I blame the notion of Heidegger’s Holzwege, or woodcutter’s path, that led me to a dark place this week. Indeed woodpaths, he says, “always lead somewhere – but where they lead cannot be predicted or controlled. They force us to plunge into unknown territory and often to retrace our steps.”
Feeling blocked in my art and writing, I found myself lured into reading about a massacre that took place before I was born, but a massacre of the like that has occurred many times before then, and is one that undoubtedly takes place in our own time, somewhere on this hurting planet. In the particular case I researched, a soldier was questioned in a tribunal following the event, and his testimony seared an image into my heart that is too painful to even write here. But it involved a horrific murder of a boy much like my own son. One boy amidst 503 other unarmed women, children and elderly who also met an unbearable end at the hands of monstrous American soldiers, one of whom could have been, if things went dreadfully wrong, my own son also.
My mind squirms in this pain. It wants to know if there is salvation in death, or salvation in surviving. It asks whether the true horror is being the witness, the victim, or the perpetrator. And it clings to the one small glimmer of three soldiers who tried to stop the killing, and could only save a few – because they were reminded of their own children. It questions why they are only distant lights flickering in so much darkness. And it wants to problem-solve, to push through my artist’s block to show the world this pain so that it might not want to recreate it, even when all seems hopeless.
Then my mom sends me this poem by Joy Harjo, fittingly since Heidegger also writes that only poetry can break open this open place. Afterall, he says, “poetry is the founding of truth.”
To pray you open your whole self
To sky, to earth, to sun, to moon
To one whole voice that is you.
And know there is more
That you can’t see, can’t hear
Can’t know except in moments
Steadily growing, and in languages
They aren’t always sound but other
Circles of motion.
Like eagle that Sunday morning
Over Salt River. Circled in blue sky
In wind, swept our hearts clean
With sacred wings.
We see you, see ourselves and know
That we must take the utmost care
And kindness in all things.
Breathe in, knowing we are made of
All this, and breathe, knowing
We are truly blessed because we
Were born, and die soon within a
True circle of motion,
Like eagle rounding out the morning
We pray that it will be done
Today’s Advice: “The fires and the black river of loss whose other side is salvation, whose meaning none of us will ever know.” Mary Oliver