Tag Archives: landscape

Hill of Tara Part 2 _ Ireland, 2015

“A’Ma,” the old name pierces through the humming of my bones, as if someone were insistently trying to call me back from some precipice of ancient time over which I might slip out of sight. I stand at the back of a group of at least twenty-five tourists, at the summit of the Hill of Tara. The tour guide is speaking about the Tomb of the Hostages, and how archaeologists believe Tara was probably more of a ceremonial site for the inauguration of kings than the actual dwelling place of any of the high kings themselves.

It’s probably rude, but I ignore her. Archaeological theories simply pale in comparison to my own bone-deep knowing of a very different Tara, a place on which an entire king’s fort stood, which could, when necessary, house over a hundred tens of people.

“A’Ma.” Softer now, the voice parts my thoughts, a mind of its own, diffusing some of the memories, and I take notice, finally stirred enough out of my distant reverie to respond. Moved by the old name of endearment, I look to my right, my eyes falling on the only person who ever spoke that name to me when I was alive, 1800 years ago.

“Ailbhe, sister,” I say excitedly, silently, our conversation as it so often does carrying on through thoughts, intention, images, and feelings. I send her the intention full of feeling, “I am so glad you are here to share this experience with me.” And I am very glad indeed. My immediate family simply would not understand why this place holds such meaning to me, and why I feel the way I do, being here.

“Right now you are more Mairin than Éilis,” she observes, glancing at me thoughtfully.

This makes me a bit uncomfortable. Can she see passed my thoughts which contain my words? Does she see that I have been lost in an ancient reflection? How much of that reflection am I prepared to share? For I was taken, suddenly, back into the days when my name was Mairin, when I was a bandraoi who knew the healing powers of herbs, who protected my people against the unseen and could see the light in all living ones. My memories were not so much of events as feelings, and I felt the way Mairin often felt at Tara, uncertain about her legitimacy and own merits to be present at such a kingly place, haunted by the guilt, almost successfully buried, of abandoning her birth family, and terrified of forever being lost behind the shadow of her sister. The awe and wonder at standing in the boundaries of such a sacred place was there; so was the misgivings of a girl, born a middle child, who disappointed her parents for the second time by leaving her family and a life of a land-owner’s daughter to train as a druid.

Our family was a noble one in status, but not in character. I still don’t remember why it was so dysfunctional, but I do know our brothers were highly favored, and we girls were to have children and continue our mother’s line: our response to which, jointly, was to remove ourselves as fast as possible. Ailbhe had been the first to walk away, taking what she could carry and steeling into the night, only nine years of age, to journey here to Tara and try her hand at becoming a banfhénnid, a warrior of the fianna. But at the time I was only just turned seven, and never fully understood the why of my sister’s leaving. It was a terrible loss for me to spend my days without her, and despite myself, I would wonder whether she might have stayed a bit longer, had I been a better sister.

By the time we found each other again, I was a full bandraoi and Ailbhe was the rigbanfhénnid of fian 4, she had a nine of her own. I feared all those years of separation could have been enough to distance us, but the love and loyalty we had toward one another as children did not fade with time. And so I chose to serve her community rather than that of our birth family, who had nothing for us, and those years together at Almu were the happiest in my life. … And yet, I always wondered whether my sister influenced my acceptance, and whether I would have qualified on my own. And so, at Tara, I would spend much time fighting a gnawing insecurity I felt surely druids ought not possess.

I can tell that Ailbhe has seen these thoughts and feelings. For an instant, part of me worries she will judge me for it, but I know her well enough to know better. Instead, she looks me in the eye and says, “I was always so proud to be your sister.”

I shoot her a thought that I am going to get emotional and can’t randomly start crying in the middle of a large tour group. Ailbhe breaks out with a knowing sisterly grin: “But that wouldn’t be so bad for you, come to think of it.” Her smile is full of as much mischief as compassion.

Then I have an idea, only in part formed to change the subject. “Do you want me to aspect you?” I ask. She nods in answer. Aspecting, which is also called trance channeling or just channeling, is when you share space with a person from the spirit world. I move my ego/personality consciousness partly out of the way and Ailbhe fills in the rest of the space, so we’re both sharing the same body. I’m about 1/3 present, and she has the rest of the space. I stop trying to hide any thoughts, When you’re sharing a body with someone, neither you nor the person sharing your space can hide anything. This used to be somewhat alarming to me, but now I greatly value sharing such a profound level of honesty.

As Ailbhe goes about sending me feelings of acceptance to quell the growing emotions gripping me from the memories, she also draws our attention to the tour guide. We listen, I, fascinated, Ailbhe both quizzical and reflective, while the guide starts relaying one of the myriad legends of the fianna associated with Tara.

I convey my excitement to Ailbhe about this. “There are many who still remember you, see, there really are.” My comment is in part made in reference to continuing our conversation from the day before, over the surprising frequency with which “pagan Ireland” seems to be represented in tourist audiovisuals almost exclusively with the mention of Cúchulainn, and no one else.

“It’s one of those stories that is not accurate with events,” Ailbhe remarks in reply, “But she does a good job in the telling of it.”

Then a somber stillness steels over her, and I am flooded with an uncanny mixture of gratitude at what is remembered and grief for an era long passed, the recognition of so many inevitable changes since create an inexplicable kind of longing. “What is it Ailbhe,” I ask, concerned.

“Isn’t it strange,” Ailbhe says then, “That today among the tourists gathered at the seat of the ancient high king stand many of our fianna themselves, and of us I myself am looking out through your eyes, embodied in a way wholly unexpected; and then to hear of my own people, being discussed in passed tense. But we are still here. No one considers that we might be very much present now.”

I briefly imagine the possible look that would cross the tour guide’s face if she somehow gazed out toward the crowd and noticed that many of the ones she was speaking about were also gathered here, listening to her. I realize that in such a case she’d most likely be frightened, both by what she was seeing and by the confusion that would set in, having no culturally accepted language in which to articulate the experience so others would understand without judgment. I can tell that Ailbhe certainly knows all of this, and yet there is a part of her still wishing to be seen, not just for who she was, but for who she is. I keep her close to me. “I see you,” I tell her.

For a while we simply stand together silently. The guide has finished her story and goes on with a speech about something, but I am too out of the way to track it consistently. I am aware most of all of how the two of us are standing with the self-assured dignity and grace which Ailbhe has in abundance, and I am still learning to possess.

Then Ailbhe says quietly, “It’s hard for you not to be able to see it, isn’t it, Éilis? It’s not easy for me either, to be looking out of your eyes and not to be able to see all of Ireland expanding out from us.”

I agree, taken somewhat aback by the comment. Usually I think little about what I might be missing with my lack of eyesight, but in this place full of memories, and many visual memories now lost as I have no reference for them, I am feeling bereft. Suddenly I go from being grateful for Ailbhe’s words of comfort to feeling hugely inadequate. Here I am, trying to give Ailbhe the experience of once again being an embodied person at Tara, but I will never be able to give her the whole of the sense of the place she once had.

Ailbhe notices the shift in me immediately. “It’s all right,” she whispers, trying to console my troubled mind, “This experience is more than I ever imagined I would have again. It is more than enough, Éilis. Thank you, I am more than grateful to you.” She pauses, and puts a light around us. The light is made of unconditional acceptance, and slowly I become at peace again. Finally she says, “I should let you have a few more moments up here fully back in yourself before you and the group need to move on.”

She steps out of my space then, and with a radiant white light shining around me, I completely return to myself. I can still see Ailbhe next to me. People are now walking up to touch the Lia fáil, the stone of destiny. Our time to just stand quietly will be over shortly.

Suddenly, Ailbhe reaches out, and takes my hand. With the connection she conveys a picture. Two souls, having been sisters long ago in an ancient age, reunite once again on the hill of Tara to stand at the summit and look out at a country that was once their home but is no longer home to either of them now. No matter that the sisters now live in different worlds. No matter that one has been wandering through lifetimes in search of her origins while the other has spent her existence in the world beyond, representing an age. None of that has ever been enough to keep us apart. Once again, we stand in a place that has always held a deep significance to us, except that now the land beneath and around us has been transformed by the passage of almost two millennia, in a way barely recognizable. Hand in hand we both reclaim and lay to rest an era, safely holding what once was in memory, while restoring to who we are now what of our histories the land once claimed as its own. For one more moment we look into each other’s eyes, brown peering into blue. Then Ailbhe gently lets go of my hand and disappears.

When I finally get to touch the lia fáil, it oddly seems to pail in comparison to that more private experience Ailbhe and I shared. Somewhat to my immense relief, the stone doesn’t make any piercing cries. Thank goodness, I think to myself, half jokingly, that means less responsibility for me. But even while I walk away and start down the descent of the hill, I am struck by the gnawing feeling that I am already on my way to fulfilling a destiny of my own.

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Hill of Tara Part 1, Ireland, 2015

I step off the large tour bus. Mom, very tired, stands to my left. In front of us the hill of Tara rises, and even closer than that, clumps of tourists, families and groups of friends, mill about. We are an odd blending of strangers and companions, all with stories of our own, dropped here from around the world to visit, for all our myriad of reasons, a part of our heritage.

It is a beautiful summer afternoon, the sun shines radiant but unobtrusively through the clear, blue sky, its rays dancing a compromise on the cool breeze, as if seeking, in midfall, to defer deferentially to already ensconced patches of shade.

A cacophony of conversation drifts up the hill over endless neatly mowed grass. Grass? At Tara? When did this happen? The question intrudes on my thoughts and I’m not sure who it’s from. All I know is that, when I was here before long ago, the place was mostly dirt, and grass in the form of neatly kept lawn was conspicuously absent.

To see the place once more, but without eyes, haunts me, taunts me with visions which will remain unconfirmed, cheating me out of an intimacy I once shared. I can walk but cannot trace the contours of the landscape with my eyes, and for a moment I am grief stricken, like someone who can behold but never touch the one she loves.

The metal gate would have been absent of course. so would the bus that dwarfed the distances I might have once traveled by foot. Would I recognize those footpaths now, or would they be permanently lost to me, covered over by time and transformation, deforestation, and fresh green grass? I have little time to ponder, for now the woman with the calm, high voice who will be our guide for the next hour issues us through the gate and we begin our ascent.

Part of me recognizes what I am doing as quite normal and routine, exactly the kind of sequence of events that occurs during a mass tour of an ancient site. And we had had no choice about the large tour group, either. Our trip to Tara is part of a larger tour of the Boinne Valley, including Newgrange, which we visited earlier. The neolithic stones are only accessible through booking a tour with the visitor’s center. What else might I have expected?

The answer comes unbidden to me, unannounced, almost a surprise. For we entered Tara without challenge or ordeal, no statements of pedigree, degree and right, status or reason for business. And I remembered, from somewhere deep within, how such a display of worthiness was required if a person wished to even remotely be considered for the welcoming. And here we are, without trial or travail. My surprise, I realize, is not at the details of the memory, but my unnerving feeling of culture shock.

And “Now watch your step,” warns our vigilant tour guide, in a tone of voice that conveys her desire to avoid a repeat of some prior mishap. “The grass is slippery and wet, and the ground is uneven.”

Of course it is, I think to myself. The first thing I notice, with a pang of sadness, is the absence of the great wall. The open grassland unsettles me, any trace of a protective embrace now long since eroded away. We walk past two stones, which our guide explains are all that remain of an ancient rite of kingship. It was said that these stones were placed a specific distance apart, and that a potential king would only be allowed onto further initiations if he could drive a chariot between the stones without touching them. I felt the two stones, the aspiring king would have had to be very skilled indeed to accomplish the challenge.

I am grateful when mom is too tired to walk with the rest of the group, and we fall behind. I need distance, and badly. Besides our feet upon the now grassy earth and the birds chattering in sporadic song, the occasional caught phrase from a fellow tourist up ahead, the wind whispering its opinion now and again in low, hushed tones – the place is silent, silent.

No one lives here. No horses whinny impatiently in a stable, no king’s servants hurry by with provisions, wash buckets, hay bundles, or cooking pots. No last minute commotion to repair a building. No children hollering and playing in the dirt. No pits for fires, no conclaves of brehons, no bards with their harps, no druids preparing the ceremonies of Samhain. No shouts from the now absent walls. No buildings in fact, except for a church, constructed in 1822.

It’s a very interesting church, but while I am appreciating its existence and contribution to the long history of this place, I am left grappling with the elusive transience of uncertainty forged through the passage of time. Time and its remnants seem to emanate from this place from every age, from the stone age to the present, clambering for their own share of loyalty, of recognition, of honor. In the midst of the iconic passage tombs with their transparent mystery, the allure of the Christian era crossing the minds of those from the middle ages to modernity, casting its shadows over the past, Tara from the second century CE seems to have fallen into obscurity. To the hand or the eye mapping the surface, the time I walked this world as Mairin is almost forgotten, or else shrouded in the misunderstandings and messiness of myth.

We walk on. My feet take to the landscape almost effortlessly. True to our guide’s word, the ground is quite uneven and slippery. Mom stumbles, and instantly I catch her fall, perfectly poised on the ridge of a dip in the landscape. Farther on she trips again. Again, I compensate without thinking, immediately placing us solidly on the furrowed plane of the hill. “Don’t worry, this is what sighted guide is for,” I joke, grinning at her, “So that I can ensure you don’t lose your balance.”

We laugh. “You’re doing pretty well,” she admits and I wonder, should I tell her that I am fairly convinced that I know my way around?

I decide against it. Mom is pretty tired after all and I feel she might need a break from conversation: she’s been describing landscapes and standing stones to me all day. Besides, I don’t know where my brothers are, and if either of them overhear, I’ll be hard pressed for a decent explanation. In fact, I’ve yet to figure out an adequate explanation that satisfies myself, though I can feel myself teasing out the story from my bones, as if patiently completing a one thousand piece puzzle.

Just before we crest the top of the hill, it is plain to me that I do in fact have some sort of instinctual memory of the place. Toward the top is a very steep portion, and forgetting mom’s fatigue, I bound up the steep incline like a dear in the dark, slowing down only because I am still holding onto mom’s arm, and I can’t as well drag her with me.

I want, so badly want, to run, to race up the rest of the hill, then race down again, several times, until I’ve exhausted myself. But I don’t have Allegro or my cane with me, and I can’t run with a cane anyway, doing so is the equivalent of sprinting with a big stick, and that has other potentially hazardous consequences (usually for other people.)

So I do the next best thing, what I have always done when I long to be able to move gracefully in a world that doesn’t allow that without vision: I take a moment and imagine, in vivid sensory detail, what it would be like to move fast on my own. Then I let go of the desire. I’ve done all I can with it.

Mounds within mounds. Age packed onto age. Standing atop it all at the summit, where everyone with the eyes for it are looking out over three fourths of the whole country, history sings to me from far beyond who I was, far before who I am now. As I stand, the energy of this place captivates me, courses through me, a raw reverberation of remembrances. I am centered in their radiance. As if a tree, rooted, I pull up a current of change that seems to seap out of the ground through the soles of my shoes, traveling like sap through a tree trunk, until I am not sure where the soul of the land ends and my spirit begins. That is when I remember.

Wanderer of the Desert _ When Two Worlds Meet: Part 1

It is the spring of my fifth year at Stanford, and I am engaged in the highly stressful endeavor of applying for, and then receiving acceptances from graduate programs in philosophy. It is a time that now I am thoroughly relieved is in the past. The culture of the aspiring undergraduates in our program is, retrospectively, much more like a fundamentalist religious cult (with the strange difference being enforced critical thinking) than a typical academic department. The six students applying for graduate school this year, of which I am one, have formed a tight knit if competitive cohort, fervently engaged in an almost obsessive solidarity that I find familiar enough to not question (and I still don’t want to know why.)

My peers and I routinely discuss things such as how the search for truth is the most superior calling and that we would die for our ideas. We unfortunately mean this literally. (I am glad my past self was not tested on this.) We hold that the absolute worst thing that can happen to an undergrad is to not get into grad school. We frequently proclaim our slogan “Don’t get left behind!” While outwardly we pretend to be rational autonomous agents who are not at all conforming to a bizarre conception of the world, inwardly we grapple with our fears and insecurities that we will never be enough. Admittedly, I now tend to cringe at how ridiculous we were and can’t quite figure out what came over us. But this is particularly true concerning one of my fellow cohort members who proudly confided to me that she routinely quoted Plato during sex. This, I tell her in the moment, is taking things too far, even for me, and I ask her to just keep that to herself from now on. Please?

As it happens, I am one of the five out of six fortunates who do not “get left behind.” I get into two graduate programs. My fate is secure. However, the letter offering me a place at the University of Anonymous Desert, comes only two days before I must send in my acceptance. Two hours later I’ve booked a flight for seven AM the next morning to visit the school. Despite my culture shock (which I discount as I have experienced culture shock at every grad school I’ve visited,) I decide after my whirlwind encounter that the people at the school are nice. Speaking of the wind, I also notice that I can literally hear voices on the wind that tell me which direction its blowing, and this fascinating phenomenon helps persuade me to return and investigate further. After much anxiety and tears and irritating my parents, I commit to attend the school in the desert in the fall.

Around this time, my parents sell our family home, the one I’ve grown up in since I was three years old. Then, weeks before I move to an unfamiliar state to begin my program and live self-sufficiently for the first time, my parents separate. The death of their marriage has been a slow and painful one. Though part of me recognizes their separation is probably the best thing to ever happen to our family—they brought out the worst in each other—I am also broken-hearted and devastated. Part of me wonders whether, had I never been shaken as an infant, the marriage would still be intact, though I know this is as far from the truth as the assertion in a scene of Monty Python, “The Holy Grail,” that small rocks float.

It only takes a month or two in my graduate program before I realize, my family situation notwithstanding, that I have made a terrible mistake. I can’t stand feeling like a number rather than a person. I can’t stand the three digit temperatures. I can’t stand mustering up the courage to speak up in class just to have my ideas unceremoniously dismissed without even the courtesy of an argument, and in front of my colleagues besides. I am displaced, not just from my childhood home, the security of a two-parent household, and the only state I’ve ever lived in: I also, slowly, begin to become estranged to myself. I do not recognize this woman struggling to be seen and heard, who is not respected for her ideas, who is barely surviving without sight or assistance in a literally hostile environment.

Still, I do not think of leaving, regardless of how much it is, and it really is, killing my sense of self-worth and breaking my spirit, delighting in making me small, molding me into a “presentable vegetable” courtesy of the Logical Song.

First, there is the fact of my commitment and that leaving would be to break it, and that, I am convinced, would be giving up in a shamefully dishonorable way. But secondly, where would I go? My time in the nest is over.

My dad now lives in a small apartment and is dating a woman whom he eventually marries. My mom has moved to a funky rental and is struggling to get back into the workforce after twenty-seven years as a homemaker. I will be more secure in the grad program than trying to make it in the real world where my address is from nowhere. I stay.

As one year drearily trudges numbly into the next, my grip on the core part of myself, who I am, what I stand for, what I believe in, why I am here, slowly sinks beneath the red sands, like the horse from Never Ending Story who drowned in the swamp of sadness as he was pursued by The Nothing. The Nothing is so quiet, that I never notice its gradual erosion of who I once was until no trace of it remains. Then, one morning, I awake to a day like all the rest: except I don’t know who I am. Having no energy or will to grieve such a loss, I stumble on with little sense of purpose or meaning, and even now, much of that time is lost to disassociation, out of the reach of memory.

November of 2007 sees the final drawing up of my parents’ divorce papers. Meanwhile, the landscape around me at the school mirrors the raw and barren, thorny, and parched landscape of my heart. Up until now, I’ve spent my whole life living in the Bay Area, California. I’m used to and love the golden hills, the green lawns and chattering trees, and most of all, the ocean. But here, here the desert sands ooze red like blood, canyons gape open like mouths fiercely begging for a rain to quench an eon of thirst; here the wind gathers itself and rumbles across the earth like a living animal. Here people promise themselves in strange awkward moments that a scientist somewhere must be hard at work at this very moment, creating a pesticide that will get rid of the vast infestation of dust that takes over their houses, floats in films onto their dishware, scurries into their clothing, sifts through their hair, settles into their ears and mouths, suffocates their souls. For like the parched clay within my heart, dried out and hardened from the intense heat of anger, frozen by my fears, stilled by the silence I keep in order to survive where I do not belong, the landscape surrounding me is hostile and defensive and sometimes literally locks its tenderness away, displaying nothing but spikes on the outside.

The philosophy department in this earth-cracked, hungry place is full of bigoted and sexist graduate students and prejudiced professors. One graduate student tells me after an argument in which I announce that if the department is going to give me ninety students to teach, it is my responsibility to give each of them an equal opportunity to learn, even if my research falls behind for this reason: “It would behoove you to adopt our values, or leave.” There is the professor not on my committee who expresses surprise that I have passed my comprehensive exams. There is the professor who insists that I have made a pact with most of her colleagues to grade me leniently due to my blindness, a statement I still have in writing. In fact, my miserable situation even seeps into my dreams: I dream that, at a department meeting, all my colleagues turn into eighth graders. True enough, my experience is very much reminiscent of middle school.

This desert, which I have now endured for two long years, leaves my bones dry and brittle, leaves my soul thread-bear and gulping for water, raw and cold like a piece of forgotten old stone. Inside or out, I am nowhere. I have no home, and for this reason, through the years in the desert, I wander like a nomad, like one of a lost people yearning for a promised land without the benefit of believing that a god will grant such a place to me.

For during this time I also shed the last vestiges of Christianity and throw myself whole-heartedly into following the earth-centered path I have always followed, whose name I have only now learned. I am ecstatic to realize that there are others like me in the here and now, and I can claim the ancient ways of my own ancestors. Somehow amidst the despair, I honor mother earth, hold sacred the land, sea, and sky, and speak to the old ones. This revelation somewhat complicates my graduate experience however as it also means living in the broom closet. According to my department members, the only sane position on spirituality is atheism and anyone deviating from this world view is stupid, irrational, and not worth anyone’s time. There is no attempt to tolerate others’ differences, and even the Christian in the program finds himself at the center of ridicule and insult. So I live a double life, unable to be honest with my colleagues, in constant fear of discovery.

At the end of spring 2011, and nearing the end of my coursework, the smoldering remains of the silent cry within myself keens so loudly for freedom that I can no longer ignore the necessity of leaving. I am so tired of wandering. I have wandered this desert for six years. I take a six month lease apartment in the fall to make sure I don’t change my mind. I’m too far along to leave the school, but I can make an exodus, like Moses out of the American Sahara back to my home in the Bay Area, where I can write my dissertation on virtue and interdependence. I will return to the rolling brown hills, green trees and winding trails, and water. Dear, inviting, vital ocean whose rhythm is my heartbeat.

Not even a new relationship, the first one in as many years as I’ve been a graduate student, can detour me from home. With tears in my eyes I leave for a long distance arrangement and for an apartment in Berkeley, surrounded by family and friends, soft mist, the silent bay, and people who won’t figuratively cut off my head if they learn I am a druid. (As a philosopher I very much value my head, thanks.)

Finally I start to grow and heal. Finally I can dissolve into a sacred space of becoming, from which I might emerge changed, but enough, re-membered into cohesion, renewed. Perhaps I will even once again be able to hear the voices on the wind and look into the world beyond the world, which now is lost to me. Perhaps, I can spin a cocoon around my broken pieces so that the withered fragments I have become can mend me, weaving themselves into new wings with which to fly.

Lost Under Flesh and Bone

This is a poem I wrote a couple years ago after coming home from an ob/gyn appointment. Perhaps I should add that the doctor was actually incredibly kind, but that wasn’t enough to resolve years of trauma I experienced at doctors’ offices generally. I’ve subsequently done a lot of work on myself in healing, but this poem still captures a reality of the past that I remember vividly.

She took my hand
How did she guess
The depths to which I’d be afraid
If a connection were not made?

The landscape is full of craters and lost children
I close my eyes, though I’ve already gone within
She hands to me a prayer strand of beads
And they become a lifeline, from what’s mine to a distant soul, the deepest part of me.

It is the landscape that’s crying
While a substrate of hands are reaching, reaching
To name and to conquer, each sacred knot’s untying

Until I am no longer sure
Whether this is a laying on of hands for healing,
Or whether I am the frontier over which exploration is persisting,
For no boundary’s untouched by her endless insisting.

I lose track of which colonized countries I am mapping to my body,
And through thickets of gnarly briers I crawl,
Tumbling down the treacherous hills I climbed so young,
And though now I am not young, I feel very very small.

To the subterranean spaces, I dig down quickly,
Here I am alone, and no one can touch me.
The cave drips with water
So I let it drizzle echoes of my names.

The murmur at the bottom, is nothing but a river laughing,
I imagine it would not dare to laugh at me,
But giggles like a child,
A place to linger for safe abiding.

I am aware of a room and a distant conversation,
But I am in a salty womb, and have turned the grey tears warm.
Blood still pulses through my veins,
It would turn an angry red at the suggestion of exposure.

And it flashes through my mind, that day they cut the Glastonbury thorn tree down.
At least I will not be torn asunder, but earnestly I wonder
Whether I can demand the equality of silence, if I cannot be safe or sound.
I lie there still, an object for a while, wounded, unwound,

And forget I asked about existence
Or ever lived inside a song,
As the observations, voiced, are cataloged
And the search beneath a beating heart goes on.

I have forgotten that there or windows or that daylight comes in
My hands are fisted my face a warrior’s shield,
My true self, who I am, to this place, in this way,
I refuse to yield.

Reason left me at the door, with only a simple never-giving-in,
While what is happening is filtered through a sieve,
And all I feel is the fear:
Is it real, am I here?

And when I walk away there’ll be nothing to redeem,
No place to replant supplanted pieces,
No earth to catch a whispered scream.

I cannot hide from the person in the mirror,
I cannot hide,
I fill entire buildings with my taking space.
I long, in vain, to hide my face.

But my body is an earthquake and my foundations don’t hold
And that’s when I start to fold,
A tree into its seed.
Into my center I fold and enfold.

Moments march to mantras:
Oh I will not concede,
Oh this mothered child of new and old,
This is much more than just a loop of beads,

It is the acorn of a life I’ve wrapped myself around.
Far from the mountains under siege,
Mold me whole,
Keep me found.

And beneath the city walls
Far below the ground,
I send all those who can defend
The story that never should be told,

The song of myself
Belonging to the sky and land and sea,
The language of the wind,
The light that burns in me.

She not only seeks, she keeps, she asks,
She takes my hand, and what I was first, and what I am last.
And though I am now safe and sure and tall,
And unclench the fists, hand back a circle of beads,

I can’t imagine reaching out,
Yet do it with a smile.
For a while I don’t measure how far I had to fall.
In fact, for a moment I feel nothing at all.

But if ever I recall,
Each bead comes back to me,
Each a truth I long to cry,
Each a memory of something I lost silently.

Each a part of me,
That in the forgetting of the thing,
I simply left apart, behind.

And I don’t know how long it will take me to return
Back to myself, to the trusting of someone.
I, who am still lost under flesh and bone,
Retracing and reclaiming all I call my own.

For I know all about the duality of hands:
They can hold you, rock you, shape you, break you.
You’re a person or a thing,
Depending on how they treat you.

And they will make ruins of entire worlds,
Or rebuild them grain on grain of sand.
But just because, for a moment, they try to erase you,
It will never, ever, mean you’re theirs.

And some ancient people carved hands upon the stones
To make it clear to others where they dwell,
But I make my way solidly, and to myself I still belong.
And my place: surely it is ever I, the written carvings, and the song.

Oisín’s Song _ When Two Worlds Meet: Part 8

It was the beginning of December 2013. The day was a quiet, uneventful one. As evening fell, I found myself in front of the small electronic keyboard that my mom gave me this year. No one else in the family seemed to be interested in using it, and fortunately despite my apartment having minimal room, I did have space for it.

On that night, I was enjoying myself, making up songs and not thinking about much in particular. Then, unexpectedly, a melody filled my head, one I understood right away was not mine. Trying to catch onto the music before it was lost, I began playing it over and over, wondering whose it was. It sounded like an old lullaby which would be sung to a small child. When I was confident I could play the song without forgetting it, I got the answer to my question. This was Oisín’s song, and he wanted me to have it, to share with others in this world.

It was a few days later, another late evening, when Oisín excitedly sent me a picture which interrupted my thoughts. He had the lyrics to the song, and could I write them down with him? I got up from my computer and walked into my room, for some change in scenery and got out my Braille Note, the one that doesn’t distract me by speaking every letter I type. Through words, pictures, and conversation Oisín told the story of the song to me, through me. It was, as I thought, a song for a child. But I never expected his words would be for me.

Oisín’s Song

Hush there my darling and cease now your weeping
I and the trees watch over you,
See me where grasses breathe in the sunlight
Meet me where hummingbirds drink in the dew.

I am the song of the sky in the morning
I write the lyrics of new falling snow
When loneliness calls you I wait in its silence
Nearer or farther, wherever you go.

Though you doubt your worth often, the truth is your aching
With all that’s within you to let go and fly
Please don’t forget you were made with the stars’ dust
While you’re here growing, remember to shine.

Hush now my darling, the night has reclaimed you
Dream of the dawning of a world without fear
In you is the turning of life’s yearning motion
In you is the beauty of unfolding years.

So much to know and to see and to wonder
Eternal and fragile one, take in all you can
The joys of the world that surrounds you are fleeting
But they all hold the memory of each woman and man.

Trust in the strength that lies buried inside you
For you help shape the world through your words and your hands
You possess all that’s needed to center and guide you
And when you’re uncertain, know that I understand.

Hush there my darling there’s no need for weeping
Though while you’re alive you get battered and torn
If you were not here now the hills would be grieving
Better life’s sorrow than to have never been born

Think of the fireflies who emerge every evening
Think of the salmon that swim in the streams
With their flashlights and wisdom they dance what lies hidden
Without ever questioning what it all means.

I’ve seen through the eyes of a deer in the meadow
I’ve known the pain of separation and hate
I’ve lost those I love to the weight of their shadows
There’s still time for changing, it isn’t too late.

Hush now young dear one, and don’t give up trying
There is a place here for all you can share
Life isn’t easy but it’s worth every moment
All your wild longing, live out if you dare.

People are rushing through days strange and empty
With food on their tables, they’re starving for time
And for all that’s new out there to manufacture connection
They don’t come to belong to who they are deep inside.

No wonder it’s easy to get lost in the endless
Relentless refrain that you’re falling behind
To so much wanton wanting, know that you need not listen
You don’t have to hurry, you’re enough in my eyes.

Come now and rest for the time is to dreaming
Weaving the web of all that your days could hold
Just close your eyes now and come home to the rhythm
The heart beat of landscape, in the clay of your bones.

I watched you surrender to life and to healing
Your light mending silently the scars that you’ve known
I watched as your eyes changed from embers to hearth fires
And the joy of your knowing was also my own.

If you ever worry that you can’t do enough here
That the world tries to stop you from being all you can be
Know you’re not alone, and the world vast and humbling
Is great and mysterious, so much more than you see.

Hush and be still now, the time’s not for weeping
I am the song that you sing through your day
Nothing is lost, nothing is wasted
All the most beautiful moments remain.

I am the color of fog in the moonlight
I am the cry of a wakening child
I know the songs that seeds sing while their sleeping
Meet me where roads fade and the land becomes wild.

You’ve seen what I see, the world through my eyes
You know the path that is taken by few
The world that appears free of limits or lies
All exists intertwined, and I share it with you.

Hush there my darling and cease now your weeping
I and the trees watch over you,
You’ll see me where grasses breathe in the sunlight
Meet me where hummingbirds drink in the dew.

Lessons In The Landscape

Change comes, in little packets of seasons. Each time one opens, it adds flavor to the landscape; salty or sweet depending on its mood. When I become the landscape, feet take on new importance to me. When I get stepped on, my rhythms stop, and I lie still like an ocean without an undertow. There will always be a landscape.

 

Sometimes, it is easy to sculpt like sandcastles peaking out from under grain, as close as the distance between two hands. Sometimes on a distant shore, I awake not knowing where I am, and wander for days until I find a river to trace back to my beginnings. When I arrive the terrain changes, takes on more mass, perhaps. It moves slower than I do and knows more than me. What it knows it cannot tell me, although I can always find it in myself.

 

I am standing with the trees. I am grounded under them. I am flying above them, carried by my wings. The wings are actually made of thread, and I fly because I will do anything to be a light beam.

 

I have a country all my own, full of particles with particular personalities. They don’t have good resonance, but their echoes do. There is always something falling—a leaf, a broken wing—and always feet first. Whenever I land on my feet, I assume I’m a child. Whenever I land on my feet, I am forced to remember that I have grown up.

 

I have never built a cocoon. I am somewhere between larva and butterfly, but don’t know how I got here. The people in this country never wanted me to change: they carved their hands into me so I couldn’t own my body, or my words. There are other children like me inhabiting this country who scatter like particles with no freedom to harmonize. Chaos is white in particles and dark purple in children. Children are purple because they have to hold their voices in like breaths, and lose life quickly. As a child who loved purple, I could never make sense of the world I was born into or why no one sees the signs that guide them back to their own voices.

 

Silences I think are clearer compared to reverberation and those haunting echoes that make me cry. If silence covers the land, words hand over their meanings and get sentenced to periods where they’re locked up in capitols—no rights are stated. Laughter dwindles into nothingness. Nothing always conceives water that forms its own music, breaking down silences.

 

Even the leaves and the dirt they become have voices. The voices echo throughout the labyrinth under the landscape where I found my string and wound my way to where I could skip like shale, though fragile, to the water’s surface. Somewhere under the water, there is the original source I would like to touch.

 

Whatever home I once shared, no one treads water like I do. I am your wanderer, that is clear; I have built myself from the cores of trees and the hold-fasts of the ocean floor. I have made myself walk through narrows, because I can find footing best. I can climb and crawl anywhere, I can get lost in a free world. I wove a rope from the string and tensioned my way all the way up the mountain to look down. There is only one mountain here and it lessens every time I climb it. Someday it will be a pebble glistening red on the sand.

 

I have been, in most conditions, a gray wolf, compact and wild, fiercely maintaining my territory. I defend my people, too. I am with people, but I have no people. For most of my life I have been left alone, making my way like a nomad across these fields.

 

Time feels as though it is being measured by the clock in someone else’s reference frame. Moments whiz by like lightning bugs; I cringe in a corner knowing I will be next. I am always last. I get dizzy waiting, standing still, so I go fast, dance until the wind carries me, and I catch light beams in my hands.

 

Why is it so hard to learn to trust again? I fought for my hand and my words and my steps, I fought for I have been trod down, I fought to move the figures in my head, I figured the objects would love me so much more that they’d give me a guide to worldmaking. I thought I could trace the contours of concavity, fill closed loops like smiles, use my hand to signal direction. I thought my hands became my eyes, that I would know even though this and that stand in the way.

 

I strain to hold my neglected child, I know I do not know, and I am lost, crying for you, flat on the floor with my hands stretched out flat against gravity, and fields and fields away from where I first met you. I must come to terms with my own darkness. How much have I given up to seek a definitive? Perhaps every object I ever loved will let me go. I am reaching for edges to grasp what it is to break out of a circle.

 

I am always looking for the center and never find it. I am the center.  The words come to me.  They wait in lines to begin their journey across steppes and cliffs and wetlands, many meters, and eventually home. When I reflect, I mirror the shadows. Darkness is just the absence of light.

 

To fill the silence that follows, I twine color through my songs, remember what I lost, and how to find it again. The truth is like a sphere, like parabolas and sine waves, like music and friendship—simple and everywhere. In wonder I reach out my hand, for myself, on my own. And light has been worth the destruction of every shadow; this is another way to find the center of it all.

 

I lift my song by hand and it shimmers through my hair like burgundy, comes out clean. I am usually alone, though you are welcome to find me here. You are welcome to experience everything, live with me in the peaks and troughs, mountains, and valleys of long incantations. In the place where answers are questioned, where silence speaks, where space is woven through our belonging and we have never left each other, you may fly between the chords. And home is what happens when you no longer throw yourself into living as if it’s a thing to chase after or prove you can hold, and just let go.  I let go, I let go, I am found again.

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/.

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.

For One of the Shining Ones

And it’s leaping into light,
The song wrapped in shadow,
A day unfurling out of night.
Will you meet me there?

Shrouded mist, just beyond the horizon,
On the way to at-the-center,
I re-place myself,
Turning and returning.

Breaking through the surface from within,
I will throw myself into every messy corner,
I will not ask:
Will you come for me, when its time?

Not knowing when and how, or where,
No longer stopping to catch my breath,
Content with now, I look my own way.
I stand strong on the ground where others stood,
And cease my yearning for you.

Let me stay here for awhile
Falling like rain through mountains
Onto every flower glowing with your smile,
For your laughter echoes water tumbling over.

I struggle to bring a thought child into this world
So take me in your arms while I begin
To try to recover your truth,
For I am not what I feel myself to be,
And I hover here, on these two first steps.

The sparse landscapes plead silently:
We do not share our ideas,
Nor do the cacti share their water.

Leafy hands reach out, open,
The ones I wish I held
Let the rain fall.

What would they call me
Letting your flames leap behind my eyes,
For within the carefully hidden bone,
Beneath my pale face,
Blazes a fire whose shape I’ve never dared to dance.

Oh shining one,
The same winds caress and toss aside,
And stones  sink into cold fresh streams,
And no day comes
When I do not call your name.

For you hold me
Out of reach of the gnarled brambles,
Away from the haggard stumps,
No need to wait, now I am in it.

Paths cross once more along the running sands,
Re-found foundation, home again,
Here I am beyond my wildest hope
With you once more, longing no longer.

I to the Philosophy Library Came

I went to reclaim what is mine
I walked roads I did not know
I braced myself against the cold
And stepped inside

The halls were just as I saw them last
The people still strangers
Except for one friend from long, long ago
Joyous and startling, like stumbling onto a benign shadow

I went to reclaim what is mine
I sat down at the table
I had all I needed but did not feel prepared
I was mostly silent and tried not to give my name

They around me did not speak
Walls shattered, fears crumbled, doors opened
A strange and somber, still homecoming
To a place I had never before been alone

Traversing treacherous terrain, the warm sun chilled me
Cement walkways became vast mountain passes
Trees seemed to bar my way with rustling branches
Streets were moats where morose memories languished
Blindly I pressed on, directionless on my way

I ignored the screams that echoed across my mind’s harsh landscape
These screams I used to make, when all I knew was torn away
When I lost who I was, and all my love
I learned to live the lie that I was nothing

My dreams, I’d dashed in bewildered anguish
Contemptuous and indignant, disillusioned, full of pain
And when the ground below my feet sloped down, before rising up again
As if a tiny valley secretly sang its presence there
I left all that haunted me behind in that small remnant of ravine

I went to reclaim what is mine
I took the steps one by one
And walked inside
And sat at their table

I went to reclaim what is mine
I returned triumphant, exhausted, grateful
At home again I met all those who watched me soar
And knew that I was welcome, able