Friday, December 23, 2016

To Claim the Wrentit as Clanswoman

Modern Rome; Campo Vacino, by J.M.W. Turner 1839

I wrote the following poem the morning of November 9th, sitting out in the bishop pine forest in Inverness, watching one of my favorite tiny birds, the wrentit, and taking what solace I could from their companionable cheeps and calls. I published it over on my subscription-based poetry journal, A Green Language. Despite its initial darkness, I wanted to share this poem today with all of you, in the heart of the yule season, in honor of what can be born of darkness, and care, and rooting deep in place. In the spirit of magic, in honor of the wrentits and all the other small plain animals we forget so often to see, may we make new maps together out of hope, and fallen twigs.


This morning, we woke to a truth:
we are Rome, at the end, afire
A man is ordering roadways
to be lined with the bodies of the dead
and a wall to keep out Others
the ones who clamoring for peace, for shelter
for a land that once was, long ago and wilder
Their women carry babies on their backs
They are dark as the earth forgotten
Their men carry axes and rope
Their fires line the perimeter
of the end of the world
where they are singing the songs
our ancestors knew

All that is left is that circle
where the fires gather
I don’t know which to light
or how to get there yet
only that it’s time to go
to flee the deadstrewn road, the wall
Not away, not a distant country
but down, under and in
To claim the wrentit as clanswoman
she who lives her whole
life eating spiders in the brush
where she was born
knowing every name
for every branch and leaf

There is a dark country* just below
your feet, just outside your window
where the roots live where the spiders spin
where our ancestors have gone
where they are lighting fires now
Every day and every fallen tree
is a threshold
There is nowhere to run but in, into
the dark country where warriors
cannot walk, but only we the humbled
we the strong, the keepers, tenders, lovers
who’ve lost the map
and now must make a new one out of twigs.

*The “dark country” is a phrase that came to me from a very inspiring essay by Ursula K. Le Guin. You can read an excerpt of it here.


  1. Beautiful. Deep and wise. Thank you, Sylvia. Your blog has been a constant companion all year; may it be so next year too … And, the sooner next year comes, the sooner does Tatterdemalion. I simply cannot wait!

  2. lovely poem, and i like especially the idea of the dark country beneath/just beyond sight...

    i think there may be quite a lot of us pushing twigs about, seeing what patterns they make, murmuring their tree names quietly...i hope we may all join together to make those new maps we need so badly.

    best wishes for the holiday season, the new year, always...

  3. "Not away, not a distant country but down, under and in..." Yes. It is tempting to flee from what feels dangerous, but rooting deeper and standing our ground, gathering 'round the fires, is what is called for. Thank you for this.