“In the Room of Prayer” is written as a sestina, a classical form created in France in the 12th century. Instead of rhyme, the poem repeats words that convey its symbolic meaning. The poem is set in a Sabbath prayer service where men are engaged in silent reading.
In the Room of Prayer In the room of prayer where men are standing silence is a shawl upon their shoulders, a supplicant’s bowl filled with their breathing, and the weight of words remains unspoken by swaying bodies whose lips are moving to a rhythm inspired in the core of their being.
Within the heart of every human being the precipice holds a challenge to our standing, our shifting foothold while the earth is moving. We carry unknown worlds upon our shoulders, compelled to this task by words unspoken, by the rise and fall of muffled breathing.
In the silence of our shallow breathing we hear the whispered prayers of being, the words repeated though still unspoken, the shadow of the tower no longer standing, the traveler beckoning from roadside shoulders, the empty space through which light is moving.
Our fingers on the prayerbook page are moving, touching words as lightly as our breathing. We search to prove the burdens we shoulder are substantial and can justify our being, can give us meaning beyond understanding through hymns unsung, through prayer unspoken.
Our strength is in mere words, a force unspoken yet unrestrained, like tree roots moving beneath the ground where we are standing, tree roots that surface through concrete walks, breathing deeply as swimmers, rising from the depths of being, like an unseen hand that rests upon our shoulders.
If wings could fan the air about our shoulders we would rise on thermals of words unspoken like towering cumulus, like glowing celestial beings, like sunlight, a golden flame ever moving in silent prayer, like the men slowly breathing in this temple made of earth, barely standing.
We pose with shoulders square, with steady breathing, yet our voices go unspoken, our being is not sound; we are but standing shadows upon a moving ground.
Ode to Los Indígenas
The winds of the paramos are fragrant with eucalyptus and mint, with the tart sweetness of the raspberry pulled from the vine. In these heights, the wind is the breath of God, his voice is heard among the green cornstalks, his fingers trace the mountain peaks where the fields stretch out like a blanket on the verdant earth and the distant mountains, blue and gray, carry the clouds on their shoulders.
A man and woman are walking the ancient paths balancing long wooden poles on their shoulders to help their neighbors build a house. The spirit of Minga is in San Isidro where the Indígenas are working for their people, sharing their strength with the mountains. And in San Martín Alto where the soil is lustrous and black, the herbal plants wave green hands at the sky inviting the sun to join in the community work, to plant new trees on hillside terraces built with years of toil and patience. And in Cintaguzo where maize and potatoes reach deep into the rich soil, connecting with the mountain spirits, bringing forth new sustenance and replanting the seed of life.
The earth meets the sky on the rolling crest of the paramos, the threshold of heaven and earth preserved by the Indigenas, their farms and houses are linked to the mountain side like the thick cabuya plant whose broad leaves are transformed into yarn by the hands of persistent women, and the mothers that ply their knitting needles as they walk, their shawls the color of pomegranate and lemon, carry their children on their backs wrapped close as one living being, carried like flowers that blossom the hillside path, that hold the earth in place, and the children peering out from beneath crochet hats have eyes shining black as fire, shining with the prescient silence of the Gods.
The Indígenas live among their Gods. The old woman who has forever walked this sacred soil with slow and patient steps, carrying impossible burdens of firewood and forage, whose breasts have suckled the llama and the sheep, whose life blood flows as water in the steep ravines, is the Earth Mother and a sister to the stars. Pachamama, your bare feet are the color of the earth, your hair is gray as snow on the distant peaks. As you walk, the hives bring forth their golden honey and the Cuyes grow fat, their dwellings blessed by fragrant herbs.
Pachamama, for some time you did not show your face, but then returned wrinkled like the bare slopes where untamed water has stripped away the skin of the earth. Now a child walks beside you, a black haired child who will bring back the trees. His name is Pachakutik, his strength is in the sunlight and the wind, He will bring the Indigenas to their rightful place, the time of Pachakutik, spirit of the mountains. And the land will reveal its green resilience, sustaining the Indígenas, people of the land, whose silent wisdom is deep as the soil, The Indígenas, who have received the land as their gift and their source of strength, the land which is themselves. Their time is always now.
Note: A poem of praise and wonder in the style of Pablo Neruda. The poem was written in Ecuador, 2001, while attending an ecological conference for Heifer International. Translated by Ecuadorean colleagues, the poem was read in English and Spanish at the concluding gathering of the event.
Glossary Paramos: Upper pastures of the Andes, above the tree line. The flora and fauna, the land and the agricultural enterprises established there have deep spiritual meaning to the Andean people. Minga: a community shared-work project, such as a collective garden or a house raising. Cabuya: a local plant whose broad aloe-like leaves are hand-processed for fiber. Cuyes: Guinea pigs, raised as a local food source. The animals were once raised in kitchens, benefitting from the stove warmth, and ran loose in the home. Modern grow-houses often have a shallow trough of disinfectant liquid at the entry to cleanse shoes of possible contaminants. Visitors to the grow-houses may also have flowered branches waved over their heads to assure benevolent spirits accompany them on entry. Pachamama - earth mother Indígenas: the indigenous people of the Andes Pachakutik: Pacha - the earth, Kutik - a timeless cycle of the seasons; infinite present time with repeated seasonal variations.