The Light Keeper

A night without ships. Foghorns called into walled cloud, and you

still alive, drawn to the light as if it were a fire kept by monks,

darkness once crusted with stars, but now death-dark as you sail inward.

Through wild gorse and sea wrack, through heather and torn wool

you ran, pulling me by the hand, so I might see this for once in my life:

the spin and spin of light, the whirring of it, light in search of the lost,

there since the era of fire, era of candles and hollow-wick lamps,

whale oil and solid wick, colza and lard, kerosene and carbide,

the signal fires lighted on this perilous coast in the Tower of Hook.

You say to me stay awake, be like the lensmaker who died with his

lungs full of glass, be the yew in blossom when bees swarm, be

their amber cathedral and even the ghosts of Cistercians will be kind to you.

In a certain light as after rain, in pearled clouds or the water beyond,

seen or sensed water, sea or lake, you would stop still and gaze out

for a long time. Also when fireflies opened and closed in the pines,

and a star appeared, our only heaven. You taught me to live like this.

That after death it would be as it was before we were born. Nothing

to be afraid. Nothing but happiness as unbearable as the dread

from which it comes. Go toward the light always, be without ships.

-Carolyn Forche, Santa Clara Review, also published in The New Yorker

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