"Sekhmet the Eye of Ra"/ November 2014

"Sekhmet the Eye of Ra"/ November 2014
"Sekhmet the Eye of Ra"/ November 2014 / Extra fine watercolor, 22 karat gold, lapis lazuli, Austrian crystal

Friday, March 13, 2015

Living In A World Of Symbols (Part Four) With Adriano Bulla

Detail from "As My Father's Eye Watches Me"/ Acrylic and Sterling silver on canvas by master iconographer Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa

An Intimate Interview with Iconographer & Poet

Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa


Adriano Bulla

In 'I Carried Them away with Me', you mix spiritual, metaphysical and sensual. Is your poem about how we can find the infinite, ex-temporality in the union with other humans? How do you think sex is a mystical experience?

Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa

Yes, you are precisely right, 'I Carried Them Away With Me' is about the ecstasy of spiritual awakening that can happen when we are paired with the right lover. The beginning of the poem tells us that the process of such a spiritual awakening begins with the dissolution of fear, because fear prevents us from trust, and trust is the seed of true intimacy...intimacy in this sense being able to give over our complete selves into the hands of another. To give everything away; this is the handing over of our 'self', our independent identity, into the consciousness of another, our lover. Instead of remaining separate from our lover, instead of holding back our ego in a selfish manner, we are prepared to allow our lover to become interdependent with us...not codependent, but interdependent.

     So, we have a lover here who is not seeing their 'self' as being completely separate from their lover. This person is not experiencing love in terms of 'I' versus 'them', or 'me' versus 'you'. Although my poems are always told in the first person point of view from my perspective, so from a male homosexual perspective, the meaning here can be applied to any gender or sexual orientation. A woman could be seeing her lover, let's say a man, as being a vital part of her consciousness. So, during the act of love, the lovers aren't thinking in terms of gender...'him and 'her', 'she' and 'he' et cetera, but are instead experiencing the act of love as two parts of the same consciousness. The personal ego of 'I', 'me', 'mine', 'you', and 'yours' is being dissolved. The result is an interdependent consciousness, a love in which gender and ego do not separate or define, but are united and give rise to an enlightenment experience.

     This kind of enlightenment experience is what is being described when I say When, with you, time has lost its validity/ The power of the future is undone. When two lovers meet as vessels of pure consciousness, not allowing ego or gender or preconceived notions of separation to define them, then certainly things such as time, future and past cease to be relevant. When your lover becomes interdependent with you in this one moment of mental, spiritual awakening, then concepts like 'me' and 'mine', 'you and 'yours' become obsolete. It's the consciousness that draws you and of which you become a part, so things like gender and sexual orientation also cease to be relevant. Consciousness has no gender or sexual orientation. Pure consciousness is not attached to an ego or personal identity. It is simply awakeness, pure perception...just consciousness.

Detail from "As My Father's Eye Watches Me"/ Acrylic and Sterling silver on canvas by master iconographer Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa

      In the second group of phrases, I tell my readers that because I am willing to have such an experience of interdependence with my lover, that I am experiencing immortality; a condition that surpasses physical limitations, yes, but, more importantly, transcends all forms of limitation because we are dealing with pure consciousness, pure energy, which never dissipates, only changes form.

     My poem describes the limitations and disappointments manifest in material happiness and conditions, when people become fixated on ephemeral things such as fame and fortune, money and the admiration of society. These things are ultimately finite, and my poem is describing the infinite, the transcendental. I want none of them/ Between my legs is stating the obvious: I do not want to be limited, ephemeral or temporary. I want the kind of love that transcends finite things like fame, money and power...social acceptance, peer approval. I am rebelling against these things having hold over my passions, having power over my experience of love.

      For me, sex can be a mystical experience, precisely as I've described above. Sure, we can have sex solely for the pleasure, for the physical and emotional release it gives. We can fuck and we can enjoy fucking, and for me there is no guilt in any of these experiences of human sexuality. I love to fuck, and when I use the term fuck, I am talking about the mechanical act, without having to have elevated emotions or ties involved. I don't have a problem with casual sex in general, as long as those involved are being honest...no one is being forced or lied to or deceived in any way. If there's honesty about what the sex means, then have at it. Sex solely for its own sake can be a tremendous release, and I feel no shame in saying that I enjoy sex, fucking, purely for the physical pleasure it brings, which I view as completely natural and perfectly healthy.

     Then there is making love, which I define as being different than mere sex, fucking. Making love elevates the mechanical act of sex into something much more emotionally grounded. Those involved in making love are engaging in the physical act as more than just an expression of pleasure, for the climax, but are sharing a form of emotional and intellectual intimacy that creates a bond beyond the physical, the animalistic.

     Now, we come to the definition of human sexuality being described in 'I Carried Them Away with Me'. This takes us even a step further than making love, engaging in the act of sex as a vehicle for bringing us emotionally closer to another human being, as an expression of love. The kind of sex I am describing here is an experience of partnership that surpasses the limitations of gender, sexual orientation, personal ego and confines of a defined relationship, which always have boundaries or restrictions. This kind of love making liberates the mind, the consciousness from such restrictions or boundaries, and allows the lovers to experience one another as an aspect of their own consciousness.

      In this experience there is no gender, no sexual orientation, no 'me' and 'mine, 'you' and 'yours'. There are no opposites, no forces at work limiting or separating the partners. There is no possession either, for possession is another form of restricting or limiting the experience of pure consciousness. Pure consciousness, absolute awareness is limitless and without expression of opposites, boundaries, gender identifications or sexual orientation. It is when two people experience this level of consciousness at the same time, while also seeking to bestow ultimate pleasure to their partner, that a pure and mystical experience arises. This experience is not limited to or subject to physical boundaries, and is thus a true form of immortality. I am talking about enlightenment.

Detail from "As My Father's Eye Watches Me"/ Acrylic and Sterling silver on canvas by master iconographer Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa

Adriano Bulla

What would you say to all those who only live sex as carnal? What are they missing?

Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa

(Laughs) Hmm...do I need to answer this after what I just said (laughs again)? Well, I honestly have to answer to each their own. As I've said, I have absolutely no problems with sex solely for its own sake, as a mechanical and animalistic act...'carnal' as you put it. Carnality, fucking...orgasms...these are perfectly healthy and vital human impulses, as far as I'm concerned, so for me there is no problem with individuals choosing to limit their experience of their sexuality to sheer physical enjoyment.

      That being said, and to answer your question head-on, I feel that limiting sex solely to the mechanical act is also denying a very basic human need for emotional bonding with other human beings. Emotional satisfaction, intellectual stimulation is also a part of human sexuality and human relationships. So I feel that a person who's excluding these things from their sexual experiences is somewhat one-dimensional, and in the end is not experiencing the full satisfaction that exploring one's sexuality completely can have. However, that's just on the emotional level of sex, to say nothing of the spiritual.

      In my personal experience, there is this spiritual dimension of sex that makes the physical act that much more explosive, liberating...rewarding. That's precisely the kind of sex I am describing in 'I Carried Them Away with Me'. I've been in that other frame of mind before...that frame of mind where getting off in bed is pretty much the only objective; get in, get off, and get the fuck out. Sure, I've had incredible orgasms that way, I'm not even going to lie about that! But then when I started to awaken more and more in a spiritual and intellectual way, when I started having sex as part of a fully emotional and spiritually-engaged relationship, I realized how one-dimensional my sexual experiences had been. I started looking at my other sexual experiences and realizing what a waste they were, because at the end of the day I could have just jacked off and saved myself the trouble, and probably could have had even better orgasms (laughs).

     But experience is what it is; experience is our best teacher, so I couldn't have known about that other dimension of sexuality without putting myself through the purely physical dimension. What people are missing when they limit their sexuality purely to the mechanical act is the deepest possible satisfaction that can arise when the sex act becomes the focus of an intimate connection with another human being. Orgasm, getting off, becomes secondary to the act of fully exploring your lover, inside and out, delaying the moment of climax more and more; and this delay allows both partners time to mature in what they're experiencing, in bed and out. Because sex is also an intellectual and emotional release...satisfaction...gratification, what have you. It's a sense of bonding beyond the physical level, which actually intensifies the physical level, and makes climax more powerful and satisfying.

       You can't have this kind of powerful experience with someone you're just getting off with, because you're mind isn't interested in being stimulated or satisfied on that level. It's all about coming, ejaculating, getting off. But when you do experience that other level of sexual fulfilment, you really can't go back and experience sex from the purely animalistic side and enjoy it that same way again. You realize that your mind wants to be engaged and stimulated, not just your genitals! Sexuality is a whole experience of the mind, body and emotions, and when it goes even further, to include our spiritual nature, then having sex touches an even higher level of ecstasy. But that's my experience. As I said, to each their own.

Adriano Bulla

It appears to me that your poetry, though it clearly opens windows onto the universal, originates from personal experience; looking at 'Gossip of Sparrows', could you explain how you go about this process?


Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa

Well, I guess it's important for me to explain first that all of my poetry is personal...completely personal. My poetry comes from that other side of my creative nature not necessarily touched on in the creation of my icons. Those are a mystical, religious expression, not a personal exploration. My poems, on the other hand, are a personal exploration. They are the laying out of my subconscious and emotional nature. They are an impulse I have to use words, the combination of words, as symbols for my experience as a human being. How do I see my world from that individual vantage I've been given, from my own experiences? How do I dig up and reveal those things that get buried deep inside me? How do I work through grief, anger, love, desire...lust? How can I say things to people if I can't approach them personally? But even if I could write them, call them, text them...how can I feel safe in expressing absolutely everything I feel, without feeling vulnerable or subject to rejection? For me, these questions are answered through poetry, through this impulse I have...I have to call it an impulse...to divulge my feelings in the expression of written language.

     I've been writing poetry consciously since I was in the first grade, and I've kept my poetry diaries and journals with me since I was in high school; so, I have this track record of my life experiences and the ways in which I found to work through all the things I needed to work through. Because, for me, poetry does that...helps me to process and understand my emotions and reactions to things. But it also helps release a vital impulse I have, like having an orgasm, ejaculating semen. Writing poetry for me is like breathing, fucking or pissing. It's a necessary and natural human impulse that just happens, almost without my having to concentrate on it.

     I hope I don't disappoint you here, but I can't really pinpoint a 'process' or 'method' I go through consciously in the creation of my poetry. I'm not one of those obsessive 'literary' poets operating according to style or procedure...'in the tradition of '...as in trying to emulate the style of Yeats or Keats or Byron. That never enters my mind. I'm not coming from the standpoint of style or tradition, but of impulse; I just have to keep coming back to that word, impulse. I don't want to belittle the art of poetry by being crude here, but for me writing poetry really is like breathing or pissing or fucking. You don't do these things because you're good at them, or bad at them. You do them because it's a natural part of the process of living in a human body. We have to do them in order to survive! For me, writing poetry is a method of survival. It's not an art or a hobby or a pastime. It's not an intellectual exercise. It's a vital part of who I am and how I express myself. Words are vital to me, and how words are linked together is vital to me. Words are symbols, and my poems are symbolic expressions of my identity.

      'Gossip of Sparrows' is about more than one experience, but fundamentally it's about an intellectual love affair I'm having with a man I want to take as my lover. I want to consummate that relationship, to take him physically and fully, to break through this emotional block he is placing in front of his interactions with me. The sparrows are free. They can live anywhere they want and exist between the worlds of heaven and earth, spirit and flesh. Sparrows are symbolic of the unrestrained emotions, the heart in full flight, without fear or hindrances. They get to talk based on impulse, instead of on reason, so in this way they are more free than human beings, who must rationalize their emotions and use logic instead of intuition. But the sparrows in my poem represent this intuition freely used and never suppressed, and are therefore truly free and represent the place I wish to be in my relationship with this man.

     The sparrows also have that bird's-eye view of the human world, so they see exactly what I want from this man I am attempting to take as my lover. They see inside my head, and although my poem makes it sounds as if I have taken him fully and physically, I haven't...my love affair with him is purely intellectual and emotional, all in my head. But the sparrows see into my mind's eye and see this kind of fantasy life taking place there. They see the kind of relationship I want with this man, which is sexually charged and without restraint.

      I'm asking myself in this poem does he know what is going on inside my heart, inside my head? Does he know what he is to me? That's what I'm asking when I say Were those chattering sparrows/ Eavesdropping?/ Did they carry my lust to your ears/ Even then? In a way I'm trying to get my voice heard by this man, this object of my desire, and say to him, look, do you know how much I want to make love to you? Do you realize how much you're under my skin?!

     Then, of course, I retreat into my fantasy world, dreaming away at the hours I could spend in bed with this man if he became my lover. I'm telling him what he could have if he let himself go...promising him this erotic fantasy. But he remains obstinate, doesn't he? Because even though I've made myself vulnerable for him...Became a virgin again, set aside my faults and apprehensions about the relationship, he remains unyielding. He is like this powerful god I'm praying to, who ultimately can't or won't acknowledge my prayers. He won't answer them, no matter how much I try to persuade him otherwise.

     So, what do I do? I tell him that I know he will one day surrender. Although I'm the one who is stung with lust and feeling for him...I'm the one in this kind of agony for the present time...he will one day bring his heart to me and lay it at my feet, like bringing flowers to a lover's grave. That's my form of symbolic language expressing how we all feel when the object of our lust or love refuses to reciprocate our emotions, and we tell ourselves, well, one day you are going to come to me! I'm telling this man that even though he has the power right now, that I'm in a position of vulnerability, that at some point in the future the positions will be reversed.

      Believe me, even though it may not seem like it, all of my poems ultimately take an optimistic view of the human condition. The suffering we experience in lust or love is all worth it, in the end. There is something gained, some spiritual insight, some enlightenment, even in the most terrible trials. Everything manifests knowledge, personal or self-awareness...self-realization. Love and sexuality are always metaphors in my poems for this process of coming to know ourselves more profoundly. Our lovers are Buddhas; they are our spiritual teachers because they force us to take a closer look at our intentions and convictions and state of mind. They make us aware of our true feelings and natures, and making love with them, or being denied by them, is a motivation for engaging in the higher process of spiritual liberation.


     That's why my poems weave together this blend of erotic and spiritual language. The two are almost synonymous for me, because the spiritual quest is fraught with dangers and trials, and is dominated by effort, just like our most profound human relationships. And at the end of the day, our passion and lust and love provoke us to look inward, as deep as possible, until we find the truth of who we are. Our lovers are a reflection of how we see ourselves at any given moment in time, and that is what I'm trying to say to my readers in 'Gossip of Sparrows'.

Adriano Bulla

In 'I Sat Near a Stream', you talk about reaching out over that 'barrier' which we call death. How is this poem informed by your studies of Egyptian religion?

Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa

This poem on the one hand is about letting go of someone you love, letting go of the physical body of a lover with whom you've shared that most intimate of bonds. It's about the transience of sensual existence and the trappings of the material world. My poem tells us that these things are ours to enjoy for a limited time only, so ultimately it's the interior, spiritual nature of life that we must hold onto if we wish to continue after the departure of the body. The difficulty of accepting physical death, especially of a loved one, is the heart of 'I Sat Near a Stream'. It's our nature to cling to the things we cherish, to refuse to set them free or change. Death changes everything. It's an unavoidable change, but a process of evolution.

     In the Kemetic or ancient Egyptian religion, death is a temporary state, a phenomenon of transmigration from one state of existence into another. It is transformation, from mortality to immortality. So, 'I Sat Near a Stream' is about watching someone you love go through this transformation, not wanting to let go of the physical form you knew them in, but eventually facing their departure and seeing it as a rebirth. The Egyptian religion uses water and rivers as symbols of the primordial flood from which creation emerged at the beginning of time. This emergence represents absolute purity...freshness...an untainted state of being, before death or imperfection comes into being. It also signifies a rebirth, like the land of Egypt being reborn each year from the Nile inundation.

      I have to admit that this poem ends on what might seem to be a rather morbid note. We have the narrator questioning what will happen after his transformation into the next world, after his death. Is this going to end in oblivion, or will there be a renewal, a rebirth of consciousness...a fresh start? There is a suicidal question being posited here, because the narrator is telling us he has been sitting near a stream pondering what is going to happen when he drowns himself; how long the process will take and what will happen in the world once he is gone. It's a morbid fascination with one's own death being expressed here, but also a longing to understand what happens to the human condition when it passes away; what happens to people we love once their bodies are taken from us? Does life still go on somehow? Does the world remain the same, or does the death of one person alter the course of life on earth? It's a philosophical poem, for which, of course, there is no absolute answer. It's all very subjective.

Adriano Bulla

'The truth was /What you taught me/ In my bed at night' in 'I Could Wring That Sparrow's Neck' sounds both sensual and religious, taking the reader by surprise, puzzling the reader, then, you move into your realization that 'One "God"' is no use for you... Why is it so?

Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa

This poem is actually about incest. I am an adult survivor of childhood incest. My father began touching me sexually before I entered adolescence, and by the time I was 13 we were engaged in a fully sexual relationship. My father was my first lover. The Truth was/ What you taught me/ in my bed at night; this is the statement of a child acknowledging that what he knows of the adult world, the truth about what happens in the real world, was a thing learned in the bed of incest. I was introduced to the world of adult sexual relationships when I was still a child, and this gave me a window onto the world I would never have had, could never have had, except through the darkness of that experience. I was shown things that no child should ever be forced to see, and yet that experience showed me the ugly side of human nature, that side of man that tortures and destroys people and things much weaker than himself. What my father did to me was a crime against the soul, but it is unfortunately part of the evil that lives in humankind.


     The symbolism of the sparrow in this poem is obviously one of freedom; the sparrow is free from any prison or confinement, while I am a prisoner of my own body, of my own home, which seems to be pressing in on me and falling to pieces at the same time. It's a metaphor for victimization, the reality of a person in pain recognizing that their situation is not changeable, at least not in the foreseeable future. Because this is exactly what happened to me when I was a teenager. I was inhabiting a body that became the absolute possession of my father; I couldn't stop what was happening to me, so when I looked out at other kids my age, part of me hated them, was envious of the freedom I thought they had. I was in a state of imprisonment, and I hated to be reminded of the freedom others had. The birds outside were free/ And how I could wring/ That sparrow's neck. Now you can see the meaning of those words. That's how I felt when I saw how carefree other boys my age seemed. I saw them playing baseball with their fathers, and that's the kind of freedom I wanted. But my father was fucking me, and I was stuck in that body with no means of escape.

     The poem seems to change tone in the middle when I introduce the concept of piety...How pious/ To feel the words of that black book/ Pass clean through me/ Like a sword. This is my strict religious upbringing rearing itself. The 'black book' is, of course, the Bible...the book bound in black leather. For all intents and purposes I was raised in a very conservative, traditional Baptist family, a family in which a literal interpretation of the Bible as the infallible and inerrant word of God governed every aspect of our lives. Evangelical conservatism was the backbone of my family, and my siblings and I were spoon-fed the Gospel, it seemed, every moment of our lives. There was no escaping it.

       So, on the one hand you have my father preaching the Bible to us as the representative of the traditional Christian family man, while on the other, and in private, he sexually victimized his own son. This kind of hypocrisy made it very easy for me as a young man to break free from the idea of the Christian god and embrace a completely different way of life. The evil that I saw in the Bible, in the Christian idea of Salvation, was that it became a license to behave as you will, then ask for forgiveness later. I was raised in the belief of once saved, always saved. Once a man asked Christ to enter his heart, he was washed clean from sin, and could forever after do as he pleased.

      My realization of the hypocrisy, the falseness of the Christian religion as I saw it revealed to me in my father's embodiment of it, is what I am pointing out in the verses I have passed through/ All these ephemeral things..."God", prophets, commandments...and also in the verses One "God", I have no use for you, et cetera. I am here turning away from the things that I see are contrary to the liberation of the human soul; things like doctrine, commandments and prophets, governed by a jealous and angry god who in the end is no more just to his people than my father was to me. There is a direct correlation here between the one god of the Christian religion and my father. Both are tyrants, angry, unjust, an enemy to freedom of thought and freedom of conscience.

Adriano Bulla

You are both a painter and a poet, a bit like Blake, and in many ways the imagery does bring the Romantic Poet-Engraver back to mind... What do you feel, in your experience, are the similarities and differences between painting and writing poetry.

The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed in Sun by William Blake

Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa

It's interesting you invoke Blake here, because Blake's work is imbued with spirituality, and many, of course, would say religion. I think of Blake as a symbolic painter, a painter whose entire view is composed of metaphysical principles reading as allegory or mythology. These are things that have strong meanings for me in my life's work.

     Well, for me the two crafts, painting and writing poetry, come from very different aspects of my creative drive. I feel like I'm going to repeat myself a bit here, but my icons are not an expression of my personal life or personal experiences. They do not describe how I see the world around me, nor are they a result of my engagement in the world. That is what a modern artist does, but an iconographer's duty is not to define or describe this world, but rather to give the viewer a window into that other world beyond the five senses.

     For me, my poetry accomplishes what painting does for the majority of artists today...it gives me a vehicle for transmitting my personal experiences and emotions, for defining...or perhaps the right word is exploring...my reactions to the things I see and feel as I live my life. Painters use images and colours to do this, but isn't that what I'm doing in my poetry? Aren't I using the language of symbols and imagery to evoke powerful emotions and experiences? I think that I am. So, perhaps my poems can be thought of as paintings composed of words. All of my poems take place in a world of symbols, symbols from the natural world like the sun, moon, and stars...water, desert, birds and flowers. I use nature because for me the natural world is the most profound experience immediate to my own nature.

      But in general I'd say that there is a lot of common ground between painting and writing poetry. Painting uses colour and form in a symbolic way, at least for me, and I use language in much the same way as I use symbols in my icons. Colour and form are always vivid symbols in the icons I paint, but that also holds true in my poems. When I give the reader azure blue, or lapis lazuli, I am, of course, evoking the celestial or spiritual component of creation. My icons use blue in precisely the same manner.

      I'd have to admit that when I write poetry I feel this sense of complete liberation from structure, method, discipline or tradition. I'm a firm believer in those things, please don't get me wrong, but my icon work is very intense, very structured and governed by precision. There is no room left in my icons for chance or going with the flow, so to speak. Each line has been thought out methodically, is part of a visual and ritual complexity traditional to Kemetic religious iconography.

     However, my poetry flows from a very different place. Unlike some very literary minded poets, I am not attempting to write in a specific style or after a certain genre. I'm not coming from a place of needing to be taken seriously as a poet, so following the traditional guidelines in order to do that. The impulse of my poetry is rebellion, rebellion against death and emotional imprisonment. My poems deflect self-censorship...I say exactly what I need to say, and not a word more or less. So, in this way, my poems are the most natural and uncontrived creative expression I have. They are not about this tradition or that tradition, paying homage to some time-honoured style. My poems are about freedom, personal freedom and spiritual freedom, and they demand wings of their own. When I sit down to write I never do it thinking I'm going to write in this specific meter, using this kind of imagery and this number of words in each line. I don't think about my phrasing, and I never rhyme on purpose, no matter what you might think!

      I know there are a few instances where there are a number of lines in a row that rhyme, which I have to tell you was completely coincidental. I read those lines after I'd written them, and thought that sounds very intentional to me. Rhyming is not something I'm after in my poetry, so if it happens, then it just happens of its own accord. I think my poems are almost independent from me sometimes, writing themselves wherever they want to travel. So, that's why they embody an experience of creative freedom for me. I just sit and write, automatically, and I never force the words or disrespect the perfect flow of the words. I just let them fall out of my pen, and they land wherever they land.

Adriano Bulla

Birds are a leitmotif in your poems; what is their symbolic meaning, what ways of understanding experience do they open to the reader? Birds were also highly symbolical in Egyptian Art, is there a relation?

"Reshpu Lord of Might"/ Acrylic and 22 karat gold by master iconographer Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa

 Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa

I guess you could say that birds predominate a lot of my work. That's because birds have a duality to their nature that resonates within highly symbolic contexts. On the one hand, birds belong to the air...to the heavens, because they fly, and their wings are the epitome of freedom in movement. But birds also have a connection to the earth because they nest in trees and hunt for food on the ground. So, there is this strong heavenly connotation to them, paired with this sense of complete freedom from any material restrictions; and then this airy symbolism gives way to the idea of return to the earth, making a place in the terrestrial element. These are themes I like to explore from a symbolic vantage, which many of my poems do, and in every instance there is a deeply spiritual meaning being conveyed.

     In 'Pelican' I use this bird as a solar symbol, a symbol of light being able to cross distances; as in the pelican crossing the ocean, and the pelican carrying the sun in his mouth. The ocean here represents something challenging and primordial, the past and all its memories churning like waves. The pelican is not daunted by having to cross long distances in order to find sustenance, and he is the hero of this poem. He represents immortality and a renewal of strength in the face of adversity. He is a hardy creature, able to endure the cold wind over the ocean and its spray. All the while, his big yellow-orange bill embodies a profusion of solar energy and sunlight, which will eventually cut through any turbulent conditions over the sea.

      We've already discussed my use of sparrows in 'I Could Wring That Sparrow's Neck', but I think it's worth noting that although birds rarely embody the ominous in my poems, in this one instance they represent something I yearn for, something I feel I'm being denied; and in that way the sparrows have a negative effect on me because they're living reminders of a physical and emotional liberty I am desperate to find, but am unable to have in that moment. They are almost teasing, mocking in this sense.


     One of my latest poems, 'Flight of the Jabiru', uses bird symbolism in the most metaphysical way of all my recent work. This is about the Saddlebill Stork, which was used by the ancient Egyptians as an emblem of the ba, somewhat equivalent to our understand of the soul or spirit. The ba has the ability to pass between the material and physical worlds, to go from physical into spiritual matter, and back again. It is one of the vital aspects of a person's soul anatomy, and may even be understood in terms of embodying a person's actual personality or unique identity. At the time of death, the ba exits the body and departs to the duat or spirit realm, the realm of the Gods and the dead. But the ba has to power to return to the material world, to even make a sort of contact with the living.

      In 'Flight of the Jabiru' I use this bird in a Kemetic or ancient Egyptian context, as an embodiment of the soul and a symbol of the dead being released from the body as a living spirit. At the beginning of the poem the jabiru is a symbol of the Sun-God, of the quality of solar light of which spirits are composed. We find that the jabiru is a sort of messenger of death, because the flight of the jabiru means the transmigration of souls from this world into the next. I work with that a lot in my poetry...this phenomenon of death and how it is actually a passage from one state of existence into the next, a progression through forms. So the jabiru represents that progression in my poem, taking on the personality of someone I love who has just died. I am watching that person pass away from me, and then become a transfigured consciousness.

      But I describe this too in a way that deals with the emotional reality of death, because that part of death is terrible. It's not beautiful or peaceful. I describe this kind of suffering as the wings of the jabiru disturbing my sense of personal peace, because their presence signals the death of my loved one, like a stone being thrown into the middle of calm water. There is a disruption of the calm order of things, an emotional brutality that occurs. But I have to deal with this loss, and my poem is a form of saying that I can accept it, because I also accept that spiritual immortality is a fact of life...life after death, the consciousness continues.

     The jabiru is a picture for us of spiritual consciousness, which is vital and awake and brilliant to behold. It is a streak of sunlight in the darkness, and speaks to the reader of a form of guidance that ultimately conquers death. I guess that's the heart of this poem. It's a message that tells us of the reality of letting go of things we love, this fact of impermanence that dominates physical life. But that life continues to change and evolve, and this evolution process passes through the death state as just another aspect of the life cycle, prior to the renewal of consciousness. Immortality is the ultimate theme of this poem, like so many of my poems...but also my icons, I must say. At the end of the day, I believe in immortality, and my icons and poems will continue to speak in my voice long after I too have followed in the wake of the jabiru.

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