lightning in the atmosphere: A Tribute to the Poet CA Conrad

September 10, 2012 § Leave a comment

Imagine a man with hair the length of war.  A man who finds joy in simple things, like an old Sycamore tree.  Imagine a man singing for rain—chanting to the gods of water because there are fires in the mountains.   Imagine a gentle man.  A brave man. A man who wrote a letter to the president of the United States asking him to stop the  gay genocide underway in Iraq.   Imagine a humble man.  Someone who sits down next to you at lunch.  Thanks you for your company.  Talks about his love of animals and birds—of poetry.  Imagine feeling his hands ease your pain without ever touching you.  A circle of writers. Everyone’s pulse in tune. The sound of Saturn’s rings.  Imagine a human being.  A decent human being.  A man who identifies plants.  Says all he wants to do is write poems.

CA Conrad is the 2011 PEW Fellow, the 2012 Radar Fellow, the 2012 UCROSS Fellow, and the 2013 BANFF Fellow.  His books of poetry are alarming and his readings will touch your heart.

[I have never fallen in love like this before]

This poet is a MUST read.

  • A Beautiful Marsupial Afternoon: New (Soma)tics (Wave Books, April, 2012)
  • The Book of Frank (Wave Books, 2010/Chax Press, 2009)
  • The City Real & Imagined (with Frank Sherlock) (Factory School Books, 2010)
  • Advanced Elvis Course (Soft Skull Press, 2009)
  • (Soma)tic Midge (Faux Press, 2008)
  • Deviant Propulsion (Soft Skull Press, 2006)

Check out his blog:

He is also the editor of Jupiter 88:

* * *

During the second week of Naropa’s Summer Writing Program I had the pleasure of working with (Soma)tic poet, CA Conrad. The theme of this week was: Cultural Rhizomes and Intentional Communities.  Having just read The Book of Frank, I was expecting a week of innovative poetics and (Soma)tic exercises. I wasn’t prepared, however, to find my words disappear and remerge as language.  From the moment I met CA I knew there was something special about him. This was not a man. This was a body worker, a poet, a guardian angel for the marginalized. This was my friend. I will forever admire this man.

We began the class by learning to chant together. We sat in a circle and repeated: You are a circle. You are healing me. I am a circle. I am healing you. This was not a simple chant. This was an invitation to one another. A request for safe space. A pledge of support. When we chanted together the room transformed from a classroom to a space of enclosure—a site of exchange.

At the beginning of class Conrad also gave each of us a Brazilian Singing Crystal. He talked about crystal technology and the theory of PIEZOELECTRICTY. We were then instructed to keep the crystals with us at all times, and to sleep with the crystals next to our bed or under our pillow. Each night we were to set intentions for our dreams by asking our crystals for help. I asked my crystal to help me remember my dreams, to not be frightened, and to know that I was dreaming while I was dreaming. Last May I lost my aunt. After she passed away I had reoccurring nightmares about her death; every night for several weeks she died a different way in my dreams.  I was told that if I performed a meditation to her that the dreams would stop.  After two days of meditation the nightmares ceased. My aunt still appeared in my dreams, but she was always alive.  I would wake up feeling overwhelmed with joy; however, the happiness would quickly fade when I realized I was merely dreaming.   I didn’t know which dreams were more painful.  It wasn’t until I met CA and began working with my crystal that I was able to find relief.  My crystal gave me the chance to visit my aunt in my dreams—to experience her presence in a peaceful way.  In my dreams my aunt was alive. This was a space for the two of us to remember each other.

Throughout the week we also performed several (Soma)tic exercises, including The Human Ampa Theatre, and The Human Hibernaculum. The Human Amp Theatre was an experiment in which one person from the class stood in the middle of the circle holding the Brazilian singing crystal in their nondominant hand while writing with their dominant hand. The remainder of the class held their crystals in their dominant hand while reading a line of their work. CA was the director, periodically instructing us to whisper, shout, or sing our lines. We would also be instructed to direct crystals. At this time we would touch the shoulder of the person to our left and direct our crystals at the person in the center of the circle. While in the center of the circle we would write. While in the circle I wrote lines about my childhood, about what makes me angry, and why I have never been able to live comfortably in my body.

The Human Hibernaculum was an exercise involving pulses, vibration, and the sound of Saturn’s rings. During this exercise we sat in a circle taking the pulse of the person to our right, while having our pulse taken by the person to our left. We did this for forty minutes while listing to the sound of Saturn’s rings. One by one we would take turns sitting in the center of the circle and writing. Saturn is the old god planet of responsibility and we could feel its vibrations as we wrote. While inside the circle the space around my body felt like a pulsing heart. I could feel all the strangers surrounding my body. All the pulsing hearts. Fingers and wrists touching. Everyone was breathing, but I couldn’t feel their breath. Inside the circle the noise of Saturn was haunting. So many bodies knit together. I wanted to crawl inside the noise. My whole body was weak. My breathing was shallow. The noise called my name. Begged me to come closer. To step outside the circle. To leave everyone behind. I was frightened. Everything else was fading. All the strangers were disappearing. Nothing was pulsing anymore. Only vibrations. The feeling of noise in my body.

At different points throughout the week CA also performed Reiki treatments and had the class create tarot cards. While performing Reiki, CA asked us to answer the following questions: what would you write if you were the opposite gender? And what would you write if you were a third gender?  During the treatment my body trembled. I was shaking and couldn’t stop. My hands hurt and felt weak. I began to cry. This was the one of the most powerful things I have ever experienced.

Near the end of the week we visited the Maitri rooms. In these five Buddhist inspired meditation rooms we performed several (Soma) tic writing exercises. The first day we moved from room to room—first blue, then green, red, yellow, and finally, white. While in each room we wrote, imagining each colored room as a sort of container. On the second day we kept our crystals in our non-dominant hand while spinning in circles and asking the crystal to help us find answers to questions we were contemplating. While in the green room I asked the crystal why it felt like my work was being erased. In the red room I could no longer see any of the words in my notebook, as I was writing.

* * *

Below is a sample of something I wrote while working with CA.

Notes from a Maitri Room

Green Room

I am the girl without limits. I live inside a jar but I don’t feel claustrophobic. I don’t feel like I am shrinking.

Blue Room

In the blue room I am crying and I don’t know why. It’s dark and I’ve never liked to be alone like this. The blue room is filled with strangers. My lover sits next to me on the floor. No one is in the blue room with me.

Red Room

The red room makes my heart beat faster. I don’t feel happy inside this room. The room is so bright it feels dark. I am not alone in the red room, but I do feel lonely. The strangers don’t make me angry but they do make me sad. I cannot breathe in the red room

Yellow Room

Being inside this room is calming. My heart rate has returned to normal and I can breathe again. Part of me still wants to cry but I am not sure if it’s because of the room. I can see all of the strangers now. Even the strangers I know very well are scaring me. They can’t make me feel ok again. All the colors are inside my body (now).

White Room

The white room is like a normal room. I can see the face of every stranger. Even the strangers I know very well look pale in this room. I don’t care about the colors they wear anymore. Even the yellow scarf my lover wears looks plain.

* * *

I am alone in the green room. Some people get angry in this room. I am alone here because no one wants to look at the inconsistencies in my skin. I stop spinning to cry. When the strangers come back I am still alone. The limits of my body come forth as our arms touch. Your nearness doesn’t make me feel safe anymore. Would someone please care about the girl in the green room? She is feeling scared today—doesn’t like all these people touching her body, making limits. In the blue room everyone I trust is a stranger. I look for him among faces I don’t recognize but he has faded into the walls of the blue room and become a stranger like the others. I know their faces now but I don’t know their eyes because we are standing in a circle with our backs touching. In the red room I can’t stand to look at myself. I look at the strangers, all the broken people who think they can make circles with their backs touching. In the yellow room I get a stomachache. I have always been disgusted with myself, even in the yellow room. I know we have to go to the white room next and I am scared because I don’t like it when the strangers follow me into the light—when they look at my body like they’ve seen it before. I’ve seen these strangers before.  And even though I am not dreaming I want to wake up and remove myself from the circle, let my back fade away—closer to my own body.  In the white room I can see the stranger’s faces but I can’t see my own because my back is to the door and my eyes are facing the wall. In this room my body can hide from itself and I can act more alive than I am.

* * *

1. In the room with doors that face neither the inside nor the out a girl sits cross-legged on the floor. She does not know what day it is. The room does not have windows. She sits cross-legged because this is the only way her body will fit in the room. The room would prefer that the girl

stop sitting with her legs crossed but the girl does not want to touch the room. There is mold in the room and it is difficult to breath but because the mold is growing on her body it does not matter if she leaves the room or not. In the winter the mold goes away. The girl takes a rock out of her pocket. It is brown with one white stripe. She puts the rock in her mouth. This is how she keeps from floating, how she keeps her body on the ground. She does not swallow the rock. When the snow melts the girl takes the rock out of her mouth. She does not float away. She sits with her legs crossed. This is how she keeps her body from expanding. This is how she gives birth to colored rooms with lightening.

2. After the girl has given birth to herself she cuts the umbilical cord with her right hand, even though she is left handed, and places the cord on the table. She uses her right hand to tie the cord around her left wrist. This is how she keeps the birth close to her body. This is how she keeps the past close to her pulse. She has been self-birthed. In the winter the cord falls off the girl’s wrist and lands in a room with blue walls. The room is familiar to the girl though she had never seen it before. The center of the rug in the middle of the room is worn. An outline of a circle maps the space where something happened to the girl—an event that she cannot remember. When the snow melts the girl walks out of the blue room. She turns to look at the spot on the rug where the circle had been, but the worn spot had faded and no longer looked like an outline of anything. The girl does not go back into the blue room right away. The girl washes the mold from her left wrist. Mold is sometimes caused by flooding.

3. In the room with red walls the girl puts her hand over her mouth to block her thoughts from escaping. Her heartbeat is faster than normal. She can feel it throbbing in her teeth. She doesn’t need an artery that is close to the surface. The carotid is a common place to find a pulse. In the winter strangers appear in the red room. The girl can no longer feel her pulse. In the spring the snow does not melt. The snow waits for the girl to return to the red room but she has already moved past the yellow and greens rooms and is headed for the white room. In the white room the girl can hear Saturn’s rings pulsing. Saturn has lightening deep within its atmosphere. The lightening generates strong radio emissions. The radio emissions are the only direct evidence of lightening on Saturn. In the white room the girl moves toward the sound of a thunderstorm on a planet 170,000,000 miles away.

[Thank you to CA Conrad.  A true kindred spirit.]


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