03 February 2009

Butterfly and Bear: A Midwinter Heartsong

In the morning I arose to face another midwinter day stuck somewhere in the middle of Nothing In Particular. No joy, no sorrow, no pain, no pleasure. You were not on my mind as I performed my morning rituals. I didn’t see you in the mirror as the razor scraped my cheeks. There were no reflections in the tired eyes staring out at me as I massaged my cheeks.

Not that I expected there to be any inkling of you. I dressed myself and I ate my breakfast like I always do. I helped get she who is your sister (did you know? Does she?) ready for day care, breakfast eaten, clothes on, in the car. I was dimly aware that something was different when I stepped outside and into a sunny day. The air was cool, not cold, and smelled so fresh and clean. A few lungfuls and I perked up like a dry flower getting water after too long without. Your sister chattered her way to school and we listened to some music with a little sing along for good measure.

On the way back home, the car was pointing straight at the sun, and the orangey-yellow light suffused the car with the color of summer peaches. I felt something inside me loosen a little, the muscles in my diaphragm becoming unlaced. I actually began to feel…content.

Content, until I sat down at my computer to do some job searching, catch up on some correspondence. Children, it wasn’t easy. The very thought filled me with dread, and I was overwhelmed by sleepiness. I had to force myself to work through it. And I did, mostly. I managed to get two job contacts fulfilled, with resumes winging their way whither things wing once the ‘send’ button is pushed.

That was about all I could take before the walls caved in and the roof fell on my head and the sunlight coming through the back window was just too bright for me to take looking at it from inside this house that sometimes feels like a monastery, or a prison cell. Brother Heron was calling out to me from the back of my head, saying ‘Run, boy, run” so I did. Daddy got up and ran like Old Nick had just stuck his head in the door and said hello.

I grabbed my keys and my journals and my iPod and took off like a shot, barely remembering to lock the door on the way out. The sun was really bright and the sky that cerulean to die for, but I barely noticed. I was hyperventilating and my heart was pounding as I jumped in the car. Kids, you wouldn’t know what “burn rubber” means, but that’s just about what I did hightailing it out of the parking lot. I had some music on the player, funny, it was “Break the Same” and “Chaos” by Mutemath. I know, kids, I know: after your time, but Daddy really likes them. I don’t really remember the drive, but I made it safe.

I wasn’t as panicked as I had been when I left the house, just felt good to be away from the walls closing in, reminders of all the chores I need to do. Daddy laughs, my children, because he likes to think that where you are now, there aren’t chores to be done! Better not be, else I’ll have to have words with whoever is in charge of the joint.

So I jumped out of the car, leaving the iPod inside, and the books. I wanted my hands and ears free, no distractions while I walked. All the better to hear and to see what was out there today. The path was still very icy in spots. My mood wasn’t improved by slipping and nearly falling many times in the first quarter mile. Don’t worry, kids, I only used one expletive. At a time.

I wasn’t in the best frame of mind when I crossed the bridge at the west end of the lake and started up the hill. The path was in full sun, the trees a little thinner and on the right side of the hill for full sun. I was in no guise thinking of you, my daughter and son. I as hiked up the hill and up into the wise open sunlight at the top, something happened to change all of that.

I walked up the rise into the light of day
And you were there in a sky full blue
I heard the singing of birds, looking at me
And you were there in the sound

I drew a lungful of cold air, and it felt so good
Because you were there, just like oxygen
I shaded my eyes from the glare of the ice
But you were there in the rays striking my face

I wept, the clean smell of snow in my nostrils
And I wiped my face hoping no one would see
But then I started to smile without stopping
And my heart began to swell

Because you were there

I threw out my arms, laughing and sobbing
Surely, the dog walkers and the joggers
Would call the police, thinking I was mad
As I proclaimed “They are here, in my heart”

Down the hill, into the trees, squirrels twitch their tails
And greet the lunatic in their midst
A fresh flow of tears on my cheeks
When I raise my hand to greet you both

Because you were there

Brief moment of doubt as the trees close in
And shield the geese from my view
I thought I was mistaken, maybe just daft
But no, a goose called out and I heard your voices

This is too much I thought, head spinning
Maybe I should lay down in the leaves here
Beside the path and wait for the ghosts to depart
My vision dimmed as I staggered down another hill

Because you were there

Another laugh bubbles up, and rainbows in my eyes
As the salty prisms diffract the sun into a billion drops
My god, you’re full of stars I say to myself
And clasp my hands to my heart swelling with joy

The woodpeckers did it, avian hammers banging
Out your names on a tree deep in the wood
I said “My son, my daughter” and begged the birds not to stop
And they obliged, the drums only fading as I walked away

Because you were there
North end of the lake, out in full yellow gold light
I gasp at the sight of wide open water, saying
“My children, you see this, you know this beauty!”
I fold my arms low to hold you both as witness

Laughing like a loon now, a vision appears in my head
Of a street where a door beckons me in
And a bull waits calmly outside a house
Waiting for something, just like me

The door is on the other side of the world
I know, I can tell, but I can see you, daughter!
Your back to me as you enter the temple
And I shout with joy, following behind

The bull is also there, a subcontinent away
And so am I, standing in an alien street
Amazed by the power and silent grace
Of an animal that harbors you, my son

Because you were there

Spring is not far away, and with it comes you both,
A butterfly and bear, awake from the winter slumber
Come to me, alight on my arm, nuzzle my hand
As we delight in the presence of one another

So it is that I spread my arms to embrace the world
And you, my children, unseen but in it
I raise a toast to you, the candle and the light
A brimming glass raised to life itself!

I ran away from myself this morning, only to be found alive, because you were there.


  1. You got it Irish.

    They are there. And there are no chores to do.

    You need those moments that come on glorious, almost spring-like days, on dark and dreary mornings, and on mundane Monday afternoons. . .

    You'll work your way through it.

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  3. That was lovely. May I copy this and send it to my brother? He also has a son and daughter in heaven, lost just after birth. (as well as their mother a few years later).

  4. Oh Irish...
    That was beautiful.

  5. what a beautiful tribute, friend. it has lifted my spirits this morning. :)

  6. I should never be allowed to read your posts during work. You turn my heart to absolute mush, Irish. (That was a compliment..)

  7. Hello Brother. I just wanted to tell you that this piece moved me and I wanted to say that's a good thing. It showed me what is really important in life.

    A. Gent Orange

  8. Irish...you move me. You really do.

    And you know what I was thinking when I read this? "What a wonderful tribute for Wee Lass to read one day when she's older".

    It shows her that her daddy is a human being with feelings, deep feelings. I also think it shows her how much you care for HER as well. That you love her just as much as these two angels.

    Beautiful. Touching. Moving.

  9. And there you are! The writer who produces quality work while engaged in the process of finding himself! Lovely. Just lovely.


  10. Oh my. I didn't know the story. I had to look back and find it. I was crying reading this. You are so incredible. What a writer - What a man - what a soul. you amaze me reading this. It is so beautiful.

    i am thinking so much about loss today - what parents go through - you spirit is needed on this topic. we have a little community project going on for another family who is suffering - maybe you can stop by today if you have time.

    your words are like water Mr. Irish...just pouring out of you all - feels so natural from you. Like nature. What a gift.

  11. They'll always be there, Irish, always.

  12. They are... aren't they?

    *wipes tear*

    Thank you. I feel much better now.


  13. to everyone on the train,
    just wanted to let all know
    how much I love "IG" and his "BRO"

    irish oldman

    and Wee Lass & her Mum

  14. So much comfort written here, such reason for peace. Amazing.

  15. Oy you're making the tears flow. Great writing.

  16. And there they are. I love that last line.
    You are doing just fine.
    Lovely writing as always.

  17. They are there, Irish. Beautiful, interwebby hugs to you and thanks...

  18. There now, boyo, ya made me fookin' cry.

    Good on ya, poet. Good on ya.

    Peace - Rene

  19. Miw: Yes. I see you there. :)

    Lizspin: Yep, and it was a good day. I really felt them…

    Joanie: Thank you. Please send it along, I would be honored!

    Belle: Thank you :)

    CPM: Thank you, glad to do so!

    SK: Sorry dear! And thank you :)

    Bro: (hug) I feel it, man. Thanks.

    MD: Thank you for that. I hope it does, I do…

    MHH: Thank you, and I appreciate that perspective.

    Lee: *sniff* Now I’m getting all teary! I’ll see if I can swing by. And thank you so much for what you said!

    Captain: Thanks, bro. I have a little chamber in there for them.

    Anndi: You know, girl. You’re welcome :)

    Dad: *sniff* Thanks, pop.

    Cat: Hugs for you, my dear.

    Kat: *sniff* Blot, don’t rub :)

    OAM: Yes, they are. Thank you.

    Ashley: Thank you!

    NTR: Good on ya, also, lass. Have a hanky, I got lots :)

  20. Your's is one of the blogs I save for till after dinner to allow me the time to savor it. Posts like this are well worth the wait being almost a dessert to my soul.

    And my wife wonders why I sit on the couch and tear up as I hold my laptop.

  21. CK: That's a high honor, indeed. Thank you. Tell Lois its manly tears :)

  22. Irish.

    You so rock. Do you get tired of me telling you that? I cannot wait for ThatManILove and I to meet you! We've got to plan!

    Though I can feel your pain, I can also feel the healing happening.

    Thanks for being so open. I love the butterfly and the bear. Can't wait to meet them, either, when I get to go where they are.

  23. Wow. That's all I got. Speechless.

  24. That was so beautiful. Not just an exceptional piece of writing, but a heartfelt expression of emotion. You must have given comfort to lots of people reading this, who have lost loved ones.... that their departed CAN be found, perhaps not in the physical but in their essence. What a sense of absolute joy and peace. Thanks Gumbo, I'm so glad to have read this..... and for expressing these things for us. :)


"Let your laws come undone
Don't suffer your crimes
Let the love in your heart take control..."

-'The Hair Song', by Black Mountain

Tell me what is in your heart...