A Beat With No Melody



“…love’s not the song, but after
like the mute, remembered chorus of the rain
     that stains the walk
long after falling, or the lifeless stalk
     still hoisting its head of grain.”


Winter haltingly segues into spring, the same calendar space where death became a memory, taking over the home in which I could not bear to remain.

Lately the sun has burned furiously before falling. One has to look away as it passes out of sight.

But then sunset simmers, its bright traces receding in a thinning plume beyond the tree line. Bright nursery colors bubble into a reduction of deep rose and bruised plum. Clusters of geese shadowed in sheer black dot the snowy marsh like musical notes.

I only recently discovered that the last book my husband Jim read in the home where he died was the same thick biography of Alexander Hamilton that Lin-Manuel Miranda had picked up for a vacation trip . . . with epic musical results.

As time has passed since Jim’s spring solstice death, there seems so much on which to fill him in: “Now it’s a hip-hop musical!” I exclaim, holding the book up to him in the fashion of an Executive Order (by an executive whose identity he would find yet more implausible). He tilts his head and nods, smiling, as he runs through the immense internal musical catalogue he had amassed by the time his heart stopped beating.  Of course, he thinks, what a wonderful idea.

I never see myself visiting Jim on his side of the veil, but picture him back in this one–or, less frequently, watching over us in that thin in-between space in which one can “catch a glimpse of,” or even lead a soldier’s chorus from, the other side. (“My love, I’ll see you on the other side,” Hamilton tells his wife, who for the half-century she outlives him can only catch a glimpse of him in the eyes of the living.)

Perhaps we can only imagine the imaginable.

The same line appears in three songs in Hamilton, but never in the same simile’s company.

First, scrappy young Alexander Hamilton reflects“I imagine death so much it feels more like a memory. . . . Is it like a beat with no melody?”

Hamilton is speaking of his own death: he does not know what metaphor will capture it. But even then he had experienced so much death–of the mother who loved him, of his countrymen and women in the Leeward Islands hurricane–that he did not need to imagine it, any more than I now need to imagine my husband’s; it is well beyond simile, all too vivid and concrete.

Later, after Hamilton has experienced yet more death in war, and the means of his own fate, if imminent, seems overwhelmingly likely to be of a piece with fellow soldiers’, Manuel dispenses with metaphor, and the line stands unadorned: “I imagine death so much it feels more like a memory…”

But he endured.  He not only was alive–not drowned, not slain in battle–but survived his son, to endure with what is to every parent the indescribable but all-too imaginable unimaginable.

Finally, within the space of a bullet fired ten paces away, Hamilton realizes not only what the mechanism of his own death will be, but that his first simile was faulty; he understands that after all There is no beat, no melody.”

My husband died in our Hamilton-era home.  In his last hours, I felt his immense intelligence, including his vast knowledge of music and melody, disappear into the vastness outside his body. Even then his heart kept beating until it slowed to a stop as the new spring began showering its own rain of melody.

Love is both the song and after.

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The Last Lap

The last lap was six years ago. Tonight I traveled the same road and made my own lap alone across an ice-covered field,under a blanket of bright white clouds that shifted to blue on blue, heartache on heartache.

Love in the Spaces

autumn 086Trees Through Tears (c) SMG

It was an unspeakably awful thing to say.

After an exhausting and unnecessary verbal battle, the hospice’s medical director–who had been openly skeptical of my physician husband’s emphatic wish not to die in a hospital (at least when I was the one to express that wish as his medical proxy)–asked whether my husband wanted to drive with me from the hospital or wanted an ambulance to take him.

“Held on to hope like a noose, like a rope
God and medicine take no mercy on him
Poisoned his blood, and burned down his throat
Enough is enough, he’s a long way from home . . . .

Laid up in bed, you were laid up in bed
Holding the pain like you’re holding your breath
I prayed you could sleep, sleep like a stone
You’re right next to me
But you’re a long way from…

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A Murmuration of Memories

yellow bird

I often see murmurations of starlings, swimming in synchronous sea clouds.

The fluttering of their collective wings exceeds their calls’ volume, so one tends to hear them before seeing them, in an insistent whisper from the air.

Like an embrace, which would be incomplete without the melody of a beating heart, a murmuration calls on more than one sense.

A fan of terms of venery, I possess what I call an “accord” of Hondas, a “distress” of work due dates, a “howl” of beagles.

I could easily miss a single monochromatic starling.  My little golden friend was hard to miss thanks to his bright yellow feathers and exuberant high perch on nearly-barren branches.

I feel very much alone in the world (distinctly not on top of the world, like my bird buddy), especially in March. When I wander outside I listen first, and linger where animals other than humans gather. A slight rustle in marsh grasses led me to my first muskrat siting, two rotund, hilariously wobbly fellows with puddle-slicked fur.  One red-winged blackbird’s frenzied call inevitably will be echoed back, and I will suddenly be able to spot their bright red epaulettes arrayed all around me as they strain forward to reply.

Memories are like that, too.  It’s not the lone wolf; it’s the pack. The deluge. And like hundreds of undulating starlings, the edges blur, the shapes shift, and sometimes all I can do is watch them unreel, regroup, hold me for a time, and then move away into a covey of clouds.

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The Shadows Know


And can shadows pleasure give?
Pleasures only shadows be
Cast by bodies we conceive
And are made the things we deem
In those figures which they seem.” 

–Samuel Daniel

A gathering Nor’easter announced itself in enveloping unsettling gray, a shadow that abruptly settled over the landscape. It swallowed the sun before it could emerge in a sliver on the horizon. It nullified the morning.

Winter’s dark forces can be powerful indeed.

Eventually light tiptoes back in, almost always defined by shadow.  Today dollops of sunlight made their way through tree cover and splashed on the icy blue-gray sheen atop a foot-and-a-half of fresh snow.  Bright oblong dots formed a jaunty path, as if to guide an unseen deer.

Away from the woods, among abiding dunes, high winds transformed snow into gentle waves cross-hatched with exquisite etchings of sea-grass shadows.

“Feed apace then, greedy eyes,
On the wonder you behold;
Take it sudden as it flies,
Though you take it not to hold.
When your eyes have done their part,
Thought must length it in the heart.”
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