Tag Archives: memory

The Gifts of Grieving

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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In Between Lives: Ailbhe’s Experience

Some come to this world beyond with eager wonder, the need for resting, the joy of homecoming. I, however, fought fiercely for my life, even after it was very obviously ending. The illness was wasting my body away, but this only had the opposite effect on my tenacity of spirit. I had too much to lose, too much more to do. I suppose I died in battle, but not the kind I wanted to be remembered by. I didn’t win, of course. But I didn’t know any better not to try.

Until Mairin joined me, I was a spirit haunted by the living ones, by the stories I read in their eyes before mine drew closed against the day. But she was not long in arriving, in a way, we were all reunited quite quickly, and this was beyond joy for us.

It is hard to quantify time in the space beyond solid things, where there is growing and changing but no yesterday or tomorrow. But the time does come when we are to start getting ready to experience the adventure of another lifetime. I am grateful and overwhelmed with excitement for this.

***

We are gathered together about a fire that does not burn, a silent glow flitting about shimmering faces. I reach out and take Mairin’s hand. Our hands do not meet, but intertwine, fall together, weave into one another.

All around me, the intentions and feelings of others shine bright against the pale red sky. They form a web of wordlessness which is instantly understood. This is the way of speaking without any need for language and the limits it places on expression.

I am thinking about the world I left behind, where there are rivers and wild boars and hunting and crying and trees and beer, and passion, and hunger and sorrow and dancing and shouting and running . . . and that solidity I continue to try to touch, that I am not quite used to living without.

None of us feel we have had enough of the world, of moving and living and breathing and knowing the beauty and sorrow and joy and somber reflection which is all living out loud. There is much more to experience. There is growing old: most of us have not done so before. There is growing and learning new things, and, I probably mentioned this before but, there’s beer. I mean, I miss food, and eating, a lot.

I miss sunrises and singing the song of the dawn to a real dawn. I miss screaming and climbing trees. I miss knocking out anyone in my charge who is causing trouble and even miss their causing the trouble in the first place. I’m glad I don’t have to sleep, but miss curling up on a sleeping roll, or even on the hardpacked ground close to the smell of earth and rooted things. I miss all sorts of things,. I’m ready to try my hand at more.

As the day wanes around us, I take notice of the children chasing each other through a field of grasses not far off, and I consider that as much as I enjoy watching them, I could do another life without having children of my own. Taking care of a nine is need enough for responsibility, children are far less capable of feeding themselves. Also children demand a particular kind of patience. I’d have to be able to reconcile myself to many hours of inaction where I’d simply be holding them, and learn to tolerate getting spit up on. Then one day I’d have to provide the means to secure their future. I ran from my future as a child. What’s the point of bringing someone into the world, then demanding she not be who she was born to become?

In this place beyond time, I have reconciled with my birth family. But even now, I hardly spend time with any of them, my sister Mairin being the exception of course. My family is here all around me, laughing and sharing stories, dreaming into being our next try at living. I look out at the fields that sway for miles, full of wildflowers and wilder children. They are not so different, I realize, from the dreams forming shape and dancing in our eyes. Wild ones and our children.

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.

Falling Stars

Stars fall
And fall
I could do nothing
But watch stars fall

Brilliant sparks of soaring light
Lost in a senseless sea of sorrow
Tears cried too late
Then too soon dried

There was no time
To gather the fractured shards of love
Hold them close
Keen their crossing

Run, the shadows
Will snuff out in an inky smoke
The tiny incandescent suns
Smoldering in your harried, haunted eyes

Does the earth over your heads lie cold
Is it not yet satiated
With enough red rain
No time, I slip

Over the black pools
Lying in wait
Like withered, sunken eyes
Acrid reservoirs of unwept tears

Don’t fall…
But silently, filling
Hollows with the horrors of memory
A steady rain

Perhaps tomorrow
The warm sunshine
And the call of the curlew
Will pull me back

From the endless depths
Of yesterday’s neglected grief
But at last, today I weep
And weep for fallen stars

Still Life

The clearing beckons and you enter,
The butterflies between the trees flitting
Over the translucent stream below.

The momentary beauty captures your attention,
Stays your breathing, and you pause–
To reflect on a course of action,

Rummage in your backpack
No time to lose, your movements quick and frenzied,
Hoping you’ll find what you are looking for.

Triumphantly, you place an artificial lens
Between you and the scene before your eyes,
And try to focus

And frame an experience
As it shifts within its own rhythm,
Ever changing and alive.

Hurrying, you zoom in
On a view you just can’t miss.
Worrying over whether you are too close,

You get farther away for a better view.
And the shutter snaps open in a flash,
And the digital photograph

Pins the butterflies in their places
While the stream, in mid ripple,
Ever eludes to change.

With the moment safely captured ,
You can finally sit tranquilly,
Observing in silence.

But now, as you take in your surroundings,
You find nothing to stay your gaze
Save for the landscape in its subtle rearranging.

The bright screen displays your memory,
The one whose occurrence you never fully attended,
So feeling at a loss,

You remain exactly where you are,
Wondering at what you never took in,
And hoping for another opportunity.

In that instant I see you there,
Bordered by the portrait of the trees.
How strange for you to find

Frozen frames of living beautiful,
Moved by depictions of the no longer moving.
And if you’d turn your eyes on the water,

You’d notice how your own reflection
Resembles the appearance of a life stilled,
Impermanence just beneath the surface.

I am only passing through,
Noticing how everything happens to unfold.
Each experience changes with remembering,

No more defined within one image as I am,
Just as fleeting as the lives that create it,
And it is only when life ends that it is still.

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.

The Hunger Years

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Home

Could you take me home, back where the light shines, not from your places but from your eyes, in your steps but without a flame? I fall off the bridge with no ending. Unfrightened, I open my mouth to breathe underwater. Someone says, “I am you.”

Where are the brothers and sisters we lost? Where is the completion for the incomplete, the whole for the broken, the new for the old, the awakening for the unaware?

Where is the color for the shadow, the roots for the seed, the space for the stars, the family for the love, the heart for the beaten, the part for the departed, the world before our world, where are those who put us here?

Sometimes I just wish I could see you again. Life bends with our choices, roads wind. Sometimes we cannot see ahead. Mountains are sometimes avalanched into our living rooms.

I cling to our memories but don’t know if they’ll fade. I plead with the wind to keep us together, but it throws our friends to four directions. Scattered like rain, I cannot even hear your whispers. \

Tell She who has so many faces– I’ve sought impressions in her eyes, that I struggle to know every inch of her silences. Her words are my life pattern, in woven relief. She disperses like clouds, and I run to follow her at breathtaking speeds that leave me reeling.

I will join the seekers and slide in the mud until I learn how to survive. I rise and fall like nations. I turn ages as the earth turns seasons. I dance for rain. I dance for the song. I age seamlessly. Earth pulses to a rhythm I cannot quite hear.

All around me people make their verdicts. They tell me who I am and should be. But the caged bird sings, remembering the time signature of clouds, and I recall the beginning.

I fly through the vast universe on a cream-tan horse whose feet tap-dance worlds like stepping stones. I can keep warm by the fire in my bones. I can sing the song of life and death. I know every passionate mother, every determined daughter, every tree, every rainbow, every finch and squirrel, every hardworking man, every grieving boy. I know myself. I am a blanket of stars.

Go ahead, reach across the curtains of loneliness to touch another world. Bring back a lost child. You are no more lost in the mist than I am. Who are you to think you cannot know me like you know yourself, like I’ve known all I’ve ever been? Where have you come from? We are pulleyed to each other by a song. Your ancestors are immortal. They walk among the living. This we have always known.

Last Words of a Wild One (For Oscar)

No more our four, I am going to die
Tonight, the Stars shine brilliantly
Must I so watch the twilight of my day?
A triumphant fight, from earth I fly.

Now as fragile as a feather falling,
I who once was hard as rock,
Chose to stand beneath the sun
And sought to shine with all my heart.

If only I could know for sure
The promise of my yesterday’s fulfilled
Before I fade into a thought,
Before I join the voices on the wind.

Already, grey winds whisper
Of what I would and am
O’er the field on which I linger
They sing of bones that built this land.

So softly now I’ll go,
Few trees remain
For rare the water flows,
But for the blood that falls like rain.

Don’t let this end with nothing to convey
Dare you essay to explain,
Repay me with some thoughtful things I’d say
Had I but seen old age, learned life’s refrain.

Would I had time to say goodbye, to long
Bring back these things, my love, my name,
And put no end on my life’s song
For surely we will meet again.