In the last several years, I have become intimate with what Elizabeth Bishop called “the art of losing.” I have lost a job, health, financial stability, and my lifetime’s literary archive (85 cartons of papers, sold to the Beinecke Library). I lost my mother to memory loss and then death—and in the surrounding family chaos, I lost closeness with siblings too. When we moved to the city, I lost the shore and woods where I had written so many poems, along with a house, the bulk of its contents, and most of my beloved poetry library. My youngest left for college, and I finally lost daily mothering after 27 years. A few months later came the surprise move to Washington, DC, and I lost Portland, too.
Of course these losses caused me doubt, fear, anxiety, grief, confusion, and loneliness—not to mention the sheer labor of shedding so many physical and emotional layers. But honestly, it wasn’t all bad. I healed smoothly with nutritional and lifestyle changes (the loss of the job was a huge help). Emotional losses, as they often do, showed me how to be more honestly myself with those I love. The stringent financial crucible brought me to a more intimate and liberated relationship with the prosperity goddess Moneta. Severance and medical leave gave me time to finish two books, start more books, sort the library and papers, and try and fail at some online businesses before finding my way to a new low-residency teaching job, a wonderful new community, and a whole new idea of what being a poet in today’s world can mean.
And here’s the thing. For three decades I knew that a freer life awaited me at the end of the tenured-professor road. For decades, I symbolized that life to myself with the phrase, “someday I’ll write a cookbook” —knowing that would be just a tiny part of it, knowing that in that green and future time I would at last be called to share my most intimate and beautiful gifts with the world. But though the beauty of the witchy path awaiting me used to take my breath away, if you had asked me anytime up to five years ago how on earth I would actually get there from here (surrounded as I was by relationships, roles, responsiblities, and possessions), my logical mind would have said, as they do in Maine, “you can’t get there from here.”
Now, though, I see it all: how the bumpy losses of the last several years truly were the most efficient and elegant way I could have possibly have shed so much of my skin.
Last month I participated in my favorite scholarly conferences: the Association for the Study of Women and Mythology and its satellite conference, Modern Matriarchal Studies Day. I will write elsewhere about the legendary scholars, priestesses, and artists I shared with there about feminism, goddesses, matricultures, and more—but my deepest communion of all was with the heavy, sinuous drape of priestess Anne Key’s boa constrictor, Ashereh, over my shoulders. Now I hold, deep in my heart, the wisdom that Ashereh passed to me. It tells me that shedding is, in the end, a graceful act and that, in one form or another, it is the shortest way forward. Always.
I guess it’s no surprise that there turns out to be a deep connection between snakes and the year’s sexiest pagan holiday, the fertility festival of Beltane, when the phallus is worshipped in the form of the Maypole. This year, with the DC spring alive with bird and blossom, I am blending serious gratitude for snake-magic into my own Beltane celebration.
May your Beltane be joyful, transformative, and gorgeous.