Randy Lundy Reads "A Kind of Ceremony"
Join us for a poetry break – courtesy of a reading by Randy Lundy, from his 2020 collection Field Notes for the Self
A KIND OF CEREMONY
Late October, a few degrees below freezing, full harvest moon rising
orange from fresh-cut fields east of town, geese settled into the evening
stubble, stomachs filled with fallen seed, a pack of coyotes stalking in the
dust of furrowed earth, Tennessee brindle hound, nose to the ground,
leading you directly toward that hand-drum climbing above the horizon
southwest wind eagle-whistling on the power lines parallel to the east-
west run of the rail tracks glinting in the light.
You are tempted to call your walking ceremony.
Ancestral memory in your feet and thighs: in blood, bone, and marrow.
Your heart is a muscle-lodge, animal-alive with its murmured prayers.
Your visible breath is smoke from wood-stemmed, stone-bowled pipes,
four of them, passed from hand to hand, from lip to lip. The wrinkled
hands and withered mouths of those who have gone before you along
this path. All this inside you: what your body knows before your mind.
Back home in a small house with a bowl of soup and a cup of tea to wash
it down, three dogs asleep at your feet, you are alone except for their
breathing and your own. Whose face is that lit, skeletal reflection in each
window where you stoop to consider the gathering dark lie the folding
of a crow’s wings? Take a seat and all your dead come to sit with you,
hungry ghosts; their moans rise from the fire as split birch empties itself
of moisture — snaps, cracks, and curls, slowly becoming ash. Set aside
the Suttanipata. Toss tobacco into the flames.
Think of the monk who takes off his shoes in the temple’s doorway,
enters, and returns to put back on his shoes. He repeats this, again and
again, each minute from dusk until dawn: take the shoes off; put the
Field Notes for the Self is a series of dark meditations: spiritual exercises in which the poem becomes a forensics of the soul. The poems converse with Patrick Lane, John Thompson, and Charles Wright, but their closest cousins may be Arvo Pärt’s tintinnabulations—overlapping structures in which notes or images are rung slowly and repeatedly like bells. The goal is freedom from illusion, freedom from memory, from “the same old stories” of Lundy’s violent past; and freedom, too, from the unreachable memories of the violence done to his Indigenous ancestors, which, Lundy tells us, seem to haunt his cellular biology. Rooted in exquisitely modulated observations of the natural world, the singular achievement of these poems is mind itself, suspended before interior vision like a bit of crystal twisting in the light.
Randy Lundy is an Irish, Norwegian, and Cree member of the Barren Lands First Nation in northern Manitoba. He is the author of four award-winning books of poetry, most recently Field Notes for the Self (2020) and Blackbird Song (2018), both from the University of Regina Press. He currently teaches in the English Department at the University of Toronto, Scarborough and is Series Editor of the Oskana Poetry & Poetics series at University of Regina Press.