by Marge Piercy
On the beach where we had been idly
telling the shell coins
cat’s paw, cross-barred Venus, china cockle,
we both saw at once the sea bird fall to the sand
and flap grotesquely.
He had taken a great barbed hook
out through the cheek and fixed
in the big wing.
He was pinned to himself to die,
a royal tern with a black crest blown back
as if he flew in his own private wind.
He felt good in my hands, not fragile
but muscular and glossy and strong,
the beak that could have split my hand
opening only to cry
as we yanked on the barbs.
We borrowed a clippers, cut and drew out the hook.
Then the royal tern took off, wavering,
then acrobat returned to his element, dipped,
zoomed, and sailed out to dive for a fish.
Virtue: what a sunrise in the belly.
Why is there nothing
I have ever done with anybody
that seems to me so obviously right?
Every so often I have to get my Marge Piercy fix, and today was the day. I can only read her poetry sporadically, because she throws truth like a dagger, piercing its target with razor-sharp precision. When I read this poem today I became the royal tern and dissolved in tears commingled with memories in a sacred eucharist of life.
Perched as I am on the precipice of my seventieth year of this life, the view ahead is very different from the view at forty or fifty, much less before thirty-eight. That time in my life can be deftly described by Marge Piercy in another of her poems entitled in true Piercy aplomb, “The Song of the Fucked Duck.”:
“In using there are always two.
The manipulator dances with a partner who cons herself.
There are lies that glow so brightly we consent
to give a finger and then an arm
to let them burn.”
I was like a young chimpanzee swinging from bar to tree, limb to rope, playing to a crowd of voyeurs and secretly shrieking, “Look at me, love me, look at me.” Pieces of my integrity were lobbed off with every exhibition, leaving my young soul besotted with false hope and utterly alone. I was willing to be conned by needy manipulators for whatever morsels of pseudo-love they threw my way. For a time after my awakening I was ashamed of the vulnerable little girl who still occasionally clamored to be heard. Eventually, the spiritual practices I was developing brought me into healing and new life. One day while praying I realized that I had to embrace the child to set her free. As if taken by the hand by the Spirit of God, I lay myself down in fetal position before the altar I had created. Holding my body together with my arms, I held that little girl and loved her-all of her. It was a physical enactment of a spiritual call to unconditional love of self.
As with Marge Piercy’s royal tern, I have been blessed with companions along my journey who have “unpinned” me. The tears I shed while reading the poem witness to my gratitude for these loved ones who have loved me and showed me to myself. In honor of them I try to stay aware of situations which could pin me. In my ministry as a spiritual guide I try to be a midwife of freedom for others. “Why is there nothing I have ever done with anybody that seems to me so obviously right?”
Photo Credits: Florida Department of Transportation;
flying tern: photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/bejor77/5426725856/”>Erick Houli</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>cc</a>