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Split Wide Open

I don’t know what to say after a week of being struck speechless by the words of Luis Urrea, Cheryl Strayed, Samantha Dunn, and others at the San Miguel Writer’s Conference. I don’t know what to say after being shaken to the core by the sudden death of our friend Eli on Saturday. I only know that this poem by Lisel Mueller, shared last night in the midst of Eli’s family and friends, expresses what I’m feeling, this splitting wide open to the preciousness of life.

Monet Refuses the Operation

Doctor, you say there are no haloes / around the streetlights in Paris / and what I see is an aberration / caused by old age, an affliction. / I tell you it has taken me all my life / to arrive at the vision of gas lamps as angels, / to soften and blur and finally banish / the edges you regret I don’t see, / to learn that the line I called the horizon / does not exist and sky and water, / so long apart, are the same state of being. / Fifty-four years before I could see / Rouen cathedral is built / of parallel shafts of sun, / and now you want to restore / my youthful errors: fixed / notions of top and bottom, / the illusion of three-dimensional space, / wisteria separate / from the bridge it covers./ What can I say to convince you / the Houses of Parliament dissolve / night after night to become / the fluid dream of the Thames? / I will not return to a universe / of objects that don’t know each other, / as if islands were not the lost children / of one great continent. The world / is flux, and light becomes what it touches, / becomes water, lilies on water, / above and below water, / becomes lilac and mauve and yellow / and white and cerulean lamps, / small fists passing sunlight / so quickly to one another / that it would take long, streaming hair / inside my brush to catch it. / To paint the speed of light! / Our weighted shapes, these verticals, / burn to mix with air / and change our bones, skin, clothes / to gases. Doctor, / if only you could see / how heaven pulls earth into its arms / and how infinitely the heart expands / to claim this world, blue vapor without end.

Painting by Claude Monet: Path Under the Rose Trellises


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