Author Archives: Maggie Knapp

ain’t it so humbling how much humbling there is on to be had ~
on the knees of my knees
with a resounding gong do i hear you
this is no way to live, in the laundry machine, spin after spin
no way out but through
just keep showing up for it, bearing the unbearable, tolerating the intolerable. because that’s what we’re doing here
no more punishment
hard earned, long polished wisdom. so many trials in the making of understanding that true strength is vulnerability, is kindness, is compassion but with no sacrifice of that care for oneself.
the willingness to meet another held alongside the power to stay self-connected. not all soft underbelly, but coarse fur too. NO is holy too. ENOUGH is holy too.
but the risk of raw! the edge of it.


smiling in a way that would fool no fool,
i gulp cup after cup of your rose-petal tea
anxious to warm the sharp grasp of ice that is creeping across my chest,
rising and falling now like bobbing icebergs that have cleaved from their ancestral homes, turning what was once the definition of intact and unyielding into ragged cliffs whose new identity is unknown beyond wrong.
uh-huh, i say, nodding,
thinking about death again.
Becoming has become ominous.
everything once full of unknown promise tilting, hurtling toward uncertainty in a way that was always true but tinged now with gloom.
the world over holds its breath for our sentencing,
then, after the exhale, returns again to carrying out the small daily business of living,
pulling up socks and fashioning dinner,
unsure if this reckoning bodes Jubilee or the grisly End.
or maybe that’s just me.
our small cares may matter more than ever now,
and how we choose to mark the passing of slow time
beyond how the orchards have been bulldozed and we seem to hear fewer birds this year.
beauty will still matter.
beauty will keep us together through the unspooling.
beauty is a neutral country, all things might belong within it. there is room for joy and sorrow both; both are beautiful.

we are still with each other in the dark now.
somewhere indistinct in the body there is a clutching,
a desperate please-don’t-leave-me-tell-me-now-that-you-already-know-you-will-leave-me,
and wound around it, spiraling upward like pea vines do,
a hopeful Perhaps.
that maybe you will see the thousand shards my being has become and divine coherence from them in a way i too sometimes can,
when the light falls just right across the palm of a lover’s hand
or i am nearby flowers.
i think you’re brave and brilliant, he says from the dark, declining to love me.
and the moment is not unfamiliar.
isn’t it always this way?
an eternal venn diagram of must-can’t, loving-denying, salvation-despair,
the weight of experience but the wisdom of it too—
the divine counterpoise of the universe turned grim, leaving only a fraying thread of possibility for me to tread between Triumph and the Void.
i’ll be reborn again tomorrow, i’m sure
to tread the same circles in the sand, and it will take a while to realize it is the same circle and perhaps when i do there will be an opening between circles this time.
a single thread is still something to follow—like the Polish fairytales where an enchanted ball of yarn unravels before you, showing you the way over mountain ranges and fearful chasms.
no fun being sensitive.
but let it be beautiful.
i’ll try again to abandon my earnest seeking of the Truth;
i’m just trying to be more honest.

to come home

forgive me,
I un-learned to listen.
I trained a deaf ear, until after enough gentler tries,
the truths of this earth bludgeoned me back home.
how quickly will i forget again?
the reminders will take a thousand faces
ever new, ever the same,
to be with what is really real
what is hard,
the sharp edge of truth
as it cuts across the ragged edge of feeling.
i un-learned the sensitivity of whiskers
of a doe’s swiveling ear
the hare and the coyote both perfectly sharpened
to the glorious and the gory truths
of eating and being eaten.
i let what fine claws and bright knowing i am sure we are all born possessing
be dulled into submission,
not at all like the submission of a fawn to the teeth of a wolf
graceful and knowing,
but like the dulling of an ear to an ever-present scream.
for what my mortal word is worth,
i swear to you, oh holy holies,
that i will leave the thimbleful of milk—
i will prepare myself to beat the drum
to sit with both ears earnest to windsong
to ask the marsh what she knows,
to devour and be devoured by this hungering earth.
i know again that i need the ferocity
of howling fang-filled words
and emptied belly
and tremendous humbling of my over-proud fool’s heart—
with not a single true arrow to defend it—
to come home.

small letters to myself

stay a child, but not a fool.
be gentle with yourself –
you are a repressed artist. we all are.

slow down enough to find the artist lurking inside,
sniffing the air for signs,
pleading for a breath of fresh mischief.
slow down enough to meet yourself,
unplug enough to have to create.
confront the world – the real one – especially flowers.
(decaying, emerging, blossoming)
especially feelings –
yours, anyone’s, all of ours.
every feeling is a benediction,
a graze of thorns calling you to wake up now
you’ve got learning to do.
i know, it hasn’t always been safe.
the brief moments of furnace when it hasn’t been safe have been enough
to turn the milk
to turn the heart into a locked glove box,
key inside,
maybe lost.
it seems safer not to know, not to feel it all,
yours and everyone else’s,
but feeling is not your enemy.
the only way out is in.
does the first-time flower fear to blossom?
does all life fear change, growth?
does death love life?

a fever-birth

all through the night i moaned and thrashed,
wracked with fever dreams,
some song-graced
some maddening with portends,
writhing like a den of birthing snakes,
sweat pouring in rivulets down my body –
i knew for once what it was to be a watershed –
and when dawn broke so too did the fever.
i ate a slice of chocolate cake to celebrate
and like sunlight streamed out again into the freshness of the world,
admiring the dew-bedecked winter fodder
of the snorting ponies come to greet me,
a shy coyote in perfect tawny stealing just off stage their meadow.
How blessed to be reborn again from that Gorgon’s den,
each day,
into this glittering, sliming, foaling, never-ending palace of enchantment.

Feral daughters

Forgive me,
I gave up writing.
I thought I was a fool for loving it,
but I see now only fools abandon what is more real than the paper towers
of blowhard men.
You breathed into me a muse,
and I forsook the gift,
the sacred obligation
to feed that which was fed me.
I laid down and I let them
make concrete of my salt marshes
and chic purveyors
of the seedy alleys of my mind.
I didn’t know I let them,
but I let them
civilize me. Forgive me!
I was born feral,
born with no apology in my mouth –
a howling, uninhibited
was my first song
and shall be my last

Fettering my wild edges
quietly erasing a past that might lead me back to it,
slick as a mackerel
silent as an owl.
Don’t dare anyone call it an invisible hand,
nothing more deliberate was ever done
than wrest the wild-eyed naked daughters of my grandmother’s grandmothers
from the embrace of the thicket
and fence the commons,
conquer and divide,
divide and conquer.

Little did I know that the words which tumbled from me
were their whispers –
I knew they were not mine.
I believed them madness,
fantasy and folly,
when they failed to fill my belly or satisfy the clerk.
Forgive me grandmothers,
hedgewitches and druids,
faithkeepers and mythtellers
shining-eyed rune casters!
I misplaced my doubts,
I snagged the hem of my skirts on civilization
and became indebted to their mending.
I should have torn off my clothes
and plunged myself into a cleansing spring,
I knew better even,
I denied the deeper voice – it was a cacophony!
Forgive me!
I hear you now
it rises in my chest,
and a woman bewitched, I leave the door half-open to stand blank as a snowdrift under the midnight sky
praying that I may know still how to answer.

A circle

Oh all the ungrieved anguish of my ancestors!
Compounded and condensed,
borne down upon my shoulders,
and how.
Into an icy and a fiery chill
that sinks itself into my bones
as if they were outside my body,
heaped in the compost pile
steaming in the November chill,
yet lacquered still with frost.
No safe corner of the earth to call my own
so long as menfolk overrun it,
i carry my ailing flesh into the forest,
primeval home,
wood remembering a time my flesh forgot.
I heap myself,
broken like a batwing,
lonesome as any other creature that dare survive
the anthropocene
herds and packs and flocks all –
school, pod, kettle, colony, and rookery,
emptied. disbanded. ravaged and ransacked.
A murmuration of one.
I have come to learn prayer, I tell the trees
and the gods, if they are there to hear it.
I have come to find company anywhere else
but among the two-leggeds,
traitors and savages all.
I draw in the duff a circle around myself,
a magic circle, I tell the worms
and the wind-rustled boughs.
an initiation, an invocation.
Teach me ceremony,
i must remember to remember.
once we nearly forgot fire –
how to make it leap up from well-matched
spindle and hearth,
coaxed by a little nose oil
and a knee-joint of deerbone.
Coal tucked into a fire nest, sung into being.
Have we now forgotten ceremony at last?
Is there any ember of it in me
that the Church could not scour away
with its edicts upon my grandmother’s grandmothers?
My kind traded instinct, tooth and claw,
for what their mothers learned,
for song and story, drum and dance.
Again a trade was made:
for certain salvation in the here-after,
relinquish your heathen ways
the inheritance of a hundred thousand generations.
So steadily, so arduously gained,
so swiftly lost.

Into this circle I must pack all my ancestors
who still remember.
I will open my voice for you to sing me.
My business is not with the middleman between me and the sun,
I make my supplications directly
to the sun himself. Rebirth me as a fallen seed.
Rework me as a slumped and sodden lump of clay,
add a little grit for temper.
I am humbled as the rotting log.
Let the salal grow up from my failures,
a fruit not bitter, not sweet, but belly-filling.
I entreat the Weavers:
release me from the world of scolding and betraying
let me join the nightcrawlers and the nematodes,
I will give up my body
to share company
with my cousins on this earth,
I am sorry we’ve been so estranged.
Little ember, are you there?
My people’s contribution to this earth
isn’t song – plenty of that,
or drum – all life has their own,
or dance – every moment is dance,
no – something more elusive,
gifted by the gods
or muses
or dreamtime:
A sacred reciprocity
to encourage the sun’s rising
and the moon’s mysterious midnight work,
and the earth’s reflowering from the dark time,
and the proliferation of all life.
To ensure abundance,
gratitude must be given.
This is my tooth and claw,
my hide and gut,
my inheritance,
my instinct
not yet extinguished.
Alive so long as I am – ceremony must be made
they tell me,
or perish.
Lost and alone.
Does the stark earth care for how I choose?
Windswept crumbling peak,
unending vista,
will my tiny prayer into the infinite please you?
Will I have done my part to sing alive the spring,
to bring rains to the thirsting plains,
to braid the oxbow
back into the river, that the mountainpeak might reach the sea?
Will you answer my entreaty –
will I know?

At last I return from the forest,
because the winter is cold
and a furless thing does not belong in unforgiving woods
past sunset.
My hands still empty,
though my prayers at least have left my chest
and the hollow longing lodged there
I know to be a fertile space.
Emptiness must precede

Listen, I know it’s hard to admit it.
I know it’s harder to remember it.
I know you’re scared,
cause I am too.
And when I see you scared
see it reminds me,
that we’ve all got more in common
than we know how to acknowledge.
And I kick myself every time I forget it,
and I realize I only remembered because
someone else reminded me
and in the instant before I am grateful
I am jealous
my small scared self is afraid
that I’m not always the one in possession of the Truth.
and I pray to be humble enough –
not to succumb to fear –
to kiss the feet of any brother or sister
who can still remind me when I forget
see cause we’re just passing it around,
the love.
cause you can’t have it for yourself.
you can’t keep it.
i only have it when you share it with me
and you only have it
cause you share it with me.
that’s the only way anything worth existing

I’m tempted to call it divine timing.
When your refreshment
of my ego trip
saunters around the corner just in time to deliver salvation
piping hot enough to burn my tongue
cause I needed a good humbling.
Not that any gods are busying themselves
for our sorry sake,
but somehow the magic prevails.
Not that my tongue is all that’s burning –
paper tigers can’t seem to catch a match
but America, your house is on fire and don’t you for a minute call it arson –
you left boiling pots, you left smoking guns – call it negligence.
call it reckless.
call it willful.
call it arson – you set your own house on fire cause you thought you’d collect insurance cause you thought you were clever
cause you were bored, cause you were tired of all your old pretty things,
cause you saw what someone else had and you wanted it,
and scheming’s always worked before
but now it’s getting hot, ain’t it. there isn’t really anywhere else to run,
when you set your own house on fire.
and what do you grab, when it’s burning down around you?
what is it that really matters?
does your innocence return to you
when you are a running animal again,
when your desires become simplified
can you see then through the smoke you wrapped around you?
Not punishment, not even justice,
but consequence.
It seemed for a while there like the smoke was working for you
making all those unfortunate shadows on the street
look a little more romantic,
look like furniture almost
in your house.
yes your house, yours,
sounds nice, doesn’t it?
when they offended you
they were rubbish
and when they caught your eye
you said, entertain me.
You didn’t realize, America
they weren’t shadows
of your fantasy.
They were people.
They are people.
We are.
And see we’ve all got more in common
than we know how to acknowledge.

Origin Myths

how could i even begin to write you love poems?
to say but a single word would eclipse the boundless others that describe your love,
to say them all would be to obscure the infinite unspeakable ways
you move me
and rustle in my bones,
as miraculous as an onion
unpeeling itself in the field
to feel the wind on its nakedness.

to be loved by you is to live under a summer sun,
even as the leaves uncouple from the arms
that held them,
and Indian summer abandons us
to the season of shadows,
under you still, i burn.
leaving you each morning is like that,
to part from the source that lends me life
to deny the sugars that you pump through my veins
and scatter myself to the wind,
to nourish the earth
as you think i do.
sometimes i worry i will lose myself in dispersal,
but always you catch my hem
and pull me back
to be ground again under your pestle
making me fresh again to the world
I might almost have forgotten how to love.
medicine man.
buffalo man. let’s rebuild the herd.

when i wake with you i feel the rock of the sea,
rhythm has returned to the movement of the earth
and it quickens my feet as sure as my heart.
to be loved by you is to dance like the plague of 1518
but instead of prescribed bleeding,
for once, they built a dancehall.

How could I not have known
that all that time in the forge
was for you?
And you my love, your animacy is the greatest miracle of all.
Clay-man, when did it happen?
All the sweet whispers, kisses upon your earthen brow,
the first fire, the second,
sharing tea with you, propped charmingly,
(I held the cup to your lips but drank for you)
my soft caresses, walks with you through the forest
(cradled in my willow basket),
telling you of lichens and hazelnuts,
laying you down on a bed of moss,
still you were leaden to me.
And then one day –
when did it happen?
there you were,
breath, warmth, light in your eyes, humor on your lips,
animate at last, smoothed under my hand
but not mine.
alive all on your own.
And so the tiny bushy habitat between your lip and nose
in the softness of your mustache,
this is my native habitat.
How effortless it is
to refine my awareness just to perch on that softest ledge
tasting every breath.
Moss face. My muse.

Soft lips, big hands,
whence did you come?
I love kissing you in the doorway with a bosom full of figs,
October mists and colors wreathing the porch,
but past your sly smile the world is a blur.
why write poems about it anyway?
to love you is purer poetry,
the way Potawatomi is all verbs and no nouns,
they knew –
the truth of everything is more in action
than idea anyway.
Nothing holds still long enough
to be truly known,
least of all you, my love
though you claim I am the one who flits like the towhee.
Well where are you now?
Racing across turtle island
to expand yourself in the doorways of others
And I am here still,
bent over the cabbages and turnips
in the chill of the morning,
slowly pulling each one by its hair up into the sunlight
looking for you underground perhaps.

Becoming indigenous to place,
is above all,
a work of love –
of love-making.
Of limerence.
To know the place where hazelnuts grow
and the name of the tiny bird who visits
the composting toilet each morning.
To spend time with the marsh
reclaiming itself in the low spot on the old logging road,
to ask it what it needs.
Loving you lets me settle
into land-loving,
to make a place,
to learn, and where absent, to create place-names
To be rooted like cedar
To build our home of maple wood and cattail mat.
Ambling loses its romantic appeal
When where you are,
I am.