Shadows, Holes, Poetry and the Art of Speaking as the Earth

Last night I wrote a post and then deleted it by trying to save some notes for today, which seemed clever, but was just, well, not. Let’s have a look state of affairs now …

Oh dear.

So, today we get to pull our lost post back down out of the air. Ah, raven has it, as you can see.

Good thing I love ravens.

Caught between a fireplace and Madame Raven herself!

But loving it. Look at how Susan Cain helped her put on her dancing clothes. Nice.

There are principles in the world. One of them is the principle of the hole, or the mouth.

This is not a favourite topic among the pigeons of the Peshastin Pinnacles.

Another is the principle of eggs.

Volcanic Glass, aka the Turtle Eggs of Turtle Mountain

Sometimes eggs and mouths are the same. Well, usually.

This turtling eye in the grass speaks water and sees deer pellets (with gravity waves) which it turns into words of grass by adding them to flow (á or aqua). Sound like a strange language? Not at all. Read on.

My ancestors knew this correspondence, and I know it from them: an egg is a mouth, with a licking tongue; it is a womb, with a fetus; it is the sky with the yolk of the sun and the sea with an island; it is the mind being filled by a thought until it spills out of the mouth, which is another eye, another egg, and an “I” that floats in the top of the head. It is a hand, reaching up “high” to that “I’s” “eye”. Why do you think we say “hi” and “hey” with the hand?

The “eye” reaches up in the hollow of the head. And the mouth knows this. “High” it says, which is:

Hhhh: breath, with a wide open mouth and throat and no more force than the turning of the earth among the stars.

Eye: the middle of the mouth, its strongest point, held in the top of the head. The sound that is the heart of sight. It’s yolk.

So, there you have it: breath that rises to height. It is why we say we walk upright. The whole body talks it: Upright.

Up: the push in the diaphragm, the ground of breath, constricted, reaching to the ground of sound and breath, then the concentration of the breath in a moment of holding, the lurch over the point of balance and the sudden letting go of breath; the word embodies it, expresses it, and is a large mammal rising to its feet. Kind of by holding its breath.

Right: The run of a river, the rrrrr of the primal roar and rush that makes water river, that continued, sustained action, followed by its rise into the sustained middle of the flow, its island or eye, and height; and there it is, in most of the creation stories of the world, a dry bar in the middle of the flow.

Trickster Fetus in the Thompson River

In this echoing chamber of the mouth, the head is a skull. This is not lost knowledge. Danes say that, Skold!, when toasting a glass of akvavit, or Tuborg, not because they are drinking from a skull or a comedian’s helmet with bull’s horns, but because the skull is an empty space, that fills. When they say Skold!, they mean “Fate” or “Luck” or “May you be filled.” Basically, though, it is a cupped bowl, or a hole. It is an Oh.

Oh: the strong channel from the lungs to the world; the most expressive and most basic sound; the bass-line to all other music of the body’s dance.

Things go in. Things come out. Both ways they change. Here is an example of this primary phsyical principle of the world.


Two states, one energy.

For all these words that sound poetic to a prose-based ear, there is a profound physical correspondence at play here. The ponderosa pine above has made a hole in the grass, which it pours out of, without eliminating the hole. The hole has merely changed state. It speaks wholeness. It is the ground that speaks “hole” and the ground that speaks tree. Both are the mouth singing it’s “Oh.”

A mouth doesn’t have to be in an animal body.

Ah, but our pine tree.

Her ability to shed water and drop it at her root line, at the edge of the tent of her branches, creates a hole in water, which you can see above as a grassless stretch of soil acidified by red-brown needles. It’s good shelter for deer and ants. You’ll find ant lions accentuating that hole by making holes of their own…

… in which they wait for an ant to slide in, unable to climb out due to the fine, dry sand lining the hole. They are quite at home (hole/whole) in hole (whole) space! The ponderosa also makes a hole in light. This is called “shadow” and moves with the sun and the seasons. What’s more, the slope of the hill invites heat from the sun into this hole, which melts snow, accentuates soil’s drought and leaves it open to the wind.

The result is the pine on the ridge line just at the top of the image above. In the shadow zone above the trunk, the grass is thick. On the exposed south-east face, there is no grass at all. Snow melting from the catch of the grass has eroded the slope so much over the years that the pine’s roots have become exposed by a mix of water, sun, the earth’s tilt and gravity, and the pine has died. As you can see by the litter across the slope, it’s not the only one. Slowly, in this way, the holes here carve the land under their own power, yet they are never empty. But that’s not the only way of looking at holes. Here’s another one:

Hole in the Whole

Yes, it’s a mule deer stag, but all we have to speak of the world is a body and a mouth, so we might as well use them. At its root that is what this stag is: a hole in the body of the earth, a hole in the sagebrush, which is itself a series of holes in the grass, each bunch of which is a hole in the Earth’s multicellular skin, and on and on and on, until there the earth is, breathing, and breathing, we know, is speech.

Frozen Marmot Breath at the Base of the Chilcotin Basalt, Aberdeen Lake

It is also a space of attention within the body of my eye. My eye is designed to create holes like this (being one itself), and to fill them and so find a way through the world, which is a hole, opening, that I step into.

And what is there, between the Thompson Valley sage? Why, my skull. It is, as you can see below, full. My fate in this place is to be rock. The world flows around the rock, deflected by its weight. I can walk across or down this steep, eroding slope by standing on the top side of the rock, its height, and so remaining high, rather than descending in a fall. Well, those are all words for another day as we reclaim our language from our ancestors.

This time, though, I had a big hole in my attention, that’s all. In fact, I was taken up with the idea of entropy, which is a physical principle, mathematically derived, which declares that energy decays, always. Given that the sky is blue …

Chokecherry and Saskatoon at Year’s End

… that is not entirely true. There should be no oxygen in Earth’s atmosphere, and wouldn’t be if plants hadn’t put it there and maintained it. That’s sure not entropy. to figure it out, I was looking at this community:

I was pretty convinced by these grasses, balsam roots and yarrows that they knew a lot about opening, that the energy plane of the world wasn’t flattening out, only transforming in shape in a series of openings, and openings again, very mouth-like, because, after all, a world is a whirl, a whirlpool, a hurricane, an Orkan, as the Icelanders put it, the original (ur) energy. Many foundational energies come from this force and humans live within it, as do, as you can see, crab spiders.

Then I stood up, and, fifty meters away …

… there was a hole in the grass, that had taken on form and was watching me in my own inattention and my own wholeness. That’s not exactly entropy. So, let’s get serious. What, exactly, is a whole? Well, it’s a mouth, like this:

wh: breath, pushed out quickly through an oh, or an ‘eye’

o: the round open vessel that is the full (even when empty) mouth; the cavern; the womb

le: the flattening out of the vessel at its lip, with the tongue making a wave to the top of the mouth; in other words, a welling drop of water, just at the point of thickening and becoming, out of nothing, a flow and a drop.

It’s this, squeezed out of what you would think was dry soil by sun and gravity:

These are the drops a hole makes when it is placed in dry water. It thickens it and becomes the great Germanic world principal die Dichte, thick-ness, from which comes the ancient art of poetry, or die Dichtung, thickening.

Russian Olive, Vernon 


Our bodies and the world are one. These correspondences are one of the many forms of holes that the world fills. We can make music of this, like birds, as in this fragment of a poem (“Break of Day”) by the Canadian poet Penn Kemp, from her collection River Revery:

The Carolina wren awakens in dark before
five, brash and bright as its racing stripe.

There’s its song in the last line, of course, living right within the twigs of the letters. It is more than that, though. Look again:

five, brash and bright as its racing stripe.

We have there the following sequence:

Five’s long “I”, or the expression of the hand. It is no accident that we hail or say hi with a motion of the hand. It is the sound of the half closed throat, the tongue brought down to the teeth on the sides like a hat or a cover, and all the sound high up in the top of the head. It is the sound of the sky. Let’s call it that. The sky and the hand reaching to it.

Brash’s break of the lips, followed by the long run of an ‘r’, an energy as old as holes, or older, that gives us river and roar and run, among many other forms, followed by the lash of a twig, an ash or an esh or an elm, let’s say, across the face. An elven sound.

Bright’s breaking open of the mouth (doubling as that other mouth, the eye), followed by the sky’s “eye” and closing off against the front wall of the teeth by the hand that is the tip of the tongue, as the eyes shut and squint against it.

Racing’s run and rush, all within the middle of the open mouth and throat. Full throttle. No impedance.

And stripe’s sounding s, leading into trip’s narrow path, navigated toe on toe, opening into the sky above and quickly coming back to a narrow, bound ban, like a bird on a twig.

To read Penn’s poem is to “decipher” it for a series of codes, but to say it, and understand it in the body, the mouth is making rivers of light, opening skies, and paths through them, that must be walked with precise care. The language, in other words, does not point to the world, but is an open mouth, a hole, from which it flows, and an eye, into which it flows, and these two are linked.

Note that the “eye” of this stone head on Ozette Beach on the Eastern Pacific Shore is a bird. It would be fantastical to say that this bird-eye-mouth correspondence is hard-wired into the human brain, and yet it can be learned, and then used as speech to read a mind. That is the principle behind looking into the pool of water in an eye, or even of looking into your true love’s eye. Or this tide pool at Ozette, ground in the Orkan of the very stones that lie in it and which once filled it but have given way to water. Even scientists read “transformation” here. That some of them also read “entropy” is sad.

Of course, one might not find this reading-of-the-body in the world, even this body trained by the dance of the tongue in the mouth, to one’s taste and choose to read prose instead of poetry, or might wish to read prosaically, for “meaning.” When one does, the words one reads become not the hole, or the whole that fills it, but the record in time of how that welling and thickening has affected people in the past. Dictionaries record these historical records, and thus enable prose to be read. What is being read is a social field, around these ur words, this poetry, this whirlpool of orkan that Penn and her birds sing, or even a Western Bluebird in a cherry tree on the other side of the continent.

You can’t make anything of that, only say it again with your body when you encounter it, and so deepen your footsteps in place. In prose, on the other hand, you can move through time, never being bound to the earth, not taking its substance into you and remaking yourself in its image, but entering the field that social usage has cast around these dance steps of our ancestors. Perhaps making an image of the nesting seabirds at South Stack in Wales by standing in the bird sanctuary presentation building, photographing a woman setting up a tripod to take a picture of the birds in memory, likely enough, of other images like that which she is seen, so she can take them away and present them to others as objects of exquisite social display.

Welsh ancestors might well have concentrated on the ogres nearby, in the same social gesture, that continually brought the earth into a social sphere. It is the story of the selves that cluster around the light in the empty bowl of the skull and drink and amass a complex, conjoined fate over time.

Poets of the earth, who speak their ancestral language, however, know as well that however powerful this quantum space is, this blur of narratives of time and loss, this high air is brittle, like ice.

Okanagan Lake

It is brittle, even = water wells and thickens and gives speech from a well, the way the tongue accepts the mouth of the apple …

Salish Apples

Ap: the wide mouth biting in; Ple, the lips closing on the juice and squeezing the flesh to the bottom of the mouth to extract all the sweet juice.

… to place it in itself…

Crabs Filling the Space in a Pine Tree

To speak them is to taste them: the crrr of the throat closing, the ahh of the dry mouth trying to vacate the space it is in, and the “b” of the lips spitting out the well of sour tissue that the tongue has lifted and pushed forward towards them (and through them in a welling wave).

Despite fluidity of words spoken from fleshy lungs, throat, mouth and lips, there is the wall of the teeth and the brittleness of the “high” shriek in the top of the head.

In fact, this correspondence is so perfectly matched, that ice itself, such as this broken ice on the shore of the Lagarfljót in Iceland, collects in sound on the shore, and says its name over and over again: Í, Í,  Í,  Í,  Í,  Í,  Í,  Í,  Í,  Í,  Í,  Í,  Í,  Í,  Í,  Í,  Í,  Í,  Í,  Í,  Í,  Í,  Í, Í,

in a sound that rings out as a symphony of birds. That is the music that poetry sings as well, directly out of the earth. These tools are equally applicable to poetry and the study and manipulation of the earth, and are the reason why the princes of Germany had their sons and daughters learn verse. It enabled them to administer their kingdoms, because it enabled them to represent its natural patterns.

That is also what it is to be indigenous. Anything else is to live solely within human memory, which, as we all know, is subject to decay. That is the true land of entropy. Just ask the raven.

We can be the earth and speak with it.


Tomorrow I hope to speak about those fields of prose, what they can be used for, and the consequences for the earth (and her humans) when the fields are mixed without care. Now, let’s hope I don’t delete these five hours of work while posting it, eh!

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