Tag Archives: memories

Making Returns

I’ve been sick with the whisky of sorrow
Drowning in draughts of deep grief
Delirious, intoxicated by the excitement of chaos
Shame the thick tenebrous brew that I drink

I have chosen isolation, drunk from such loneliness
The sharp scent of silence staining my breath
Tending a pantry of long bottled secrets
Despair, and terror, and regret

Here are the hops of hope, all drained dry
The jinn of constant crisis and its tonics on recall
Cocktails of confusion and forbidden joy
And of the cider of solace, not much left at all

Here are my chilled kegs of childhood memories
Just the hurtful ones … I want a refund if I can
And the traits on tap I formed to survive these
If nothing else, please take them off my hands

I want the light stuff, it never goes bad
Something soothing and gentle to calm me inside
The soft touch of wholeness to shelter all that I have
The spring thaw of winter to bring me alive

For the past and its memories, there are no returns
And though life has its trials, no one keeps score
The freedom you long for isn’t something to earn
Learn to trust that with patients, you’ll live more and more

We’ll trade for your hatred, your blame and your rage
Deep peace and acceptance, forgiveness comes slow
And gently replace the twinned silence and shame
With the seeds of compassion, that with you will grow

Your need for pain, your constant clinging in fear
You now can safely leave behind
Hope shines centered in the stillness here
Gathered together, it’s love that we find

Remember, grief cannot be exchanged
Without the tears cried, it’s joy that you’ll lack
And please be mindful when making each change
Of the old and familiar, so you don’t choose it back

Returned Unwanted: Short Story of a So-Called Fallen Woman

Crouched behind the boxes, the frightened girl huddles further into herself. She decides her head can’t be seen above the dusty wood. The dank cloying scent of encroaching mildew assaults her nostrils. Obviously, her parents and siblings have not lived here for some time, the house as left behind, as bereft of care and warmth as she. Small fingers and dainty hands grasp tighter around her knees. She has managed to crawl carefully, making no noise as she moved. Despite the tense atmosphere about her, she smiles cautiously at her accomplishment. Somewhere in the small corner of her psyche she notes that her smile has not been instantly slapped from her face. At this realization, she smiles again.

. Her drab colored skirt spills in folds upon the floor, hiding her long nickers and rounded shoes beneath. Painfully slowly, she sucks in musty air to catch her breath. Too slowly. Her head spins dangerously. She has been running for a fortnight.

Each cold fireless night she spent scavenging for table scraps from strangers who pitied her. Some had offered for her to stay the night, and always she refused. She was certain someone would match her to the picture of the missing runaway; it was a risk she could not afford to take. So far, upon each morning, she awoke stiff and shivering, but still a free person.

Free? Was this what freedom would be like, then, days of silent screaming fear? She has no other reference point from which to answer the question. But she knows it is better, much better, than what she left behind.

She had run across the cobbled courtyard and passed through the heavy iron gate, surprisingly left unbolted, unscathed. Hurrying straight for the dormitory had been a mistake, but an understandable one. She can only vaguely recall a life outside the confines of the reformatory, and what she recalls of it, she wishes to forget, just like her family chose to forget her. As much as the girl needed to hide, become invisible forever, part of her longed to be recognized, to have her name kindly spoken. She dared not hope she would be loved. But she did dare one last glance at the place, however repugnant. At least it had once been her shelter. She would not speak of it as home. She has never had a home.

But the dormmates didn’t recognize her. She had spent too many years trapped within the penitentury’s high forbidding walls, a fallen woman who was told she was worthless and deserved the treatment she got, who dared to disagree. Strict rules and barbed words were not good enough for her then, but solid bars.

Those hands which built such high and mighty convent walls blessed the forsaken who entered them within inches of their lives. And yet they have not won, not yet, the girl thinks now to herself. By the blood in her veins, she is still living.

At least, within this meager existence of hunger and terror, she can choose the circumstances of her confinement, she can breathe in the cold morning air, she is allowed to think and to move and run. She can run through her confusion and her grief and her shame and her pain, and exhaust the memories out of her body.
She could…

Thoughts are interrupted. A board creaks above her head. Her heart almost stops beating. She knew her small taste of freedom couldn’t last long. Someone would see her and turn her in. But so soon? Should she try to run?

She almost makes a bolt for the door. She knows doing so will make noise and give away her position, and worse things happen to those caught running than found hiding. With a sense of despair, she chooses to stay. She is weak in body and spirit now, she knows she will be outrun.

The sisters will overturn the whole house until they discover her. Then they will take her back with them in chains. She refuses to think about what might happen after that. She does not know.

Then, with a start, she realizes they must have suspected her destination and were here in waiting for some time. It explains the mess strewn all about her, her hiding place only granted due to unheeded respect for other’s belongings in a frenzied attempt at a search. Why hadn’t she read the signs? It is too late. This time, the betrayer is no one but her self.

To keep alert against her mind’s cries to shut down, she slowly begins counting backward from ten to one. Footsteps sound upon the stairs. She shuts her eyes.

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.

Tara: What Might Have Been

There are memories, but they are few and far between. Scattered, broken, some fleeting pictures, some emotions which long ago imbedded themselves within an ancient segment of soul. It is June 14, 2015. Tomorrow we will go to Newgrange, then onto Tara. I’m exstatic about seeing the neolithic stones, but they have left no memorable imprint on me. Tara, on the other hand, with its alluring misted images dancing almost out of reach of conscious recognition, calls me, beckons me from far away with reasons only landscapes know. The following is a story I have woven from threadbare memories, the images and emotions are genuine, but I’ve made up the dialogue and filled in the gaps with guesswork. It is a mere reconstructed approximation of what might have been, 1800 years ago.

***

“Stay where you are!” The booming bellow from the top of the wall startles me for a moment, and I shift into a watchful wariness almost instantly, despite the fact that I’ve known that entrance into Tara would be difficult at best. I freeze.

The unforgiving winds of Samhain howl over the hill, as if it were an insignificant obstacle in the surrounding landscape. The gusts of chill drive a drizzling mist before them, a watery haze too dense to be fog, more of a suspended mass of swirling spray than a genuine rain. Far away, a low moan moves slowly through trees rooted tightly together at the edge of the forest, with its brooding mysteries obscured in darkness.

Before me, the stone wall looms, cast hard and unforgiving in the cold, inertly rising from the loam three persons high, at least five paces thick. Behind it, a ditch runs the perimeter of the hill fort, and though it is hard to make them out, several men besides the one now speaking stand sentry near and at the large imposing gates.

It bothers me that I am more easily scared than my sister. I should have considered I might need to defend myself with more than words. If it comes to that, my roan staff seems hardly appropriate, and besides, my ability to fight is less than rudimentary.

“State your intent. Why come you to Tara?” The voice comes again, hollering to be heard above the din of this dreary day.

“I serve as Bandraoi to Fionn and the people of Dun Alúine. Ailbhe rigbanfhénnid of the fourth nine, is my sister. I come at her suggestion, and the request of the high king who has summoned here the protectors of his people.”

As I speak, I stare bewildered at my challenger, whose features have suddenly coalesced out of the fog. On the ground, he would stand two hands taller than myself. I cannot see his long, golden braided hair beneath the furs pulled up to shield him from the winds. The presence of the fur cloak is the only sign he does not find me cause for concern, and he shouldn’t, of course. I recognize him instantly as one of my sister’s nine, in fact we’d just been in conversation four hours earlier. But they had all gone in before me, and I, with less standing of my own, found myself outside with the other druids and freemen, waiting my turn to pass through. I know I cannot be welcomed as a friend, even though it is oddly painful to be addressed like a stranger by a member of my adopted household. But, the high king demands formality, and to him I am as much a stranger as any other. I shiver, telling myself that this is definitely because of the cold, rather than the thought of the high king. Once again, I fail at self-deception miserably.

Despite himself, the young fénnid lets a glimmer of recognition spark in his otherwise harsh unyielding eyes. I smile up at him, then, but he has turned to shout something inaudible to an unseen space behind him. Shortly after that, I am allowed inside.

I climb the rugged dips and crannies of the hill, a flurry of activity all about me. There are people standing in groups talking excitedly, mothers comforting crying children, the hurried steps of those rushing by to seek shelter in one of the four halls surrounding the main hall of the high king. Horses stamp hooves and whinny, men and women prepare provisions for tomorrow’s feast. Commotion reigns. The expectant energy of the place palpably buzzes just below what is evident with my five senses. Overwhelmed and in awe, I stop for a while to just take it all in, the sights and the sounds, the smells—and try to imagine approaching this scene tired, hungry, and cold, a girl of merely nine years. How had my sister ever made it passed the wall? But whatever the fire in her that allowed her to journey all that way, I know it is undoubtedly that same internal flame that drives her to excellence so that she now leads a fian of her own.

My sister and I have always adored each other, and the day she slipped away in the dark to leave behind an unwanted destiny and boldly go forth to seek another was one of the most devastating days of my life. I was too young to understand, and to my mind she had simply decided she could live without me. Later I would come to understand that I had very little to do with her decision. When I decided that I, too, did not wish to return to my clan of birth, it was simply a matter of logistics to locate my sister, and apply to be the bandraoi for her community instead. For that brief time we spent together as children, she’d become more family to me than anyone else ever had.

And yet, standing on the hill of Tara, it steels on me again: that gnawing fear that I will only ever exist in the shadow of my sister, that I might never be known by my own deeds, but be tolerated in places such as this out of a duty to hospitality by proxy.

I push these uncharitable thoughts away. I know that when I am lying out in the forest near a stream, breathing in the sky, such petty thoughts don’t matter. They vanish like the smoke they are and leave only truth. I cannot let myself take such things seriously now.

Much later, when I sit in the king’s great hall with the other druids, I still can’t believe I am here. What is more, to my astonishment I find myself temporarily sitting next to Íonnach Mór, the Great Ionian himself, and the high king’s Ollamh.

“Is this your first time in the hall of Tara?” he asks, after we exchange the usual introductions. A look of warmth flickers across his face. His question unnerves me. Do I look that apparently new to kingly feasting halls? Do I seem lost? Have I acted unfavorably? I gather myself to appear far more certain and sure than I feel.

“Yes, my first,” I struggle to find a voice now suddenly shy in front of this man whom I had held in such high esteem from a distance, looking me in the eye. “I’ve been out of training for only a year,” I add, for justification, in case I’m in need of one.

“There is always a first time,” he replies without judgment, to my relief. “Who from among those you have taken up with has sponsored your being here, or have you come representing yourself?”

Still worried about betraying my ignorance by saying something wrong, I gesture toward Fionn, who, with about two thirds of the fianna, has taken up a position along one of the walls, armed and ready to defend the gathering if needed. The rest are out around the grounds.

The Ollamh’s eyes widen in surprise, then he recovers: “Very good!” He exclaims approvingly, “That is no small accomplishment, and in only a year’s time. You have certainly earned your place.”

“Thank you.” I manage, unable to find more words. There are too many emotions crowding out thoughts, and I am too unprepared for this to quiet them into stillness.

“I am glad to have met you, Mairin of Almu,” the Ollamh replies, “I hope my filid will make you most welcome. Then he stands. I am shocked at how tall he is. He rivals some of the tallest men of the fianna in height, towering above me by a head and shoulders, and then some. In fact, at least to me, he is quite imposing, all around. His long flowing black curls simply add to his striking appearance. For a moment, his piercing hazel eyes hold mine in a solemn, yet vibrant gaze.

“It is a great honor, Ollamh,” I answer sincerely, also standing.

As I take my seat again, Íonnach Mór confidently makes his way toward the center of the room. The hall is quieting down, soon we will be brought to order.

Inside, I am beaming,. Feeling more accepted and right in this place, I finally begin to relax and wonder what will happen next.

The Beauty In All Things

I look all around this world
For the beauty in all things:
It’s in your eyes,
It’s in the starlight in your hair,

It’s in the cries of children,
The murmurings of all that grows.
Sometimes it just breaks me to see so much anger, so much fear,
And the tears we cry over what people’s hands and minds have done.

Flowers do not know despair,
Sitting there so patiently
They never mind the waiting.
I am looking far away, struck by memories almost fading–

For what is left behind when we die, but how we’ll be remembered?
None of the trees, none of the seas, none of the green stands still,
Until pieces of the scars start to be beautiful, make sense,
Bright and radiant, even holding truth at our expense.

How change so suddenly engulfs us,
Forcing us to recognize dishonesty.
How change so suddenly enfolds us,
Transforming all we thought we’d be.

In time I know wounds will heal, mountains fading into sea,
Time smooths over what is real, while conquerors write its history.
In time the children crawl, then stand, to walk life’s mystery,
And I hope this time that I can find the beauty in all things.

Rarely is existence black and white,
As in betweens we have a power of our own:
To magnify the bruises,
Etch the outlines of scars,

Glint in the rain drops,
Shimmer with the echos through the sky,
And bless the dawn with light,
And draw out all the life in everyone.

Sometimes there is too much darkness,
And I don’t know what will become of us,
But as long as I am here, I’ll make sure I’m standing tall,
Taking in all, swaying when the wind blows.

I’ll survive somehow,
Our memories, our dreams they have survived,
Broken pieces of identity,
Often not invaluable enough to save,

Our needs not what they used to be,
In a way there is nothing more to need.
I am here, a testament to love,
What are tides, if we never had changed course sometimes.

It’s hard to say just how I feel,
Harder still to share the desperation in my eyes,
Hardest to admit when I’m afraid
To walk the world alone, unsure of what’s ahead.

What else can I say, you are shining, ,
You are changing the way I face the things of life.
Holding gently in my hands what time has left for me,
Songs of joy and sorrow, I wish to gather gratefully.

And I hope, despite what life might bring,
I’ll find shelter in some trees,
Look across the seas,
Hear the laughter of my children and with them, wonder at such beauty,
The beauty in all things.

One Night At a Berkeley Pub

At the Starry Plow, , a young man sings “And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda”
It’s the first time I have really listened to the words:
Tales of the ravages of the first world war
Exhausted, I wistfully wish he’d picked a different song tonight.

But when the verses are over and the chorus repeats
Again and again, my attention starts shifting.
To the ten people standing in the isle
Standing in a line, silent as a grave.

I’m the only one to notice them,
Held transfixed by the grief that haunts their tearless eyes
And within such sadness, I lose my bearings,
Their solemn sorrow startles me.

This is not what I expected.
Too many emotions that contradict each other
Course through their bodies, as they let the music move them.
Too much to be present to, but I try.

And then forgetting to make sense out of it all,
I fold my hands and sit still with them until the song is over.
Together, they wrap their Arms around each other,
Holding on tightly, as if bracing themselves against emptiness.

As if, by trying to appear as one,
They could quell the different struggles taking place within them each,
A weary story etched upon their faces,
Between us and the silence, and with the silence it remains.

If I were alone I’d cry for those whose tears cannot fall.
My friend asks me, “Aren’t you going to drink your beer?”
But I am far, so far, far away from here.
Feeling what they’re feeling, I can’t move or speak at all.

The song done, I wish that I could comfort her, my troubled soul sister,
Beside me now, determined to regain composure,
And though I cannot hold her, I can reach out and enfold her,
Never alone, I whisper, a single space is ours together.

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/.

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.

The Unexpected Origins of Caoilte Mac Ronan _ Song of Sun and Sea

The little boy, only eight summers old, burst through the doorway of the house at his mother’s call, but only after she had hollered his name at least five times. His thick dark red hair was wind-blown and tousled, and he was very much out of breath. Once again his mother was hollering, now from much nearer by, to get back outside with those shoes before she got to him first.

“What have you made of the morning, mo leanbh?” she asked, attempting to continue to scold. Attempting, that is, because just at the corners of her eyes danced a hint of a smile even while her lips turned into a frown. The boy had never been able to learn the art of a seer, but he knew the secrets hidden in a person’s face better than anyone. It always surprised his mother, but he did not know why. All you had to do was open your eyes and look. No one bothered to look. But he had, and it was there he met a person’s soul.

He had seen the smile and knew his mother’s anger would only be for show. “I was out running, ma. I went to the edge of the woods,” and here he pressed on hastily, lest his mother interject with the familiar warnings about the woods, “I did not see the shadows of the tallest trees, the sun being so bright just after dawning, so I just kept running. I made it to the fork in the river. When I got back it was still morning, so I ran it all again.” he finished proudly.

His mother only shook her head. “Ten miles, go sábhála Dithe sinn! Isteach leat, in with you and wash your hands and feet. I have hot tea for you when you’re done,” she thought for a while as the boy left his shoes outside and came in to scrub the dirt and sweat off himself. “I fear we won’t have you to ourselves much longer,” his mother continued.

“Will I get to join the older boys and learn how to fight, then?” the boy asked eagerly. “I already run faster than any of them.”

His mother sighed. “One should never run too quickly out of childhood. You would put an end to your growing before it has begun. No, you will wait until the next year like all the rest. Three times three is the year of power, when potential comes into it’s own.”

The boy listened intently. He had never heard his mother say so much at once, with such earnestness, conveying so much meaning. “What truth in the direction of your words do you wish to share, ma?” he asked quietly, sensing his mother meant to say more than repeat the druids’ law of three. He took a long sip of tea and patiently sat waiting for his mother to sift through her thoughts for whatever story wished to be told. For when she got that pensive look on her, a story was in formation. The boy loved the outdoors, loved to run, loved to play games with the other boys, especially the older ones. But if truth be told, he cherished his mother’s stories most .

“I am glad you are sitting down, son,” she said finally. “It is time you learned your origins.” A chill ran through the boy’s body, and he made sure he was sitting tall and making eye contact. This would not be like his mother’s other stories. This would be different, lasting, changing.

“Do you know the meaning of your father’s name,” she asked for effect, for the boy would know. “He is called Ronan, little seal, and here is the why of it. You see, he is a child of land and water. His mother was a selkie.”

The child gasped audibly. He had not been expecting this, but felt he should have. He had never known or met his grandmother. But he had heard his share of stories of the wild and strange seal folk who danced out on the rocks at midnight, their eerie song floating out over the waves like a soundscape’s shadow. Were their song something seen and not heard, it would have glowed iridescent and luminous in the darkness. “Tell me of her people and how she came here.” the boy encouraged, softly.

Across from him, his mother sat still and silent, as if the story wrapped itself so thickly around her that speech would be difficult. Finally she brushed her long wavy hair out of her clear blue eyes, eyes the boy thought now were so unlike his hazel eyes which mirrored tones of the water or land depending on which he was near. Taking a breath slowly, his mother began:

“Once, fada ó sin, long long ago, lived a small and young selkie girl by the name of Bean Álainn, Beautiful Woman.”

The Effects of Imperialism

They cry endless tears
They make calendars of sorrows
Things are too strong, too great, too hard, too frail, too big, too small
No one remembers where they’ve put the inbetweens

They long, afraid to put a name to the feeling
Old songs whispered throughout the day,
No longer able to sing in their own language,
The people don’t know who they are.

And they laugh about how loud everything is,
Especially they’re voices.
Ice on glass, the embrace of friends:
Wouldn’t you yell if you weren’t being heard?

People wear a kind of stupor like a mask
In and out of buildings, homes, children’s schools
The days go by without notice.

Complacency is the worst sedative
For it makes the strong forget they are wounded
And no one recalls how to get up.

They don’t live in deserts
But it’s easy for minds to go barren and raw.
Red sands hide the scars of war well,
The red rocks of memory could have been monuments

But everything is too stark, too set in stone.
Identities formed through struggle
Wrap like mistletoe,
Draining life out of the oaken heartwood at the center.

Strings cross yards to hold the weight of clothes,
Strings cross wooden frames, waiting to be played,
Strings attach to every letter of every word
That could spell a way out.

They walk on stranded ground,
Along the edge that’s split three ways:
Land and sea and sky,
Not sure why everything is spilling over.

If only they could follow the threads of what is left
Through the maze that nobody remembers starting
To the place where who they are lies in roots and trees
Where the land shapes them, and they no longer shape the land,
Where signatures could be torn from the tarnished pages of history,

Be replaced with their own.

They wonder why, they wonder why,
The reason is written on their faces
But mirrors have been outlawed here.

Otherwise the problem and solution
Would look back at one another
On the surface of a pool,

And somebody would have to dive in
And bring up what lies beneath
The surfaces that seem so smoothed over.

What kinds of unknown things
Would you not understand and yet recognize
Or would you not recognize a self
Formed from the clay of your own belonging
No longer handed to you?

Figures that stood for something immense and grave
Serve the purposes of a country that’s lost it’s origins
And those that profit from that
Do not own the stories they tell.

People argue about who is right,
They argue about who is wrong,
They argue about arguing.
They argue to hear themselves talk,

They argue about who has given them they’re names,
And who has disowned them.
There are as many streams of water as there are streams of people,
Neither is quite sure where to go
Just sure that they are going.

Things don’t just change, they exchange:
Songs for silence,
Mirrors for security.

This silent security,
It stalks the land like some wild animal.
People created it, it waits for the day it will capture everyone’s heart.

We are not the silence or the struggle,
Or the ferocity of wild cats,
Or the shards of broken dreams.

We are not the ancient songs or the lost children.
We are not yesterday’s mistakes or today’s forgetting.
We are not what you told us we were.

Piece by piece, we rebuild what reflects us
Greater than all we previously dreamed,
Louder than the keening of a fractured past,
Our cries are the sounds of what is to come.