Tag Archives: story

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.

Advertisements

It Won’t Be Like This for Long

She walks along an uneven, eroding road, eyes narrowed, mind relatively absent, heart honeycombed with loss and the enduring of uncertainty, pain, and unshed tears. Here and there the trees sway to a music she can’t hear. The fog has come again. It comes when she has stored too many false hopes with the dreams she carries: wishes that reality were different than it seems, that what is happening would not be true.

She has tied up her hair and now it loosens as she walks down the path from which the sun is quickly evaporating. Clouds billow in but they are too far off to see, so she worries what shape they will take and whether she’ll still be on the road when they arrive. She will get off the road if the messages they bear prove to be too unfavorable.

The river to her left sings of joy too inharmonious with her thoughts to take seriously. Far ahead a bird cries too loudly. If she had worn shoes, they would have squelched in the mud on the road, but for now she is as silent as the wind.

Silent, for speech eludes her, for song fails her. The silence in herself echoes the silence outside herself, until she is swallowed by it, wrapped tightly in it, a swaddled child of the smothering silence. She feels cradled by the hands of voicelessness until it lulls her into unsettled inaction. Through that indecision she wanders, the hills on the road nothing to her, the touch of the breeze almost not registered. She bends once to pick up a stone, as alone as her heart, and wonders at finding her way through relationships that, like the cliffs far to the west, crumble so imperceptibly into sand until, abruptly, they avalanche into ruin, taking with them everyone all of a sudden.

Trying to reforge the hillsides of her landscape with scarce reinforcements may or may not have salvaged the whole of the puzzle in which was carved a place for each piece of the once vast vertical stretch of stone. The puzzle rearranges itself without her, appearing crooked and baring just beneath the surface the scars consequent of her leaving.

Solemn now, the clouds come, mirroring her grey blue eyes. She should not be here. Her designated normal place is not with the river and the song of the sun bird and the wisps of searching fog, and for a second, she almost forgets why she ever strayed beyond where she was expected to go. But then the why of it is all too easy to recall. Truth telling, especially softly weaving into the world the truth of her self, is a hard won right she should have known she did not possess. Precarious now, much of what her family has worked for, seeded so carefully, and absent is the peace between them, that had never really been there, but which they liked to say they shared.

It was her lack of silence which crippled her happiness and thwarted her dream to belong. This is what they told her, and sometimes, like now, she still feels this way. But she wonders in some small part of her being what belonging means, and whether she is walking away from never belonging just to walk toward it at last. Can a person belong where she cannot be herself?

It was striving to face the fear of breaking the fragile unspoken and specious borders around what no one wished to face that brought her here, alone and to this road, and far from what she knows. Now the silence beckons with its’ eerie siren’s call: “slip into the shelter of sonorous slumber, where are you going you young hapless wanderer?” But it is not the place of the silence to question her with who she thinks she is. The answer to this cannot be determined in silence, and this as much she knows. In anger now she shouts at the silence to leave her alone–the last of her supposed company who she’d rather be without.

She senses the twilight twinkling at her as she makes for the night a place to stop and reflect on the unknown of the future. To her, now, the morning later, time crawls as she still decides on nothing. She tells herself she will survive. She is thirsting and terribly hungry for wholesome life, one that matches her aspirations, her dreams, her way of being, the light pulsing through her reflecting shapes she was too often forbidden to share. She is tired of carefully stepping around what is, just to please other people and their strange desire to continue in their illusions, as if there is safety in what they want to believe when that was never so.

Onward, and many days to come, the journey might take her from the life she had which ceased making sense to the life she dares to achieve. What if she is not enough? What if she is not prepared? What if all along they were right and it was only she who lived by illusions as they suspected? Doubt makes the fog grow thicker, but what of it? The thing is done.

She is here, and every step she takes challenges the doubt boiling dangerously. It churns in her stomach as if she contained in herself a pit of earth out of which heavy emotions could spring, doubt, and molten fear, and she will not let it spill over the edges. It is enough, she knows, to scald what is left of a person’s worth.

. Instead she imagines the sea of life within her, and she the selkie, who has finally found her skin. She may not know how to swim yet, and there is always lack of confidence, but she cannot go back now.

Besides, she reasons, she is really not alone. The living stones and water and sky breathe with her, sing to her. Even the blazing fire of the sun walks the sky without like companionship, comforted only by it’s radiant light, no one to speak to, intrepidly traversing up and up the path that winds through the mountain of the stars, no knowledge in the moment that a resting place awaits at the other side. She smiles up at the sun then, willing that it recognize with her that they, sun and girl, have a similar journey ahead.

Perhaps their hearts long for the same freedom, perhaps they both rely on nothing but their light, glowing from within. Perhaps peace is around the bend somewhere up there past the day and it’s encroaching fog. She can’t see the peace or the sun through the fog, but she decides both are there. She walks on toward her dream, every moment carrying her closer and closer to a genuine home. She is that much closer to being sheltered in the truth of herself: the truth she listened to, that called her to change.

These realizations seep slowly into her frozen mind as she stares into the pool in the river, re-braids her hair, crinkles the corners of her eyes, wipes mist from her forehead with a tiny hand, then takes stalk of her few belongings. There is not much, but she has lived this long on her own. Quickly, she grasps the leafy hand of a nearby tree, a standing person, and brushes the dirt from her clothes. She is off again, hope rekindled like tiny suns in her ever watchful eyes.

***

Things change despite us and our hopes. Things fall away, like the cliffs and the tide, and the song of the sun bird, and the cycles of twilight and dawn. Things you thought you were, no longer make sense. Things you thought you belong to fade or falter, or break apart in a vehement frenzy that surprises all. Things you thought would serve you you no longer need. Things you know now you need must be sought elsewhere. It won’t be like this for long. If you hold on, more of the pieces will fall into place, change can be sharp and demanding but in the place of all that wanting to be true is the real you, the one who emerges carved through the difficult moments you face. Let yourself shine in all those myriad of shapes you never gave yourself permission to share. And though sometimes you can’t see through the fog, know you still are not alone. All of us, myself and the others, we are here.

Spilling Over

She eats cereals like there is no tomorrow,
My Grandmother, depressions
Dripping like droplets of milk down her mouth,
Mouthing “more,” when she is not speaking,

Because she never got enough
When still a child, spilled by the fountain of youth onto the sprawling clay,
Needy and not kneaded at the bottom of the Bread Basket,
During the Depression.

She married my grandfather, tall, dark, and disciplined by Want,
Who used his knock-kneed frame as a jungle gym
Especially when the children ran rampant with hunger,
Crying shyly as they were tagged “it.”

My mother warns me to respect grandpa’s habits,
As if God herself deemed his behavior redeemable,
In a last attempt to tempt him with wanting grace.

“Eat your cereal, young lady,” grandma chides. My eyes
Bulge, suspecting yesterday’s meal of frosted minny-wheats
Will be mysteriously displaced into my metal spoon,
Milk draining off the cupped bowl of a concave collection of grain.

The children were always hungry, always crying.
My mother watches me fiercely with a hesitant sympathy plaguing
The whites of her corneas.
I see it sift through her eye like sand and flinch,

She, my mother, the survivor, silently
Witnessing the way I will pay
Tribute to my ancestors.

Quickly, I qualify my breakfast, a hurried gulp
Of saturated solution and swallow,
Exhaling elatedly after the enormous effort.

Two years ago, Grandfather wouldn’t insist on such a crude
Relapse into recalling such remembrances of long-ago,
But senescence seems to detain his decency behind bars,
And as the meal ends with many brothey bowls untouched,

He lifts them up sacredly from his table and gently pours
The contents of each eager-lipped, glossy dish
Into a fountain overflowing, that drips back into the carton of milk;
The same ritual he performed yesterday.

Tomorrow, I’ll leave the furrowed house
Where the roof thatches sink concavely toward the floor,
Where water, after accumulating in the troughs made
By the derivative of the roof’s normal triangular shape,
Eventually cascades into a freak rainstorm off the eves.

In the evening, brother and sister would play in puddles;
You could see the whites of their eyes reflect off the water
As they buried cold toes in dusty sand.

And if you were filled with the sustenance of sparse fortune,
You might offer them milk, and watch their mouths gape open
Like dry caves, accepting the first spray of waterfall.
Then they would save some for the family jar
To relive that white dream whenever they needed.

It was raining when the younger finally slipped out of sight,
Over him mounded grains of earth, and the grey-sky tears falling.
And at dawn, mother crept their barefoot, hardly believing,
There, dew dripped in silence, and there was one who longed no more.

*This poem is based on a story told to me by a family friend.

To Ayla of The Earth Children, 2003

In that dream I had, you ran to me, your five-year-old body parting crowds. I knew your name and forgotten language before you ever said a word. Then you leapt into my arms and spoke mine. That night, we wove ourselves through eons and what we can make believe, face to face with her other’s beginnings.

In different ways, for different reasons, we once took another chance to live. Mine began with a coma, a terrible dot that tore life into two unfinished clauses– before and after the closing of eyes. And for us both, it ended with a scream– the kind uttered at first recognition of difference, still afraid to lose what we had no time to love.

At twelve, when I first heard your story, my blood still stung in the places where so many tried to cut me off from myself. It was you who challenged me to start bleeding watercolors, spill tears without silence, as if, just by painting the desert in swirls of blue, I could stumble into the mist of belonging.

Then, there were the twelve years since. The acorn follows the oak tree, (the meaning of your name,) the child mother to her, woman, the earthy light of old caves. Was it you, or me, who brushed my voice across these shattered sands, slowly removing the brambles–so many obstacles to overturn, so many who deserted me? Was it me, or you, who learned to love the pathfinders (the wolf as their symbol?) I have adopted their language; they have become my second family.

It does not matter which of us came first. That night when you perched on my horizon like a firefly, I whispered to you all I knew to make the world more beautiful. Perhaps it was you, or me, who dreamily pressed a face to the window as we drove home,
Glass reflecting back our smallness, a cool mirror and warm skin.

I still remember waking: how the sun poked its face through the blinds and how the dream felt, ebbing back into the marrow of my bones. I wanted to speak soundlessly, moving my hands, my whole body, through those ancient signs you danced as a child. I would say this to thank you. I would say:

“This woman wakes. This woman has found her others. She has sifted through the grains of sand, and has counted you in every one.”

The Night Watch: Caoilte’s Song for Ailbhe

Hushed the night, all in their sleeping,
Dark, with misty cloak, draws near,
I the silent vigil keeping,
O’er you, and many dreaming here.

With the wonder of a child,
Among the trees these wakeful hours,
I will watch the land born wild,
This wood and all beyond, is ours.

In the shadows I am here
Beneath the hearth fires of the sky,
Though creatures creep where nothing’s clear,
I will see they pass us by.

Alone, the night song all about me
Soft spun, woven threads of moon
Rise, as if a tide within me
Spilled over with these thoughts of you.

Soon enough the day’s bright dawning,
Soon to wake the world astir,
And we with sun’s flight take our wandering,
I’ll see you just the way you were.

Swift the days in endless passing,
Uncertainty, our path wound through,
But long since this brief moment’s lasting,
I will ne’er be far from you.

The Vision at the Restaurant Table

It was the summer of 2011, and the girl had just had enough. She’d been dealing with inaccessible websites, prejudice from professors, anger, so much anger. Like its own creature, alive in itself, rage, rage against the night
shout and scream, become a child again in the worst, worst way.

The girl’s dad told her to just let go, forget about it. But the girl struggles, thinking: but aren’t we here to change the world, But aren’t we here to end this suffering, but aren’t we here? The girl, so here, so agonizingly here, the anger creature within herself with nowhere to go, pounding the cage of her own ribs, cannot be reasoned with, has been ignored for so long.

She tells herself, be sensible, be calm, be strategic, rise above it, be wise. But stronger in her is The conviction that it might all be nonsense and for nothing: look away, look away…

Later that night, the girl goes out to eat, and walks into the restaurant, sitting down at the table her father reserved, trying to enjoy the music with the bird in it. The dad asks, “hear the bird?” And the girl hears the bird, but the fog she’s in makes everything so far away.

The girl thinks, oh no, I made some terrible, terrible mistake, not good not good, why didn’t I listen, why didn’t I know what I already know? She is haunted by the old specs of memories of a loved one.

And then they were there, the man and woman, the couple from the otherworld. They reached out for her, to hold her in their arms, but why now, why her, didn’t she not deserve this kind of love, she had not stopped to breathe, she had not even been rational. Why, why? The girl can’t even look at them.

No words, “there are no words,” she says, and he says, “Yes don’t you trust us, don’t you? We didn’t let you stay lost.”

She had not been lost all day. In fact, it started out well. This morning she had gone for a walk through the tree lined sidewalks of the neighborhood, she had gathered the star leaves off their branches, watched life holding on: the green mixing in with yellow and orange. A season turning in all that leafy rustling, the hands of time. The music at the restaurant is now making a slow, spiral ribbon up to the ceiling, she watches its shapes, grasping after them, hoping for something to hold onto.

No words, no words, but would you trade your words for freedom? But would language give meaning to experience? But that isn’t why she can see them and looks away, cowers hidden within the shaded corners of herself. Even though they still know her, hold her there with flashlight eyes…

So now the girl is sitting still, wrapped in spiraling music and the fog. And he’s still standing there in front of her, that one so tall, who she has only seen several times, and then before that only in dreams, and she does not know his name…

She starts to feel like part of her is wrapped in the fog, so far away, wants to stay there, wants to stay angry, justified, she has a right to be upset, to act like she does not deserve to see Not him, not her. But there, somewhere else, she is already straining against something large and dark, to get away, get away, and she does not actually move at all, but she turns, like a tree toward the light, and barely able to see him out of some terrified eyes, she takes his hand.

He says, it’s the first time almost that he’s ever said anything, he says, “Don’t you trust me, I got you unlost once, and I can do it again. Just let go, jump I’ll pull you through.”

And the girl is there, dumbly, still for a moment. The why whines around her mind, like a wind coiling around itself, waiting. She is holding her breath, wondering whether there will be a storm. Will the sky fall, will she fall, is she just like the sky? But the girl once survived death, quite literally, and this is something even stranger and more baffling, simple and beautiful. This is living, the wildness of truly living, it calls her to return.

She’s not sure if she’s simply no longer afraid of dying, because she’s not, Or is simply no longer terrified to leap into living. But all this goes by in a flash. She is holding his hand, she jumps.

Then a moment passes. She is in the air, is she just going to fall? Will she come apart or telescope back into herself? She wishes she wasn’t so apprehensive. Suspended between worlds, she wonders whether, if he lets go, she’ll be lost forever. But no, the moment of nothing is so very short; and then everything clears, as close as being able to see that she can remember.

The world appears sharply around her, in high definition. She is sitting next to her dad at a table, the music is so clear, the fog is all gone, the room is lighter, the people walking up and down the aisles,
are so vivid, even though she is supposed to be blind she counts every single one. She can see shadows of people across the room.

The people from the otherworld are gone. She didn’t even have time to thank them, or finally ask who they might be. She is grateful and quiet. She has always lived by, with, because of others. She does not do anything alone.

She spends a great deal of time blinking, blinking, blinking. After that, she goes with her dad out onto the floor and then the two of them are dancing.

And now she sits here in the dark, so late at night, because that’s when no one asks her any questions. And she is wondering if it is just as painful to give birth as it is to be born. Because for quite some time, several years it seems, she’s been at doing both at the same time. Neither ever, ever ends.

And all that love from the otherworld people she doesn’t know, blazing away in the dark is enough to melt all that ice away. It is enough to bring tears to her eyes, and stop her gaze for hours, not sure what to do next. But then, why focus on what could go wrong, If to them you are a flawless child, if to them you are whole, and all this talk of shortcomings just a way to make sure people fear living?

We are more worried about shining then burning out, and have all sorts of solutions and programs for failures, but are so wary of success. It would be heroic to conquer the fear of succeeding. But perhaps good enough for them if you jump anyway.