Return of the Shadow

I just got a signed copy of Corey Mesler’s wonderful new book of poetry, Vitamins for Ygdrasil and Other Poems. Corey is a dear friend and co-owner with his wife Cheryl of Burke’s Books, the oldest independent bookstore in Memphis. He’s also author of numerous other books, including my favorite, Robert Walker, a novel about a homeless man in Memphis. (An excerpt from Robert Walker appears in my anthology-in-progress about homelessness and other issues in Memphis.)

Meanwhile, I’m enjoying—or maybe that word is too light, maybe I’m absorbing—Corey’s new poetry collection, including the first poem about the Ygdrasil tree, from William Faulkner’s yard, which appears on the cover by Memphis artist Martha Kelly. One thing Martha and I have in common is our love for the oaks at Rowan Oak, Faulkner’s home in Oxford, Mississippi.

Oxford photographer Ed Croom captured this one, an “Osage Orange,” at Rowan Oak, which was used on the cover of my anthology Southern Writers on Writing (University Press of Mississippi, 2018), in which Corey has an essay. So we’ve come full circle!


And the title poem, “Vitamins for Ygdrasil,”says:

They’re feeding vitamins to Ygdrasil,

our giant oak, bringing her

back to life after a touch of

the root rot

This immediately brought to mind the ancient and famous banyan tree, planted in 1873,  that burned during the fire in Lahaina on the island of Maui in Hawaii last August. I wrote about it here. We were in Lahaina the day the fire happened, and escaped just before it engulfed the beautiful town and so many people. And now the tree has amazing new growth! I wonder if they are giving it vitamins?

But it’s Corey’s poem, “Return of the Shadow,” that really captured me in his new book. Corey talks about his shadow as “a long-lost part.” And then he describes the scene as the shadow stood on his porch when he opened the front door:

Neither of us spoke for

several minutes, and then he

said, I just thought of some-

thing. And suddenly, I was

thinking that thought, too.

It filled my heart with accelerant.

Why did this capture me? Several years ago I began to learn more about my own “shadow,” from a psychological point of view. And then I realized that this part of myself, when united with the rest of me, and not broken apart from me, is a very healing thing. As an Orthodox Christian I understand this as part of Christ’s healing of what is broken in me. During the season leading up to Nativity (Christmas), there’s a hymn with this line in it, about Christ’s incarnation:

Christ is coming to restore the image which He made in the beginning.

I wrote about this in a blog post ten years ago, “Healing the Split and Restoring the Image.”

And today, on Holy Friday, the Orthodox Church remembers Christ’s suffering and death on the cross. We have three services at St. John Orthodox Church here in Memphis to commemorate these events, Royal Hours, The “Taking Down from the Cross,” and Lamentations. (You can read more about these services and see photos here in my post from 2008.) And Sunday we will celebrate Christ’s resurrection on Holy Pascha, which Western Christians celebrated in their Easter services a few weeks ago.

Wednesday night we were anointed with holy oil during Holy Unction. More healing of the split. More uniting us with our shadows. And great rejoicing over that union.