Monthly Archives: May 2014

Rite of Passage

Every cell within me comes alive, I am,
With nothing left to grasp but the truth I find inside, I am.

I feel, I act, I let go, entrust my life, I am,
Familiar faces are those of strangers in this long enduring night, I am.

In joy and pain I cry, I am,
I face my fears stained red with blood, yet never have I been alone, I am.

Three times I walk the circle of the ancient ones and the fires in my eyes still burn, I am,
Somberly I journey to the center, to meet the maiden, mother, crone, I am.

As fragile as a child, led in darkness hand in hand, I am,
All around me fierce and wild, before the Rífhéinní and the sidhe, I am.

Ignoring such as fear, for rooted tall and surely here, I am,
I do not move or cast my eyes away, intrepid though not entirely prepared, I am.

The kinship of Brighid’s household, dare I seek to claim, I am
To face the Cailleach under Nuada’s watchful eye,I am.

In the world beyond the world, I forge the measure of my name, I am,
As from the depths of me begins to rise a strength I never knew was mine, I am.

I, who pass the trials of the sidhe, I am,
Held within the mystery of land and sky and sea, I am.

Awaking deeply moved, brightly shining, I am
Overwhelmed, in gratitude to those who sought to my becoming, I am.

Full of awe and wonder at the dawning of the day, I am,
And for all I’ve ever been, I will never be the same. I am.

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The Hunger Years

I remember your thin and hollow faces,
And the eyes that stared unfocussed from them,
And how you tried laughing but only cried.

I remember how you buried children in tiny indentations in the rocks,
Because all the furrows on your land
Were already lined with bodies,
Planted as lovingly as seeds.

I remember the trees’ sorrow when you were beneath them, not around them,
I remember the gravely paper-thin hands
That kept moving, long after no one was growing old.

I remember the sand that fell through fingers like displaced tears,
As you held tenuously onto life,
Grasping at earth and sky.

There were loud time gongs everywhere:
Church bells that rang out through empty spaces,
Tolling death through thickly crowded silences.

The living had no use for words,
Merely kept each other close,
Haunting their own hearths that had gone vacant, cold.

I remember that what kept breathing was the water and the stones.
Conversations hushed, so as to not wake the dead.
Conversations hushed, as to not exhaust the living.

I remember how a day felt like a lifetime,
How you won more time over and over,
I remember when freedom lost it’s meaning,
I remember how existence became an agony.

And yet you still moved, and you would die trying,
And the end would find you scrambling
For that one thing that might sustain you.

I remember how you starved for life,
While so many others hungered for greed.
And how they envied you, secretly,
Those whose souls mirrored your emaciated bodies.

I remember how you stood on your feet for hours
In the streets gaunt and raw,
Tattered clothing, stomachs distended and hollow,

A smolder of the light that lived inside you.
And when time ran out, how you dissipated on the wind,
Joining with the many whispering voices.

I remember the rhythmic throbbing of leaving,
Ebbing and flowing like waves crashing
Over the sands pale white with their grieving

I remember the colors of sadness atop the flagpoles.
I remember the shape of dreams as they hovered on horizons,
Like the ghostly hulls of ships in the fog:
The last withering hope to be taken to a new world.

Unsure of where I stand,
Disconnected, but one and the same,
How long would it take to be counted among everyone?
How long would it take to count everyone?

Living takes time, it’s opposite does not,
And I realize we are as fragile as snowflakes.
Lost in what has been and what might be,

I remember as time stands still.
I was not there.

Waking From The Dream

An old, dream-man sits on a gnarled tree stump,
Crumbling and full of bugs.
Death hovers red and shimmering at the rim,
For him, on the brink of living.

The hands of the dream-man lie folded across his chest,
Chiseled and raw like driftwood.
What meanings do the carved hands have,
Now that others occupy the dwelling they protected?

I stamp my feet and shout at him,
Wildly I gesture, get up, I cry.
The dream-man snores on, oblivious to my hollering,
And to the mosquitoes that land on him, eating him alive.

This affront to age, the young standing awake, the old decaying in sleep,
I wonder how long I must keep screaming
Before I not only hear my words,
But listen to them, recognize the voice that commands them as mine.

What happened to Afagddu,
After receiving neither beauty nor wisdom?
Did he slump against a cobwebbed stump,
Indifferent to the slashing wind, the crawling things?

Did he then marvel at his skin,
Suddenly seeing the darkness for the cocoon it was,
And how it was breaking open, crumbling away,
And how the unraveled and undone, give way to wings unfolding,

For the soul-creature, captured and changing within
To fly free of his aching, twisted, slumbering body?
Lifted by that ancient longing,
A homecoming which yet had only come to him in dreams.

I live, one breathless briefest moment,
Sandwiched between the book ends of becoming and leaving,
Between those vast emptinesses haunting me with the mystery of my origin,
The destination shrouded in mist, my eternal address of nowhere.

The dream-man fades into the past,
And I have no more patience for sleep.
, there is no place in which to house,
Much less contain the kinetics of change.

That which once calmed me,
Only leaves me wary and watchful,
And each day, burning within the fierce fire, carving
The path of the present, I rise.

There is no amount of warning
That could stir whoever refuses to wake up,
I am rooted in the earth,
Leaping into the light streaming morning.

Open your eyes, we are alive.
Open your eyes.
We are
Alive.

3: The Naming Ceremony _ Song of Sun and Sea

Bean sang quietly to herself, combing her sleek fur, and dawning her overcoat of brightly colored shells and sand dollars. From time to time she glanced above her head. The day had dawned early, and already soft threads of golden hue shown bright and clear, tangling into strange and familiar shapes before her eyes. A cormorant cried overhead, and the wind gusted across the open sea, leaving waves and ripples in it’s wake. Wind rattled the sea reeds that sheltered Bean and her family, and the young selkie’s song began to take on the rhythm of plant and wind and wave.

As the sun began it’s diurnal climb of the sky, joy filled Bean’s heart, for today she would be attending her first naming ceremony. Aisling, who so recently welcomed her first child into the world, had glowed with pride as she made the announcement of the Naming Day to her clan. And now that day had come.

“Are you ready to go, Bean?” her mother, Iona, called as she finished her delicious breakfast of shellfish. “You are in need of food, and I have yet to see your face in the kitchen! Hurry, or you will hunger.”

With a jolt, Bean came out of her reflections and finished the task of rendering herself presentable with swift efficiency. Her mother would have saved some shellfish for her, and she would see to it that today would not be the first to miss such a delicacy. “Beidh mé ansin anois díreach! I’ll be there right away!” She hollered back, gliding a moment later into the reedy cove where she and her family often made a meal. The long stringy kelp shielded the family from the eyes of sharks, as well as bears and people, who might seek harm on them.

Iona wondered to herself whether now would be the time to tell her daughter of the elders’ decision as they had a moment alone. Arán, Bean’s father, had decided to travel ahead for there was opportunity then to speak with one of his closest friends—an opportunity that did not arise as often as wished. Alone with her daughter now, however, Iona could not coax the shy and difficult words she wished to say into streams of coherent thoughts, let alone into the more structured permanence of speech. Besides, she mused, Bean looked so beautiful and radiant, the light dancing in her eyes betraying her excitement, as she moved gracefully with the transient playfulness of a child. Eithne’s pronouncement would have to wait, and this seemed well enough, as the telling of it would be apt to weigh down the heart of the girl just as it had her own.

Instead, mother and daughter laughed and spoke aimiably as they made their way to the Naming, finding friends to travel with along the way. A new child was a gift and an honor, no matter whose child, no matter if it was a selkie’s first or fifth. On this spring day, with the sea gulls soaring above them and endless depths of water beneath them, there could be no thoughts of grave and weary things. All such had flown with the dawn, and the song of sea and sky effortlessly pervaded all spaces so that sorrow’s shadow could not linger, and any anticipation was purely the possession of that poignant possibility of life anew which a newborn brings with her into the world.

And so it was, that the friendly group chattered and laughed among themselves, speaking of their own children’s namings and that bone deep validation that came from hearing the name of their child spoken aloud in a chorus of welcome. And it was in coming up to the gathering at last, that all laughter halted at once.

A cold clamby grief was settling on the gathered selkies, as if rain clouds were plucked from the sky and dropped without care on top of them each, so that their tails drooped and their fur flattened dully and covered itself in meaningless grey, the kind that is empty and hollow and too depleted to keep up any appearance of lustre. And it was clear to Bean and her companions that something was dreadfully wrong, for where the child should have nestled itself within the special bed of water reeds the women had all prepared for it, there the emptiness lay the heaviest. The child was not there.

Distressed, Bean tugged on her mother’s flipper. “What is wrong, ma?” she whispered in earnest.

“I do not ken,” her mother answered, unable to hide the fear encroaching on her voice, “But hush now, we shall hear from the elders soon enough.” Yet even as she spoke to soothe her daughter, Iona could not quell the unease steeling over her. Whether the elders would decide to proclaim the truth about the whereabouts of the child, Iona knew not. She knew enough to trust that whatever the elders said would be best for the clan, but also knew well enough that veracity did not always coincide with what is best.

Anois, fan go fóil agus ná bac leis, mo leanbh, now wait yet a moment and do not worry my child, for Bean kept the truth higher than all things, including the pronouncements of elders, and children have a way of picking out a falsehood which many older folk have lost throughout in their growing and becoming. So it was that when stillness crept over the crowd like a fierce and fecund fog, and the elders announced that the selkie child was dead, a sharp chill ran through young Bean’s body and she realized she had not believed a word of it. Why she did not, she could not say, but that the elders lied she had no doubt, and she began to wonder what to do with this disturbing realization.

As it happened, ó am go ham, from time to time, Bean was not always out playing with the other children, without care and concern, wiling away her childhood in laughter and games. Sometimes she was found off by herself, brooding and staring off into the distance, and would not break her reverie until someone, usually her mother, shouted her name at least five times. No one guessed her thoughts, but they were in fact of the distance quite literally. For Bean remembered infant children who everyone else seemed to have forgotten, who had inexplicably vanished, whose names were never spoken again. Sometimes the same mysterious fate would befall an older child, and it would be said that the sharks had their way with the unfortunate little one. Bean had tucked these observations away and kept them a secret, for surely to speak of them would greatly displease her family, not to mention the elders who would see to her punishment for her questioning of their judgments.

Anois, now, Bean stared blankly at the empty bed of water reeds and the even emptier stretch of water beside it where the child’s mother would have swum. Strange, Bean thought suddenly, that the mother of the child is not here to announce the child’s death herself. It was an honor, albeit a bitter one, to allow a mother the last words for her babe who never made it to a naming. Had the elders forgotten this custom in their own sadness and pain? Bean thought not. Then why was the mother not there with the clan… unless…

“Ma?” Bean asked, her voice shaking with the horror of the question she was about to ask, “Why can we never speak of the edge? Where is Aisling? What if…”

Bean’s mother splashed the surface of the water so hard that it made the child flinch and hastily swim a bit out of distance. “Dún a bhéal agus bí ciúin! An gcloiseann tusa?” she roared in a whisper. “Shut your mouth, and be quiet, you hear? If I ever hear you say such a thing again!”

Bean lingered stunned in the water near the outer circle of the gathered selkies for a moment, terrified to disobey her mother and pay the penalty, and terrified to stay where she was and wonder, always wonder, at the pieces of what happened that did not fit together, at what really happened and whether there was still time. The clan was taught that nothing left the mainstream alive, that monsters lurked across the current, that no one should ever go to or speak of the edge accept for in prophecies. But what of the missing children? What of Aisling’s unnamed child? For an undead child who could not receive a naming, if such was possible, would be given a fate worse than death. Bean could not bear the thought of doing nothing at all, not with stakes being as high as they were, if there were any hope yet having, that the child might be recovered to her family.

What Bean did next would change her life, and the lives of her clan, forever. She surfaced to take a deep breath, closed up her ears and nose to keep out the sea, and dove out of site. She would not surface again until she came to the edge.

For She Who Is

for now I climb out of the river
Onto a sunny rock,

And watch the light play, a golden echo
Sketched across my face.

There is a place for silence here,
Where motion is a small coming and going,

And all that can be heard is the drip of sunlight,
Drops of water tumbling off wet hair,

The simple, almost imperceptible sigh of the earth exhaling,
The stretching of a budding flower,

My own rhythm beneath fragile bones
All this is the music of my love.

Still the thoughts that chatter like incessant insects in my head,
Take me to where change remains a constant, wash these grey stones clean

She says to wait, to hush, to listen,
To receive, just let go.

She folds me in her arms as wide as sky,
She Who Is, with silver hair and purple eyes.

Voices From Cnoc Alúine

Caoilte

I will raise mountains to the sky
I will cover Islands with the sea
And I will gather broken things
And weave them quietly through dreams.

I will sing forgotten songs
And lift my voice, though none join in
And I will come by wind and rain
To see the lost live once again.

Ailbhe

Who will count the landscape’s scars
The path is red, blood of old stones
Shards of time, earth mother’s bones:
Once more found, are we never alone.

I

I will journey on the seven tides
To find the reason for your cries,
And I will sit in surrender to
The sadness welling up in you.

For you who are so very dear,
I will hold the far more near
And shed a single, weary tear
For all the dreams that flew from here.

Oisin

The great conversation is not halted
By the sun burnt desires of the taking
I am here in all that is,
What lies broken, all awaking

Do not cast a cry from the tallest trees
For what was never meant to last
Has not future met it’s origin
Has not the child come home again,

Striving for beyond,
And held the strands of the pattern in weaving between her fingers,
To become the song of sunbeams whose streaming laughter lingers?

In your hand you hold the vast and through it learn to soar,
Patiently within you, for child, it is yours.
There is no turning back, only turning, earth and seasons turning,
A time for growing and relearning.

Time to realize we’re all some mother’s child,
Time to honor and continue to rekindle
The wild look in your eyes,
And the color of belonging, green and blue and wise.

Did you really think there would be a single one
Who would not make it to the other side?
Change, the knot
That cannot be undone, it lies

Between our orchestra of longing,
And the whole with fractured facets rearranging.
And among chords played, between silences, we fly,
Letting go of all that’s left behind.

Life shimmers like a firefly’s light,
Transient and tenaciously, we dance what’s yours and mine.
Life leaps in joy and wonder into everything,
Glowing then for all it finds.

Life strikes out in frenzy through forever,
And for that, ever, ever shine.

*This is in response to my friend Ali Isaac’s post, “Almu, The Home of Irish Hero Fionn mac Cumhall,” which you can read here: http://aliisaacstoryteller.com/2014/05/15/almu-the-home-of-irish-hero-fionn-mac-cumhall/.

As You Have Whispered the Memories of Ages

The central fire blazes still
With long charred sticks, we eat our fill
Our forest home awash in light
Hemmed in by the black of night

A singer and a song in weaving
Crickets listen, make no sound
I watch the shapes of flames in leaping
An abandoned board game on the ground

Two run off into the green
Two dream beneath a bracken bush
Another sleeps against a log
As singing intertwines with song

A clearing in the old wise trees
A place that now you’ll never find
I see as if it were yesterday
These were my own, this place was mine

We leave the rocks, a ring of coals
We gather up our sleeping rolls
We call the dogs, the hunt unfolds
Vivid shadows from such days of old

We sing the sunrise when we wake
Two brave the stream, jump off a rock
One stands beneath the arch stone gate
To ask a sign for trails sought

Several run to scout ahead
One recites the deeds of friends
Beside them I do all I can
And hum the hymn of sea and land

I breathe in vast and endless sky
The rolling hills so far away
I track the ground with well-trained eye
And wonder what the sky larks say

Pristine and full of mystery
The land yet scarred by history
Above me only stars
Around me everything is ours

In awe of how I’ve lived this long
In twilight now the new day spun
The birds go quietly to rest
To rest we sing the sunlight down

By the playful flames that warm us
Oh we the wanderers all
Without somewhere to call our own
Yet unquestioningly we belong

The fire bright we circle ‘round
The wild boar is cooking now
We thank the shining ones, this life for life
That we might live, another night

I can almost hear the curlew’s cry
And the many voices of our family
We pass around a mug of beer
And thank the gods that we are here

Tell me what else can I say
I see as if it was yesterday
Faces etched in fire’s glow
If I was there, I’ll never know

Walking the Labyrinth

I, born from the clay and carving rivers,
The star leaf and the seed,
I have seen spirit in motion, felt the breath of fire,
And known the sacredness of a smile.

I, deer’s child, wolf woman,
I have heard the world howling with abandon,
It’s body torn apart, great tapestries unwoven.

The landscape, like a weary heart, broke open,
And out of these crumbled, withered lands I have awoken,
And said the words too long unspoken.

The sweat of everyday living,
Glistens like fairy dust upon my skin.
And in this way I began,
And in this way I begin

To rebecome, transform, retrieve
The unkempt dreams I find within,
The heartbeat of the world I’m in.

Here fear no longer dries the rains,
All that impedes me is gone,
Who I am, unwilling to never make a sound:
My cries rebound across these hills.

Led toward center along a spiral way,
I am learning, reaching out to you,
Every twist and turn, the uncertainty of growing
Those living here before us whisper on the wind.

Spirits of this place who knew to balance, how to be,
Who are we, stranded on the web of life, to work our will?
Here as we are, in this moment of peace when, breathlessly,
Land stirs to hush, lies still.

When she was born, Bean Alainn was indeed a beautiful girl. Her seal fur was softer than that of her siblings. It glowed slightly, almost as if it were being lit from inside out, especially when rays of light from above burst apart like shooting stars in streams of greens and golds. Her beauty far surpassed outward loveliness, however. For Bean’s eyes were like harbors, pooling calmly and quietly into deep fathomless blue: eyes that at once contained compassion and elicited awe. For to look into them was to not only be well met, but to be suddenly immersed in something indisputably beyond your ken, and yet discover that far from losing yourself in that vastness, you would instead recognize yourself reflected there. I met Bean Alainn myself only on several unforgettable occasions before life flew from her, and I have never forgotten those eyes and how it was her very soul that looked out from them and somehow always sought and found my own.

Anois, now, there is yet one further thing to be said about Bean’s birth. For though Bean was páiste beag, just a wee child, her soul had in fact lived a very long time. Bean’s soul had traveled at least three life circles between this world and the next before arriving here, or at least, that is what the druids told Bean’s parents upon her birth. For even the seal folk have their keepers of the wise who know the patterns of the stars and can sing of the loom on which new life is spun and how, among it’s threads of many colors, the strand of fate is woven throughout. And this is what the keepers of the wise said, that Bean Alainn’s soul was very old indeed, and that upon her lay the fate of three worlds, and no matter how carefully she chose her actions, she would bring much joy to some, and much sorrow to others.

And so Bean’s parents kept this knowledge to themselves, and neither to any kin nor even to Bean herself would they speak of it. The druids’ pronouncements were not ordinary, and they feared their daughter might be found to be displeasing and destructive to their underwater world and be sent to the edge. So they brought Bean up as ordinarily and uneventfully as possible.

Young Bean grew strong and well alongside her many brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, parents and friends. She ate with them, sang with them, and laughed with them. She learned to count by sifting grains of sand, and learned the names of the stars by how their figures appeared on the surface of the water. She learned how to stay out of reach of sharks and fishing boats, how to hunt for fish, how to swim gracefully, and how to put a mist on the sea that would muffle the selkies’ voices so human beings would not realize that they often spoke to one another.

She and her siblings would often watch from some distance as their mother would dance out on the rocks and sand bars at midnight with the other women of the clan. The ability to shed a seal skin and take human form did not appear until selkie children came of age. Boys and girls alike grew into their power as shape shifters, but it was quite rare for the men among the selkies to come to land. Roomer had it that a selkie father and his son were killed in a hunt off the place the humans called Sule Skerry, and that had the father not come to land to fetch his son himself, such ill fortune would have not befallen them. So it was that the only men who ventured onto land were childless and had few immediate kin, and they were pitied by the rest.

By the time Bean was six summers old, she had won a reputation for herself despite her parents’ intention that, other than her stunning beauty, she be plain and unremarkable. Anois, now, selkie children learn their people’s sacred songs from the day they can speak, and to a human person even the most unskilled singer among the selkies would take your breath away. All selkies have haunting voices that make the human heart ache for a home it cannot name until a person is filled with such longing that her dreams are of nothing but sliding silently beneath salty spray and frothy foam, yearning after some lost and forgotten island mirrored beneath wave and sea. But it became apparent quite early on that Bean would be one of the greatest bards within many generations. When Bean sang, the very rocks of the land heard her song, and the mountains echoed her high clear tones so that stopping in a field, a person might turn her head and wonder at the voice reverberating upon the wind. When Bean sang the waves grew quiet and still, and trees bent to catch her words, letting them linger for a moment in their leafy hands. When Bean sang, birds cried overhead circling and calling to her, until she could imagine the current of a river and the silent authority of a forest.

Anois feiceann tú mo leanbh, now you see, my child, the elders had never forgotten the words of the druids, and so they took notice as elders should. And it was decided, as often these things are without the person present, that Bean Álainn ought to learn the ways of the clan early, for the knowledge holders had come to the elders saying, “This girl will be among those from whom we will one day choose a new leader, and it is fitting for such children to begin training early so that when the time comes, their responsibility will not weigh so heavily upon them.”

So it was that when the girl reached her seventh summer, Eithne, a well respected elder, sought the child’s parents and instructed them to take Bean and come with her to the next council which was held after every third rising of the moon.

The Old Woman _ Spring 2013

She took my hands between her own
Herself of the mists and shadows,
I might never have noticed her

But the earnestness in those sea eyes,
They held mine–
I could not look away.

I will see you again, barely whispered within me–
And yes, I recognized her, Old and weathered,
A tree that has seen much,
Survived great things.

She was not a child, barely five feet tall.
Yes, I knew her—
Before I was born here again, I knew her.

The predawn finds me
Within the restless wakefulness of a night watcher
startled to have entered a vigil
I am unaware of ever keeping.

I compel myself to silence,
An endless stream of faces, lines etched in skin–
Because of how many losses do I exist?

The question’s afraid to be asked.
Awe and terror of it leaves me instinctively shrinking,
And I curl up under the covers, sobbing like a child against
The truth of things, it shatters into broken glass,

Shards of myself piercing through the hard outer shell
Piece by piece, I am wounded for it:
For gathering what lies broken and undone,
Deserves to come back whole.

This grief for what I never knew I lost:
How many memories will pull me out of sleep,
Drag me into themselves
As if I have become a prisoner of mirrors?

I took her hands in mine,
She is my great grandmother, my daughter,
And so I am haunted by what is.

Gone, all of them gone now,
But not from the marrow of my dreams
That ebb and flow, of places I’ve never seen,
Tides I’ve never known.

I’ll see you again, she said,
I uncoil my fragile body, exhausted with trembling,
Peal the blanket away from my eyes
And I am not alone.

Who are you?
Lingering where questions lie unanswered,
Breathing in silence, together.