Equinox Ritual with Ravens & Pines

— so we said to the somewhat: Be born —

     & the shadow kept arriving in segments, 

    cold currents pushed minerals

  up from the sea floor, up through

coral & labels of Diet Coke blame shame

bottles down there —

    it is so much work to appear!

 

unreadable zeroes drop lamps

     as mustard fields [Brassica rapa]

 gold without hinges, a vital

echo of caring...On the census,

just write: it exists! Blue Wednesday

        bells strike the air like forks

  on a thrift store plate,

 & the shadow moves off to the side...

 

In the woods, loved ones tramp through

   the high grass; they wait in a circle

for the fire to begin;

they throw paper dreams & sins upon

the pyre & kiss, stoking the first

    hesitant flame after touching a match

to the bad news — branches are thrust back

across myths before the flame catches — ;

ravens lurch through double-knuckled

pines & the oaks & the otherwise;

a snake slithers over serpentine

then down to the first

    dark where every cry has size —

Brenda Hillman, “Equinox Ritual with Ravens & Pines,” from Seasonal Works with Letters on Fire. Copyright © 2013 by Brenda Hillman. Reprinted by permission of Wesleyan University Press.

Source: Seasonal Works with Letters on Fire (Wesleyan University Press, 2013)

Dive in 
  1. The action of the poem is mysterious, but the atmosphere of expectation and mythic possibility is strong. What is the speaker saying about the tension between the natural world and the human world of consumerism and waste?
  2. In the first stanza, the speaker invokes something to be born and a sense of motion is initiated, moving up from the ocean floor. How does this set the tone for the poem?
  3. The final stanza describes an equinox ritual where people write things they want to release onto paper and burn the paper in a fire. Does this feel like a contemporary ritual? Or a timeless one?
  4. What would you burn in the fire if you could let something go? Can you relate to the speaker of this poem?
  5. If you were going to recite this poem, how would you capture the sense of uprush of flame in the shape of the stanzas? Where would you pause? Where would you speed up?
  6. Write a poem about a seasonal ritual, real or imagined. What season would you choose?

Useful Links

 

Brenda Hillman on PBS NEWS HOUR: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J5_fy8TpKs0