Staying Means Leaving

Staying  (Part 1)


I find I am distracted


By nappies and sudocream

Wiping, and a rash

That keeps the baby awake

And me, too

Still.  We stay.

Accepting all offers of help

When we are wise

While pretending self-sufficiency; claiming island status

When we are not

Staying too long

The well runs to dust

And my soul gets brittle and bitter

Dried from the inside out

Stretched thin and incapable

To sustain the demands of nourishing

Staying too long

I break in half

Running headless and….heedless

Repeating the endless mistake of this gendered body

Staying (Part 2)

Staying, in truth

Means leaving


The periodic return

That makes life…. fresh

Brightly sustaining and Always New

Staying is the dive down

To the ocean floor

A depth that oils our skin

Shines our hair

Restores our lustre

Till we,

Plump and glowing

Emerge out the surf to bask

Bellies round and glistening,

In the sun


This poem was inspired by a return to Chapter 9 in Women Who Run With the Wolves.  This book is a true gift, one to return to again and again, as different parts of it resonate with different parts of the life course.  I remember being particularly captivated by the lessons of Skeleton Woman and Chapter 5 when I first read it nearly 10 years ago.  Since then other stories have emerged; responding to and enabling reflection on whatever stage of life I’m at.  It’s a magical book in this way, a shifting landscape that is travelled through time and time again in order to learn the topography and access the lessons offered by it.

In Chapter 9, “Homing: Returning to Oneself”, Clarissa Pinkola Estes deftly weaves together an Inuit story of a seal woman who becomes the wife of a human man, but must return to her seal skin pelt and the depths of the sea in order to live, with the psychic needs of women to periodically ‘return’ to their soul home; the space that sustains and nourishes them.  Though this is a lesson that is important for men, as is much of Women Who Run With the Wolves; there is something about the story that urgently addresses itself to women’s acculturation as ‘nourishers’, frequently at the expense of thier own health and happiness: a sacrifice which receives much affirmation from a wider culture that labels this nurturing martyrdom as the natural behaviour of good women.  It is nothing of the sort.  Neither natural, nor nourishing.  In order to, ‘live among humans in a resourceful manner’ (1992: 265), women must nourish their own ‘wildish nature’.  It is a dialectic; a perpetual movement between the outer and inner worlds.

The pelt in this story is not so much an article as the representation of a feeling state and a state of being – one that is cohesive, soulful, and of the wildish female nature.  When a woman is in this state, she feels entirely in and of herself instead of out of herself and wondering if she is doing right, acting right, thinking well.  Though this state of being “in one’s self” is one she occasionally loses tough with, the time she has previously spent there sustains her while she is about her work in the world.  The return to the wildish state periodically is what replenishes her psychic reserves for her projects, family, relationship and creative life in the topside world.

Eventually every woman away from her soul-home tires.  This is as it should be.  Then she seeks her skin again in order to revive her sense of self and soul, in order to restore her deep-eyed and oceanic knowing. (1992:265)

How do you know when it is time to “Return”?  Pinkola Estes links this to being adequately initiated.  The fully initiated adult woman knows when she is required to leave and do this work of replenishment. She does not permit her reserves of energy to be stolen from.  She gives of them freely, and restores them when she needs to.  Uninitiated, or incompletely initiated, women, are stolen from again and again because they do not realise the requirements of a healthy soul.

Again and again I find myself at the point of dried out exhaustion.  But I am getting better at seeing it coming.  I was there last night.  Utterly used up by the myriad demands of the life I have made.  I was trying to sleep because I need to rest in order to keep giving.  This kind of self-talk is always a dead give away that the rest you are giving yourself is not the right kind because it remains connected to an external   requirement to keep giving without replenishing.  I got up.  Fetched some frozen yoghurt and watched an episode of The Wire.  No judgement here!  I have no doubt that the ways in which I replenish myself will shift and change, but last night some dessert and a damn good story did the trick.