Joseph Hakim Anderson

John Haines, “If the owl calls again”

If the owl calls again
at dusk

from the island in the river,
and it's not too cold,

I'll wait for the moon
to rise
then take wing and glide
to meet him.

In my experience shamanic journeying frequently involves traveling with animals to do work together. This waking-dream of a poem by John Haines beautifully evokes the vividness of such a partnership. But there is so much more inside the poem as well.  I don't know what Haines had in mind or if it has anything to do with shamanism, but throughout there are wise and practical clues - it is a mini-handbook of useful advice.

"If it's not too cold" - the gifts that come through shamanic journeying are given by the grace of the spirits. There are times that are not right, places where it is not wise to go and which we are not equipped to visit. The whole poem begins with an "if" - the spirits are not at our command but work in partnership with us. As beings of superior wisdom and insight it only makes sense to allow them to take the lead. We follow after as humble human agents to support the greater good.

We will not speak
but hooded against the frost
soar above
the alder flats, searching
with tawny eyes.

At times while journeying, animals will talk with me (it's more like a telepathic communication), but there have been profound moments when no words were needed - and might not have been possible. Wisdom flows from a deeper place than language and requires deep listening.

And then we'll sit
in the shadowy spruce and
pick the bones
of careless mice,

I love the comradeship and playfulness of this section.  (Sorry mice, next time around I'll be traveling with you - we can share the experience of evisceration by some helpful owl and I will learn what I need to from there.)

while the long moon drifts
toward Asia
and the river mutters
in its icy bed.

The evocation of "Asia" brings to mind the oriental traditions that have always understood the consciousness inherent in nature and our lack of separation from it. We know the "long moon" here is a full moon since it has risen shortly after dusk. Auspicious!

And when morning climbs
the limbs
we'll part without speaking
fulfilled, floating

homeward as
the cold world awakens.

While the world of the poem is itself cold and icy, this is a place of vitality and life.  The "cold world" in the last line sounds to me like the insanity of ordinary human waking consciousness in the contemporary work - we are unplugged from our higher sources of wisdom and the fire has gone out.

And yet through the shamanic encounter there is a peace, satisfaction, and fulfillment of purpose that I can bring into the compromises of the waking world.

I wrote this piece in December 2015 as the "Poetry and the Shamanic Spirit" concept was just emerging. Today (May 8, 2016) I am finding myself raw and open and tongue-tied for a few reasons not ready to be shared here, so I'm taking this occasion to share the above instead.