My beautiful, beautiful sister Dabney—here she is in her belly dancing days. It’s hard to believe she is gone. And maybe there’s good reason for that.
When I got the news last night, I was at a full moon medicine circle of women healers. After a round of phone calls with family members, I rejoined the circle and after a while I was ready to talk about Dabney and what had happened. I read two poems about her and was overcome with the need to honor Dabney’s passing with a spontaneous ritual for the group.
At the height of the ritual, I called on the women whom fate had brought to this circle to channel the power of Dabney’s courageous adventure of a life, the flame that burned in her beautiful golden eyes now untrammeled by its limitations. I called on them to use the energy of Dabney’s passing like a flame, burning away the aspects of ourselves we no longer need, strengthening us as she would want us to be strong, burning what holds us back, what keeps us smaller than the patriarchy, burning the doubt and isolation and victimization that keeps us from connecting with our sisters and mothers in full power.
And guess what? The powerful women in the circle burned got it, went with it, transformed themselves with her ferocious flame, and the exact instant I finished calling in her energy, THE ELECTRICiTY WENT OUT on the whole block and we were left in magical candlelight for the rest of the evening. That moment felt like Dabney making her presence felt in no uncertain terms, keeping the promise she had made to me in our last conversation, that her spirit would be there for me. In fact her last words to me were on that topic; she said, “I wouldn’t want it any other way.” And can I hear her laughing uproariously about the electricity? Oh yes I can. Oh yes I can.
Here is the first poem I read during the ceremony.
Walking changes as dusk starts to gather.
We’re not able or sure anymore.
We don’t know the path–and if we did know it,
we wouldn’t go on. We’re afraid of the dark
lowering its heavy, long familiarity
down on the grass. We’re afraid of the night,
moonless, desert, California,
making us stumble. We shouldn’t be lost,
out here like demons just at the border
that touches us solid, as if we were gone.
She’s leading me on a path as narrow
as sisters can share. We pound back down the mesa.
Each of our feet finds its own way, delving
into the gulley whose trees never answer
until, with steps slapping soft as bandits,
I slow on the path, imagining horses.
Stretching necks right out of the stones,
out of the dusk where dark has achieved our
bodies, drawn by the strides that my sister
takes like a rider, Zaraf’s Star,
Fashad, Kashmir, Arabian horses
raise her up with motionless shadow
so she can ride (like a rider, she walks),
cantering, encompassing the pace of the mountain.
Out in a landscape to curl or be curled in,
hunched like riders or curling like rides,
under the fairy-tale oaks of the mesa
that hide sleeping children or horses inside,
we talk about horses like hers who run carefully,
with thinner ankles, and mustangs who, fast,
wild grown, wild on the path to blackness,
hunger like stars reaching down for dark leaves.
Reprinted from EVE by Annie Finch
Carnegie Mellon University Press Contemporary Classics Poetry Series, 2010