The Circus of Visionaries
20th Rainbow Family Gathering of the Tribes
July 1-7, 1991, Green Mountain Forest, Vermont
(On July 7th every year, the Vision Council convenes
to decide where the next year's Gathering will be.)
The clouds move through a silence
above the bird-songs
between the dim ridge
of dawn and the crescent moon
like a shoal of whales,
one after the other
the young ones still forming
crowding close under
their dark bellies
the whole clan taking on substance
against the daybreak,
travelling the high
currents on their ancient way
Spirit, my tribe too is
migrating once more,
seeking our direction in the ancient way.
We have just retired
the feather for the night;
the third day of the Vision Council breaks.
Since we began we have
wandered the whole map,
following this feather around our circle.
We go to our rest
as the cooks are waking.
All afternoon outside the yellow-striped
medicine tent where we
listened in our rapt circle,
the rest of the tribe was working:
hauling out the trash, separating
glass and metal and plastic,
covering the shit in our latrines and
scattering the hearthstones
of our many circles
back to where the glaciers left them
a lingering warmth
and everlasting memory in them,
flutes and drums, song after song to the vanishing of flame
(I know, because today
I spent breaking down
the Wise Crackers kitchen, trusting the visionaries
in the circus tent
to listen without me)
The feather was an eagle's, it flew
from a staff, then alone,
it changed to an owl's,
it became a rock, then a peacock feather.
(It had rained
the morning of the 7th, so the Council started
in the big tent
where the medics dealt
with a half-dozen cases of craziness this Gathering)
The sun stood above us;
taking down the canvas around the sides,
and mountains too
One after the other we stood to speak our pieces
of the shattered dream.
(Once it started, there it
sat, the feather progressing slowly around
the same circle
of faces always changing,
each one stepping back after speaking, leaving space
for the listener behind)
The Earth turned
and we listened. Like tattered seamstresses,
we drew the thread
of our attention
tighter and tighter, focused on the feather
as though following the point
where the tip of the needle gleams and disappears.
The sun went down:
no decision till daylight.
For miles around us the work is done for today.
Not here; we lit candles
and kept listening.
The sun stood above us again the second day
curtained by showers
as the clouds moved across
the mountaincrest. We listened.
In the afternoon
the rainclouds passed
and a rainbow lifted all the colors
hidden in our circle
way up into the air.
Two rainbows. Three concentric rainbows,
with one half-grown
young one still forming—
It was a sign, to be sure (to be sure and listen,
pass the feather on
and on till all the colors
have spoken, the quilt of vision complete . . .)
We passed the feather
clockwise— our clock
slower than the digits on my watch, I noticed—
sun-wise, always slower
than the circling of shadows,
it seemed. But wisdom flowed from somewhere,
out of crones and greybeards,
out of the drooling mouths of babes . . .
The happy stream of voices out on the main trail
and the sanctuary of listening
made a kind of harmony where I
stood on the edge of the circle, returning
just after sundown
of the second day.
The candles were already burning: no decision tonight.
Good. Time now
for the listening.
On the muddy road outside, the footprints of loved ones
blot out the footprints
that were there moments before.
Every so often our asking for a true direction
home is pierced
by the laughter of farewell.
At midnight against the flung stars
tall shafts of light leaned
in a parallel rank
over our council from the northern horizon.
It was a sign, to be sure
(to be sure and speak
from our humble prayer-rug of earth,
gazing to the stars
not the other way around)
The feather migrated on from hand to hand
in the candlelight.
I am no longer waiting
for my turn to speak, turning over
what to say.
I am listening.
Through every interruption, the Spirit speaks.
We laughed together.
A prayer, a confession, a speech.
No one wept alone.
The night passes so quickly when you really
we asked for consensus. We're learning.
The feather goes
so slowly around.
At last it reaches my hand. I look around, and I'm
the last one left.
What shall I say, Spirit?
At last it's dawn, and the birds' turn. Today sunshine.
All my relations.