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Invitation to Poetry: Honoring the Ancestors

Welcome to our 40th Poetry Party!

I select an image and suggest a theme/title and invite you to respond with your poems or other reflections. Add them in the comments section and a link to your blog (if you have one).  Make sure to check the comments for new poems added and I encourage you to leave encouraging comments for each other either here or at the poet’s own blog.

Feel free to take your poem in any direction and then post the image and invitation on your blog if you have one and encourage others to come join the party! (permission is granted to reprint the image if a link is provided back to this post and full credit is given – © Christine Valters Paintner at Abbey of the Arts)


Poetry Party Theme: Honoring the Ancestors

This past weekend I was away leading an art and movement retreat for an amazing group of women.  Together we embraced the threshold space of the Celtic feast of Samhain and the Christian feasts of All Saints and All Souls Days.  In the Celtic tradition this time of year the veil between worlds is especially thin and we can feel the presence of the ancestors more strongly.  Later the Christian church claimed this wisdom for its own liturgical rhythm and we celebrate and honor those beloved dead who have gone before us.

When you stand at the threshold space between this world and the next – who is there to greet you?  Who are the ancestors – genetic, spiritual, creative – who offer you guidance and support through the challenges of life?

I invite you to write a poem in honor of one of your ancestors in particular or in celebration of the great “cloud of witnesses” and “communion of saints” who gather with us.

The photo above was taken in Ireland on my journey there in 2007.

© Christine Valters Paintner at Abbey of the Arts:
Transformative Living through Contemplative & Expressive Arts

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34 Responses

  1. patricia, what beautiful words about complexity of relationship and the wholeness that can wash over us.

    Maureen, I love your final words – “a yet-link / waiting for the noise / of rejoinings:” and the evocative images you offer here.

    Laure, an abundance of blessings and prayers for comfort and grace to you.

    Barbara, thanks so much for sharing these beautiful words from retreat here in this space. A joy to linger over them again, and relish your poetic heart.

    Elaine, yes a wonderful group of fellow dancers indeed! And the final images of your poem made my heart expand and I could see the path before me. Thanks so much for dancing!

    Geralyn, your beautiful words are quite transcendent – smoke and floating, illumination and satin curtain lift me from this moment into eternity.

  2. What Was Left

    How dare you not tell me the truth?
    How was it that I never dared to ask?
    The coffin lid was closed
    but it never really meant a thing.
    I had already made up the answers
    All of them found in the wrong places.

    The fire had caught you and
    Then it ate you all up
    nothing left over for me.
    You made your choice to go
    And I decided to stay and live
    these forty years without you.

    I look at those pictures and think
    That you were all of the things that
    I was not and imagine that you were
    Always loved more
    and deservedly so.

    It’s all so sad and ridiculous and
    why should it matter anyway?
    You were just a kid
    And so was I.
    But, how dare you not tell me the truth?

  3. kigen, what a marvelous vision of including the months among those who have gone before us. And I love that you have the poetry exercise from our retreat a try with beautiful results!

    Andy, thank you for this lovely offering – “the birdsong at the birth of day / or the arrowed flights at dusk” are my favorite lines, bringing those hinges of the day close.

    Linda, there is a beautiful expansiveness in these words – “lifting her love to kiss the sky” makes my heart take flight.

    Laura, this is a potent poem and brings those feelings of loss right to the surface, I especially love your last stanza – “So little to spark so much” indeed.

  4. The Quality of Light

    The quality of light in autumn
    Changes everything.
    Earth rotates, slipping into a universe
    Alive with all who have gone before,
    Present but unseen.

    A native woman stands beyond my mother’s grave,
    Wrapped in the wind, just outside my vision.
    Who was Mother to her?
    Impatiently, gravel receives her body,
    The falling leaves, our footfalls.
    Reluctant breath,
    Held and expelled, spinning into metal sky.

    What of the distance between us?
    A satin curtain, a mussel shell
    Changing the river’s course but not its gravity.
    Dissolving into the deepest crevice, darkest grief
    Transforming our disappointments
    Floating unconscious dreams
    Blessing all that is half-done.

    The woman in the wind extinguishes her smoke,
    Releasing grace in tobacco-laced mystery
    Illuminating ragged landscape edges.

    The quality of light in autumn
    Changes everything.

  5. Thank you, Christine, for another invitation to this very inspiring and moving party. Lots of room to dance in this space and I love the fellow dancers.

    On the Dark Path

    On the dark path
    between this world and the next
    our beloved stand
    shadowy figures
    holding lanterns
    raised high
    lanterns glowing with love-light
    illuminating the deep puddles
    dispelling the black mists

    our beloved
    no longer seen in dreams or signs
    but present
    as you have so longed to see them

    down the narrow way
    into the land of love
    into the arms of the Grand Lord of Love


    She stood on the threshold of her kitchen, inviting me,
    “Come and sit with me. I’ll read you a story.”
    Her blue apron was dusty with flour, and I smelled cookies.
    She wore knit slippers on her feet, just like mine.
    “Grandma,” I said, “what book–can I choose one?”
    She smiled. “How about the Stone Soup story?
    Sit down with me, wee bairn, and we’ll read.”
    Then I felt her warm breath on my neck,
    and I thought: “I’ve never been this happy.”
    In Grandma’s kitchen, on her lap, listening.

  7. Dear Christine, et al–
    Thank you for the invitation, and the beautiful poems already offered up.

    I wrote a poem last weekend for a prompt on One Single Impression. The prompt is ‘shift in time’. Here’s the poem, called: forgiveness in the thin places

    Day of the Dead
    All Soul’s Day

    Our prayer:

    Bring us to the edge of the known
    Allow us access to what we swim in
    but don’t usually breathe.

    These thin days shift us
    like turned pages
    like the enter key
    like sleep.

    We enter the darkness of the year
    with more friends than we can shake a stick at.
    Ancestors abound in our dreams
    And guide our hands and hearts in so-called
    waking life.

    As we become the ancestors we dream of
    these days bring us to awareness
    healing moves backwards and forward along the time continuum:
    we heal as we are healed.

    These ancestors of ours need us as much as we need them.

    Freedom lies here.

    Waking to a shift in time can save us
    years of searching and suffering
    for the ties that bind.

  8. Christine …

    My mother died just this past October 12. I am not yet at a place to write poetry about her life … about her life touching mine. But these beautiful words of others … they minister hope that one day words will honor me as they gather to honor the memory of her.

  9. I just finished writing this. I will be posting the poem to my blog on Thursday morning.

    The Noise of Rejoinings

    Bones crack

    Undoing a life’s struggles
    to make connections
    against a story too long ago untold.

    Older brother. Father.
    Mother’s sisters.
    (paternal never known,
    maternal, like as not).
    Infant sister. Infant brother.
    Son’s uncle.
    Cousins’ cousins.
    Husband’s mother.


    Roots clipped
    to stubborn stumps of
    first and second generations
    gone missing in clouds

    I search
    to put to face to name.

    My name.

    My name is the name
    of the missing, too,
    a yet-link
    waiting for the noise
    of rejoinings:

    Rejoinder to what was lost
    now found.

  10. My mother stands
    inside the gate of memory
    beckoning me forward
    into the sacred circle that she has cast.

    Tall candles mark the four directions
    flickering like the fireflies
    we gathered on summer nights
    and lined like votives
    across our coffee table
    while we prayed the rosary
    to the radio.

    Hail mother, full of grace,
    I remember thee,
    though your madness and your illness
    kept us distant during life,
    your nurturing still sustains me.

    Hail daughter, reclaiming grace,
    I have never forgetten thee,
    even throughout the madness
    I always cherished thee.

    Inside the sacred circle we dance
    ring around the rosary
    ashes to ashes
    you shall rise up
    I shall rise up
    All the worlds shall rise up.