Queen of Cups

Hello dear readers. August has gathered and gone, offering up a second full moon on its way out. I’ve been swimming daily this month, and can report that the waters here around the peninsula have started to cool — September seems to bring the message that rising is also a falling, doesn’t it?

I am pleased to say that Drift Gestures, my first book, will be published in September. We’ve shared the manuscript with a few other poets, whose commentary has begun to arrive. It is so generous and perceptive, and relights my excitement to set these poems loose. I will let you know when the book is available.

We continue this month with our consideration of the element water, and return to the images found in the Smith–Waite tarot deck. Shall we try an experiment?

Sit down and pick up the stack of cards, think of a question. What is looking for us here at the end of summer? Shuffle a few times and draw one. The Queen of Cups, interesting.

A black and white photograph of jewelweed close up. The leaves are flat and smooth, casting a dark shadow down in the middle of the plant. Beads of water adorn some of the leaves, catching the light of the sky like gems. Touch a leaf and the beads roll down into the dark.

On a damp morning near the end of summer, walk down to the shore of the lake. A week of wet weather has quieted traffic, and a bank of fog obscures the hills on the far shore. Flat water disappears out into it.

From hemlock boughs overhead rain drips onto willow leaves dark and slick with water. They are dense in the rain, densely willowy, rooted firm in earth wicking lakewater up into air. Beneath willow, jewelweed in bloom is beaded in quartz droplets and goldenrod begins to peek from the green. At the shore of the lake in the rain you find something dear in our time: sufficiency, enclosure, stillness.

Step down to the wet sand at shore where a spring flows from an undercut in the bank beneath jewelweed and willow and hemlock. A flock of waxwings settles, calling, setting free a fresh shower of droplets. Clear water emerges at the spring to stream over soft sand and multicolored pebbles. It carries earthy cold up to meet the sunwarm lake — but in a few months the relationship will reverse. Cold nights will chill the lake, and springwater, held to a constant temperature by the thermal inertia of the earth, will then return relative warmth from below. Water pulls always in two directions, compensates deftly for whatever is lacking.

At the mouth of the spring, where thin rosy shells have been sorted out by waves and multicolored pebbles are alternately cleaned of sand and buried, we find the meeting of two waters. Here meets density and flux, inertia and momentum; the intensity of water from below meets the extensity of water above in a private bringing-together enclosed by willow and fog. What brought you here to the spring at the shore of the calm lake in the rain? Intense feeling rising in the body longing for action, a dearly held value brought up to meet creation. Just that. You know it but struggle as much as I do to name it. Our words are woefully insufficient.

Flat water disappears out into the fog, a lone female mallard dives in waist-deep water. Blue jay fledglings call strangely from the hemlock and waxwings take flight. Another shower of droplets falls to adorn the jewelweed. Here at the spring something rises. Water flows from the ground, its inward movement animates outward movement; intensity produces extensity. You might imagine the rising thing as a golden cup resting on the soft sand, lustrous in diffuse light beneath the willows. It is a manifestation of a private, sacred feeling beyond words. Perhaps it is the emanation of an inner stillness come to roil the outer world.

At the shore where the spring emerges, water pulls in two directions at once: it is compelled up from beneath while at the same time trying to percolate deeper into the earth. In this way it resembles content of the human unconscious, which in C.G. Jung’s conception

longs for the light of consciousness while frantically struggling against it at the same time.1

At the vertex of these two forces a cup is a trustworthy thing, in tune with the movement of water and psychic content alike. Content comes to us from the Latin contentus, bearing a sense of coherence, enclosure, boundedness, satisfaction — values that our time longs for beyond comprehension. They are also the functions of a cup, which contains. A cup holds what is poured in until it overflows, holds a bit of air against rising water until it reaches the rim and empties in.

Remember, the cup is yours, it contains you. You walked here to the shore in the rain and found it resting on soft sand where cold water flows from the earth to meet the warm lake.

And there you have it. My reflections from some time spent with the Queen of Cups. It is an image that resonates with where I’m at right now, certainly, and maybe you too. Something about the end of summer, hey?

Thanks for reading along with this first of September installment of Polylith. Until next month, may summer’s falling also be a rising.


  1. From Answer to Job by C.G. Jung, 1952.