Elizabeth Houck

Elizabeth Rosa Houck

From under the magnolia


A Word from the Artist

She told me that my roots would always
Guide me home; that my mind contained
Knowledge that I didn’t yet know; that through me
Healing love and creation could flow, in and out. 

I have been afforded the opportunity to take root in this fertile red clay and sandy soil of the South. As someone who came to the South before I could even speak, it holds space in who I am now; it holds space in my experience as a Mexican-American, daughter to a Chicana Army soldier and a Pennsylvanian huntsman. A descendant of ancestors I have never met who could have never imagined their grandchild would be raised here: as an American in the South. I cannot speak perfect Spanish, but I can communicate in a language entirely different: intuition, empathy, courage. I feel kinship more with my family I found who also were nourished (or malnourished) by this sandy red clay, not the members of my family in the Las Vegas desert, not those in the dark brown, nutrient rich soil of the Northeast. I am a blend of the two and something else entirely new.

An environment is everything that influences a living being and the relationship between how that being is affected and how it chooses to respond. Any healthy, mature tree is going to have weathered storms and gone through periods of drought, but, ultimately, has to have shown resiliency and been provided its needs of basic air, water, and sunlight to survive. I bent but never broke because I had strong roots in the love of my immediate family, my very extensive and loving Mexican family, and my chosen family; I took root in my environment, weathering the circumstances, in the way of a young sapling. These people and this place ensured my growth was not stunted; that I was not lost in the forest. For every heartache, there have been ten moments of laughter; for every season I went without, the harvest has been doubled the next. Healing is an act of resistance: resisting to break, resisting to let go. The years I continue deepening my roots will hopefully be the ones during which I mature and am able to bear and contribute my own fruits of knowledge with which I am able to nourish my environment.

From Under the Magnolia is a space to meditate, to heal, to feel, to dream, and to manifest a world filled with protection, hope, and light. This installation is inspired by a magnificent magnolia in my childhood neighborhood in Columbia, South Carolina. But safe spaces are far and few in between. Seldom are marginalized people allowed to heal, to survive, to bloom.

Honoring the past while continuing into the future we wish to create calls for patience and self-love. Pack light, and carry only what you need: there is no one way to engage with this space: shoes on or off, read the whole poem or a few lines, sit or stand. Root into yourself and allow for growth.  

– Elizabeth Rosa Houck                           


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From Under the Magnolia

From under the magnolia’s dark green leaves, 
I saw Her. For the first time I recognized a face
Of someone who wasn’t familiar; I was
Comforted by a stranger. She showed me
A vision that would one day become mine.
I was 5; She was ageless.
We danced and told secrets and
I walked along her roots
Until the street lights came on.
Then I’d be gone, only to return to her
Branches’ embrace, coming to know her divine face
Day after day. Like it was my own. She told me that I
Was a warrior; She told me that I
Would never be alone; that my roots would always
Guide me home; that my mind contained
Knowledge that I didn’t yet know; that through me
Healing love and creation could flow, in and out. 
I didn’t know what it meant, but I knew She meant well.
I didn’t see her for many years. Until:
After 17 rotations of the sun, after thinking
All I was was said and done, She returned to me
In a dream. I was
Down and out, seeping self-doubt.
I looked upon Her face but saw my own:
She said to me
“Come in through the leaves. Sit at my roots.
Look at me: look at my blooming flowers that will soon wither;
Look at my deep, entangling roots, that have held on for many storms;
Look at my leaves, evergreen, but always growing.
I am proof things remain but there is no way that
You will stay the same. You will yield to change.
To feel joy amid all the strange
Is a feeling you cannot feign,
A feeling foreign to your brain
There is no way it will sustain. But, find peace
Knowing that your soul’s moonlight won’t cease
As the same light was never extinguished in
All those who came before you:
Your magic is ancient. Your roots are deeper than
Any pain you may be feeling now. You carry within you
A potent medicine, passed down to your in your life’s blood,
From mothers, midwives, magicians, mighty warriors
Who bore you, who birthed the essence of who you are,
And are becoming yet.
Like you, I, too, was once a sapling, just beginning to feel
Our great mother’s earth, not yet knowing what it could offer.
She ensured my growth was not stunted; that I was not lost in the forest. 
For every snap of a branch, there have been ten more that grew; 
For every season I went without, my blooms doubled the next. 
It is not in your mind’s eye now, but it will be: 
The day when you come to know Her as you know me,
The day you fuse your old and current selves, to meet
Who you will become:
The past, present, and future selves as one
Fluid transition to your newfound position
Giving recognition to all parts: those without and within
To strive, to seek, to dream
May you never lose steam
To achieve, to fight for what you believe
To pursue all things with hope, all things
With love, in service to below and above. 
Illuminating dark spaces, to seek familiar faces
In unlikely places and cherish the embraces
That you may never feel again.” 
And She is gone. The coolness of the air, not Her branches,
Wraps around my shoulders
Much of what surrounds me serves only as a placeholder
For the connection that yields direction.
The signs and prayers could all just be deception
But is believing in something not better than despair?
It’s a game of Lotería, but it keeps matters fair
But magic and all is coming, with no shortage in sight
And I can change the course of fate if I will it.
Still, for now, the Fool’s fortune is greater than my own
What power can I possible conjure when I’m all alone?
I am left with only my intuition and sheer volition
That’s wearing thin, but I’ll search for more within
Even if nothing is revealed, even to examine my scope of field
It may yet yield all which is past and now healed.
I remember the pact we made when I was five, 
But, oh, how much harder it is now to keep hope alive.
I’ll continue to dream
even when I’ve lost all steam,
even when the light narrows to a single beam.
I’ll continue to hope
even when the Universe says nope,
even when I’m seeing only a limited scope.
I’ll continue to pray
even if I don’t know if I’ll see another day,
even when the response is after much delay.
I’ll continue to dance
even if I’m not granted a deserved chance,
even if my moment’s magic fails to entrance.
I’ll continue to create
even if I share my art too late,
even if my efforts are met with hate.
Magnolia’s gaze reminds me of my earth’s view
This vantage point above it all
But keeping close to those I’ll care for
Nurturing with compassion and intuition,
Healing by soft light and compassion,
Providing others with gentle protection,
Remembering my ancestors’ loving lesson,
Of rooting, and growing, from deeper within.

Come in through my leaves. 
Sit at my roots.