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  • A Nightshine Beyond Memory: Ten More Years with Ray
  • Tess Gallagher

In that quiet of quiets where we sometimes feel we speak with the dead, as one voice reaching into itself toward another, Ray has brought out the ghost in me. Maybe all our dead beloveds do this to a certain extent—bring out the ghosts in us, allow us to meet our dead-aliveness, that breathless presence made of our own anticipated absence, as we cross the life/death boundary in heart and deed, with our own mortality in mind.

Although I had experienced several important deaths prior to Ray’s (my father’s, my younger brother’s at age fifteen, and a murdered uncle’s), it was Ray’s death (August 2, 1988) that truly allowed an osmotic flow of spirit to take place. Eventually, through my writing and my particular grieving and treasuring process, I came to feel a world added to my world, whereas before, each death had left me robbed, divested. As I’ve said in my poem “Black Violets,” “he’s evergreen in me.” 1 The persistence of Ray’s presence, the multifarious, even mysterious forms it has taken, are constantly surprising.

In my ongoing relation to Ray, I have reached beyond the simply “remembered.” Perhaps this amplified state occurred with Ray because we were so melded to each other in every facet of our living. Certainly our writing life—that all-night diner of soul-making—always found us elbow-to-elbow, reading and writing in each other’s margins. Ray still brightly informs all aspects of my living. I’m afraid I don’t understand—except in the general disposition toward making-way-for-the-new— [End Page 438] when I hear someone say: “ten years had passed and I had to let my dead mate go.”

I have no intention of letting Ray go. I can’t conceive there would be any benefits, even if I could. Certainly there has been a “letting go” of physical presence. But one of my great blessings has been the emotional and spiritual penumbra of continuity I’ve come to experience—that blending of light with dark. What is for others perhaps a restriction of the beloved to the fringe of consciousness (the static memory of the beloved), has developed for me into a kinesthetic interplay of perfect shadow and full light. So any idea that I should divest myself, let go, move on, is, for me, against full aliveness. This will to repossess what was at first lost has been a blessedness. I’ve expressed the form of my reaching toward that unknown best in my poetry. Indeed, prose telling doesn’t seem to have the vertical heft to carry what has occurred. Nor does it have sufficient silence.

Although I have experienced the absence of hand and brow, I have allowed and am allowed free passage to and from another reception, an opening, a conversation. My relationship to Ray in death has been an unexpected enlargement, accomplished through deeds of spirit and act.

I still speak of Ray each day and am lucky to be able to do things for and even “with” him, as I feel his awareness within mine. I have courted his accompaniment, purposefully making an arena for fiction writing these past four years during the good fortune of the Lyndhurst Fellowship which has allowed me to write my stories, At the Owl Woman Saloon (Scribner, 1997). In this way I have also moved beyond those early stories Ray encouraged in The Lover of Horses (Harper Row, 1982; Graywolf, 1992). Ray also seems to have moved with me in the accomplishment of At the Owl Woman Saloon, for he is an important function of my self-witnessing—though one not confined to me alone, rather a beneficence shared and sustained with others.

In the introduction to my first poem after Ray’s death, “Owl-Spirit Dwelling,” I spoke of “a spiritual wideness I seemed to be sharing with Ray even in his absence.” 2 These few lines from Antonio Machado 3 give a sense of what I mean when I say “spiritual wideness”:

Livid moon Of an ancient afternoon In...

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pp. 438-456
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