Recently an old, dear friend of mine took off on an extended midlife journey. He sold or stored his possessions, left his practice, untied the mooring lines which kept him here in the Bay Area, and let the current take him without knowing whether it would bring him back.
Having dinner with him and a few other friends shortly before he left, I was reminded of this poem. I used to give a copy of this to everyone I knew who was going through a rite of passage, whether adolescent or adult, and before my friend left I sent him a copy, too.
It is by Ursula Le Guin (the second of her poems I’ve posted in these pages), from her little-read masterwork Always Coming Home. It is set far in the future in the Na Valley (Napa Valley, CA), where post-apocalyptic clans live with collaborative technologies, storytelling and ritual, and come to terms with their history and their ancestors (us).
I found the book a fascinating, inspiring, though sometimes tedious read, and feel her vision rooted in this land as much as or more than any other Western writer. (Fun fact: Serpentine Music takes its name not only from the geologic formation and the insinuation of serpents, but from one of the Houses in the Na Valley.) There were two poems in the book which stood out from the rest for me. One I want spoken at my funeral. The other is this:
Initiation Song from the Finders Lodge
Please bring strange things.
Please come bringing new things.
Let very old things come into your hands.
Let what you do not know come into your eyes.
Let desert sand harden your feet.
Let the arch of your feet be the mountains.
Let the paths of your fingertips be your maps
and the ways you go be the lines on your palms.
Let there be deep snow in your inbreathing
and your outbreath be the shining of ice.
May your mouth contain the shapes of strange words.
May you smell food cooking you have not eaten.
May the spring of a foreign river be your navel.
May your soul be at home where there are no houses.
Walk carefully, well loved one,
walk mindfully, well loved one,
walk fearlessly, well loved one.
Return with us, return to us,
be always coming home.