for Daniel Michael Flynn (1960-2004)
In the pale light I brought him a mound of earth, dank and dark, and he, tall, taller than when I knew him, stood before a vast valley. He showed me a golden river which ran effortlessly, eternally, and he danced through the valley as if to tell me that he lived in magic. He was giggly, full of faith, the sky bright, the gray road behind him.
He grew quiet.
“Sister,” he said. “I haunt the old life still. It was not my wish to die. It weighs on me.”
“I hoped you had alighted into this place of endless valleys,” I said.
He swept his arm to encompass the great expanse before us.
“Oh yes, yes, I do belong to this. But I do not melt yet into the golden river.”
“What calls you from it, brother?” I asked.
“You call me from it,” he said, and I knew he meant all of us who love him and mourn him.
“Should we relinquish you?” I asked.
“Not too soon,” he said. “There is something still undone,” and he turned towards the grassy hills and began walking.
I hurried to keep up with him. I had never seen him walk with such surety. Gone were the tobacco-filled lungs, the ailing heart, and the wounds of his psyche. He walked whole, as if he and the earth had no difference between them. He grew taller still.
At the top of a hill he looked down to a valley, the golden rivers running. In a place below the trees, beneath the clouds, hidden from daylight, were two children playing with sand. His red hair gleamed and curled as it always had. My dimpled hands patted the mounds and hills of the little world we built. The boy lay down suddenly and stared through the trees to sunlight above. He showed this to the girl, pointing up as light poured down unto them. And the girl, now five, and the boy, just three, returned to the sand, for there was no other world than the one they made.
At the top of the hill, he pointed now to another place. In it a teenaged girl stood with her brother, both stranded on an urban street. Her legs in knee-high boots and short skirt were raw to the cold. It was just below twenty degrees. The boy, twelve, too, was cold. Very cold. No overcoat, no hat. His knuckles red, he warmed his hands with his breath. Her back was to him. They did not speak. She watched for a car to arrive. Together we witnessed the two that we had been.
And now he stood above the clouds on the tall hill, me just below him, looking up into his eyes.
“Look out there,” he said, “look.” And I turned my eyes from him to the multitude of infinity living in the living hills. Our ancestors were there among the bushes and grasses, he seemed to tell me, and then I saw them, creatures who appeared but had always been there, lined along the golden river and among the trees.
Our great-grandfather Will stood among the standing dead, by the arching oak. His suspenders laced his great chest like a man who had once plowed the good earth heavy and hard. Others were among them, ancient Irish kin, and the dead from other lands. And he who stood with me on the hill glanced down along the way, and we saw still more, an infinitude of souls among the tiny acorns and the tallest trees.
“Here now, here,” he said to me, that tall man who once giggled naked next to me in the wiggly tub on cold nights when our mother thought to protect our warmth. He stood again above the clouds and pointed to a place close to the river, open to the sun. There two boys dug in the moist earth with sticks and small shovels. One, a teenager, pulled up an old rusted coin. The future sang in his eyes – he wished to live in the world of earth and sky and find its treasures as he traveled. He showed the coin to the other boy, smaller, blonde of hair and cheek. And the other stopped his digging, and examined the coin, and gave his approval, and returned then to his work digging and looking for treasure remaining in the good, good earth.
Up on the hill we looked together towards those boys, and here I saw the tall man’s true heart breaking. Then, too, I saw a golden glow come to the boys as if the endless river rose up to join them. Around and around their father spun the golden light. And though the boys continued their digging, they paused in their play, and looked up, and looked around. There were no words between them, but they seemed to know without speaking that the air and light about them had become warm. And he was there.
“These are my methods now,” he said to me high on the hill. If it were possible he became taller still. Not so that I could not reach him, but closer to the sky. He pointed down into the valley, and put now the golden light around the little girl and boy playing in the sand, and around our younger selves standing out in the cold. And I saw they too look up for a moment to the light as if called. I saw that the dead, once they have come to a place such as he, bring healing to those they love, even the girl and boy we ourselves had been – knowing as we both did the wounds they would, and did, sustain.
He turned now among the hills, moving faster along the brush at the top of the ridge. Again I saw that we were accompanied, that rows of the dead lined the ridge and mountaintop. Each wore the golden glow that makes the earth hum and shimmer in certain light. I saw that the earth sings with the light of the dead, that a soul cannot leave the place of its creation. Like the spirits in blades of grass, stones, rivers and sacred trees, the dead have lives among us.
He brought me now to a place unknown to me, a cave among the highest hill. He was inside before I understood his intent, and could only follow, alone now among the plants and weeds. I followed inside, into darkness too impenetrable to speak, so thick it felt I walked inside a living presence. The man who led me was nowhere that I knew, and I walked a dark corridor unsure, even, of my direction or the passage to return. I touched no dank walls nor could I feel that perhaps he was calling. If I did not know that he had led me here, I might doubt my quest and vanish among the strange figures who seemed to distract me in the dark. There was no knowing if I moved towards him, or if my steps took me away. I felt no nearness of being or spirit. The only map I had was my heart, which seemed to nudge me, here, then here, slowly, hesitant, often fearful, here again.
Suddenly among the darkness I saw his purpose, and knew there would be such times for myself and for all of us when the light was gone and the guides seemed to vanish. And somewhere in my heart I saw again the man who led me here. He was not in the cave at all. His quick movement at the opening had only made me think it so. He stood on the hill and said to me in the dark cave, “Sit there, sister.” And thus I did. I halted my quest and cancelled all beliefs. I removed myself from trying. I slept. In the womb, I remembered my remembering, and the moment of my birth. I remembered the long darkness that was my making. And suddenly I stood, and walked out of the cave as if I’d always known the precise turns of its wandering bends.
At the top of the hill he greeted me. He was older now. I saw that his mustache was white, his red hair lined gray. Around him I saw the golden light he had spun around the living. It spun around him, and saved him, and rectified him. In that light I saw our grandmother Annie. She spun a golden thread upon him, for he was still new to his dying. Annie seemed to be an angel, mostly light, and he settled into what I now saw was a physical substance, the actual feel of love. He warmed.
“Tell her,” he said, and I knew now he meant his beloved mate. “Tell her she is forever mine.” And he showed me the married couple, up late among the kitchen lights, laughing and talking. Now we could see the spirits who sustained them, their ancestors, the unborn, the spirits of their sons. “Tell her she is forever mine,” he said again, and here too, I saw his heart break, and his leaving pain him. Then, as if it grew from his love and his ache, the golden river came to the woman, at the kitchen table, alone in the deep night, the house silent. She too looked up, as if beckoned.
And here now, as he grew upwards towards the sky and seemed to merge with our grandmother’s light, here, now he spoke as if the ancients spoke through him, wisdom above what he’d known in life, or even yet in death. He, too, learned as he spoke.
“The living are called to the great river of reaping and loving,” he said. “Tell her, tell them all, to go to the great river, to share the great life. When they love with a clear heart, they love me. When they see others in light and beauty, they see me. The tree they speak to, the night bird that visits them, when they hold dear these precious things, they too hold me dear.”
And I knew then, all of a moment, that my brother spoke as well to me, and harkened me unto life, as if the endless stream would not quite live its true being if I did not but enter it fully.
“Go now, go,” he said, and I saw that his light had shifted unto the sky. It was time now, I saw, for the valley and the golden river to be his. He returned to me the mound of earth he’d held in his hands. In a way, I did not want to let him go. “No, no,” he said to me. “I am all around,” and as he climbed further into our grandmother’s light the morning sun shifted. The candle that had burned all night in his name still burned. But the flame seemed to encompass all things. When I turned again to the hill, he did not stand upon it. I knew suddenly that he was it, he was the hill; and the golden light of his becoming gleamed. I felt the golden river surround me, and I too received his blessing. His love spun around me, a physical thing, something real on the skin, a warming.
“Tell them,” he said to me, “tell them to love.” And in this moment when his passage had been through four seasons and wound back to the fateful morning of his leaving, he blessed us all–we who mourned him and held him to us: his beloved wife and his sons, his sisters and brother, his nieces and great nieces, his nephews and great-nephews, all whom he had known and cherished in life, and the unborn of all these people, and his own coming grandchildren – he blessed us all.
“Long live the fateful light,” he said, and then he was the light, and he was each hill and blade of grass. And I walked then into the forest and to the great stream and vowed to love, only to love.
Published in Sisters Singing: Blessings, Prayers, Art, Songs, Poetry and Sacred Stories by Women, which I edited in 2009.