The Taste of Giving: New &
Selected Poems, “The Feminine Consciousness
in Poetry: Four Long Poems by Carolyn Zonailo”, essay
by Stephen Morrissey
Even dreams are no solace for those
who have fallen from grace, for those who have become exiles from
Edenic consciousness. Zonailo writes: "Night, fire, the dark/
moon-bewildered/ animals: these my dream/ companions, my personae."
When the narrator "meet[s] the wolf in/ daylight" she
is meeting her shadow self, made distinct from her and materialized
into the form of a wolf. The poet now recognizes the she-wolf
as evidence of her own disturbed psyche. The totemic or shamanic
animal’s intervention in her life is no longer reserved
for the night, it now confronts her during the daylight hours.
There is no respite in this poem, only a final despair, sorrow,
and resignation to solitude: "I am one person walking/ alone….
/ This isolation turns/ my heart into stone"; Zonailo continues:
The snake I wanted to kill
begins to love me:
my body smells like shed
skin. I wait until
blood dries in thin brown
stripes on my legs, then bury
my clothes, the amulets of love
I carried with me. When I descend
from the mountain, I walk
naked into a morning light
where there are no dreams.
There is much interest today in
mythology and a growing fascination with various manifestations
of the Goddess. In the second of the four extended poems that
are spiritual pilgrimages, "Ceremonial Dance", Zonailo
now refers to Circe, the sorceress who enchanted Ulysses and had
the extraordinary ability to transform men into animals. “Ceremonial
Dance” is a poem that begins with sexual transformation;
it deals with one of the several ways in which women are depicted
in mythology and literature, and is a manifestation of the goddess
"Ceremonial Dance" is
an interesting poem: we begin with a reference to Circe's island,
as a mythological place in antiquity, but the contemporary locale
is the Queen Charlotte Islands, off the coast of northern British
Columbia. The Queen Charlottes are the physical and spiritual
home for the Haida, known for their creativity and their totemic
art. There is an ingenious overlapping of geographical locations,
making the distant and foreign feel local and known. There is
also the blending, at one point, of Haida myth with Greek mythology.
This certainly shows the oneness of human nature and the relevance
of mythology—disparate cultures manifesting psychological
reality in the similarity of the motifs in their mythologies.
Zonailo begins this poem by referring
to Circe and her tempting of Ulysses. Circe's transformation of
men into animals, after seducing them, is central to the poem.
However, Circe doesn't transform Ulysses into an animal—instead
she helps him find his way home, via the underworld, and gives
Ulysses the magic he needs to travel, unharmed, to Hades and back
again to the world of the living. Circe is a goddess of transformation
and metamorphosis, and as such, a goddess central to the archetypal
feminine consciousness. Circe represents spiritual change through
sexual union. Zonailo writes:
The message Circe whispers
in Ulysses' ear
the message, traced like the veins
of his strong wrist
is the wind around her island.
To love and let go.
To send him away
on the longest journey
into the night-life
of the other world:
There are two important themes
involved in this poem. First, Circe, the seductress
who is usually seen in a negative way, here represents change
and renewal. It is Circe who transforms and metamorphosizes the
men who come into her world. She is a psychic figure who signifies
spiritual transformation. She changes men into totemic animals.
To be changed into a totemic animal, whether it is shown in ancient
Greek or Haida mythology, is to effect profound changes in the
unconscious mind of the individual. These changes are usually
manifested in the area of myth or dream or shamanic journey.
In the following long poem, “Journey
to the Sibyl”, the Sibyl is another kind of figure who stands
at the entrance of the unconscious mind. Through the Sibyl’s
prophecies she leads one into spiritual transformation. However,
in “Ceremonial Dance”, we encounter Circe, who meets
lovers and enchants them through her sexuality. Circe is a powerful
female shaman, who leads one to inner transformation. Circe takes
you down into your bestial nature and thereby transforms you.
Circe, therefore, represents the spiritual aspects of sexuality.
A part of the feminine consciousness is change through sexual
union. The poem posits that sexuality can affirm life, offering
a holistic vision of creation.
A second aspect of “Ceremonial
Dance” is the transformation not only by sexual awakening,
but by change through romantic love. In our times, we have become
resigned to marriages failing and are often jaded with respect
to romantic love. However, most of us still fall in love and are
deeply and profoundly changed—life acquires a new meaning
and the sense of emptiness and lack of purpose often disappears.
The erotic is a part of Zonailo's poetry, but so is romantic love.
However, the poet is also aware of the possibility of the failure
of romantic union. Zonailo writes of "Circe's gift: a wound/
in the thigh, a trip/ to the underworld." The poem reclaims
ancient mythological images to function as metaphors for present-day
experience. By juxtaposing North American native myth and classical
references, Circe becomes depicted as a shaman and a healer rather
than simply a sorceress. In Zonailo’s poem Circe is a very
strong image of a female shaman whose gift can literally and metaphorically
bring about transformation or metamorphosis.
"Journey to the Sibyl",
was first published in The Canadian Forum and was performed,
recorded, and broadcast with jazz musicians Al Neil and Howard
Broomfield. It is a marvelous poem, concise and perfectly written,
always using the exact word to communicate a delicate interweaving
of ideas and emotion. The Sibyl is a seer or prophet; she is a
figure from antiquity who represents psychic perception, and who
was in direct experiential contact with the noumenal and transcendental
world. But the Sibyl of Cumae, Zonailo reminds us at the beginning
of this poem, has exacted an unfortunate bargain with Apollo:
she has been granted an extraordinarily long life, a thousand
years, but she continues to age. Inevitably her body will atrophy,
but there is still something to affirm—at least for a poet—who
asserts that the Sibyl’s "voice will remain."
This poem is a journey to
the Sibyl, it is not an imaginative journey of a Sibyl. Zonailo
is not taking on the persona of the Sibyl and assuming to be able
to talk for her. This is a pilgrimage, a poem of odyssey that
represents the dark night of the soul. The narrator of the poem
is trapped, and there are images of being trapped throughout the
poem. For instance, "a bird wakes me/ this morning in my
room/ stares with frozen black/ eyes the window closed".
Bird images are a central motif in Zonailo's poems; "the
woman's hair/ like feathers, her smile/ a trap, is it jealousy".
This is a poem of entrapment, of a feeling of loss of control
over one's life. Nevertheless, it is also a poem of life affirmation,
of concern with the details of everyday existence, "you can
throw grief/ into the sea/ hook it back the way/ coho/ swim to
the side of the boat." The world of temporality has not failed
us; Zonailo writes, " why, anyway, cherry/ trees bloom on
schedule/... the season returns/ on schedule/ the heart continues/
to pump blood."
Throughout "The Journey to
the Sibyl" there is the counterpoint and suggestion of death.
A memory of "grandmother's face/ in the white satin/ coffin...
the journey isn't/ to a place, only the sense/ of place."
Geographically the "place" is the coast of British Columbia,
an important locus in much of Zonailo's poetry. However, the true
"place" and location of all of Zonailo's work is the
soul. She writes:
the old woman
buried in me, the bird's
this companion self
might live for hundreds
impossible to be certain
but the need
to make an image
an image that carries
a permanent face
a face fixed in stone
The "face fixed in stone"
is the face of the feminine consciousness as it is manifested
in poetry. It is not only Zonailo's own face, but also the human
face as it is expressed by a poet. Zonailo's journey may be to
the Sibyl, but the expression of what is seen on the journey is
the work of Zonailo, as woman and as poet. In this way, Zonailo
also affirms the importance of the poet's voice: it may be a quiet
voice in a world of activity, but it reverberates throughout history.
“The Dreamkeeper” began
Zonailo’s quest for individuation, and “Ceremonial
Dance” extended this pilgrimage into shamanic metamorphosis.
Then “Journey to the Sibyl” explored the themes of
mortality, prophecy, and spirituality. The fourth of the long
quest-poems I have selected from this collection, “Blue
and Green” could be a manifesto for the individual who has
entered the psychic depths of the unconscious mind. There is a
Whitmanic expansiveness of vision and language in this long poem.
Once again, “Blue and Green” is actually a poem of
life affirmation and spirituality. However, as in all of Zonailo's
work, her spirituality seems more Eastern than Western, and has
more to do with Jungian depth psychology than with traditional
religious practice. The central image in “Blue and Green”
is the sea and what is below the surface. The ocean is always
a universal symbol for the unconscious. As such, it represents
all that is hidden, opaque, and constantly changing. We must dive
deeply into the sea to discover its hidden treasures, just as
the individual needs to go deeply into the unconscious mind to
reveal its secret insights, dreams, and visions. Zonailo writes:
The emerald sea, the grey-green sea,
the turquoise sea, the final blue Pacific…
pieces of sea glass collect on the beach
(prized most of all, the cobalt blue,
the smoky violet shards);
gather as sea-treasure in a mosaic.
And why not love the sea's harvest—
these fragments, bits of broken glass
that surface and resurface
between the blue of the sea and the
thin blue line
between the sea and sky?
Pieces of smooth broken glass that
one finds on a beach can be seen as a link between the natural
and man-made worlds. We are here at the littoral edge of nature
between land and sea. Glass, that was wrought by humans, is now
found on the seashore. The glass appears to have been assimilated
into the natural world and seems almost as though it was created
by nature. In a similar way this poem is a link between the conscious
mind and the unconscious mind; between the natural, physical world
and the human world. When we view the ocean as a cosmic symbol
for the individual’s unconscious, or even the collective
unconscious, we begin to understand the depths of this particular