On June 20th 2016, in honor of the Summer Solstice, we baptized our daughter, Alice. A close friend, Sarah, performed the ceremony, which was held under a light pink sky, adjacent Boulder Creek. Alice’s friend Elliott was also baptized, and together Sarah evoked our ancestors in communion with the sound of rushing water, washing away our fears and limitations, as we welcomed our children into the world.
Below is the letter I read to Alice shorty before being anointed: feet, loins, heart, lips and mind.
It pains me to write this, not because I don’t want to write it, but because words have always caused me a great deal of grief. I did suffer while writing this:
“The happiness I feel in offering it to you is as vast as a savanna.” ~ Pablo Neruda
On the day you were born, the sound of birds chirping filled the air. You were small and soft and full of innocence, and I was as tall and as pure as a Rhode Island Swan. On the day you were born, I was overcome with fear—fear that you might one day be like me—anxious and filled with sorrow—an artist, a poet, a damaged person, a dreamer.
“We need beauty because it makes us ache to be worthy of it.”
~ Mary Oliver (in an October 2010 speech at the Houghton Chapel at Wellesley College)
I prefer the soft light of dawn, the sound of one chest collapsing into another. All that is lost amid the fog on crisp New England mornings is revealed in the wings of snow geese. I know this because I too have been lost. I have sat alone among the mossy rocks blanketing the foothills of Acadia. I have watched Herons stand stoic in the marsh. I have seen whole flocks of North Island Snipes; they are as common to me as Bluebirds.
I am unusual. I am sad. If I could draw a wall, I could scale it. If I could paint, I could paint the sky—fly through the air like a White-Winged Dove. I don’t mind misty mornings, or the way melancholy creeps in, coating the night like dew on a freshly–spun web so beautiful the spider herself can’t help but admire it.
When the days are warm and the nights are cold, magic happens. Dew collects on the grass. Sugar stains the trees. And the spider she aches, overwhelmed with the beauty of spring. The congruence of things, red skies and windy waters, like the harmony of seasons, is what allows me to write, just as the wind allows the spider to be carried away by a strand of thin silk thread.
Mourning her loss becomes a poem.
You see, it’s not grief I am afraid of. Grief is what brought me to you. I am scared you might someday follow in my footsteps, be ashamed of who you are. I am scared you might look in the mirror and not like the person looking back at you, be disappointed in your reflection. I am scared you will be like me, that you won’t take care of yourself as well as you should, let others dictate how you feel. I am scared you will get sick. I am scared you will be unhappy.
I am not an easy person. I am restless, preoccupied. I write late into the night. I write before the sun comes up. I watch the words come to me, as if from a distant shore. I move in and out of them like driftwood, logs bypassing sand. Language, like sea glass, is familiar to me. All my life I’ve been searching, looking for words and bottles: didactic, swoon, Carolina Wren—the perfect piece of blue-green glass. All my life surrounded in language, I worry there won’t be enough for you. But as the soil stiffens and Swallows prepare for flight, my words begin their own journey; they sail like lullabies, soar straight home to you. All my words are yours and yours alone, earth and sky, my darling girl.
Do not be afraid.
Today is today because I love you.
Today the world is big and we are small.
They say we are made of dust, nitrogen and oxygen. They say we are made of water. I say we are made of the stars themselves. We are held together, not by the spirit of our bodies, but by the gravity of what will prevail, the force that will bring us to our knees. We are all made of elements, the Warbler and the Wren. We are made during the life and death of a star.
You, Alice, are the reason I see dust in sunbeams, as blue as the bluest blue butterfly, as calm as an Ivory Gull. You are the reason I am able to find the sun as it slowly floods the landscape, white light in an arctic snowfield—the reason I will outlive my idols, be more the life than the death of a star.
This is my wish for you, that you be more life than death, more bird than sky.
My wish for you is to be happy, to not always aim for perfection, but do as others have done—live the best you can, and hope your life makes a difference. For just as the sun will rise in the east, just as the bees will drift along and the fish will roam the sea, the tide will return, and you my darling, will endure.
In my sonnets you are safe. In my poems you survive. You, sweet Alice are a rare White Crane. And like Noah said to Tomaz, “You will never die.” The poets of the Earth won’t allow it. “Again and again and again, we will prop you up on our backs and drag you from country to country, from city to city, from street to street, from room to room, from dust to dust.”
Wherever you are, I will find you. However long, I will wait. Dawn to dark, I will wait for you. And when I am gone, you will know where to find me, in small shadows and soft features, the final push that gets you across the line. And there we will gather, there we will collect each other, sail in rhythm forever—swift like a flock of starlings, elegant as nightfall. This is where you will find me, under a star-sheltered sky. This is where I will wait for you, by land and by sea, all the days of my life.
Remember this when life gets hard, when grief comes knocking at your door.
Remember, I am here, patient as a Gull. Hold fast, little one. The ice will break before the dawn. And if ever you should need me, call. And “If ever you should need of my life, come and take it.”
For you will always be my little girl. Always you will be: forever, Alice.
Author: Charlotte Annie
Image: courtesy of the author, pixoto
Editors: Ashleigh Hitchcock; Renée Picard