Sensational Sunrise


Already in this young calendar year, I have become irrationally upset at having missed a sunrise.  This dazzling world‘s irreproducible morning display.

I voiced my sadness to a colleague later that day, telling her how extraordinary the color had been, white-gold waves seeping into bright pink and variegated plum.  It was, I told her, similarly as saturated as the Valentine’s Day sunset I had chased into her west-facing office (from my windowless one) last year, sliding her vertical blinds aside and pointing to the enormous bruised purple heart cloud floating on a wavering sea of yellow-orange crepuscular rays.  (Mmmhuh, she nodded politely.  Evidently I was the only one to see it that way.  It was another particularly tough February 14th.)

Quite rationally, she wondered how I could so vividly describe a sunrise that I had missed.

It took me more than a few beats to realize I hadn’t missed sunrise at all.  I had seen it at its glorious peak as I exited the highway just as the sun was about to emerge on the horizon.

What I had missed was the chance to take a picture, to commemorate a part of it–to be able to share it, to pass it along to someone who had indeed missed it.

I collect sunrises, but do so very imperfectly, and without the overwhelming synesthesia of solitude.  My photographs don’t dance with the glittering indigo diamonds of cross-wakes as fishing boats glide out to sea.  Living things become one-dimensional shadows–a viewer can see only the  most recent vogue pose struck by a silent cormorant atop a mast.  Looking at a picture, you cannot taste the sea air or feel the crunch of underwater barnacles or hear the morning light lyrically unfold.

And in my friend’s observation I may have discovered a key to my writer’s block.

All I can ever capture of loss, of my husband and all other missing beings who have become some part of me, is what I can put into the language of words and pictures.  I want to tell their stories, but the tools I have are, in the supremely elegant words of Primo Levi in A Tranquil Star, “inadequate and [seem] laughable, as if someone were trying to plow with a feather.”  That language “that was born with us, [is] suitable for describing objects more or less as large and long-lasting as we are. It doesn’t go beyond what our senses tell us.”

Perhaps it has become difficult to write because I feel I should have moved forward–that I have nothing useful to say now that I am somehow on the cusp of a second decade of living with this never-ending grief, now augmented by the half-life of the additional losses we all accrue.

All I can ever capture of a sunrise is what it looked like, but maybe that is–or should be–enough.  Maybe that dollop of beauty, which I am almost always the only person in sight to behold, is enough to share.  And maybe it’s enough to be able to write about what you know of the people you love and have loved, especially those who can no longer tell their stories.

I did not, after all, miss that sunrise.

Let me tell you about it.

I have known people who live and have lived lives filled with kindness, humor, wisdom, and grace.

Please allow me to tell you about them…





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To the Lighthouses

She saw the light again. With some irony in her interrogation, for when one woke at all, one’s relations changed, she looked at the steady light, the pitiless, the remorseless, which was so much her, yet so little her, which had her at its beck and call . . . . [S]he thought, watching it with fascination, hypnotised, as if it were stroking with its silver fingers some sealed vessel in her brain whose bursting would flood her with delight, she had known happiness, and it silvered the rough waves a little more brightly, as daylight faded, and the blue went out of the sea and it rolled in waves of pure lemon which curved and swelled and broke upon the beach . . . .

That steady light, “true and tried, so well and long,”  is notable perhaps above all for its assurance of coming around again.  It was the beacon emitted from the eponymous, inanimate lead character of  Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse.

A lighthouse delivers the precise visible counterpoint to Woolf’s lightly-sleeping heroine’s understanding of the slice of hidden darkness which form’s a sentient being’s reductive essence: alone and awake, “All the being and the doing, expansive, glittering, vocal, evaporated; and one shrunk, with a sense of solemnity, to being oneself, a wedge-shaped core of darkness, something invisible to others… and this self having shed its attachments was free for the strangest adventures.”

Unlike with us humans, its core is the light.  And the darkness carries no negative weight.

To the extent obsession is problematic, I have developed a bit of a lighthouse issue during the past decade.

A fluency in Fresnel lenses, colored and clear, glittering with rainbow arcs when the sun skirts their layered crystal rings.

An appreciation of the unique counted measure of each lighthouse’s cycling strobe, a perpetual beat with no melody.

I am a fan of clouded, stormy skies, and not nearly as interested in the blinding lemon of the sun as it nullifies the night in which lighthouse sentries gently guide the sleepless with serene swoops of teal, white, and red.

Thanks to my insomnia, I get to my lighthouses well before sunrise, especially when the sun rises earliest–making way for its most nuanced and lingering transitions to the noise of the day–and I sense harbingers on the horizon.

The darkness doesn’t seem so dark.  The light is cast in increments so reliable that their past and future paths coalesce; their instantly-registering and cycling memory creates a trop l’oiel of soft daylight.  When standing by lighthouses in inky black and the deepest blue it is as if I can see the whole of the earth and sea, bathed in moon gold: jagged limestone cliffs, working harbors, New England ports where pleasure craft are moored.

The light is noiseless, and even at their fiercest measure the waves wash in without  capacity to startle.

By which they rest, and ocean sounds,
And, star and system rolling past,
A soul shall draw from out the vast
And strike his being into bounds . . . .

With these quiet guardians there is nothing to fear in the not-quite-night of solitude .


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No Lapse of Moons

Winnie-the-Pooh and Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

Among a plethora of poets, these two stand out in framing what the “bear of very little brain”–and so much heart–understood as the exquisitely lacerating inseparability of love and grief once the one we love is no longer within reach of our suddenly achingly restrictive five senses.

“How lucky I am,” pondered Winnie-the-Pooh, “to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”

(My bear friend did not mean a permanent goodbye. . . but then, neither do I.)

Tis a fearful thing/to love what death can touch.”

A Fearful and Beautiful Thing,” although that amalgamation may not fully emerge until separation.

Love as catastrophic good fortune.

How lucky I was.

A hand that can be clasp’d no more
Behold me, for I cannot sleep,
And like a guilty thing I creep
At earliest morning to the door.

When I rise, now in the supreme desolation of heading out without my beloved last beagle, Rufus–whose preternatural judgment-free listening skills remained undiminished even in the abject deafness of his antiquity–whenever possible I first make my way to the empty edges of the world in which I still tread.

Such vast spaces used to be the stuff of my worst fears, as may be true for many of us smallish sentient beings.

Now I am compulsively drawn to those landscapes without end, where gold-plum cloudscapes overcome the divide with earth, “our heaven, for a while.”

Where the moon still ceaselessly circles, and the sun dependably arrives even when concealed by a bank of bruised blue.

A fearful and beautiful thing.





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Autumn’s Impalpable Ash


if I look
at the crystal moon, at the red branch
of the slow autumn at my window,
if I touch
near the fire
the impalpable ash
or the wrinkled body of the log,
everything carries me to you,
as if everything that exists,
aromas, light, metals,
were little boats
that sail
toward those isles of yours that wait for me.

No one, but no one–with the possible lyrical co-equal of Lin-Manuel Miranda–writes love like Pablo Neruda.

No preposition necessary: it’s not that he wrote “of” love.  His words are indistinguishable from the emotion itself.

Both the flames and their lingering ash.

Sultry summer’s torrent and autumn’s cool unrolling.

The smooth, icy crystal moon and the log’s wrinkled body.

Both the song and after.

Every sense, every moment, carrying us forward and ceaselessly back, to and from those we love and have loved.

Hard butterscotch candies, wrapped tightly in red-gold cellophane twisted at both ends, carrying a hint of the scent of the soft saffron leather handbag from which my grandmother would fish out and present us with her signature treat.  Grandma Jackie’s cheese triangles, fresh August tomatoes, tiny rosemary branches.  Purple cauliflower on a boat at the equator.  A final taste of lemon on a mint-green swab.

The sweet rose soap which we used to wash our hands in the same hospital room where we stayed with four newborn babies.  Other hospitals, emergency rooms, stifling heat and hospital smells, bitterly bleached linen.

Voices I can still hear long after they fell silent.  My father’s unique pauses, now echoed in my eldest, as he translated the unseen universe for us liberal arts types.  My friend’s mother’s Dutch-accented English.  The lost laughs of sons before their voices grew deep and, at least for a time, it seemed impossible to laugh.  My own voice when it faltered.  My husband’s voice, as it never did, still greeting calls to two of our children’s phones.

How it felt to hold the hands of now grown children.  The aching absence of the strong hand that held a gold wedding band until it went on a chain around my neck.

The things we carry often aren’t things at all.




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