In the Sanctuary of Silence

41st Rainbow Family Gathering of the Tribes
July 1-7, 2012, Cherokee Forest, Tennessee


1. Homecoming

Let the wild rumpus
(back from the city after working a week
between two weeklong vacations
at the Gathering, my Home
away from home,
this peaceful village among the trees)

A peeping frog
speaks up from a puddle
at the side of the trail
in his inimitable voice, singing
the one syllable that is his to sing
in the invisible choir
of Creation
as I too paint my irreplaceable stripe
of this infinite human spectrum

(But the cicadas own the night!)

The circle of acquaintances you make
dashing in from the downpour,
taking shelter
beneath the closest kitchen tarp –

Someone has done this work:
spreading sticks
in the muddy patches on the trail
(and someone will break up
the dry hard mud
with pick and digging bar
and scatter new seed
when we’re done walking here)

The circle of newfound friends you make
around a brand-new shitter,
taking turns
with the mattock and the long-handled
spade –

A mournful violin quavers sweetly
behind my tent this morning,
rehearsing “The Star Spangled Banner”
for the celebration on the Fourth

The circle of brothers and sisters
lost to the tribe
since last year’s Gathering,
in a round white pavilion beside the trail
filled with photographs and messages
of farewell
that overflow the heart –

Two heartbeats meet and merge
into one
for the eternal moment
of a hug
separated by nothing but the bone and skin and
of a mere human lifetime

Don’t know what you’re high on, but I’m
high on this mountain

2. Variations on the Theme of Silence

So quiet
I can hear the cooks whispering over breakfast
under kitchen tarps for miles around

So quiet
it spooks the dogs and they can’t shut up

So quiet
I can hear a child somewhere insisting that a dog
stop barking

So quiet
I can hear the coughing of campfire-smoke close by
and road-dust a mile down the mountain

So quiet
I can hear the tow trucks growling along the road
stalking their next victim

So quiet
I can hear the Om of the flies and mosquitos
searching for a way into my tent

So quiet
I can hear my heart pumping oxygen to every cell
of my inner universe
and contaminants from every cell
back to the source
to be purified by my next breath

So quiet
that the sudden cry of “Six up!” echoes
up the main trail
like a pistol shot interrupting a Sunday service
in the sanctuary of Silence

So quiet
that the infant wailing in my neighbor’s tent
seems to be telling me
not to worry about the future of this cantankerous,
quarrelsome tribe

3. Family Reunion, Fourth of July

This is the family:
good friends from gatherings long gone by
suddenly gone grey
amid the swarm of unfamiliar faces,
all these young ones
just as respectful
of the heart of Silence

A brother doing slow Tai Chi, a sister spinning
her leather baton in the air,
dragonfly cavorting
over meditating heads
as the meadow fills with beatific smiles
and multicolored parasols,
pale liberated breasts under sunburned faces,
ecstatic hugs of “long time no see”
in pantomime

One twisting out the kinks in his vertebrae
audibly above the Silence,
another with a family-size box of chocolates
hurrying through the steamy humidity
in search of shade,
the silent face-painter intent on his craft
amid a carnival of tattoos

A long Om, letting it all out . . .
on and on
until it seems to take on a life of its own,
a living, chanting creature
rippling the sunshine
washing the perimeter of trees
with overlapping waves
like the breath of the meadow itself  . . .
on and on
even after the kids’ parade arrives,
threading in silence
through concentric circles of sound
to the very center of the Om

Then comes the breeze
and the cheer
followed by the ritual sacrifice
of watermelons

4. Trash in My Pocket

Competition for pocket-trash sure is fierce
this gathering . . .

uphill, bent
against the weight, staring down
at the gravel roadbed
and my plodding boots
as I tow my loaded hand-truck
step by step up this mountain,
I spot every cigarette butt
and glittering fragment of wrapper,
and my trash-pocket is still
only half full

(standing up to rest, my breath
the open, listening woods
stretch away on every side –)

On the flattened grass, the morning after
at Granola Funk Theater:
two butts, three wrappers, one dime,
one stray envelope
addressed “To the Girl
I Fell in Love with on the Trail”

(while the white canvas pyramid shines
in the sun
like something that landed here
when no one was looking,
its black-painted stage like an open mouth
where I stood last night
bellowing out a poem
about Silence
to an audience of dim listening shapes,
the trees
crowding thick around the meadow,
dark against the darkness, rapt
and curious)

5. Mama Katuah

Somebody up there
loves us!
The downpour interrupts
Mama Katuah
refusing to be ignored

Mama Katuah will rain on us,
we know,
showering us clean
though it smears our
clothes and shoes
with yellow mud

Mama Katuah,
up to her ancient tricks
as usual
but I never saw her
more beautifully garbed
and jeweled,
showing it off
in every stroke of lightning

Mama Katuah loves
a surprise,
the gust of wind so strong
it toppled a leaning tree
across an empty tent
even though
that particular tree
was leaning the other way

I hear Mama Katuah
laughing to herself
behind the ridge and head back
to the tent
to doublecheck my tarp,
my white socks
forever stained
with Mama Katuah’s love

And finally,
Mama Katuah in person –
the fat copperhead
at the zipper of my tent
when I come home at two a.m.,
psychedelic stripes
the color and pattern of the
fallen leaves
under its pale belly
through my flashlight beam

6. Homegoing

Thank you, ancestors,
spirits of this land,
protectors of this sacred water,
guardians of all the directions
we travel, leaving Home

Thank you, brothers and sisters
harnessing yourselves
to more one load, headed
this time down the hill,
each re-invention of the wheel
more inventive than the one before

Thank you, mothers and fathers
of all these children
chasing one another across the grass,
seedlings of Gatherings to come

Thank you, Earth and Sky
All my Relations