Live Virtual Group Session: 6pm EDT August 17th 2020

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.

                                         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.

8 thoughts on “Live Virtual Group Session: 6pm EDT August 17th 2020

  1. Allison Zuckerberg

    I’d rather return to the journey,
    Then to a single place.
    Because to move,
    Is the thing I’d want to do with you.
    It would be like every
    Picture of your face placed along sideways
    So I could see a real expression be produced.
    I’d return to (at the least) the one or two
    Seconds of time
    Before your smile came through.

    Liked by 2 people

    • This poem is so lovely! “to move/ is the thing I’d want to do with you.” I love the idea of the moment before a smile comes through…so often we focus on the smile itself/the moment of laughter or smiling, not what comes just before….


  2. I return to the edge of the village in the mountains. I’m standing at the place where the asphalt breaks way to the dirt path that disappears in the fog. How did I get here? I remember a wild car ride up through a mountain pass. Suddenly skidding to a halt — the driver’s broken English announcing an army checkpoint ahead. So we veer off the road, down an incline and into a vineyard. The car fills with whoops and grape leaf. We’re drunk on disobedience. Finally, we emerge onto another dirt path, finally skidding to a stop in the centre of the village. The driver emerges, punching the air victoriously while people gather around us smiling. He introduces me to his family. They embrace me, the stranger. I look up at the snowcapped mountain above us, I hear the clanging of cowbells in the meadow and the clinking of raised glasses and shouts. When I ask, I’m told it’s in honour of the revolution. All at once, I am both lost and at home.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The sanctuary~~~

    The morning air had a crispness to it.
    Dew trickled over the rock steps
    hewn in the jagged hillside.
    The hill climb was arduous,
    one foot placed in front of the other,
    gingerly finding my way.
    Sweat rolling from my brow.
    I could see the apex as I tilted my head upward.
    The journey almost complete,
    the search almost over.
    I took my last few steps,
    and there I was.
    Standing at the mountaintop,
    looking at the serene valley below me.
    The earth below looked so pure,
    so clean,
    so innocent.
    I found my sanctuary,
    my safe haven from the cares of the world.
    Listening to the silence,
    I found my peace.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Patricia D

    Qu’est ce que c’est?
    et ca?
    Take me there
    bright red
    sleeping under stars
    my first word
    en francais
    Les Alps
    love, in love
    with him and
    the beauty
    Return to my youth
    I could
    and their
    goats as


  5. al3793

    No one would ever, a priori, sign up for something like this, but a profound experience of the mercy of God makes me say that I would never have wanted to miss this. I heard many disturbing things said about myself during the first days of the trial. “He failed to diagnose a life altering complication of the surgery,” they said. But the defense lawyer insisted, “There was no malpractice here.”

    The high-tech court room had white noise to cover the conversations conducted by the lawyers and judge at sidebar. During these moments I worked my finger rosary intently and gazed at the seal of the Commonwealth posted above the judge so the jury would think I was paying attention.

    None of my colleagues or friends believed that a court appointment was the consequence for caring for this patient. Several times during the years leading up to the trial I said to my wife, “I must pay attention to what God wants for me in all this because I don’t understand it at all.”

    I was very anxious the day of my testimony. The early morning sun shed its rays between buildings and shadows from the buildings draped around me, while the Tinman Thinker pondered at the courthouse door. I arrived early and alone and walked around downtown praying my rosary one more time before going into court. “You can’t send Aaron in to do the talking for me, so don’t let me forget you are here.”

    The lawyers made one more visit to sidebar before I was called to the stand. As I said the words of the Rosary prayers and gazed upon the seal of the Commonwealth there appeared in that seal the Monstrance of Adoration bearing the consecrated host, the real presence of Jesus Christ. I was overcome with a profound sense of God’s mercy and what he wanted me to know is how much I am loved. I would never want to miss that, and it is a journey worthy to be repeated.

    Liked by 1 person

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