’t do because the people she had worked for in the past would disapprove of her new choices. The new direction had a conflict with her old work — which she no longer wanted to do. The box had served a purpose before, but it was quite superfluous now. You can’t find a path if you are stuck in a box before the path even begins.

The crucial thing about this reading was to realize that she hadn’t yet let go of her old restrictions. Even though the currents of life wanted to take her along new paths, she was still unconsciously holding on, still judging how doing the new things would impact the old things even though she didn’t want to do the old things anymore &mdash and she couldn’t move. So the reading became about getting out of that mental box — looking at each issue and deciding what to let go of and what to keep. She really already knew where she wanted to go and had been making forays in that direction and then stopping herself because of these habitual restrictions.

It did strike me that the cards we read didn’t matter nearly as much to the reading as the fact that one card couldn’t get out of the box so that we could begin. The most vital part of the session happened before we drew a single card.

Sometimes the essential, critical, necessary part of the reading happens when we’re figuring out the question, and by the time we understand what the real question is, the answer may be quite obvious. A psychic reading is not just the cards or the runes or the crystals or whatever your favorite tool is. It’s a process that begins when you decide to do the reading and are working out what the question really is, and it finishes when you feel satisfied that you understand the answer well enough to go forward.

In a way, we can “read” the world just by paying attention to what calls to us. Every morning when I check my Facebook page, I look for the things that hit me, make me sit up, make me pay attention, ring my internal bell. Sometimes I repost them, but often I just sit with them and then try to be aware of what they are teaching me throughout the rest of the day. I suppose one could call this something like “conscious living” but it’s really just Paying Attention, noticing these things that speak to us — that’s what omens are.

Does that make sense?

Storytelling, Music, & Natural Magic

I’ve been listening to the songs and stories of an extraordinary composer/singer/guitarist, Mark Knopfler. His songs are often stories of ordinary people — doing their work, loving, suffering, singing — maybe remembered and maybe not, but usually caught in the grip of something bigger than they are. I kept going back to listen. There is something uniquely satisfying and heart-touching about his music, his songs, especially the more recent ones. He has made the art of songwriting into the art of telling powerful stories. As a writer, I feel a need to understand why his songs are so powerful.

The key skill set I noticed:

Mastery: The music, both rhythm and melody distinctly fits the words. I can’t guess which comes first, but suspect Knopfler goes back and forth between them as he composes. Neither one is just tacked on to the other. In written storytelling, you may have good illustrations to enrich and inform the imagination of the readers; in songs the music enriches and informs the emotion of the listeners. Imagination and emotion are tightly inter-related. In either case the music or picture must be superb — and therein lies the requirement for mastery, for years and years of developing a skill to the highest point of art.

Acute observation: Seeing clearly, telling it like it is, including details that show character and feeling and make it both vivid and memorable.

Empathy: Truly understanding the people and their feelings from the inside, not just the outside. This is a kind of nonjudgmental acceptance, which leads to —

Compassion: “Sympathy” means “I hear and feel sorry for you.” “Empathy” means “I feel your feelings with you.” “Compassion” means “I hear, feel, and love you. I make no judgement about your goodness or badness — just knowing who you really are and loving you.” I remember something I learned from participating in healing — everyone at their very core wishes to give and receive love — it is what we are. We all have roots in the same ground and that ground is something we call love.

You don’t have to believe me about this — just learn to meditate and do healing, and sooner or later you will discover this truth for yourself. And sometimes when we make that connection, miracles happen.

We wrap other things around that core, thinking it needs to be protected while really it is the strong, eternal center of us. But we create all those other things — fear, anger, barriers, judgments, denial, and more — to protect something that never needed protection. That loving part of ourselves and others is what we experience as compassion when we consciously become aware of that connection. The songs, the stories become healing.

Inclusion: starting with the thread of one person, one feeling, and weaving that into something larger so it speaks for and to many. Ultimately the song may bring in the earth, the sky, the sea, the stars. The part fits into the whole quite neatly, inextricably.

The last two things on the list above are what makes Knopfler’s music truly exceptional. He didn’t start out that way. Yes, he had empathy, he has extraordinary musical talent, and he loves music enough to do the incredible years of practice with the devotion that leads to mastery. Talent is something you are born with, but mastery like this and compassion only comes through years of devotion. If you listen to what he’s saying, both in interviews and in the music, you can hear that his music is a means for communion (not just communication, but communion) with others — and with deeper parts of himself. And that touches other hearts as well. People respond, even when they may not know what they are responding to.

I understand now why so many of the comments on his YouTube recordings simply say, “I love you.” Of course, many of the comments focus on the music. Yes, he is a master guitarist and they say so, but he isn’t the only master guitarist around even though you’d think he was from his fans. Although I’ve heard him discribed as having a “golden voice” yet his voice seems quite ordinary to me — his delivery is low key and almost conversational, but the energy his voice carries is far from ordinary.

I suspect his fans are hearing/feeling that special something more — the genuine love and compassion he seems to have for people, especially for the outliers of our society who live on an edge. A few of the many examples: the lost ones (Telegraph Road and Sonny Liston), the unique ones (Jerimiah Dickson), transcendent human love (Our Shangri La and If This Is Goodbye) and the geniuses (like himself) who are so focussed on one thing, one form of self-expression that it consumes their lives (Monteleone and The Sky and Piper to the End).

(Disclosure: Writing this is surprisingly difficult. It comes out a phrase at a time, not all at once in a rush the way things do when I really understand them. So. Clearly I don’t fully get it. Sometimes a thought dissolves under my fingers as I try to type it. I find myself saving this every few words so the thoughts won’t escape.)

All right, with all of this I still haven’t said what I set out to say about writing stories — what the big take-away for myself as a writer is. Marzipan’s Adventures — she is just a young faery cat in another world, which is linked to both Earth and to Faery. But for the story to be whole, it has to show how she fits into her own beloved world. It needs to show the vastness and grandeur and possibilities of that tiny world and the connectedness of the web of relationships in it. In a way, her story represents that world with its universe fitting neatly into the multiverse. And it has to show it, mostly in the details and the little moments, not tell it.

Marzipan’s actions need to show those interactions with her neighbors, both humna and creutairean, and with Didean, the world herself. (Humna are part Earth human, part Faery. Creutairean are part Earth animal, part Faery being. In fact, humna are creutairean too, and the humna are the only ones who don’t know this and who think they are different, This little blindness comes from the Earth human part of them, which tends to see differences rather than common ground.) (Sorry, I got side-tracked there but I’ll leave it in just in case you needed to know.)

The story itself, the plot as it were, has to carry all of these details and insights almost invisibly. If an author is preachy-teachy, he or she evokes resistance — and boredom. But if, as explained in Magical Writing the storyteller just slides things in with no fuss, the reader is more likely to just take it in as they gallop along with the plot, which is the obstensible reason for the story. But the plot is just a vehicle for the real story.

So, to some extent good storytelling seems to me to be about seeing reality compassionately and sharing that vision so we all better understand how we are connected to and can support each other.

I wonder if Knopfler knows what he is doing? He wouldn’t have to… it might just be the way he naturally has grown into the world. He spent some time being a social worker and that would have enriched both his view and his understanding of people. Or he might have just figured it out for himself — he’s an intelligent man. Listening to him in the documenteries talking about his craft, he knows. He sees how in songwriting, composing in bits and pieces, fragments and fictions, he often is telling the story of the person, of the society, of the history (and perhaps the future) of the world. For all I know, he may be telling the story of the multiverse.

ALL storytellers in all of the multiverse may be doing the same.

I just had a thought-concept; I wonder if I can say it clearly? What if we who tell stories in the multiverse — and perhaps we all do — no, wait! What if living is the real story? What if we are showing the Multiverse who She is and what She shall become with every moment of our lives?

After all, we are all one piece with the trees and stones and creatures.

The Center

Center

Jessica Macbeth

Three women sit on a porch. The porch is attached to the east side of a house and the house is attached to the ground in a place called Iowa.

The youngest woman watches the rising sun, waiting for its rays to illuminate her spike-heeled, glossy black boots. The oldest crochets a shapeless thing she had been working on for many months. No one is quite sure what it is, but it keeps her hands busy and prevents her from absent-mindedly pinching the youngest when she fidgets. The middle one has dreamy thoughts of luxurious breakfasts with blueberry pancakes frosted with maple sugar, of caviar and thin oat toast, champagne, and rosewater, while her eyes turn golden with the sun.

This spot, they all know, is the center of the universe, regardless of what astronomers might think. It is the center because they are there, and they are there because it is the center. This is the power they have—to know the true center of all things. Once a person knows that they can do anything.

On the opposite side of the galaxy, at the still center of the universe, a man sits on a porch facing west. The dying rays of his sun play on his ancient, deeply-creased face—caressing, tickling, pinching—and he watches it descend impassively. As the sun sinks, his breathing slows, slows, slows… and stops, and he dies into the night. In the morrow’s dawn, he will begin to breathe again, and he will waken with the face and body of a stripling boy. Whole galaxies are born and die within him. Such is the power of the center.

You sit at the center of the universe.

I sit at the center of the universe.

© Copyright 2005 by Jessica Macbeth. All rights reserved.
Painting “Three Women” by Umberto Biccoini ca 1910

A Crown of Moonlight

Sally sat on the park bench carefully peeling the crusts off her sandwich and tossing them to the pigeons. She kept trying to get some of the bread to the crippled one, but he never seemed to quite catch it in time, even when it landed right in front of him. When Sally realized that nearly half of her sandwich was gone, she sighed and ate the rest. Fortunately, it hadn’t been anything she especially liked.

She finished the sandwich, emptied the crumbs from the paper bag, neatly folded the bag, and put it in her handbag to recycle. Then she settled down to eating her apple as a Zen meditation. It took too long, she had found, to eat all of her lunch that way, but she always tried with her fruit. She wasn’t exactly certain that she was doing it right, but she did her best to experience the here-and-now appleness.

Just as she finished the apple an old man sat down on the far end of the bench. They eyed each other from the corners of their eyes, trying, like most city people, not to be seen to be looking at each other. It wasn’t just any old man. It was the tramp that haunted the park, muttering incomprehensible but calm comments. She’d have known with her eyes shut. Even though he sat downwind, his reek fought and overpowered the gentle breeze.

Sally tried to think charitable, positive thoughts. She wished she knew what to do. It seemed rude to just get up and leave. She broke her apple core into bits and tossed them to the pigeons. The crippled one still didn’t get any.

“You oughtn’t to feed them that,” the rusty old voice croaked. “Grain is what they should have. Good fresh grain.”

He pulled out a handful of grain from a pocket that Sally would have sworn was too ragged to hold anything and tossed the grain in a wide arc to the pigeons. The crippled one got as much as the rest, and Sally made a mental note to stop at a pet shop and buy wild bird seed on the way back to the office. Or would it be better, she wondered, to stop at a health food shop and get organic grain?

“You!” the old man said peremptorily. Sally jumped, then tried to pretend she hadn’t. She looked at him, wide eyed and too startled to say anything. He was looking straight at her.

“You probably think I’m mad,” he said calmly. She began to babble an incoherent protest, but he cut across her voice. “I’m the emperor of the Earth, I am. I’ve a crown made of moonlight and an army of ten thousand eagles to do my bidding.” His forefinger touched a nothingness in the air above his head.

For a fleeting moment, Sally thought she could see a glimmer of light there, but she blinked and it disappeared. “It was an hallucination or a trick of the light”, she thought. “It couldn’t have been a vision.”

“Aha!” he said, eyeing her piercingly. “You saw it. Thought you would.”

He reached up again and carefully lifted the nothing from his head. He held it in his two hands for a moment, his expression a curious compound of grief and joy. He stood up and advanced toward Sally. She froze like a frightened rabbit. He leaned over and gently placed the nothing crown on her head, stood back, smiled wryly, and collapsed in slow, lingering fall to the earth. As she watched, his clothes began to sink inward, and the gentle breeze blew smoke or perhaps a fine dust away from him. In a few moments, nothing was left to show that he had existed except for a few coins on the pavement. The pigeons pecked at them hopefully.

Sally looked upward. There were eagles perched everywhere in the trees. They flapped their wings at her, and screamed in salute. She gingerly touched the crown, which felt solid enough. She stood up with great care and began walking back to the office. The eagles soared around her, but of course no one seemed to notice them. It would be days yet before she really began to allow herself to think about this – what it meant, how it would change things. For now, she truly experienced a state of just being in the here-and-now, at least in a tense kind of way.

“Well,” she thought with a detached, unnatural, and monumental calm, “mustn’t grumble. I’ve been wanting to achieve inner stillness for long enough and here it is.”

Copyright © 1995 by Jessica Macbeth. All rights reserved.
This fable originally appeared in Otherworld Arts, 1995

The Last Goat

 

Once upon a time, there were three goats who lived on a tall mountain that overlooked a grassy plain. Every morning, they watched the sun rise. Then, they meditated. Every evening, they walked around the mountain and watched the sun set. After that, they meditated.

They were very contented goats. They spent their days doing goatish things and thinking goatish thoughts. They spent their nights dreaming goatish dreams.

One day an airplane flew over their mountain. The three goats watched it as it circled once and flew away.

“I’ll bet I can do that,” the youngest goat said. He spread his forelegs and leaped from the crag. He went splat on the rocks below.

The other two goats peered over the edge at the scattered remains of their companion. Then they looked at each other and shrugged. What else could they do?

Months passed, and one bright day, about an hour after sunrise, another airplane flew over the mountain. Both goats watched it.

“I think I’ve figured out how it’s done,” the oldest goat muttered.

Before the other could say anything, he trotted back along the path, turned and galloped toward the crag. Running as fast as he could and with a look of utter determination on his face, he spread his forelegs and leaped over the edge.

He went splat on the rocks below.

The Last Goat shook his head sadly.

The days passed. The moon waxed and waned and the shadows cast by the sun grew taller and shorter with the seasons. Every day, the Last Goat watched the sun rise and the sun set. He meditated. He thought goatish thoughts and did goatish things and dreamed goatish dreams.

At last, another airplane flew over the mountain. The Last Goat looked at it. He looked at the crag and peered over at the rocks below. He peered thoughtfully at his feet. He sighed and rubbed his shoulder against a rock to ease an itch. He remembered that he’d found a patch of especially tasty grass in a hidden hollow the day before and went over to munch some of it for breakfast.

The years passed. The Last Goat was content. Younger goats lived lower down on the mountain now. He knew they were there, but he didn’t feel any need for their companionship; he was accustomed to solitude and peace. The inner quiet of meditation had permeated his days and nights and sang in his blood. The other goats referred to him as “the Wise Old Goat” but he didn’t know why they did that—he didn’t seem especially wise in his own eyes. He just knew that each sunrise brought joy; each sunset brought peace.

Finally, when the Last Goat had noticed his legs were beginning to tremble with age, another airplane flew over the mountain. This one was quite high and glinted silver and almost silent in the sky. He raised his head and watched it until it disappeared into the sun. Again, he looked thoughtfully at his feet.

“It’s the ground,” he thought. “It’s the ground that is important—the ground of being. You have to always keep your hooves on the ground of being.” Carefully, he walked over to the crag, feeling the ground of being touching his hooves every step of the way. Cautiously, he put one foot out over the abyss, testing for the ground of being. When he felt it solid beneath that hoof, he moved himself out onto this transparent ground.

He looked between his feet, at the rocks far below, nodding, “Yes, I thought so.” He began climbing up the invisible trail, seen only in his heart. Soon, he overtook the airplane, laboring through the thin air. “Poor souls, making such hard work of this,” he thought. And he continued climbing clear into the sun. History does not relate what he did once he got there.

Copyright © 2003 by Jessica Macbeth. All rights reserved.

Do You Believe In Unicorns?

I’ve been thinking about unicorns. I know a writer (a good writer) who keeps referring to “magical unicorns” as if a) people who believe in unicorns would make no effort at all to help themselves, and b) as if such people are scientifically deluded because everyone knows…

We all have our pet phrases and favorite shorthand issues, but I finally got impatient with this one and want to speak up for unicorns. Those who understand the nature of magic and the nature of unicorns see them differently from other people.

Yes, they are magic and yes, they can do stuff. BUT they aren’t easy. They don’t swan around in flocks or herds (the proper collective noun is a blessing of unicorns, which should tell you something about how rare they are). They don’t lurk in every meadow or behind every tree or even in every vast forest.

Also, you have to realize: they are very selective, possibly even outrageously so.

You not only have to be a virgin, but you have to be worthy. And who knows how unicorns might define “worthiness”? I wouldn’t try to guess that one. (Well, I would, but you’ll have to do your own guessing here.)

Virginity is easier to define, but it isn’t easy either. Not only do you have to avoid rape ‐ which has never been simple in spite of all the stupid advice from people who may well be the ones doing the raping and which is usually about blaming the raped one. If virginity does matter, there is also the whole thing about self-discipline. Yeah. SELF-discipline. In a #mefirst #gimme world, who values SELF-discipline?

(In fact, you may not have to be a virgin ‐ I don’t know about that ‐ but it seems only logical that you need to be something special for certain sure.)

So in the end, it’s about being ready and showing up and doing what you can to be worthy (whatever that is ‐ it may be about doing everything you can to not need a unicorn because you’re already doing the work and the magic) and somewhere in all of that an ultra-rare unicorn might show up. Or in a world with so many miracles needed to just keep on going, all of the unicorns may be elsewhere and desperately busy, leaving you to get on with things yourself.

Meanwhile, you keep right on working. You don’t get to say, “Well, I’m sorry but the unicorn didn’t show up to fix things for us.”

That’s how it is with unicorns ‐ they have their own reasons and we don’t know what they are. So, if we want things done, guess what?

Right.

© 2018 by Jessica Macbeth. All rights reserved.

Conversations with Cats

A few days ago, I wrote briefly on Facebook about talking with cats. I didn’t come anywhere near covering it all and they complained a bit. So, here is more of a day’s conversations, though even this doesn’t cover it all either.

(Yawn!)
Yes, I was asleep!

::prrrt!::

I know, I know — just a minute! Yes, you’re quite right — it’s time for breakfast. What do you want?

Whatever are you doing with your food?

Yes, yes, you’re the most wonderful cats ever!

You’re the one who pushed your toy under there — you get it back out!

Why are there 57 tiny wads of crumpled paper under the fridge? And 11 milk bottle tops?

No, I don’t need to go to the door — it’s not the doorbell. It’s your brother playing the wind chimes on the porch.

What do you want? Yes, that’s a wicked, sassy squirrel in the window. He knows you can’t reach him on the other side of the glass. No, I’m not going to come and chase him away — I am not the official squirrel chaser! There are four cats living here to chase squirrels and mice away. I have other jobs to do, no matter what you think. Tell Duffy — he’s the king of the house.

I don’t know what you did with your catnip mouse, Robbie — you have other catnip mice, you know! In your toy box.

Yes, your toys are hidden in your toybox.

No, it isn’t time for another treat yet.

Who pushed the spoons off of the counter and into the waterbowl? O, yes, Robbie, you scored a hole in one, didn’t you?

Marzipan, why are you looking so innocent? You’re not going to tell, are you?

Robbie, what are you looking so smug about? O, you caught a HUGE catnip mouse. What a wonderful hunter you are!

Thank you for the feather, Marzipan. It’s just what I wanted. O, you want it back? Okay, there you go.

I know, I know — just a minute! Lunchtime snacks! Please let me walk into the kitchen. Here you are!

Sally, you’ve got Robbie’s mouse, haven’t you? That’s why he’s crying and looking all over the house for it. Why are you hiding it under the covers? You don’t really want it at all, do you? O… of course, you might need it later.

Marzipan, please stop eating the plastic bin liner.

Dingbat!

Marzipan, why are you sticking your nose in my ear and whuffling? It doesn’t make me type faster, you know.

Yes, I do love you too! Yes, I love all of you. I agree — it wasn’t well planned for me to have two hands instead of four. Thank you all for the lovely petting session! Does anyone remember what I was writing before it started?

Please don’t hold down the delete key so you can watch the cursor untype things.

Thank you for washing my nose, Marzipan.

May I type now?

You goof! Whatever are you doing?

Yes, that’s a BIG bird at the window feeder, Duffy! True, he’s not as big as you are — but he looks even bigger when he spreads his wings and flaps them.

No, it’s not yet time for another treat.

Marzipan, please, don’t sit on the keyboard.

Marzipan, please don’t run on the keyboard.

Marzipan, please don’t sit on my hands while I’m typing.

Yes, Marzipan, you have the most gorgeous, irresistible tummy ever.

No, you do not need to look in my mouth — please stop patting my lips and trying to pry them open.

May I please have the paper you’re sitting on? No, I don’t need holes punched in it. But while you’re feeling helpful, could you kindly bring back at least one of my pencils?

Thank you for bringing me the feather duster. Yes, we can play with it. O, you brought a nice string too — how kind of you!

Yes, you’re right — it’s time for dinner. You all have clocks in your stomachs, don’t you?

Truly, it’s all right if I take the empty plates away — you shall have them back in the morning. Yes, they do need to be washed in the sink even though you cleaned them very well.

It’s nice to settle down for a while in the evening, isn’t it? Would it help if I read you to sleep? No? I see — you all need to arrange your own and each others’ fur.

Yes, I would like to be sleeping now.

Duffy, do you have any idea how heavy you are?

Do any of you want under the covers or not? Not? Just you, Sally? All right, but don’t anyone else complain later.

Why are you all running across the bed and up and down the hall? O, it’s 3 AM — the Wild Hour. Yes, I know — All Proper Cats Do It. I’ll just cover my head up until it’s over, shall I? NO, it is NOT time for treats, O Mighty Hunters!