Christine Valters Paintner is an American poet living in Galway, Ireland and the author of twelve books of nonfiction and two collections of poems: Dreaming of Stones (2019) and The Wisdom of Wild Grace, both from Paraclete Press. Her poems have appeared in several journals in North America, UK, and Ireland including Tales from the Forest, Crannog, Stinging Fly, The Blue Nib, Headstuff, The Galway Review, Boyne Berries, impspired, Bangor Journal, Tiferet, Spiritus, Presence, and Anchor. You can find more of her writing and poetry at AbbeyoftheArts.com.
Where has the wild woman gone?
I have seen her bathing in the lake, long hair drying in the breeze. She sits on a stone at the water’s edge for hours and does nothing. Her teeth have bits of dandelion leaf stuck between them. She still composes those poems you are so fond of, but she sings them into the air, finds words tracked across sky in cloud and star. Each tree, under her gaze, becomes its own poem. She waits for you there, knowing there is nothing but time. She is the one you left behind when you traded your bark for papers, your stones for pens, and the sun’s pilgrimage across the horizon for your calendar with its tidy color-coded boxes. When you wake from a dream one morning and smell oak leaves dissolving into the forest floor, you know this is a love letter from her to you.
My father always traced the family tree to you, showing our relation to the Wittgensteins. When I majored in philosophy in college he thought it was perfect,though I didn’t study you at the time, turned off by logic. At midlife I moved to Vienna, then because of bureaucracy’s coldness moved on to the west of Ireland to find solace by the Atlantic and the sea’s wild foam, to get my bearings, not giving you another thought until one day I learned that you were drawn here to, had lived among those granite mountains just an hour’s drive from me at the mouth of Killary fjord. You called Connemara “the last pool of darkness,” the only place you could think clearly. Suddenly I knew how I had also ended up here, a lover of wild silence, of winter’s dark stillness, a compass in my blood, and now I can’t stop thinking of you. I’ve spent days in the cottage next door to where you lived until I could hear the mountain outside my window whisper secrets about you. I traveled to Prague to visit the graves of rabbis, ancestors we share. I journeyed to Norway to stand by the cottage you built across the lake sitting in shadows and quiet and visited the house in Vienna you designed, so spare it felt like walking into your mind. In private moments I started calling you cousin Ludwig. I want to know how you endured all those times you wanted to leave this life, the people you loved. I want to know as if my life depended on it, like someone lost might search for a map or a star.
A Letter to My Adolescent Self
“listen I love you joy is coming” —Kim Addonizio Listen, I know life right now feels like heartache is your mother tongue, parents who live in the shadows, you stumbling down the dark corridors of youth trying all the locked doors and knobs breaking off in your hands. I won’t promise this heartache ends. You’ll lose people you love: death, betrayal, a slow fade. Some will dissolve like salt on the tongue. There will be moments you’re sure you are drowning, arms flailing, but sometimes your frantic waving will summon a joy you never knew could exist arriving like an elephant emerging from a still forest or a hatching egg placed in your palm, and you will know delight is not an afterthought, nor a luxury, but an amaryllis opening the first petal, its red tongue whispering secrets of all the loves it has ever known.