Year 5, Piece Ten: 36. Purple Red

The Poetic Act. Butterflies and peppers. Gevurah.

Each week I draw a card from my Rainbow Squared deck to determine that week’s colors. At the same time I also draw a Tarot card, and this week I drew the Page of Swords. In the Tarot deck I use—the Prisma Visions deck by James R. Eads—each suit of the minor arcana cards is a contiguous panorama when you lay them out start to finish. In the Page of Swords, the figure is finally vanquishing a giant bird beast that has been terrorizing the previous cards. With one casual swing of the sword, the beast bursts into butterflies. Monarch butterflies.

In Tarot, swords are the suit of the element of air, which is thought and intellect, the life of the mind. So often what we think is an insurmountable, terrible thing can be addressed by starting with the mind, dismissed like so many butterflies. And sometimes what we think is no big deal is actually a swarm. 

I’d been thinking about butterflies and violence after reading a passage in the 2010 book Psychomagic: The Transformative Power of Shamanic Psychotherapy, written by the infamous artist filmmaker author healer and master of Tarot himself, Alejandro Jodorowsky. If Purple is the mind and also magic and Red is the body, then Purple Red may be the perfect color for what Jodorowsky calls “Psychomagic:” the ability to heal oneself through ritual performance. Jodorowsky describes a psychomagician as less of a shaman or doctor than an adviser in helping the patient to be their own healer through poetic acts. In Psychomagic, written in interview format, Jodorowsky describes an incident from his youth in Chile that helped him to understand the nature of the poetic act: 

The poetic act allows for expressing energies that are normally repressed or asleep inside us. The unconscious act is an open door to vandalism, to violence. When the crowds erupt into violence, when the demonstration deteriorates and the people begin to set cars on fire or throw rocks, it is also about a liberation of repressed energies. For this reason, acts of violence do not merit the title poetic act.    

Were you and your friends conscious of this? 

We ended up being so, after observing some dangerous acts perpetrated by hot-tempered individuals. These experiences shook us up and made us question ourselves seriously. A Japanese haiku provided a key for us. A student brought the master his poem, which stated:        

A butterfly:
take away the wings
and it turns into a pepper!        

The master’s response was immediate: “No, no; it is not like that. Let me correct your poem:”        

A pepper:
add wings
and it turns into a butterfly!        

The lesson here is clear: the poetic act must always be positive; it must be constructive and not destructive.

The poetic act. Using your body to conjure poetry into the physical realm, out of the mind and into real time and space. Perhaps it is in this way that poetry, art, and spirituality can intertwine as ritual. An act not to be undertaken lightly or confused for the unconscious act, otherwise the result can be literally disastrous. Don’t pluck wings off of butterflies, give wings to peppers. 

Anyone can perform a poetic act, deliberately setting the bounds for a ritual and even its desired effects. But I would say that what gives the poetic act its poetry is not only the author’s intention but the way that life intervenes and even collaborates. The way that life presents elements and circumstances you never could have planned or anticipated.

See, I wrote the above about butterflies and Jodorowsky’s book on Monday, April 5th, and spent that evening making images of a pepper and a monarch butterfly. 

Then this is what happened on Tuesday, April 6th. That day was Day 9 of the Omer: Gevurah she’b’Gevurah. Strength within Strength. Justice within Justice. Blue within Blue. (For more on counting the Omer, see Year 5 Green Green.)

I took the kids on a walk around 11am to a playground. Usually we get out the door way earlier, so everyone felt a little on edge. Or maybe I just felt a little on edge. I let E walk on his own, so the five block journey took half an hour as he examined every fallen berry. Once we finally got to the playground it was so close to lunchtime that there was no one else there, so we took our masks off. D was playing with little stacking cups in the sand as I watched E gleefully bound back and forth across a rickety bridge. Then D called out:

“Pretend that you have two babies and you are watching one of the babies and you made a perfect cake and you didn’t notice that the other baby was about to ruin the perfect cake.”

It was a pretty specific request, so I went along with it. I locked my eyes on E and cooed at him loudly, deliberately not looking while D dumped out a blue cup she had carefully packed with sand and fennel. “Oh noooo!” I play-acted, “My perfect cake is ruined! And I worked so hard on it!” 

D laughed with glee. I wondered to myself how E must perceive the play, how he can probably tell the difference between when I am pretending to be mad and when I am really mad. 

Then D asked to play the game again, where I pay attention to one baby but not to the other. So I resumed watching E on the play structure. Then I heard her right behind me: “Hey, mama!” 

I turned around to look and was immediately clocked in the face with that blue cup, my mouth filled with gritty, filthy, playground sand. 

Now I actually was mad. My whole body tensed, but I controlled my reaction into pent rage and stunned silence. D immediately bolted away and hid under a different structure. 

She hid there for a long time. I spat clumps of sand into the bushes, finally taking a swig off the kiddie water bottle to swish and spit that out too (so much for keeping my germs isolated at the playground). Then I sat on a bench and waited in silence. Eventually D got up and ran closer to me, climbing on a ladder and artfully avoiding eye contact. 

“Do you want to tell me what just happened?” I asked.

It took a lot of effort, but finally she told me that she meant to hit me in the back. I told her she shouldn’t have been throwing anything at anyone, period. She told me she felt like I didn’t love her and wanted to give her away. I told her that wasn’t true. She couldn’t really apologize and it was lunchtime anyway so I decided we could talk more while we were walking. Still frustrated but miraculously keeping calm, I awkwardly managed to strap E to my back, shoved the plastic cups in our backpack, and we left. 

We got to the very first street corner, and that’s when we saw it on the sidewalk. A butterfly. A monarch butterfly.  A dying monarch butterfly, sitting there on the pavement with its tattered wings up. 

We stood there transfixed for a minute. This would be a notable encounter even if I hadn’t spent the night before making weird graphics about monarch butterfly peppers. And it was certainly magical for a child either way. We decided we wanted to help the butterfly, to bring it home to try to give it water or milkweed or something, or put it out of its misery, or just to examine it more closely. We looked for something like a stick to carry it on, and then I remembered the tiny cups in my backpack. I picked up the one it would fit in, the blue one, and put it in.

We walked home holding that orange butterfly in the blue cup. It kept moving, not just the wind flapping its wings but voluntary movements of its legs and head. Its body looked chewed or something. I couldn’t believe this little butterfly was still alive. I couldn’t believe any of it, that we were carrying it home in the blue cup, blue for Gevurah. 

Gevurah is strength and justice and probably in its unchecked state what I would associate closest with violence. Not an association I had with Blue in my color work before, but one that was always there and is there for so many people, of course. Carrying a dying butterfly in the blue cup that my willful daughter had chucked at my face in some sort of demonstration of sibling resentment. Her own poetic act. Or was it an unconscious act? Don’t we need violence sometimes to speak truth to power? D showed me her fierceness, and I showed her mine back, though doing it fairly. I think. 

What is this metaphor? Who or what is the butterfly here? And this cup, a weapon then used as a shelter?

Is this a poetic act?

There are just so many butterfly metaphors here. They are magical beings themselves, worms that turn themselves into goo and grow wings. Faith. Transcendence. Transformation. Beauty. I saw a stupid meme recently saying something like: “Butterflies: now there are bugs for girls!” The next time I saw a butterfly I imagined what might make a butterfly scary. What if there were a plague of butterflies? In the Passover story, two of the Ten Plagues are insects: Lice and Locusts. Could you ever have enough butterflies that it would be horrifying, debilitating? How many would that have to be?

Gevurah. Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. Wings may turn a pepper into a butterfly but only violence turns the butterfly back into a pepper, not even back into a caterpillar, but something broken. The poetic act must never be violent, must never be destructive.

It was wild to watch that butterfly die slowly. To be witness to it and then suddenly and inescapably party to it. When we got it home it had no interest in our water, of course. But there it was. I was so transfixed by the moment, I couldn’t think to do anything else but take pictures. If I couldn’t make it survive and I couldn’t bring myself to kill it, at least I could turn it into Art. But is that an act of violence too?

I forgot how to say “butterfly” in Hebrew so I just looked it up. Are you ready?

Butterfly is “par-par.” Parpar. It sounds wildly close to “pepper,” huh? It even sounds wildly close to pepper in Hebrew, which is “peel-pel.” These words are almost identical when they are written out: פַּרְפַּר and פִּלְפֵּל 

That connection floored me, but maybe it’s arbitrary. Butterflies and peppers: what does it mean? I mean, maybe there are just semantic threads connecting all things if you look for them. But isn’t that stunning in and of itself?

Purple stands for magic, for woo woo, so it seems Purple tries to demonstrate this by going a little extra with the synchronicities. The last Purple this year, Purple Yellow, sent me on a wild goose chase of lemon references that hasn’t even ended yet. This time it’s butterflies.

Is this project a poetic act then? Maybe it’s poetic infrastructure, a framework for poetic acts. Or maybe I am just crazily chronicling patterns, spattering them out to anyone who will listen.

I think there is something else here though, something more about life itself as poetry. I’ve always talked about Life as Art, but maybe Poetry is more precise. You just have to pay attention to find the rhymes. I just have to write them down to understand them.

In this way, the act of writing itself can be a poetic act. Writing is not merely a means to create poetry, but also a way to conjure it. Something happens between the spaces of living and writing. To do both regularly is to make more poetry happen to you. 

Purple is the mind and Red is the body. The two together make poetry manifest.

May our actions be just and balanced; tempered by poetry, not violence. May our collective poetic acts be a kaleidoscope and not a swarm.