“Everything I know about life and death I learned from leaves:
their iridescent youth
their dark tough serviceable summer
their brazen becoming of themselves
just before they let go
their Halloween afterlife
When I die I hope to go
on a huge wind
to a deep sky.
I hope somewhere my soul
I have just finished reading a wonderfully profound compilation of 55 poems titled Wild Mercy: Tarot Inspired Musings and I’m thrilled to share it with you! At the heart of this collection of poetry is the Tarot—a rich, mystical deck of cards that have provided comfort, insight and confrontation to seekers around the world. It is this mysterious landscape where novelist and poet Elizabeth Cunningham explores eight archetypal themes, each governed by a particular card from the Major Arcana. From The Moon’s milky light to the luminosity of The Star, the ignorance and abuse of The Devil to nurturing yet erotic Empress, Wild Mercy celebrates the glorious messiness and chaotic magnificence of what it means to be human. In the section dedicated to Death—one of my favorite parts of Wild Mercy—Ms. Cunningham gives voice to the goddess Demeter:
What Demeter Said
‘When my daughter went down
I took the sun
and hurled it against the hard sky
shattered it into a million shards
to seed the dark, to send down roots
to roof her world.
Surely, gods, that much is allowed
to scatter love blind into the mothering ground.”
The next poem, Persephone’s Turn, is a reply of sorts to her mythological mother Demeter—but it’s a shocking, sobering and defiant response that’s set in modern times.
Replete with imagery that alternately lulls with lilting lyricism then arouses with the bracing blast of loss, cruelty and fanaticism—Ms. Cunningham took me with her to heights of gratitude and depths of depravity. And in the middle, resides the stuff of climbing trees, rowing boats, gathering kindling and picking flowers—but in the hands of such a skilled poet, these seemingly mundane activities are transformed into deeply moving interspiritual devotionals.
While the face of the wild, sensuous and creative goddess shines bright among the pages of Wild Mercy, Ms. Cunningham almost laughingly disputes the idea that She is at odds with the “sky gods”, insisting that “they are lovers…sky and earth are made for each other and will not be parted by day by night.” The eight cards that inspired the evocative poetry of Wild Mercy are Death, Empress, Hanged One, Moon, Star, Devil, Hermit and Judgment. Here are some of my favorite portions from selected poems:
From the poem What Kali Tells Me (the Moon):
“All that clutter chokes
the next breath. Sillies,
by hoarding your toys
you stop the play.
Don’t hold onto the tide.
Don’t be a drag on the moon.
The wind is holding its breath
Let go let go let go.”
From the poem Death Card (Death):
“Death, I may have to live a long time
in a hard world.
Give me grace to meet the smaller deaths,
the daily deaths that don’t look
so grand or terrible, that pass
as pain, loss, failure, want.
Remind me to sing, Death.
Tell me a good joke now and then,
so when you come from the last time
without any mask
I can look you in the eye
The poem Clarify, from the section inspired by Judgment:
“Clarity is a shield.
Light does not always illuminate
It can blind or dazzle.
Dark or light can be clear
day or night.
When I am clear
you can see inside to what is true
or you can see your own reflection.
You might blame me for what you see.
If I am clear
I will go on healing.”
My husband and I both enjoyed this exquisite collection of poetry. In fact, as we sat out on our glider in the back yard last night—I’d pass Wild Mercy to him, exclaiming “Oh! You have to read this”. Then, he’d not only read that one—but the next and the next. Then when he gave it back, I’d read the poems *he* had skipped forward to—and we’d comment about the hard-won wisdom or evocative images painted by Ms. Cunningham. It was truly a delightful evening, thanks in part to Wild Mercy. Mystical, haunting, honest and poignant, Wild Mercy will appeal to poetry lovers regardless of their familiarity with the Tarot—while Tarot enthusiasts will no doubt appreciate one poet’s personal journey and transpersonal observations inspired by the cards.
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