Light Carried in a Jar
in memory of my wife’s mom
Near the end in the hospital
when things weren’t always clear,
she tried to tell us that her nurse had been
one of her sixth grade students,
that at the time they had been very close.
She said, “Rick and I were like this….”
and slowly lifted her right hand
with first and second fingers in a V.
A small victory, but not enough strength
to put the two fingers together. And she knew
what she had done and smiled with us as we laughed.
One of the last moments of light.
She has been gone for many years now.
But there, as I’m on my knees digging deep
into the darkest corner of a cupboard,
I find two jars of cherries that she canned
who knows how many years ago.
Two jars close together filled with
dimpled, light purple globes and juice.
Should we open one and taste?
Or should we set the jars by a window
where every day we can see them,
how the light radiates from these little worlds,
the seed of a story locked in each one, how her love
continues to feed us, how she is still teaching us
to be grateful for a lug of cherries,
to honor the simple and practical,
to delight in the holiness of this world and the next.
Kabekona Lake near Walker, Minnesota
I’m helping Mike, a friend building a cabin.
We have worked all day, and now,
just before sunset, it’s time to walk to the lake
with bars of Ivory soap to clean off the day’s dirt.
About 50 feet from shore is a floating platform
of wood decking supported by large empty drums.
We swim to the platform, which during the day
is crowded with neighborhood children,
and begin to lather up. When covered with soap,
I scrape a handful from my arm and jokingly
fling it at my friend, who, in turn,
scrapes his own handful and flings it back at me.
This begins the ducking and dodging,
the harmless soap slinging, until the platform
is mostly foam, until one last left-handed fling
sends my wedding ring flying into the lake.
Frantic, I search for the small circles, the rings
reverberating on the surface of the water.
The sun is setting. I can see nothing
but glittering gold, red, and orange.
“Mike, I’ve lost my wedding ring!”
We dive into the water, pull our way
to the murky bottom, dig through the weedy slime,
stay under for as long as we can, then burst
to the surface, gasping, try again and again.
But the ring is small, the bottom so dark,
unforgiving. And we must quit for the night.
The next morning word spreads quickly
throughout the neighborhood. A wedding ring
has been lost near the platform. There is a reward
of 50 cents. I stand at the end of the dock watching
the swarm of little swimmers dive, come up
for a breath, dive again. I am amazed
at what they will do for 50 cents.
Within minutes, a young boy is swimming
toward me, feet churning, his right hand in a fist.
When he gets near the dock, he stands,
wide-eyed, holds out his cupped hand,
and there is the ring. “I just reached down
and found it!”
Thank God for a child’s extended hand
which holds a gift, a surprise, a treasure,
a miracle. This ring will not be easily lost.
This morning I walk to Infidel, Craig’s sculpture
finished yesterday, on the bank overlooking St. John’s Pond.
One hundred charred ten-foot two-by-fours, which he calls
sticks, stacked horizontally and woven into crosses
at the corners to form four walls and a roof, a shelter shaped
like a three-dimensional Gothic arch, two hands
about to be folded. In front, a bench like you’d find
where children wait on cold mornings for the school bus,
a bench where someone huddles inside a sleeping bag.
Craig has talked about a mistake made early that cannot now
be corrected. One stick with a knot, somehow unnoticed
on one of the lower levels, may not be able to support the weight
above it without bending. He’s afraid that if something isn’t done
the stick will break, weakening the entire structure.
But this morning the sculpture stands. Where braced last night,
it hasn’t moved. The light plays in the space between each stick,
a pattern of light and dark that changes as you walk around
the shelter, as one parallel pattern intersects with another,
the walls of repetition overlapping, creating a moiré, curved lines
that are present only in the eye. Moiré, a word used first by weavers.
With no entrance, no exit, no way in, no way out, this house,
touched by fire before built, can’t keep out wind, rain, snow.
A sanctuary for small creatures, perhaps, for leaves
that slip through the slats, for the dark, curved figures
who move inside mysteriously. The infidels, the unfaithful,
the unbelievers, the displaced. They have come here from there,
from the ground beneath the house, from the nearby hill,
from the fields, from wherever a hand was frozen to stone,
from the water, from across the river, from wherever
they were sent, wherever they were taken, wherever they
were left. For now, they have come, spirits bent but not broken,
and they are still graceful and strong.
“Infidel” was a temporary installation by Craig Pleasants on the campus of St. Mary’s College of Maryland.