Thirty people joined our narrative “sanctuary” — hailing from Canada, England, India, California, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington. A number of brave first-time participants contributed observations and associations alongside those who have been consistently joining these Monday evening discussions.
Our text was “Sanctuary” by Carolyn Forché, posted below.
Carolyn Forche’s poem elicited multiple, possible spaces during our reading: dream, film, memory, a Costa Rican cloud forest, Kentucky mountains, and West Virginia. As one particpant said, despite sentences written in past and conditional tenses, the text radiates a sense of timelessness. Another spoke of memory as a refuge or a sanctuary, like the eponymous title, where one is able to return. Several people commented on the poem’s suggestion of a confluence of the senses beginning with “[l]ight pealed, bell-like” in the first line.
One reader puzzled over the paradoxical notion of the horses’ freedom and the unfreedom of bridles. Group participants discovered care in the poem, in the mention of a poultice applied to “suck the poison” applied by an unnamed “she.” They were reminded of being givers or receivers of care, when treated with a poultice made by one’s mother and, conversely, applying a poultice to keep a mother’s wounded horse alive while mother was in the hospital.
More than one person found themselves captivated, midway through the poem, by the mention of a mahogany coffin. Two people wondered if the coffin is where the woman who made the poultice kept her herbs. Someone else wondered if the coffin signifies death and suggests that death can be a sanctuary from suffering.
Our prompt was a choice between:
Write about a journey you would make again.
Write about a sanctuary.
Ten people shared their four minutes of writing by reading aloud narratives of travel (alone and with others), care, the well-known topography of a loved one’s face, and the restoring aspects of being in nature. In listening, we were told of a trip by donkey to the Valley of the Kings and a new friendship formed. One person’s writing took her to a place that imaginatively combines many places she has traveled in the past. Another person described a journey without regard to place as the traveler focused on the face of the traveling companion. Also, In the shadow of the epigram to Forché’s poem:
Ce voyage, je voulais le refaire–––
This journey, I would like to make again–––
one narrative alternated between French and English in a rich evocation of places known or imagined. This prompted, for the second time, the idea that one language may not be enough to contain the complexity of deep experience.
Participants are warmly encouraged to share what you wrote below (“Leave a Reply”), to keep the conversation going here, bearing in mind that the blog of course is a public space where confidentiality is not assured.
Also, we would love to learn more about your experience of these sessions, so if you’re able, please take the time to fill out a follow-up survey of one to two quick questions!
Please join us for our next session Wednesday, August 19th at 12pm EDT, with more times listed on our Live Virtual Group Sessions page.
Sanctuary Ce voyage, je voulais le refaire––– This journey, I would like to make again––– Light pealed, bell-like through the canopy. Long ago or seems so. Then the ghost of a deer and crows flapping through smoke. She made a poultice for me of herbs and mud to suck the poison from the boil. And then she went into a mahogany coffin. As there were then. Mornings, horses cantered through ground fog having broken loose. So I would go out for them, bridles in hand, with no one awake. The closer I came to them, the further they moved away. Following them through the clouds is a journey I would make again. Forché, Carolyn. In the Lateness of the World. 2020. New York: Penguin Press.