the quality of light

Many years ago I wrote a poem as a response to a writing prompt in Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones. The prompt goes as follows: “Tell about the quality of light coming in through your window…Don’t worry if it is night and your curtains are closed or you would rather write about the light up north–just write.” I wrote a poem inspired by this prompt, but took a little different approach. Here goes:

The Quality of Light

The sun’s gleam on a red headed boy,

the puzzle pieces of blue in the spaces between,

the twisted and drooping grays and browns of limbs,

the green feather dusters from here–

there are diamonds in the hammock

and you are the red headed boy I have seen all of my life

at a distance.

When we were young

your penny hair and scrubbed freckles

no amount of soap could wash free

seemed full of light.

You were all boy

hightailing it with your gang of friends

through neighborhood streets on foot or on bicycles.

Sometimes you built forts or treehouses in back yards–

things boys do.

Once or twice I’d invite you to visit my martyred places,

and you’d comply if no one else was around.

We’d turn blankets into robes and play Mary and Jesus,

only Mary would get crucified because this was My Passion Play–

or doctor or nurse behind closed doors,

where I’d administer the shot to your suffered parts,

or lost at sea in cardboard boxes in the shuttered afternoon light

of the living room–

the green carpet, a sea of death.

We weren’t young together for long.

We were split like chromosomes,

each under a different sun,

other qualities of light.

I have been to your places,

those palaces of lacquer, steel,

and all the light money can buy–

and you have been to mine:

the diamond pattern in a hammock,

where the green moves in on me

afraid to come out,

where the light is subtle and charming.

It is this muted light I offer

the only light I have.

I invite you to share a poem inspired by this same prompt.

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