Harbingers on the Horizon



It is not without irony that seeing a “sleeper sunrise”–a band of bright color that breaks through a predawn bank of blue-black at the horizon, often evaporating so quickly that the sleep-saturated will never even imagine it–is among insomnia’s best byproducts.

I have never missed as many sunrises as I did when all I had to do was glance through 1805 wood-paned windows to an unadulterated view east, over the pond downhill from our house.

It was the same vista Jim took in for his last view this side of heaven, as a brilliant orange perigee moon rose at winter’s end and enveloped us all.

I could have seen the sun rise from the warmth of a shared bed.  I would not have had to brace for even the cold of a foot on a wide-pine floor in a New England winter, or cast off quilts I had sewn for the tiger maple bed that seems so vast without my 6’4″ husband.

After sunset on the March day he died–a day in which I cannot remember the skies being anything but black–I stood immobile in our bedroom, where my friend had escorted me to attempt sleep.  Jim’s side of the bed was at the west-facing windows, which framed a postcard view across a triangular town green to a white clapboard church. 

“Are we going to have to get you a new bed?” my friend asked, reading my hesitation.  For the first of endless nights, Jim was so starkly not where he should be. 

Perhaps that was when I began to look elsewhere and outward for him.  What I could no longer see or touch was more than I could bear.  The moment his heart stopped beating  I was certain he–all that is and was this man–overwhelmingly was somewhere else.  It tormented me not to know where.

I skipped the vast earthly middle occupied by the gravity-bound and began exploring the skies. 





It seems implausible that I nearly always missed sunrise when it was so readily within reach; all I had to do was open my eyes.

Over much of a decade since then I have been chronically sleep-deprived, wheeling from crisis to crisis, cursed with an inability to stop ruminating about the past or let regret go.

Now that seeing the night-to-day segue has become much more of a production–often requiring layers of winter clothing, chipping off windshield ice to drive to the waterfront, and being speed-walked by boisterous beagles while navigating in the dark along paths of colonial bricks pitched like choppy seas–I hardly ever miss it.

I no longer bracket my days with New Hampshire skies.  Alone, I have looked up from vantage points occupied only because I’ve been hurled into this unpredictable and largely solitary new life, somehow both cleaved from and still conjoined with my far more adventuresome missing half.

I have watched night arrive and give way from deserts on different continents; from the water in Essaouira, as gulls shrieked by an ancient offshore prison; on a sheer black span between Kentucky and Indiana, which gradually blazed into purple; on water-slicked limestone cliffs in Pemaquid Point; in Iceland and Ireland and from my daughter’s balcony in Delhi.





Most frequently I survey the skies near my new home, where after a full seasonal cycle I realized I have begun to learn secrets of synesthesia which portend ephemeral bursts of bright color which make me feel more at home in this world and more connected to Jim beyond its bounds.

I capture these skies in far too many photographs, hoarding them for those who sleep the sleep of the just, or are not situated to see the horizon.





I have  become much more attuned to each day’s nuances, more reliant on senses other than mere sight, a student of Jose Saramago’s quasi-historical blind muezzin, who climbed a minaret above Lisbon where “he could feel the cool morning breeze upon his face and the vibrations of the dawning light, as yet without any colour, for there is no colour to that pure clarity which precedes the day and comes to graze one’s skin with the merest suggestion of a shiver, as if touched by invisible fingers . . . ”

I’ve developed a knack for being able to see into the near (and sometimes not-so-near) future of daybreak by examining what surrounds it.

Like Byron White’s infamous Supreme Court descriptor, I could not define it for you, but I know it when I see it.  In the way one touches a finger to the sky to test a building wind, I can see a harbinger on the horizon where the deepest black skies will burst into a sailors’ warning.

A sliver of luminous silver to the northeast, a shimmering fissure in a dense cloud bank, a gray-lavender arc simmering on my periphery, signalling that within an hour or so the sky will fill with improbable neon colors–sometimes just for a few minutes before  rain begins to fall, the heavens turn a murky slate again, and none but we seasoned insomniacs are the wiser.

What I sense is out there to quicken my pace out the door exists only in counterpoise to something far out of my reach and beyond my sight, some distant cosmic source of these ribbons of light and color waiting to take shape at the horizon.

Perhaps I don’t really see anything at all, and it’s a mere figment of hope.

Hope that when the sun rises, it will be magnificent, even if it does not last as long as I would wish for.

Hope that when what is in sight is too painful, something remains far outside and away from me but still balances me, holds me within the pull of enduring gravity.

Faith that when I’m out there chasing the light on a frigid shore, in the visible company of only a gold-eyed owl or the occasional coyote, we’re not alone.









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Warp and Weft

Imperfect Reflections (c) SMG 2018

Movers could have unfurled the enormous Persian rug in one of two ways.

Once spread out, it fills more square feet than did our entire first apartment as newlywed grad students.

A symmetrical design falls away in layers from a central medallion reminiscent of a quavering diamond, outlined with both gentle waves and angled peaks.  The rug is distinctly in my husband Jim’s calm color palette: gentle golds, russets, and moss greens, with a smattering of milky blue. (I find that I gravitate to riots of color, at least when I surface from grief to come up for air.)

Over the years I have, heel-to-toe, paced these never-ending lines while preparing to argue cases, waiting interminably as my customer service calls were “escalated” up the line, and giving and receiving both good and Very Bad news.

After the not inconsiderable task of unfurling the rug in my newest home–now three full cities and one state distant from its original tenure with us–I saw that the movers’ serendipitous choice of where to deposit it has laid bare its deep flaws.

Some might have discarded this rug many moves ago.

Had it faced the other way, its mutilated corner would have been hidden from view underneath the cream-colored couch (which, of far more recent vintage than the rug, bears only a minor flaw: a sprinkling of puppy teeth marks) .

But now the abraded corner has been splayed for all to see, if they are in the habit of periodically looking down to see where they are going.

Patches of hand-knotted wool have entirely worn away; fringe has thinned to weary threads.

The selvage cannot be salvaged.

The manner of injury was inadvertent; the cause was over-watering (of a potted ficus that towered over me).

The venue was Exeter, New Hampshire, the sun-soaked slightly sunken living room, to be exact.

My husband made very few mistakes in his all too short years, especially when it came to living creatures.  But boy, did he over-water that plant.

The water, in turn, seeped through drainage holes in its large clay pot, and into a significant swath of the perfect new rug that was then our most expensive purchase in seven years of marriage.

We did not actually notice this until we were almost ready to roll the rug up for a move to the old house he loved so much, where his earthly possessions would remain for me to tend to when we moved the next time, and the next.

The damaged portion is now a tattered island moored to the mainland by its underside, where it seems Jim fashioned a large rectangular dressing from carefully cut adhesive strips of silt-colored paper.

Over the years the adhesive hold has become more tenuous; fissures have developed, revealing ragged shallow ridges of scored, carmelized once-sticky paper which poke through the surface like baleen teeth.

The rug’s measurements are the same, but  it is off kilter.  Perfect symmetry is a thing of the past. It’s as if only this portion of the rug has aged–badly, in the way too severe a shock robs a body of its power to entirely heal.

Even in the dark, this damage would make itself known by the gentle crinkling sound the paper dressing still makes when a foot or paw treads even lightly upon it.

I have left the rug that way, not simply because it is far too weighty for me to move.  It is right at my home’s threshold; if you enter and simply glance down you will see it, cross over its threadbare glory, and perhaps contemplate its story.

It was pristine when it came to us.  Jim purchased it after careful appraisal, and with some consternation about the price–more than we had paid for any car we’d purchased, and four times the entire semester’s cash he’d carried as a college freshman–in the dog days of  August in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.  Our first baby was in my arms and a welcome breeze came in off the seacoast.

For years the rug was the only furnishing in the living room of the home to which we moved precisely two weeks before we became parents.

In the room’s only shaded corner was a large stone fireplace where we posed our perfect baby boy in the tiny Santa suit his Aunt Liz gave him before he was born.

A year later, I sat on it in a room still bereft of furniture , and baby Sam gently patted the belly under which his brother dwelt.

After we had next moved, by then with three preschoolers, we returned to the empty Exeter house for one last visit.  Our smiling sons sat on the two low wooden steps into the living room, where our seated toddler daughter’s image was reflected in the gleaming wood floor.

I have noticed, only in retrospect, that once we became parents Jim became more of a caretaker to all living, growing things.   He brought the ficus home shortly after we brought home our firstborn, and surrounded our homes with bird feeders which he carefully maintained.  He planted flowers and bushes and trees and grew berries and vegetables he readily sacrificed to wildlife visitors, rather than safeguarding in a way that might endanger critters emerging from surrounding woods. He even enlisted and supervised less complex organisms, tapping maple syrup, tending to sourdough bread starter, and brewing beer.

He maintained bird feeder cities, tending more meticulously to their culinary sensibilities than I ever was capable of when attempting to sate our humans and beagles.

Perhaps it is needless to say I am not such a fan of perfection.  Maybe it’s just a chicken and egg proposition, as I have never been close to that mark.

I now have another, far smaller rug that appears to be perfectly symmetrical.  I acquired this magic Mughal carpet in Uttar Pradesh, where one of my daughters and I saw such rugs being hand-made.  Unlike the damaged rug at my home’s threshold, its asymmetry is well hidden but complete: due to the arrangement of its warp and weft, from one side it is deep sapphire, and from the other a steel blue-gray.

Little in life satisfies the human impulse to see and seek beauty in perfect symmetry.  And among what is worth holding on to, few things are unscarred.



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Anniversary in Amber


A date announced itself on this summer’s calendar, swooping in to mark what is known in our household as an anniversary “of significance.”

Such milestones ordinarily are divisible by five, and are of extra note if divisible by ten.

If Jim were here I’m fairly sure that for this wedding anniversary he would have spirited us away to some outdoor place where we could behold birds and summer flora.  Chances are high that an ocean would have been involved.  He would have done all the planning, certain to minimize travel and avoid tiny modes of transportation: I always viewed as suspicious the smaller ratios of protective steel girding to numbers of passengers.

No camel safaris would have been involved.

If he were here I still would be profoundly afraid of flying, so he likely would have kept us close–perhaps winding up the coast of Maine to Bar Harbor.  If so, he undoubtedly would have been at the wheel.

In the steady comforting voice that still greets me on two of our children’s telephone messages, he would be reassuring me about my cataclysmic geopolitical fears and my worries about our children, each one of whom has now graduated and set out into this dazzling world without him.

He would have securely packed up what I think of as the “real” camera equipment to photograph what we saw, carefully waiting for images to take shape.  He would carry home these preserved pixels, refine them, and catalogue them; he would pare them dispassionately and keep only what was worth keeping, then tag them and star them so he would know where to find them.

I, on the other hand, would have merrily clicked away on my wee camera’s “Auto” setting until the battery, memory card, and/or shutter plum wore out.  I would have been photographing him and other people instead of landscapes and seascapes.  (I haven’t quite finished psychoanalyzing my change of subject matter yet.)

But instead…..

In dark New Hampshire where his widow wakes.”

Widow “wakes”–not “awakes” or “awakens.”  A far cry from “rises.” It’s not simply alliteration.  If I am in any way typical of what  happens once those wedding vows have been lived out, I remain mired in the moebius of my spouse’s last moments: now that I have occupied the marriage alone for years, my senses often revert to an echo of a wake (though we did not have one), by his side as he and I were then, as if both of us had stopped aging at the end of his life.  Our almost-anniversary preserved in amber.

Poet Donald Hall recently passed away.  He had first lost his far younger wife, poet Jane Kenyon, and written of the osmosis that continues in a marriage that endures after a spouse’s loss: “In the months and years after her death, Jane’s voice and mine rose as one, spiralling together the images and diphthongs of the dead who were once the living, our necropoetics of grief and love in the singular absence of flesh.”

In his case he found that some of his wife’s poetic voice had slipped into his, the rhythms and soul of her writing transforming his own poems, making them into the best artifacts of both.

Memories will rust and erode into lists/Of all that you gave me/A blanket, some matches, this pain in my chest/The best parts of lonely….”

Before another summer wedding, I met someone who voiced the sentiment that a spouse’s death signifies the death of a marriage as well.  I turned to a friend who was herself at the wobbly state of raw widowhood that rendered it necessary gently to physically pry her from her house and into a world of suddenly conspicuous couplehood.  We simultaneously shook our heads with the loudest silent “No” we could muster: “Dead wrong.”

At the ceremony one of the bride’s friends would read the same passage from 1 Corinthians 13 that the bride’s mother had read at Jim’s and my wedding:Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never ends.”

Love endures all things, even death.  If love never ends, the marriage does not die with either or both of us.

For better, for worse.

So I suppose my view of the marriage I still celebrate boils down to a cross between Corinthians and a Canadian singing group.

When one spouse departs this world, he or she doesn’t leave the marriage, but does leave behind, for whatever we earthbound spouses make of them, both the best and worst parts of lonely.

As long as we both shall live.  

And then some.







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Forever Home

How we miss you, sweet Brady. As the thunder and fireworks both sound tonight, we hope you’ll just be enjoying the spectacular colors from up there, free from fear of the noise down here.

Love in the Spaces

“Tom Brady.”  Hand-printed on the SPCA’s yellow card.

Male, tri-color  

Age: 1 – 1  1/2

Why here?  Stray, found in Nottingham NH

Responds to name: Yes

House trained: semi 

The penultimate question’s answer would prove inaccurate, the last a bit of sales puffery.

And he was a beauty: heavy on the caramel, tinged with russet-gold.  Enveloping glossy amber eyes.  When he curled up to sleep just so, dappled black on the purest white created an M. C. Escher image of  a platypus.

Brady was snipped before we were permitted to bring him home to his humans and his big brother, whom we had adopted a year-and-a-half earlier (“from a K-I-L-L shelter in Indiana,” we explain if asked.  To this day we whisper and spell out the word, even when the beagles are slumbering).

After his operation, with its attendant impingement upon his capacity to, well, tomcat…

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