Archive for Sybil’s Poetry
This is a poem I wrote last year when recovering from losing so much blood. I felt great deal of despair and I found solace and hope in the example of St. Francis. I know I’ve posted a lot about St. Francis in recent months, but I promise this will be my last post on him for at least a few more!
St. Francis, Mid-Way, Speaks
As the warmth spreads softly through your hands
You cannot realize how much it will burn
For years it will burn
Brighter and dimmer in rhythm with a secret cycle
but always aflame
bringing the spirit to boil
I am the pot for a sacred recipe I will never know.
My side cries the blood-red tears of a mother for her Son.
I will never forget.
My feet produce a holy smudge as I walk
Each step is a sacred stab
Painting soil, rooting me,
My palette: blood mixed with the trod upon earth,
Earth and man are one.
On Internal Boiling
I keep these ever bleeding wounds hidden as best I can
My secret shame that I should be singled out for God’s mark.
Many times I feel I cannot bear it.
Many times I wonder if I can go on.
But I do
There are moments when the pain and anguish subside, like the brief parting of clouds during a grey winter’s day
Then I am flooded with Your Light
I forget to wonder
I forget embarrassment
There is only You
Then the clouds close and blood fills my eyes.
I am here on earth again.
And the best I can do is bask deliciously in the echo of that moment.
Putting one wounded foot in front of the other,
Trusting that the pigmented marks I leave, my sacred painting, serves a purpose.
What the Ordinary Person Says of their Wounds
I am wounded to the core and my fever burns unceasingly.
I keep these ever-aching wounds hidden as best I can
My secret shame that I should be singled out, that I am different.
Is this God’s mark?
Lord, let my expectations and my mark be one.
Grant that my unfulfilled and broken plans
Dissolve in your sacred boiling pot.
I have endured all manor of physical pain.
But nothing compares to the suffering of lost dreams.
I throw myself on your mercy.
Let this small, circumscribed life have meaning.
Dear Francis, show me the way.
– Sybil Archibald 2012
The artist on Break
A tattered glove
lays in wait
for the fiery hand of
This is how I feel today. Some days are for working. Some days are for patiently waiting.
My heart howled
Held me hostage
Be a t b y b ea ttttt
Heart of mine why
did you beat in absent rhythm
instead of with earth’s steady drum?
Was it God’s own secret beat?
The chaos that crumbles old form
into fertile new earth?
I was a frail and helpless cage,
rattled from my depths
by a heart singing Your secret song.
Yet in that excruciating fear
crushed into stillness by that iron grip,
I heard the silence and
found You again.
How can I be anything but grateful?
My heart beats for You
I am a shell, one empty, cracked vessel,
your quietly waiting alembic,
fill me with honey
for I have had enough of pain.
-Sybil Archibald 2012
My last post, Emerging from the Desert, was a bit premature. Instead I have been wandering the desert seeking a way home. I found myself deeper in the cave these many months than ever before. Like the the Desert Fathers and Mothers who wrestled their own shadows, I was in such darkness that I must have been blinded by the Light. Again the great Artist** struck me low so that I could be raised up, my coarse clay smoothed and baked to form a stronger vessel to bear the creative light.
The past few months have been some of the scariest of my life. My last post saw me moving with happy heart to what I felt was home. However things didn’t click as expected. I was so tired doing anything wore me out. I assumed the move was responsible. As it turned out, the real cause was that half my blood was missing due to a bleeding stomach. I awoke one night and my heart was racing. My defibrillator, which once before had been a great awakener, began going off repeatedly. I ended up in the cardiac ICU and 3 bags of blood later everything began to calm down.
For 3.5 months my heart beat with strange and frightening rhythms. All I could do was lay there a prisoner from inside as chaos coursed through my body. Sometimes it lasted minutes, sometimes hours. Often it woke me up from what little sleep I managed.
Is it strange that now I find myself grateful for this traumatic time? Like every crisis before, this experience has shifted me deeply to the core. A load of unconscious pain I was carrying has vanished. Crisis throws a stark light on reality and forces you to see what you had before been blinded too. It was painful to see certain truths, especially about my family, but it is more work to cling to a false reality and try to make it real. That energy I used cling to illusion is now released and will be used for more creative purposes. I am now more able to step into present moment, where all true art is created.
During this time I was unable to do even the smallest things like cook diner or sit on the couch for an evening; making art was a complete impossibility. But now that I’m feeling better and my heart is on earth rhythm again I am chomping at the bit to get back to my work.
I intend to shift my work from the expression of suffering to the exploration of joy. In retrospect, I notice this transition was already beginning in my Earthen Vessel series. But this clear focus will be a fresh adventure for me. It’s something I never consciously conceived of before this newest brush with chaos. Coincidentally, or perhaps not, I received this in a newsletter from Rob Brezsny, who I enjoy for his unique ability to reframe issues, his creativity and his wit:
GAZING INTO THE ABYSS OF HAPPINESS
More and more creative people find they do their best work when they’re feeling healthy and secure. We know writers who no longer need to be drunk or in agony in order to shed the numbness of their daily routine and tap into the full powers of their imagination. We have filmmaker friends whose best work flows not from the depths of alienated self-doubt but rather from the heights of well-earned bliss. Singer-songwriter P.J. Harvey is the patron saint of this new breed. “When I’m contented, I’m more open to receiving a lot of inspiration,” she has testified. “I’m most creative when I feel safe and happy.”
At the Beauty and Truth Lab, we’ve retired the archetype of the tormented genius. We have zero attraction to books and movies and songs by depressed jerks whose work is celebrated but whose lives are a mess. Stories about supposedly interesting creeps don’t rouse our perverse fascination because we’ve broken our addiction to perverse fascination. When hearing about illustrious creators who brag that they feel most stimulated when they’re angry or miserable, we unleash the Official Beauty and Truth Lab Histrionic Yawn . . . .
All I can say is amen to that!
** My name for the Divine
PS For all those who reached out from my last post. I’m sorry I didn’t respond. I hope you’ll forgive me 🙂 I look forward to connecting in the future,
Over at Abbey of the Arts, Christine is holding a poetry party. She writes:
I invite you this week to write a poem about your own invitation to enter the refiner’s fire – in alchemy lead is transformed into gold through heat and this becomes a metaphor for the human soul. What is the lead within you ready to be transformed into something treasured?
I am not normally a poet but this topic is near and dear to my heart, so I was inspired.
Over the years, I’ve made a deep study of early alchemists and their influence on medieval art techniques. The process of manuscript illumination is deeply sacred and transformative. My early embrace of these techniques allowed me to see that making art, regardless of medium, is a spiritual practice. Though I use many different mediums now, within me the spiritual crack opened by illumination continues to expand with Light.
The Artist Illuminated
I trace the lines of God
on this dead skin-
a calf once, a self
prepared to be reborn.
The red clay of Adam
laying lifeless upon skin,
desiring yet empty.
I find it-
hot, filled with life.
I wake the glue which binds
body to soul,
giving form to life.
The once rough clay
is now perfected
by a blanket of gold.
With a flash the gilded clay rises up,
a wild horse running free,
as the newly golden surface
reflects living Light
back to Its
I crush azure blue from a stone like so many grapes
All the while
my frail body of care,
Bleeding madder root in a bubbling pot,
heating iron over a fire to red.
this lifeless squid,
its precious gift:
warm and brown
sepia stains my palms.
Thus paint is made,
and my own skin emptied,
a self once,
prepared to be reborn.
Here in this moment I stand
an emptied vessel.
I dip my brush
I am the the glove
for the fiery blue Hand of the Artist
which destroys as it creates.
I have been consumed
In tender, burning flame
a shell of my former self
all ashes, all dust
which I collect and slowly
begin to grind into paint.
It’s been a rough week. I haven’t posted because I have been in darkness. But, as always, darkness has it’s uses in pointing out the Light.
For the past 10 years or so since my face has really started change, I have hidden. I don’t post pictures of myself and I have avoided seeing people from my past. I’ve been trying to control something that is uncontrollable and it’s exhausting.
So, I’ve decided it’s time to show myself. My body is not what I hoped for, but I can’t hide for the rest of my life. I have to accept what I am. Next week Abby of the Arts is publishing an interview with me and a photo will be published. It’s funny that I have shared many intimate spiritual experiences here but this is what gives me pause. I don’t mean to be narcissistic, I am grateful for you bearing with me on this one! It’s a big deal for me to share this, deep breath…
Here is a picture of me in Paris at Notre Dame before I became ill in 1987:
Here is a picture of me now. Not a great picture, but I took it myself with a timer:
Here is my right hand fully extended:
That’s me, but only part of me. Maybe now I will be freer. Thank you for indulging me and being here to share this with.
Onto the next challenge…
The Cracked Vessel
Here I am
that any knock
a gong in my ancient ear
Overpowering sound of the world
you demand entrance
but your demands are
slowly fracturing me
A fragile vessel
worn by time
oh fill me up with Your Light
so that at least
from my fractured self
some honeyed Light may
Update:Comments enabled. Sorry! I don’t know how I keep shutting them off!
Yesterday I spoke about holding the space open for the Divine to enter. It’s interesting, more happens when I wait and things that were unclear become clear. My family & I have thought for sometime of being away for part of the winter. Nothing was coming together so I sat back and waited. Now something wonderful has entered into that open space. It is a one month trip to sunny St. Thomas which I am going to use as an artist’s retreat. I’ll be packing a small bag of clothes, a large trunk of art supplies and my laptop.
Where I live just outside of New York City, I often feel disconnected from nature. Illness works on many levels it is most definitely spiritual direction on a personal level. But I have often wondered if it is something more too. Our bodies are the Earth. Creation stories from many peoples Apache , China, Aboriginal , African and of course the biblical story of Adam to name a few describe humanity as being created out of Earth. I have always felt that on some level my illness reflects the illness and decay of our planet. I firmly believe in the alchemical principle “As above, so below”. If we are pale reflections, echoes of our Creator, as physical creatures we must also be the echo of creation itself. Our blatant disregard for our own flesh must be on some level both manifestation and cause of the current plight of our dear planet.
So I will take my time in the lush tropical greenery of St. Thomas to enter into the act of creation through my art and writing, but also to envelope my body in its physical source, nature. Like a child estranged from its parent, my body will find healing in the Earth’s loving arms.
I have learned that I cannot control the illness in my body, greater forces than I can understand have plans for me for which I gladly wait. But I take heart. I believe physical healing is possible. I have always believed it and will continue my belief whether or not physical healing becomes part of my own path. What small steps I can take like resting, using my energy wisely, eating well or nurturing myself do have an effect. I must treat myself as if I were my own garden and this in turn must effect the Earth. My flesh is the land, it is Earth and the two cannot be separated except as an illusion in the human mind. My flesh is but a small grain of sand, but as I have said before, sand does have a way of piling up. The small ways in which we heal ourselves will begin the process of healing our planet.
enter my hands
Full of Grace
Blessed art thou among women
flesh joined with spirit, Earth
oh endless Divine Womb
Blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus
perfected jewel of creation present in every moment
Holy Mary mother of God
ancient well, connect me to Your eternal stream
Pray for us sinners now
let us heal the connection that has been sundered
and at the time
circle upon circle
of our death.
bring us lasting rebirth: flesh at with one spirit
You are in love with me,
I shall make you perplexed.
Do not build much, for I intend to have you in ruins.
If you build two hundred houses in a manner that the bees do;
I shall make you as homeless as a fly.
If you are the mount Qaf in stability.
I shall make you whirl like a millstone.
I spend a lot of time with kids. It’s wonderful and difficult at the same time. Children are brutally honest. As I’ve mentioned before, I have scleroderma. This condition has caused my hands & face to contract. It has also caused my jaw to come out of alignment so that my teeth do not meet up properly. In short, I look strange. This doesn’t usually bother me because I don’t think about it. That fact that my hands don’t open doesn’t really affect my life much except for a few things I’ve had to give up: piano, knitting & a few miscellaneous activities. Sometimes when I see a picture of myself from long ago I’m sad,
Anyway my point is, I am who am I regardless of my what I look like. There are some people who are perfectly gorgeous in everyway and are miserable. But that’s not me, I’m deformed but happy. But when I get around kids and they ask me why I look funny it does upset me because it’s a shock. I don’t remember I’m strange because I never think about it. I think this is God’s way of tempering me like a sword, throwing me into the fire to make me stronger.
To truly reflect the Divine in this world, we must learn to be present in every moment. We must be totally in the physical world without controlling it. It’s amazing how much I want to control the world. I want my face back, I want my hands. But I know that is just me controlling the flow of Divinity in this word. I won’t be a dam, I wish to be an open well, a channel between the ocean & the land. Clearing this channel takes letting go of everything I think I am.
Thank you hands that contract so I may expand
Thank you jaw that hangs open so I must speak
Thank you feet that ache so I must stay still
Thank you heart that weathers the storm so I may be washed clean
Thank You again and again