Ritual B — Week 5 — Tattvamasi
Ritual B – Week 5 – Tattvamasi
Steps for Ritual:
1. Choose a place to take a walk. Walked from the house toward St. Kilda. Crossed the bridge from the Peninsula to Andy’s Bay that we learned was built by Māori prisoners in the 1800s, people imprisoned by the British on the north island for defending their homes and resisting British occupation. (
2. Choose a poem by someone you have had proximity with in one or more of your places. Think of this as extended family, some close, some more distant.
Whisper that poem five times while you walk. Feel each step and breath. Feel the wind participate with your breath.
Today, I chose two poems that I’ll carry into all three rituals (might start doing this every week). I memorized both this morning and recited them as I walked.
a. A Kabir poem translated by Arvind Krishna Mehrotra that starts “When greed hits you like a wave…”
b. Tracy K. Smith’s “At Some Point, They’ll Want to Know What it was Like” from her book Life on Mars.
3. Find a plant/non-human thing. Go based on feel. Try to see what catches your senses or if any draws you towards its leaves/stalks/stem/root.
Today, I chose a rock at the base of the bridge after I dropped down onto a little pebble beach beside Bayfield Park.
4. Ask the rock if you can hold it. Hold it for 10-15 minutes reciting the Gayatri Mantra again and again. Feel and think of the sun.
a. Gayatri Mantra: Om bhur bhuva swaha tatsavitur varainyam, bhargo devasyadhimahi dhiyoyonahpracodayat. Om shanti shanti shantihi. (No translation for now because I don’t know it or think of it, though I have recited this mantra multiple times every day for decades).
b. Today, also recited the Kabir poem to the rock before and the Tracy K. Smith poem after.
5. Either write where you are OR take the return walk, whispering whatever sounds come to mind.
Today, I wrote in the wind on the grass above the little “beach.” The smell of the dead octopus on the beach continually wafted into my cold nose.
From: Harris, Atholl Anderson, Judith Binney and Aroha. 2012. Tangata Whenua: an illustrated history. New Zealand: Bridget Williams Books.
“Then, in 1869, seventy-four male prisoners from Titokowaru’s war, all of them belonging to the Pakakohe tribe, were sent to Dunedin; they had been found guilty of high treason but their death sentences were commuted to imprisonment with hard labour. They were imprisoned in the Dunedin city goal, where eighteen are known to have died, mainly from tuberculosis. The survivors built what is still called Maori Road, as well as the Andersons Bay causeway to the Otago Peninsula. They were finally released in March 1872, and were sent home to land reserves in south Taranaki. The use of Dunedin as a place of imprisonment and exile for Taranaki Māori prisoners would occur again; for Ngāi Tahu of Ōtākou it would become their link into the politics of protest in the 1880s.” (283)
Windy, sunny day. Found rhythm with the poems while walking. The theme of water and drowning by greed in Kabir’s poem. Ending “the ones whose minds…are tied to rocks” survive. When I approached the causeway, the bridge, lined with rocks, I think, for the first time while crossing, of the hands that built the original way 150 years ago. The hands shackled, then forced to build. How many died as a result of the labor? How many families torn by the settlers? High treason to defend one’s home. At the other end of the bridge, I noticed a small pebble beach not meant for loitering. I snuck through a clearing in the young harakeke lining the walkway and dropped down onto the pebbles. When I landed, just feet from me, I noticed the outline of a purplish/grey dead octopus slowly becoming one with the stones. I froze, shuddered for a moment. Had it been warmer, had my hands not been so cold, perhaps its smell would have moved me along. Around the edges, were tiny specs of trash—a bottle cap here, a snickers wrapper there. I moved toward the rocks below the road. Supporting the road above. I found the rock and held there. At various moments resting my forehead and cheek. What is the rock’s relationship to the sun? Does it remember the hands, or metal, that moved it? What use does a rock have for memory? Would it have if it could? Tell me the particles that insist on holding shape have no life that binds them. I held. And afterward, made a walking video poem of Tracy K. Smith’s poem, in which I struggled to remember certain moments. It was cold writing the poem in the wind. I kept it short in response to the cold and growing stench of the decaying octopus. (Note, as I transcribe this days later, my notebook itself carries the stench of the octopus. Only the wind and cold distracted me that day from the heaviness of a corpse). After this, I walked along another hour to Whakahekerau, the St. Kilda end of the beach.
Each gust feeds the octopus
remains to my nose whose not
it whips. Daises. Wild daises
and dandelions on the dead sea’s ledge.
When I touched my right cheek
to the rock, I almost cried.
Almost, but not for the workers
not for the octopus not
for myself. I don’t know anyone
who built the major roads
of my life. That’s something
of what it was like, living now.
You’d go your whole life renting
air, settling land, and not thinking
once even of one name who made it
possible. The octopus, they arrive
to nearby beaches near spring,
spawn, then die. Their offspring,
too, will know little of who made them.
Only an impression, faint as a faded
sunbaked stain of birdshit
I now, out of some sad compulsion
for punishment, or strange desire
to befriend what I’ve, all my life,
avoided, touch my forehead to
on this rock. And I think, maybe,
to offer my tongue.