Sight, Memory (With Apologies to Nabokov)

Ama Reynolds, USA

Ama lives two minutes from the Atlantic Ocean. A professional copywriter by day, she is currently working on a memoir, as well as a poetry collection.

(Submitted by the author)

What is light? What is light within? What is light within light? Stillness becoming alive, yet still? A lively understandable spirit once entertained you. It will come again. Be still. Wait. - Theodore Roethke

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Memories of my future swim back to me now, as I think, here, under green pine trees and blue sky on a cloudless almost-spring day, the last days of February. In Florida, the sun is impatient, tenacious, and always, always comes early, bringing its skin-bright heat and close-as-skin light, long before the bare fruit trees have had time to bud a single new leaf.

The branches are still skeletons. Our sweaters are still in our closets. Just a week ago we were wearing our winter coats against the morning frost. We are thin-skinned here - a cool wind might knock us over.

The ocean water has yet to warm enough for swimming - but we sat in bathing suits on the beach this weekend, the new bright light of sun stretching no shadows, turning the muddled winter sand white, like snow between our toes, that insistent sun holding its heat to our skin long after its setting.

Once the sun comes out behind the mild thickness of winter’s fog, light is everywhere - and everything - shining rainbow refraction on the windshield, cutting cathedral rays of gold between our ancient Spanish buildings, spilling in pools on our city’s red brick streets, glinting white light upon the shiny slick leaves of the always blooming magnolia trees. Reflecting up from the sky-blue water rushing in a dance of the eighteenth-century fountains found all over our small old city, shining in sweaty rivulets upon the smooth black skin of old men sitting on sagging stairs in the neighborhood of Lincolnville.

The light puts everything inside a glow and a gloaming - reluctant, always, to set, taking its time, malingering from gold to pink to plum, to that deepest blue of dreams.

No one seems to know what she means when making mention of remembering her future.

So goes the first line of an old poem. I sit in sparse shade - moving back, back, back in time to that first dream, to those first memories of the future, those memories that can’t wait, spilling out to me in the cinema of my mind’s eye - a reel of light going backward and forward, sputtering, spinning, revisiting its own divine moments.

Let me try to explain: the first one came in when I was six-years-old in my wooden-floored Norman, Oklahoma home. Tender skin sweaty, blonde hair clamped to my brow, a Snow White night-light glowing through the dark of that high-ceilinged little-girl bedroom of mine.

Green-tipped trees - firs or pines perhaps - roll like film against the golden hour of blue-sky-going-pink, through the back seat of my father’s 1977 police-engine green Chevy Impala. That dream came in 1979. We already had the car. But not too long after the dream, while my family was still whole, we took a Sunday drive, a long one, through the flat winding roads of Oklahoma farmland, and the moment, the feeling, the sight, the words spoken in my dream - all became real, and I remembered the future. Isn’t that strange?

All my life this has happened, been a part of my way of seeing- - of seeing time, of knowing, right then - whether the moment is frightful, regretful, curious, joyful, neutral or so-so-sorrowful, it all comes swimming back to me. To this day. This is the way many people see, with a forward-facing memory, deep-sleep dreams that come to life days, months, years and decades later.

These memories swimming back to me bring me a sense, whether I like it or not, that I’m right where I’m supposed to be, seeing something in a time not of my own making, a way of time I can only contemplate - even though I see it with my mind’s eye and through the light that casts a series of objects within my vision. I do not understand it.

But the experience makes me still, for a moment, and I feel a strong powerful spirit rushing through me, bemusing me. Light within. Stillness becoming alive, yet still.

Everything that has been shall be again. - William Butler Yeats

These words, to me, are a blessing. A blessing from a poet who saw time not in a straight, forward-moving line of narrative with no room to turn around, go back, find what you might have missed. He saw time in spiral staircases without end; in those widening gyres where time falls apart and its center cannot hold; in sliding doors that open and close and open again. Forward, backward, circular - with room enough for every moment that ever was. For every moment that is. For every moment that shall be again.

With memory, with sight, with experience - our perceptions, perspective and focus are all internal. We see from the inside out, and we see from inside with our whole being; we see the outside and inside from one pair of eyes, one heart, one light of sight, one singular point of view.

We see the future, always waiting, within the flesh and bone and blood and spinning atoms of our inner world, where there is nothing but air beneath our feet, where we are weightless and without guile. We see the present, always passing, within the brick and mortar of our outside world, where the ground waits to hold us steady on the earth, our dream doors closed quickly till they’re cracked open again.

Sight is only one sense, one way of perceiving and experiencing, but sight - as with all of our senses - is colored by our feelings, by what we hear and feel and smell and taste and touch. We can only see with our own eyes, with one perspective - and when that perspective widens, becomes more open, we change. Everything changes.

What is light? What is light within? What is light within light? Stillness becoming alive, yet still?

The light that shone on my skin the day of my grandmother’s eightieth birthday party, the immaculate living room of gold carpet and light-green walls, the spring air and the sun swirling through the big open window in dust motes above my ten-year-old green eyes, have been. And shall be again. All of it is ever returning, is always there.

Loves lost are never really lost. People gone are never really gone. We see them in our mind’s eye whenever we choose, whenever we don’t choose. Comfort sweeps in, light sweeps in - beneath those doors shut deep in our hearts - and all that is good, all that we’ve seen, stays right inside, in our soul’s chamber, opening the door, dissolving the door, with or without our will.

A lively understandable spirit once entertained you. It will come again. Be still. Wait.

As my grandmother lay dying, the light is still inside her and it is not gone. What she’s chosen and not chosen to remember, what she loved and what she didn’t love, everything she’s ever seen in her one wild and precious life - comes rushing in unbidden, like a rolling morning fog over the quiet waves of her beloved Atlantic ocean at sunrise, her whole life in one minute; and in that one minute, her whole life. One hundred and two years in the blink of an eye.

We stand crying at the hospital bedside. The paper-white hands and slowing breath - the beloved eyes that were our home and our safety, close. Her breathing stops. But it is all, that whole life, still - somewhere in the light our animal bodies cannot see. But if we are quiet, if we close our eyes and let our grief empty out onto the hospital’s cold, clean floor - our souls will know it; and the clear air
will hold it - and it will be there, just as it has always been.

The light within each of us, the lively understandable spirit, will return and entertain us, opening the door to a place that comes only with stillness and waiting, a place where time blends what has been, with what will be, will always be, again.

Image credit: Ama's Grandma and Grandpa Kaler.

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