Sadhbh Speaks

Golden tresses spill, a cascade of sun-soaked tears,
And you await homecoming, forever at the threshold of the world.
In the song of silent empty hands, you grieve alone.

The waterfall roars your screams from world to world,
A thousand tumbled beads still rippling with the shimmers of last light’s touch,
Golden tresses spilling a cascade of sun-soaked tears.

I wept such tears once, as the eagle flew far beyond the sky,
Before shadows eclipsed an abandoned sun, or my screams died in singing silence.
If only I’d awaited homecoming, forever at the threshold of the world.

Dear hearth-daughter I never knew, we keen for our deer ones the same.
If you turned just once to look behind you, would you know me by my sad doe eyes?
Your family aches to fill your empty hands with love. There is no need to grieve alone.

***

Photo from Jane Dougherty’s now quite past poetry challenge from way back on the first of June. Check out her blog and all the entries which made it both on time and in the official round-up, Silent Cascade Poetry Entries. We were supposed to use the above poetry form and the words cascade, eagle, tresses, abandon, and rippling. This poem has been in my head in several different versions for the past two weeks but I have fallen seriously behind in all things blogospheric (yes, that’s a real word … starting now!) I’ll keep attempting to catch up again.

The Gifts of Grieving

At the center of each of us
A deep pool glistens
A well of tears
Fed from rivers of remembering

Here, exhausted hearts stop to rest
To spill the growing grief of moonless tides
Gently, waves wash gnarled bent hands
And the gaunt faces of mothers with stillborn dreams

Sorrow of sisters who could not tell their stories
Weary weeping borne with the nameless burdens
No time to reflect, slow down and ask questions
No time to repair all that’s worn through and ragged

Sunlight slowly smooths the surface
And the fog of forgetting retreats
Peaceful honesty, soft touch of gold hues
Soothes the swirling swells to calm

And from the vivid depths of human losses
I witness myriads of mirrored faces
See myself reflected in them all
As have millions of eyes before mine

Eyes that have watched deserts
Being formed from women and children
Singed with the screaming
Sparks of raw hatred

Eyes that closed yearning
For the warm welcome of family
In between long hours
The endless hunger of the red-splashed anger

We cannot evaporate the charred scars of our choices
Some tracks of tears weren’t meant to be dried
Healing hides in this quiet reservoir of keening
I will tend it tenderly with salty rain

The Experience of Exclusion: Incorporeal Embodiment

I am a ghost, but have not died
I walk among the living unseen
Apart from the occasional, startled stare
Everyone else looks quickly away

I am a ghost, but have not died
I speak, though I’ve rarely been allowed a voice
It is easier to dismiss some body different from yours
More comfortable to cut me out of conversation than to answer me

I am a ghost, but have not died
My presence alone has sometimes invoked fear
In the mirror of my sightless eyes, you see your vulnerability reflected
And the truth about mortality, long rejected, haunts you

I am a ghost who has not died
The undead vampire taking resources from the able and the strong
A zombie who cannot belong, with whom you need not empathize
I shoulder shadows, bear the burdens outcast from the light

I am a ghost, though I have yet to die
Invisible to most, but not to some
My heartbeat the same in everyone
I long, I love, I ache, I cry

I am a ghost, a human born to die
And in that we aren’t much different, you and I

Keys to the Forgotten Song #writephoto

In the beginning the keys were known. Their place and purpose was common knowledge. They were discussed in passing as we might talk about the weather, the planning of meals, or the news. The keys made life what it was: they unlocked the people’s joys and sorrows, they opened new spaces within which to begin, become and belong. They gave them access to adventure, growth, grieving and love, finding and leaving, succeeding and failing, wanting and being enough.
The keys kept the song of the world in tune, according each the measure of who they were, each knowing the reasons for the bars in the way, each aware of the immense value of the rests and how the melody could not proceed where silence was not allowed.

And then, gradually, the keys were forgotten, lost. No one could say what or where they were. No children were taught their purpose and meaning. No elders wove stories of love and belonging, grief and mending. Soon enough, such neglect took its toll.

First, the threads, soft strings that kept the world in tune, in resonant resilience, began to unravel. For the most part this unraveling went unnoticed. Only the composers among the people, trained to listen deeply to the ever present song, heard the dissolution into discord. They would often give voice to the unstable harmonies, the discordant measures, trying desperately to change the way notes were conducted over and over again long after their time had passed. Most of their warnings fell on deaf ears. Sometimes people merely increased the volume of their own individual melodies in order to drown everything else out; sometimes the composers new and disturbing melodies would abruptly be brought to an end. These latter reactions made the music of the world more and more unbearable. The strings screeched and snagged, scratched and snapped. And this calamitous clamor only amplified, increasing in tempo and pitch.

People grew frantic and desperate. They no longer could remember what the song was for, or why it existed at all. In their forgetting, they began to no longer value individual melodies. In the forgetting, they lost their threads of their stories. In their forgetting, they no longer understood the necessity of rests, that music needed not only sound but its absence to survive.

So the people found it normal to insist that the best melodies were those which never had pauses, but went on and on without ceasing. They invented ways to play ever longer series of notes without ceasing. One of the fastest ways to do this was to play the same notes over and over again without ceasing. Eventually, generations of people never rested, but lived and died without ceasing, in ignorance of the sound of silence.

Finally the time came when this arrangement was no longer a sustainable option for anyone. The din was chaotic, catastrophically cacophonous. No one wanted to part with their many unmusical creations which they valued so dearly. And so it was decided that the song should be shut away. For so long the people had shut out the silence, confining it to emptiness the way one might drive light into its shadow. In a strange twist of fate, the land ceased its singing, and the shadow was all that remained.

The people needed a way to contain such a vastly woven web of song which for so long had throbbed at the center of life like the heart and soul of the world. At once the greatest engineers of the land held a great convention at which it was decided that they should forge an iron chest and that the song should be confined to it, instead of being allowed as it was to flow and flood everyone and everything, sending as it did so the pulse of itself everywhere.

The task was undertaken immediately, and people were congratulated on how much progress they made as they worked ceaselessly to finish, day and night. At its completion, they poured the song inside, slamming the heavy lid to seal it in with a clang. It is said that, though many lost their lives in the chest’s creation, once it had been buried no one could remember how to cry for their lost ones. They did not even know how to speak to one another. Now, even the song is lost, hidden in the land where it awaits the time when once again it is set free to restore balance to the earth and soften the hardened and harsh hearts of humankind.

I don’t know why I was the one to discover the chest these centuries later, its hinges twisted and rusted with time, its three locks mocking and massive, its contents as mysterious as the legend left to us in our fading memory.

Perhaps, as I have been told I came from a line of composers, I was simply blessed with the fortune: whether good or ill I cannot yet say. All I know is the all-consuming search for the keys. All I have to follow is this single stray note according to which I can discover them. It reads: “Compassion, Gentleness, Division: at their beginning, these words hold the keys. For these are all that is needed to set singing a changing, growing, turning world. Each breaks the heavy heart of silence. Each turns a lock in the chest. When each is placed where it belongs and all three are held equally together, the song will return.”

The first part is easy enough to figure out. The beginning letters of the words are C, G, and D. But as to how and in what way these could be keys, I cannot say. Perhaps you remember?

In response to Sue’s photo prompt, The Chest.

Flash Fiction: Bear Necessities

Colby groggily stretched his stiff arms and legs while simultaneously yawning hugely. Yikes, he was sore. He felt some bones creek and pop as they grew accustomed to the rather novel concept of motion.

How long had he been sleeping? It felt to him as though an entire age had gone by. His body ached as if he had been sprawled out over sharp rocks and hardpacked dirt for some time. His mouth was disturbingly parched and his eyes felt funny: scratchy and unnaturally heavy. Still lethargic, he decided to keep them closed for now. At least he wasn’t cold, he mused. That fur coat mysteriously wrapped around him was remarkably helpful in that regard…

Colby drifted off again for a brief moment which was rudely cut short by a fierce itch on his nose. He was just about to scratch it when a low rumbling noise startled him completely awake. For a few tense minutes he lay perfectly still, listening. He could hear nothing but a faint drip, drip, drip of water somewhere in the distance. Finally the rumbling noise came again and Colby recognized it for what it was: his growling stomach. He was ravenous. How long had it been since he had eaten? He tried to recall…

Slowly a scene came to mind of a dark snowy day in the Sierras. He had gone camping with some of his friends. They had been looking up at the constellations and one of his friends had pointed and said, “That one is Ursus Major, the bear. Many ancient cultures used to revere bears as the incarnation of the divine feminine and would celebrate the bears return from hibernation as a sign that they would be nourished with the abundance of life needed to survive. The bears taught such people the importance of balance, between activity and receptivity, hibernation and harvest, the more masculine way of doing and the more feminine way of being.”

“That’s fascinating,” Colby had replied with a sincerity that surprised him. After that, he had felt unbearably ill, and after that…After that, memory became unsettlingly fuzzy…

A chill ran down Colby’s spine. His brain was trying to make a connection that he was finding increasingly alarming. The hard ground, the steady drip of water, the furry coat… that was it. Fuzzy. Furry and fuzzy and fuzzy? Fuzzy? He was fuzzy! Colby opened his eyes and stared at the appendage that had absently moved into the vicinity of his itchy nose. With increasing terror, he counted five gleaming claws attached to padded toes which extended out of a very furry paw. As the paw slowly settled itself back onto the unforgiving ground, fear turned to horror. The paw was attached to him. What in the final recollections of his immediate past had been a human arm and hand were now a hefty bear’s limb. What on earth…

With a shutter, Colby forced himself to lumber to his feet. It was bizarre to suddenly be a quadruped – for one thing he was already missing his opposable thumbs. For another, his eyes did not register his world the way his human eyes had,. In his defense it was dark, very very dark. Where was he? Certainly not in his apartment bedroom in San Francisco, California, that was for sure. There was no sign of civilization, let alone a bed, his clothes, or any human belongings. No signs of his friends or the camp, either.

Colby tried to frown, but merely grunted with the effort of forcing his face into an expression that was apparently not typical of bears. A cave? Could he really be in a cave? As if in mocking answer, a cool musty draft wafted past him from a chink in a nearby rock. Winter, bears, cave … no! Colby froze. He couldn’t believe it. It couldn’t be, could it? The claws on his left paw tapped the ground anxiously.

Humans don’t do this, he thought furiously. Human beings don’t suddenly turn into bears who find themselves coming out of hibernation. What kind of nightmare was this?

Soon, he told himself, soon I’ll be back in my sleeping bag greeting the day with my friends, laughing and joking with them in relief about what a crazy dream I had the night before. To speed this up, he bit his lower lip, hard. That would do it, he thought, satisfied. But his efforts only resulted in a very painful tear in his lip and quite a bit of blood. No joke, he had teeth!

Seconds later, he was running, awkwardly, as fast as possible toward a small glint of light which he hoped was the entrance to the cave and to freedom. He had suddenly heard the roar of a very angry and hurt bear and it was far too close for comfort. It felt like it was right beside him. He was bolting out into a bright spring morning when it dawned on him that he had been that angry hurt bear roaring his pain at his own self-inflicted bite wound. Tentatively, he stopped and took one last look behind him. As far as his eyes could see and his nose could smell, the cave was empty.

Spring, it was spring. Confused, lost and afraid, Colby marked himself on a nearby tree and went in search of food and water. He had no idea what to do or how he’d gotten into this horrible predicament, but for now he would follow his instincts to secure necessities before engaging in any other rational deliberation. For now he only knew one terrible, gut wrenching fact: this was no dream.

Wordless

I have had little to say
For I cannot both speak
And share these silences
Heavy with honesty

Hidden heartbeats
Leaves uncurling
Reaching hands

I cannot map change onto an undiscovered landscape
Describe time’s tides not yet sailed
Or make verses of untold

Fragile possibilities
Nascent and naked
Stretching soft tendrils
To touch a turning world

I cannot choreograph the wondrous waves
Crashing down croppings of rock
To cradle the clay creature I am

Cascading a cadence, playful and wild
As the wind whips them free
Flying, falling, sea strand and sea
Uncertainty churning the breath of the sky

How it cries aloud what could be my name
And how I am leaping, leaping through
Before I even understand

Breathless and smiling
Swept up, gathered close in
Fierce love, bewildered, untamed

May Day

Beautiful May Day poem by Jane Dougherty. Happy Beltane to everyone.

Jane Dougherty Writes

1024px-Beltane_Bonfire_on_Calton_Hill

Upon the hill a fire burns,

And people feast

The summer in.

Upon the hill the old year turns,

The winter beast

Flees from the din.

Upon the hill is where we learn

The olden ways, and not the least,

The path that’s followed by our kin.

Upon the hill is where I yearn,

To watch the sun rise in the east,

And feel its magic on my skin.

So burn, bright fire, magic blood,

Spill and sow for summer’s good,

And raise the grain, the bloom, the bud.

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Birth Experienced First-Hand

“Do you want to feel a puppy while it is being born?” my dad’s wife asks me as I sit on a small chair against the wall of the now hot and muggy puppy room. She and my step sister are looking after Kate, a yellow lab who is pushing and panting out her fifth and final litter of puppies who will be raised through Canine Companions as service dogs to people with disabilities. It is April 13, an auspicious day for children of any species.

She has already delivered the first three: yellow male, around eight ounces, whose tiny trembling form sends us many times scurrying for hot water bottles to keep him warm; black female, feisty from first breath and a massive thirteen ounce firey bundle of look-out-world; black male coming in to top his precocious sister in weight by a single ounce, whose low plaintive cries make the eldest sound like it belongs to a smaller dog breed. Kate is, at the moment, fulfilling her motherly duty: taking a rest while her babies keen continuously for her attention.

A hands-on birthing experience? I wonder at the idea, realizing that the possibility to have such an opportunity is making me excited and apprehensive all at once. I get very still and consider the question. It sounds amazing, but would Kate mind? How would she feel about that? It is a strange thought to have regarding a dog, I know. I have been noticing lately that I’ve been taking such considerations far too seriously after attending a conference on minimally conscious people and whether they can participate in medical decision making. Of course Kate won’t be phased in the slightest. And unlike a wild dog, she’s even nonchalant about humans moving her babies away from her to a warmer place to help keep them alive and comfortable.

Even so, I find myself inexplicably feeling shy. “I’m not sure,” I say slowly, as relief mixes with a tinge of regret.

“Okay. Let me know if you change your mind.”

All through the birth of pup number 4 I find myself reflecting on the experience I am having already. I am quite moved, and I feel honored to watch. I am astonished by how such a process has gone on since the first instance of life, and yet for me, a single living individual experiencing just one particular life, I have never been present at a birthing before. How strange and beautiful, I think, to witness the transition of a unity, two lives in a single body, into its division of distinct and vibrant creatures– one with eyes watchful of the ways of the world, the other arriving silent and surprised, already implementing instincts to breathe and cry and move.

I try to imagine what it could possibly be like to be squeezed out into a cold, loud, incomprehensible world. I’d cry. I’d sense and feel and feel and feel and there would be nothing else but the moment, no time or ordering, only the now and now of changing feeling — and rising unaware, the impulse to respond. But this is where my imaginative empathy stops. I admit to myself that I really don’t know what it is like. There are people who claim to have memories of their own birth. I am definitely not one of those people.

When pup number 5 is on his way, I decide to change my mind. I simply can’t pass up a chance to be in the middle of things, literally speaking, and really get a feel for what happens (no pun intended.) I am right there with Kate when pup 5 Is born.

Girl helping to deliver a puppy, it's curled up in the sack it is born in.
Éilis delivering pup.

Puppies are born in a little sack, unlike humans. When they first arrive, they are not even breathing. There really is a fetal position, and pup 5 is in it. I help with taking him out of the sack, and hold him as he takes his first breath of life. In that moment, it is my turn to be breathless. Puppies are born blind, and I think deaf as well. His first experience isn’t the sight of his mother, but me holding him in the palm of my hand. For my part, I am in awe of him.

Like usual, when I attempt to say something out loud in response to the experience, my words hardly convey my internal thoughts and feelings. “Does he have any fur?” I am immediately answering myself in my head. Of course he does, he’s a puppy! But in my defense, he really doesn’t feel like he has fur. He is so slick in my hand that his fur feels like skin. It is only when I get to hold him again after he’s dried off that I can feel his short newborn fuzz. His ears are barely distinguishable from his head. His tail appears sort of wilted compared to the full furriness characteristic of labs which it will grow into as he gets older.

Girl sitting next to round tub with yellow lab mother and puppies, holding a tiny newborn.
Éilis holding a puppy seconds after birth.

I hold him a couple minutes longer while he tries with uncoordinated enthusiasm to crawl around in my hands. I lift him up so he’s more level with the tub which will be his home until he’s big and strong enough to climb out of it, and my dad takes pictures.

Close-up of girl holding newborn yellow lab.
Pup number 5, baby boy, in the first few minutes of life.

Afterward, I assume I’ll be giving him to Kate straightaway for tending, but instead we weigh him and put him with the other puppies to stay warm. Kate, it turns out, has one more delivery to go.

Kate's last litter, six healthy pups.
Kate’s last litter, six healthy pups.

The Weary Ones

We Trudge treacherous trails
Rough mountains and the thorny plains of tomorrow
We listen as landscapes keep up their crying
Memorizing wounds and their places

Hot sun rises, leaving burned faces
Here, human hatred, there is no shade
We taste the tears of the left behind
Wander the day, sharp with remembering

Never stop building
The changes we wish for our children
Never stop moving
Toward something, anything good

Again and again feet step around boulders
Hearts heavy with sorrow
We are holding onto the edges of hope
Often simply for balance

The vision blurs
The directions weave in front of drooping eyes
We fall, but do not lie down
We stand, but are never still

Only the steps, one, and the next
Out into a sharp and staggering world
Stumble through actions
Hope the helpful ones take hold

Whatever end you are seeking
You might reach it on the well worn way
Or arrive bedraggled and bruised
Emerging from the path you forged as your own

No time for the tears behind your eyes
No time to fan the flame of anger
Now, and now, but the future is a needy child
It hollers and hungers, feed it all that you have

The Winter Born

Sue’s Snow Stairs Photo

Every night the sisters crept from darkness, their sharp words raking the air like claws. They sang up sneering shadows, their taunting voices, cold as death. Sleepless, we cowered in corners. And then one night, they vanished, a cackling flurry down winding stairs. Their absence was all that remained.

We woke to ice on windows, glass cracking and contracting in wooden frames. Condensation dripped down frosty walls. Frigid air hung heavy … waiting. Furniture loomed slick and sheer, a solid glacial blue. A grating crunch, and we pried the door, running for the stairs … lost under thick drifts of snow.

***

For Sue’s photo prompt, The Stairs.