April 28, 2010

Whether or not you know you will know

Last weekend, something prompted my daughter to tell me that "the pokes of light coming off of the sun" are actually my father's legs and his toenails. She knows that he is gone. She knows that death signals the end of being in your body. She is 3, but we've talked about that. How she got to the notion of spirit and light is beyond me. And the simplicity of it -- right down to the minimalist line-drawing of the sun that she describes -- is profound.

Today, I saw W.S. Merwin read his poems at Princeton. He is 83. He lives in Maui and the south of France. For me, his poems are like sunlight. And he closed with this:

Rain Light

All day the stars watch from long ago
my mother said I am going now
when you are alone you will be all right
whether or not you know you will know
look at the old house in the dawn rain
all the flowers are forms of water
the sun reminds them through a white cloud
touches the patchwork spread on the hill
the washed colors of the afterlife
that lived there long before you were born
see how they wake without a question
even though the whole world is burning

A dying mother points to the sun waking the flowers from behind the curtain of a white cloud. We don't see the sun on a day like that, but the flowers "wake without a question." They don't need to see something to know it is there.

I read a piece about Merwin earlier in the day in which he spoke about "the dimension of existence ... that embraces the unknown and recognizes that our roots are in the unknown." I am struck tonight by these two ways of seeing death and by the notion of embracing the unknown.


  1. I love how your daughter was confident enough to state her belief. She's living in that beautiful period, the time before we learn to doubt ourselves.

  2. where are you? and why are you not here? and how is it that our children know so much about death and loss at such a young age?