The Cottage of Darkness


signed feb 20 2.jpg

Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.
It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.

On that March 4th I first sat down with “Rev,” and he in turn introduced me to the poet Mary Oliver.

The context was beyond bittersweet.  We were discussing what Jim called his “Closing Ceremonies.”  He had urged me to leave his hospital room, to which I felt bound by an iron force field, to discuss whether we could gather at this church, on our daughters’ campus.

The Reverend asked me, as sonorously and gently as any person could, how much time I thought there might be.

I told him I thought my husband would hang on to see our eldest son graduate that spring.

It turned out I was uncharacteristically optimistic, off by two months to-the-day. (I am more casually catastrophic than cautiously optimistic.)

It would be only two weeks until Jim came home for the last time.

On that March 4th, Jim was still with us, in the traditional sense, within walking distance.  This winter surely would be his last.

Either Jupiter says 
This coming winter is not 
      After all going to be 
The last winter you have,
      Or else Jupiter says 
This winter that’s coming soon,
      Eating away the cliffs 
Along the Tyrrhenian Sea,
      Is going to be the final 
Winter of all. Be mindful.
      Take good care of your household.
The time we have is short.

Thirst, specifically, was my introduction to Mary Oliver’s poems.

A single word that is something of a bottomless vessel for a grieving person’s thoughts.

Last month Mary Oliver herself stepped “through the door full of curiosity, wondering: what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?”

On that March 4th, the Reverend explained that this collection of poems, sun gold-glanced deep blue waves on its cover,  arose from the author’s own roiling loss of a partner.

I did not know that Mary Oliver’s words would become my constant companions, within and without.

First, just a few weeks later that March, came “A Pretty Song”–more of a prayer than a song, spoken at a dark mahogany podium as my breaking heart got the better of my wavering words.

And I say to my body: grow thinner still.
And I say to my fingers, type me a pretty song.
And I say to my heart: rave on.

Breathe, breathe,” I still heard Rev’s comforting voice to my right.

The seasons rounded back to winter and I was with one of my daughters for another service of remembrance, this time an alumni service on her campus, where a rabbi read In Blackwater Woods:

Every year
I have ever learned

in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side

is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

March again and my daughters and sons form a half-moon in front of me as we stand at a windswept rocky beach at the Marginal Way in Ogunquit, Maine, one of the last vistas Jim photographed.

I find myself reading a Mary Oliver poem when my voice quivers again and a wave laps at my heel:  a turtle nudges with its bulldog head/the slippery stems of the lilies, making them tremble.”  She leads “the tender children,/the sweet children, dangling their pretty feet/into the darkness./And now will come—I can count on it—the murky splash,….”

Back again north to New Hampshire, to candle-lit Phillips Church, where another daughter is leading  an Evening Prayer.  Between two of her songs the Reverend reads Mary Oliver’s “Rumor of Moose in the Long Twilight of New Hampshire”:

the light lingered
we sat on the shore
and talked in whispers
watched the herons 

heard the owl
greeted the moon
stared at the far shore
stared at the far shore

empty in the moonlight.

I am told that in my often frenzied work setting I tend to speak in complex paragraphs with diagrammed subheadings, sprinkled with what Jim called “ten dollar lawyer words.”  (Public servants are not lavishly paid.)  Not exactly a style that lends itself to peaceful reflection among the community of beings in this dazzling world.

Mary Oliver leads me there.

Each one of these poems, like the Rev’s reminder to “breathe, breathe,” like the refrain   “Bow my head, let my heart slow,” has a soothing simplicity, a salve of repeated single-syllable words.

And I say to my . . . .

Stared at the far shore . . . .

And when the time comes to let it go, to let it go.


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Harbingers on the Horizon

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Originally posted on Love in the Spaces:
? 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…

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The title came first.

I had something else entirely in mind when I arrived on my own blog in the wee hours of this morning to find a season’s worth of recent posts inexplicably wiped off the face of the internet.

They hadn’t just disappeared into the ether, but all previous drafts (but for one weak early one) had evaporated, never to be reconstituted.  I have no idea how that happened; it’s never happened to me before.

I couldn’t truly rewrite a post any more than I could recreate a quilt, or ever fully repair my bruised heart.  The only things I can replay in vivid photographic detail are technicolor memories of human connections.  Some of them are glorious, some quotidian, some awful.  As we grieve we shift the balance among them.

It’s impossible to entirely rebuild something that emanates from your heart and mind, to which dimension and nuance is added by revisiting and reevaluating.  Even something as simple as a blog post.

Were I to even have the heart to try, I think I would re-write tightly and tentatively.  I might wonder if the words now were as apt as I thought, whether even the experiences I wrote about were, after all, what they seemed when I first wrote it.

A college classmate wrote “The Blind Side,”   which I only just realized has an extended title: “Evolution of a Game.”

I’ll get back to that.

“The play is now 3.5 seconds old,” he writes, describing an infamous football game that resulted in a grisly on-camera injury.  “Until this moment it has been defined by what the quarterback can see.  Now it — and he — is at the mercy of what he can’t see.”

Anyone who has experienced reactive depression, or I suppose life itself, will understand the power of momentum that gathers out of your sight before you find yourself with the wind knocked out of you.

“Surprise me,” I or one of the children would say.

“Pleasantly, or unpleasantly?” their father would reply with a twinkle, and the infinitesimal crinkle of a winking eye, though he would never grow old enough to display what would have been gloriously earned laugh lines.   

And some of us are far more susceptible to the blindside than others.

An even, “That’s disappointing,”  as Jim raised his eyes to the surgeon who had handed him a report on his tumor’s invasive offshoots, while my own healthy body and heart crumbled.    

It’s been very close to eight years since my husband died.

At about the two-year mark, I met someone who had lost a sibling to cancer at the same young age and very close to the same time.  If I’d written about this just four days ago an entirely different story would have been preserved in amber, about the person I considered my best post-widowhood friend through all those years.

As Edward Gorey once wrote, “Yesterday I did not know that today it would be raining.”

But after nearly six years, deep into an exceptionally stressful winter, which anyone who knows me must know swaddles my soul in degrees of icy darkness, I found out–through a single flipping email (terse, yet encompassing abuse of the adverbial form; anyone who knows me is aware that’s going to be poison icing on the cake)–that, at best, things were not as they had seemed.  That maybe I was even part of the “evolution of a game.”

So that can’t be reworked, rewritten, rebuilt.

Maybe I’ll start on those missing posts instead.











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Birthdays of the Dead

I could not do any better on this day than I did on this birthday.




via Birthdays of the Dead

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