The Great Mother

A thunderstorm tore through New York City yesterday – the sky got that yellow, dirty glass color. On my back porch I resisted the urge to record it with a phone camera, so I could show you all. I knew others were probably on that assignment, and they were, but what does it say that we no longer experience something so elemental as a thunderstorm without reaching for our iPhones like a smoker relieved to be out of a meeting.

“It’s rainin’ it’s pourin’/ The old man is snorin'” I said, and it occurred to me for the first time in my life that the old man in that rhyme may be The Old Man. God snoring, that’s what thunder is. Kids in Catholic school in the late ’70s used to say it was angels bowling.

So I called my friend Mark in Connecticut, a potter who blogs at Offers to Raven, and who’s always ready for a mythic or poetic question. He agreed that even though the old man soon after “went to bed and bumped his head/ and couldn’t get up in the mornin'” that the snoring did imply thunder.

At this point I was sitting under a steel awning with an electrical device in my hand and lightning crashing nearby, so we said good-bye and I traded the phone for a collection of one of the great poets, Wislawa Szymborska.

FemaleStatuetteSamarra6000BCE

From 6,000 BC in Iraq, now at The Louvre.

I’ve memorized her poem “A Paleolithic Fertility Fetish” in the past. Though it fades and comes back in pieces the way memorized-then-forgotten poems become circular loop-de-loops, I often go back to it. “The Great Mother has no face,” it starts. “Why would the Great Mother need a face?”

I always assumed this poem refers to a statuette of a woman from pre-history, Szymborska finding reassurance and peace from the incompleteness and abstraction of the holy object. It ends:

“The Great Mother barely has a pair of arms,
two tiny limbs lie lazing on her breass.
Why would they want to bless life,
give gifts to what has enough and more!
Their only obligation is to endure as long as earth and sky just in case
of some mishap that never comes.
To form a zigzag over essence.
The ornament’s last laugh.”

Goddess forbid, if I get hit by lightning and die, one of you please read that poem before you lower me into a grave with nothing except possibly a sheet between the earth and me. You can read the complete poem if you scroll down here.

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