“We walk forward into a new story…”

I REVIEW poet/essayist Elizabeth Alexander’s poignant new memoir The Light of the World, in the Los Angeles Times. The book is a deeply explored meditation on loss: the passing of her husband, Ficre Ghebreyesus, and her notion of the world — but more it is a personal roadmap back from the wilds. Gorgeous and difficult to let go of.

It was excerpted here in the New Yorker a couple of months back and is where I got my first glimpse:

The idea of throwing away his paintbrushes makes me queasy. They are somehow biological, his DNA in the brush fibres. I find a box of the very best paintbrushes, which are made of sable. I have long been fascinated with the story of the frozen woolly mammoth, how scientists used a blow dryer to thaw it and extract DNA from its flesh and fur. Now I read they have found liquid blood inside a ten-thousand-year-old woolly mammoth. They will extract the DNA and eventually fertilize and plant an egg inside an elephant. Ficre’s DNA is everywhere in the studio, and in the paintbrushes he held for so many hours.

After the studio, I clean deeper in the never-ending house, facing it bit by bit. I clean my pantry cabinets and find Ficre’s baking supplies: two brands of yeast and powdered-milk solids, wheat and white and rye and spelt bread flours, rice flour to experiment with gluten-free bread. I throw away all the expired flours. They smell ever so slightly rancid, but not unpleasantly so. They smell biological. I am reminded that grain is alive, a host for bacteria. Things grow and live in it.

Soon after that, we walk forward into a new story, each of us carrying the old ones across our shoulders in bandanas tied to sticks. My sons and I move to New York City. Today, we look out our window at the Hudson River and wait for another hurricane as the sky turns lavender and orange, Ficre colors. When the rain is most dramatic, we feel him close. The boys grow taller than everyone around them and become young men.

From my review: “How does one usher someone — their very meaning — back from the ether? How does one make the unreal real? These are the urgent rhetorical questions that loom over Alexander’s narrative: “Lost implies we are looking, he might be found,” she writes, “I lost my husband. Where is he I often wonder?”

You can read the rest here.


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