While I dream up some trees,
Celtic trees for the most part,
right here in Montreal, on my futon,
laid over the hardwood floor,
three pines stare in at the window.
For practice, I dream up a vine.
No big trees, just one grape vine
that in “The Song of Amergin,”
grows between the hazel of wisdom
and the ivy of madness. But
rushing out to Cabane Grecque
I forget to write my dream down.
I am seated in a booth under a vine.
This dream is following me around.
I drink another glass of red wine,
looking up at where they nailed
it down, papery twists of leaves,
hanging bunches of green plastic grapes,
somewhere between wisdom and madness.
I remember Peredure who missed
his opportunity and had to wander for years,
so I ask, “Who are you?” thinking
I might have dreamed up a lone
gorse plant, with its green spines,
its ever blooming, yellow blossoms
so foreign to these wintry lands.
Bells, tinkling sounds? Did I
leave my TV on? A Morris dancer
leaps out of its grey screen,
prancing to a pipe and drum.
Shaped like golden gorse blossoms,
his shin bells rattle and ring.
“Stop dancing, you’ll wake my family.”
“Or am I dreaming you?” a voice asks,
“leaves falling into my brown hair,
seed-pods winging down like keys?
My arms stretch open as if nailed
to this high, slender trunk. Stag horns
branch up from my temples: bronze,
twisted, upside-down roots.”
Suddenly I’m underground. It’s dim,
crowded with clumps of fine rootlets
tangled together like a lumpy shroud.
A broad nose, a chin pokes through
this mat of root hairs. One huge
left eye stares, inquiring yet guarded.
“My sour roots protect the dead.”
A garbage truck disturbs my dreaming up
the one who is best in a fight,
with spines to defeat her enemies.
Soft summer leaves harden in winter,
showing their spiky teeth. Nothing
can eat them, and so Amergin chanted:
“I am a battle-waging holly spear.”
Her battle apron bloodied, iron
breastplate clanking, a dour woman
hits my shoulders—thwack, thwack—
with the broad, flat side of her sword.
I keep battling to dream her up,
as the revved truck shreds boxes,
crushes cans and ketchup bottles.
Falling back exhausted, I stare
at a photo of myself, age 7, posed
in a velvet dress on a manicured lawn.
A bit of untamed shrubbery bursts up,
as if out of the left side of my head.
Five unpruned twigs, their wavy tips
spell out the word “marsh,”
a boggy place with its Elder Woman
no one dares cut. I know her
by her creamy 5-petalled flowers,
and that hole by her roots to slide down.
Sneakered feet pound,
children running under my window.
Who will get there first?
I lean against three pillows
thinking about trees, trees growing
out of my dreams that are filling up
this small room with their rustlings.
One in particular has round leaves.
Their long, flattened stalks quake
as if stirred by the wind, or a spirit.
A tall, pole-like being approaches
with gouged-out eyes, a chiseled nose.
His rising arms materialize a crude
harp out of the air. “Harp, Carp.
No. I am a tuning fork,” he corrects me,
dissolving into a shivery atonal hum.
Unnerved I shake, breaking into a sweat.
Have I gone mad like old Merlin,
down on my bony knees
hugging imaginary trees
in a small dimly lit room,
mad as the one who rips off
her proper pinafore, her velvet dress
and runs pell-mell into a wood?
In a snow flurry, she shinnies up
a sap-stained trunk. Through silvery
needles, a birdlike creature appears,
dressed in a cloud with long-
crane-like legs and near-human face.
He offers to fly her over her life,
to see where she needs to journey.
Rowan, dispeller of enchantments,
I fix its sprigs over my door jamb
to protect all the sheep and goats,
just in case I dream them up too—
black-faced, wooly ones that bleat before sleep,
might need extra rowan to ward off
the evil-eye of my racist neighbors
who don’t like them, or foreign trees.
In my little room, behind my closed eyes
I sit under this young rowan
admiring her blood-red berries,
each embedded with a five-pointed star,
ancient, vigilant pentagram
that keeps cranks and bigots at bay.
Admittedly, we are all immigrants in Montreal, that is unless you are a native tree or Native American. This was brought home to me while travelling through Northern Quebec, where I taught academic and creative writing for McGill University on Cree, Algonquin, and Mohawk reserves. In one James Bay community fronted by its broad flat river, which can no longer be fished due to the hydro dams providing Montreal with electricity, the Cree locals are left to depend on one small, faltering generator. At night the lights flickered off, on and out, as my bathtub filled with dirty brown water. During the day, I was teaching an autobiography workshop for elementary school teachers, who were writing their stories in Cree as part of an effort to help develop their own Cree-language school texts. One of my students grew distressed about the recent death of her teenaged son from glue sniffing. After class, we walked together out in the bush. She wanted to show me some lichen-covered rocks. Looking closely, I could see long, seemingly manmade incisions, partly obscured by the lichen. “These ancient rocks are proof we have always been here,” she said. “You Whites tell stories about us migrating out of Asia and across the Bering Straight. You do so to make our land claims more tenuous. We have always been here.”
As my small bush plane flew me south for hours over the lake-dotted muskeg, covered with its uncountable, winter stunted-trees, I withdrew into thought. Landing in Dorval Airport, I vowed to investigate my own roots, something I knew little about. Soon I was studying Celtic mythology and Druidry in the UK.
Writing an acrostic that spells Montreal, a French city, with Celtic words that signify, for the most part, European trees, reflects how I live in the fusion world of North America’s big cities. I found from my European trips I am not from the UK; my family has been in North America for nearly 400 years. Like most Montrealers, I am from neither here nor there. Does it matter? I have come to believe it is better to look for commonalities than differences, although the post-modernism I encountered at university stressed irreconcilable, cultural differences. Isn’t it better to look at what unites us as a species, rather than dwell on our sectarian tendencies? For example, I once thought there were no core shamanic principles, but now can point to a few: valuing and listening to Nature; singing and dancing to open the heart; journeying to receive non-hierarchical direct revelation; and using art to empower individuals and heal communities worldwide.
A friend recently commented that I am more drawn to an “inner, rather than outer Montreal.” I guess she meant I spend much of my free time dancing and writing poetry in my small yellow studio, in my small brick home on Rue Royal. Here, encircled by a grove comprised of a 100-year-old sugar maple, 6 pines, 2 lilac bushes, 1 ash, and a young pear tree, I attempt to connect to its earth energies, its spirit of place:
Soft scrape of a skin-wrapped stick brushing the edge of a drum,
as something comes out of the earth from where it slept with the stones,
something my toes suck up like roots, like small, hungry animals their food.
My nails blacken. Ankles thicken like plant stalks stirred by what climbs them,
up through sheets of quartz, through granite, stretching my hip bones
until they can claim more space for themselves. Nobody sees me,
absorbed by this earth light, flooding my tattooed chest, my raised arms,
washed with the scents of burning marsh reeds and sweet grasses.
Nobody sees how this pale fire cast off from buried veins of ore
and clefts of smoky crystal flares up to torch my moist heart.
The grove softens into bluish twilight that turns tree-bark to pewter;
aroused the ash tree eyes me, horned brows, knotholes of black onyx.