Selected poems from a men’s rites of passage week organised by Mandorla

In the presence of men

High on this Welsh hillside among scraggy moss
covered oaks, moss clad rocks, boulders, stones
I remove my glasses to see up close, spiders
beginning to shift between grasses and heather.

I have always been in the presence of women
he said, now I am glad to be in the presence of men.

The path is far enough below for no one to see me.
Down beside the lake the locomotive blows
its deep whistle, while across the water a dog begins to bark,
a wren chatters, a gull cries and cars head over the pass.

A green and yellow-striped, furry caterpillar
moves like an accordion, playing an inaudible tune
as it shunts itself down to the base of an oak.

© Steve Walter

Naming of the parts, Roots

If you want to get a feel for what spirit is
find a man and follow
the line of least resistance
with the steel of a finely honed blade
while he stands, screaming.

First, detach the spine clean at its base,
unhook the sacrum, the lower vertebrae
from their pivot at the pelvis
unlock the rib cage, let the whole body
sag, the flesh, the soft organs fall away.

Cleave between the grooves to the cranium
release the lower brain intact, still
connected to the trunk of the spinal chord
the feathery roots of nerves once attached
coming free from where they once energised
the heart, the guts, the arms, the thighs.

Trace the roots back, deep into his life
to the moment after mother conceived
when the tiny spine began to swell,
and might have grown to brace an eagle,
or even hold a bear – here find spirit alert, aware.
© Steve Walter

Transformation and the sword

He carried the sword for us
the sword he’d slain the woman with,
a child in her arms as it pierced
between the bones of her rib cage
slipped into the muscle of her heart.

He carried the sword for us
across the threshold, out of what had been
into what is, what will become,
and we cheered as loudly as he had cried
we saluted his victory and the sword…

the sword he put down for us
renouncing violence, inviting love
we cried for her, for her beauty
for the love of her child,
binding our arms in prayer.
© Steve Walter
Cae Mabon

In the shadow of Snowdon the encampment huddles
among birch and oak on a hillside,
home for eleven men who surrender to rites of passage.

If I could I would have offered more had I known how deep
this would become – witnessing grief, hatred, anger, love
connecting us through the symbols of grave, effigy, sword.

But I confessed to my daily splitting of foil, for tablets which balance
the highs and lows, bring me down to a level
tender place, and they offered to protect me from the ravages of spirit.

So very real the moment he stamped on her effigy, destroyed
her among the ashes of the hearth, or cried over
turned earth, or raised the sword in anguish, repentance.

In the roundhouse he marked the next steps of his life journey
with the heart of an oak. We saluted his strength,
his marriage to come, his future family, completely in love.

In our unity, time dissolved, we found grace as men bound
to each other, embracing our experience of the other side
the far side within ourselves – learning to share the eternal.
© Steve Walter


Cae Mabon