A Story of Singing Bear:

A Tale of Devotion, Death and Change

Donald Dies

Donald L. Engstrom

June

© 1993




    By the late of 1980’s, pain and rage filled me from sun up to sun down, from moon rise to moon set. Each week brought me more names of friends, brothers and lovers who had tested positive for HIV, who had been newly diagnosed with AIDS or who had died ‘from complications due to AIDS’. With every beat of my wounded heart, grief and anger swelled through my flesh. Meaningless death seemed to be ready to swallow me whole.


    It seemed as if every faggot in the world would soon be consumed by the flames of this pandemic . It was bad enough that I was HIV+, but that so many of the men I held so precious were already dead, dying, sick or infected was unbearable. Had the Mysterious Ones abandoned me and my people? Was there no help to be found? How many streams of denial would I have to struggle across? How many words of calm comfort would I be forced to endure?  How many roads of fire could I still walk? How many more would die of the hateful silence that welled up from deep with in the soul of America. I was overwhelmed.


    I didn’t know what to do. I found myself following the same path as so many others have in times of despair. I begged the Sacred Ones to help us, to help me, my lovers and my boyfriends. I wailed and cried. I begged and pleaded. I cursed and damned. I groveled and covered myself with the ashes of the dead. One night in the middle of a heavy thunderstorm I crawled on my belly in the mud bargaining for hope. I promised that I would give anything, do anything in exchange for a cure for AIDS. I cursed the Multiverse and all the Goddesses, Gods and Spirit Powers. I damned the Powers That Be. I call Them vile names while raging around the house not able to bear the news that yet one more beloved friend had died. I dared Them to show Their mother fuckin’ faces, the god-damned slimy pimply assholes.  Fuck’em all. I hated Them with the raging fires of human deep despair and pain. I hated Them with the bitterness and bile reserved for those whom one truly loves who have betrayed one’s love and trust. My tears streamed like liquid fire, burning my eyes, my cheeks, my soul. The bitter grief… that dwelt within my heart could often be heard wailing in the late hours of the night. Cries of agony would catch me unaware while trying to live a normal life; while cooking, while driving, while gardening, while weaving, in the middle of conversations or grocery stores.


    For some reason, I never completely lost my footing, my center, my hold onto sanity. I almost did, but not quite. The Mysterious Ones; Hera, Ing, Kali, Grandmother Bear, Flora, the Queer Gods and Others hadn’t completely disappeared either. They seemed to be quietly standing to the side, watching and waiting. But, honestly, most of the time I felt totally alone with my rage, grief and confusion. It was a terrible terrible time in my life.


    One day while standing at my work altar during a healing prayer ritual, a Song of Calling came to me up through the tears and flames. The tune was written by a friend, but the words were from deep within myself.


Purple Hands of Healing,

Faggot God, Singing  Bear,

My Lovers come to me,

Come to me.


Purple Hands of Healing,

Faggot God, Singing  Bear,

My Lovers come to me,

Come to me.


    I called and Singing Bear came. He silently held me in His strong arms. He gave me a time of deep rest. I cried and cried as Singing Bear held me tightly. Nevertheless, through my tears I could still hear a Great Storm brewing in the distance. And the song grew;


Purple Hands of Healing,

Faggot God, Singing  Bear,

My Lover come to me,

Come to me.


Purple Hands of Healing,

Faggot God, Singing  Bear,

Dear Lover come to me come to me.


Dance with me,

Sing with me,

Hold me in Your strong arms.


Dance with me,

Sing with me,

Hold me in Your strong arms.


    A few nights later, Singing Bear came to me again while I was working at my altar. He opened His mouth and His heart and  began to sing wordless Healing Songs into me that traveled down every road and river of my body. I began to shake and shimmy. Tears again streamed down my face. A new lightness filled my chest. My feet began to dance and my hands began to wave in the air. Another song suddenly sprang from my lips;


With just His voice

He heals throughout my body.


With just His voice

He shatters the virus.


With just His voice

He builds crimson blood,

He makes red blood

Healthy and vital!


    Singing Bear’s songs had begun a healing and a cleansing that will probably take the rest of my life. For that night, I came to understand that healing is not merely a cure, but a making whole of one’s spirit, mind, body and heart. New powers were vibrating through me. New energy and new hope fed and empowered me. My bitterness began to shatter and melt. The ropes of hopelessness rotted and fell from my limbs. I was experiencing a time of renewal and rebirth. New strength had been sung into my being!


    But it was not yet at time for quiet. It was not yet a time to sit and rest.


    A blinding flash of lightning seared the night sky filling everything with the thunder of it’s story. The Great Storm was on the horizon. It seemed that my rage and grief had merged with the winds helping to form the kind of weather that birthed tornadoes in litters. It was the kind of weather that sends sensible prairie creatures scurrying for cover. With the next flash the rains poured and the winds howled forming a maelstrom to match my still churning grief. I ran out of the greenhouse door and danced in the downpour until I collapsed onto the lawn, my hot tears joining the cold pelting rain as they mingled amongst the grass roots.


    Days turned into months and life blossomed around me as I began to learn to more fully trust that I could claim healing for myself. I was beginning to believe that if I could only garden a bit everyday, make some art and keep an eye on my lovers’ health, it would all work out just fine. I came to understand that healing was an eternal ongoing ocean of change.


    I will never forget May 25, 1991. I was raking my back yard by myself, enjoying the cool spring sun on my face with the new born breezes filling my lungs. The whole world was alive, aware and living in beauty. I was filled with excitement knowing that Rick and I would be visiting our boyfriend Donald, out in San Francisco in less than week. It was an amazing day.


    As I was raking, I began to remember my losses. I remembered those whose every spring from now on would be haunted by HIV. I remembered those who would never feel a spring day again. Each face came to mind. Each night of tears, each day of silent screams, each timeless moment of disaster was recalled in the finest of detail. A Gordian Storm of rage and grief began to burn inside of me. Suddenly, I felt a deadly cold wind blow through me. 


    ‘Who was that?’ I wondered, my heart freezing inside of chest.


    Just a few moments later I heard the phone ring. Soon after, Rick came out the back porch door, his face was as white as a sheet. Tears were forming in Rick’s eyes. Rick never cried.


    Rick simply said, ‘Donald is dead. Please come inside.’  And then he went back into our kitchen.


    AIDS had stolen Donald from me.


    I just stood in the back yard, rake in hand halfway through a stroke. I began to shake. Tears and bestial sounds tried to force themselves out of my body and into the world. I began to cry, which soon turned into a hybrid cross between a screech and a wail. I began to beat the ground with my rake with all of my strength. I began to —stamp and kick the earth. I had become the Winds of Rage and the Flames of Grief Themselves. I fed on myself, as the prairie fires and the prairie storms feed on each other as they rage over the plains.


    Through a red haze I saw a figure standing beside me. It was Singing Bear. He was not trying to comfort me, nor calm me, nor tell me it was all for the best. He was screaming, furious, shaking his paws in the air. His claws flashed lightning. Those very claws that were more than able to slash through all lies revealing the secrets of liars, now shredded the sky with His pain. His voice held the power of thunder. His teeth clashed with volcanic power. His eyes burned with blue flames as tears streamed down His cheeks flooding down His chest. His feet shook the Earth as He stamped out his grief. Singing Bear was the perfect image of the combination of grief and rage that goes oh, so much deeper than mere anger and sorrow.


    I was not overwhelmed by Singing Bear’s rage. I was not quieted by His grief.  His intense emotions didn’t scare or silence me. They fed my own fires. Singing Bear had not come to just support me, but to join His grief and rage to my grief and rage. Together we were able to allow the true forces of our feelings to pour through us.


    Others began to join us. We formed into a circle of rage and grief which slowly became one of the Primal Dances of Old. I found myself in a mad dancing circle of screaming, screeching, weeping, keening Mysterious Ones; Hera, Ing, Kali, the Three Queer Brothers, Epona, Flora, Grandmother Bear and others. The Spirits of Oak Tree and  of Ash, of Wild Flower and of Rose , the Spirits of Big Blue Stem and of Trout, of Bull Frog and of Honeybee, and the Spirits of the Queer Dead all joined us in our furious dance.


    As in so many ecstatic rituals, the energy peaked, shooting off to feed the on going transformation of the world. I suspected at the time, that it was a power that would bring ways of transmuting rage and grief into tools of change and courage. At this time, I am sure it was indeed such a power.


    After the energy shot out into the world, I crashed to the ground exhausted.  I stood up and found myself again the ritual circle. We all purposely looked into each other’s eyes. We thanked each other for joining the working. We then went our own ways knowing that our bonds of trust had been strengthened and deepened between us.


    I went into the kitchen and washed my hands. Rick had made us dinner. We sat down and eat silently. We looked at each other eye to eye when we were done eating. We stood up and went to each other. Rick and I held each other as we wept for what seemed like hours.


    We went to bed soon after and I fell right to sleep, a sleep filled with dreams and visitations. 


    I was first visited by Singing Bear. He told me that there was a Deep Mysteries about Grief and Rage that we were yet to explore together. He assured  me that He would never leave me alone again.


    Hera came to visit me next. She gently kissed me and called me Her sweet boy. She wept as She quietly whispered into my ear, ‘Honey, do you think that We would not have stopped Donald’s death if We could have? Do you not know that Our grief is as deep as the depths of outer space? When We say, ‘We love you.’, what in the hell do you think We mean? Listen to this Mystery. It is not just those whom you call the Mysterious Ones who create the worlds. Everyone of us creates them together. Choices have been made that are hard to untie.’


    Kali came to me next. She showed me a glimpse of the Inferno of Change. She proudly told me that I was tough enough to survive it’s fires. Kali assured me that when I found myself in the Heart of the Inferno, She would be walking right behind me.


    The Spirit of Bur Oak came next to whisper into my ear that the strengthened bonds of trust made today were real. New levels of understanding and knowledge were formed between all of the Dancers. Bur Oak calmly said, ‘We have all chosen to consciously weave our live together.’


    Others came ˇthroughout the night who I do not clearly remember. But, I do clearly remember my last visitor.


    The Purple God quietly got into our bed. He slowly slid between Rick and I. He began to kiss and hold me. He slowly ran His hands down my back, my thighs, over my chest to my cock. I awoke to the kisses and strokes of my own beloved husband, Rick. We made love and held each other tenderly until the sun rose.


    What can I say? Rick and I are still HIV+. Our friends, brothers and lovers are still becoming ill, and yes, even dying. The pandemic grows larger every day, still fueling my grief and rage. But, these feelings are not as completely debilitating as they once were. Nor am I trapped in despair as I once was not so long ago. And as Singing Bear promised, we have begun to explore the Deep Mysteries of Rage and Grief. I am learning to use grief and rage as tools of change, as tools of power. I have learned that they can help focus my will, that they can help me to consciously choose which direction I wish to go. I have begun to learn to let my grief and rage help me remain fully alert in the political struggles that I am engaged in that are needed to help save HIVer’s lives.


    Singing Bear and I have become great friends and dear lovers. He has not only been with me to rage and weep throughout the years, Singing Bear has been there to help me in creating change in this Time of Rebirth. Together we are walking the Roads of Healing. We have joined many Others in choosing to grow cultures grounded in physical, emotional, spiritual and esthetic health. We delight in singing songs together were ever we wander. We find deep pleasure in simply being in each other’s company. We are confident in each others love and commitment.


    Blessed Be.