Artist Residency at the Sou’wester Lodge

In mid-December I went to the Washington coast and stayed at the Sou’wester Lodge for 5 nights.  They have an artist residency program- you apply with a short questionnaire and a sample of work and if accepted, pay a drastically reduced rate for a Sunday-Friday stay.  I asked for a cabin with a bathtub and my wish was granted.

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The Sou’wester is a lovely spot.  An old mansion (built by a long-ago Portland mayor, I learned) was cut into four suites some time ago and small cabins were built around the property.  More recently a fleet of vintage travel trailers were added, available to be rented for the night.  They have a sauna, a small honor system store with books, art and snacks (and wine), a thrift store in a tiny airstream, a firepit, and a beautiful big open main room in the lodge with books and a fire and records to play.  It is a 10 minute walk to the beach.

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I went there to work on fiction, but knew that what I really needed to do was confront my fear and anxiety around creativity in general.  It worked.  I started jotting words on a napkin on the way there and they came exploding out of me, sometimes in the middle of the night, waking me up speaking.  I allowed whatever wanted to come through to come through- some of it was the fiction I’d intended to work on but mostly poetry and musings.  I took about 20 baths, read a lot, made some collages, walked on the beach, communed with the spirit of a whale whose bone hangs on the wall in my cabin (#10), and came out of there feeling like a different person or maybe more accurately the person I’ve been all along that I was desperately trying to stifle.  Cheers to her, and the Sou’wester, and artists (and those who support them!) everywhere.

Some samplings of the week:

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I sit at this table and

read other people's poetry

and worry I'll never write

anything 'good'

meanwhile the sun is shining the

crystals of frost on the

window translucent and a

forest of ice trees

appears on the glass

if I could only stop

thinking, I could

step inside that other world

and we could all start to dance

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Be a raving lunatic for God.  See poetry under fluorescent lights. Make love to trees. Let your eyes be burning globes. Take off your skin like a dress. Fire your heart black and incandescent as the spaces between the stars and the stars themselves. Sing spirals on street corners. Tear up the streets and plant wildflowers in their wake. Call the whales up from the depths of the sea and sleep in the cave of their ribs. See through wings glossy and bright to the delicate finger bones hidden underneath. Look into the hollowed holes of a seal pup to where life is leaking out without control, a fireworks of molecules and atoms exploding out into everything as if the cars driving by aren’t unaware.  This is what desire is for.  This is where we are all going.  This is the burning altar on which all fear and all hunger is laid.  This is destiny. This is homecoming. This is home.

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III.

A whalebone hangs on the wall 

of this house on the shore

where I have come to learn to trust.

A dead thing, to all appearances.

Rilke says not to be bewildered by the 

surfaces of things;

in the depths all becomes law.

In the hushed deep of the night

with only a rumble under my bare feet

to tell of the nearness of the ocean

I place my palms to arching rib-bone and

for just a moment-

the room is blue

the wombpulse of the sea is all around

the cries of my kin echo through the water

calling me down 

to join them.




IV.

My own bones shine under the

lifeblood of my flesh.  

The architects of my grace,

my stalwart foundation,

the generous bearers of the 

burdens of

my engagement with the world.  

If I could slip off my skin like a dress

and hang it next to the door

I would walk bare-boned to the shore,

clattering my nakedness

through the dunes 

to offer myself up to sea and sky.

I would join the lost leavings

of the sea’s breathe so that in the morning

the joggers would find me there amongst

the stones and shells

the place where my heart once beat

no wider than the rib bone of a whale.

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