Elizabeth Alexander

Elizabeth
Alexander
1962

American Poet, Essayist and Playwright. Poetry Professor and Chair of the African American Studies Department at Yale University, Professor at Columbia University

Author Quotes

Great artists know the shadow, work always against the dying light, but always knowing that the day brings new light and that the ocean which washes away all traces on the sand leaves us a new canvas with each wave.?

Loss is not felt in the absence of love.

The basket of remembrance has three sides; one is open, can it tilt and spill out?

Who we are as a people and how we make our way through sorrows that feel so profoundly intimate and personal but in fact exist on larger continuums, is what I hear in the song today.

Half of the things are as they seem. The other half, who knows. This has always been true.

My mother-in-law?s last night on earth, a fox crossed our path in Branford, Connecticut, as we left the hospice. We knew somehow that it was her, as I now know the ravenous hawk came to take Ficre. Do I believe that? Yes, I do. Poetic logic is my logic. I do not believe she was a fox. But I believe the fox was a harbinger. I believe that it was a strange enough occurrence that it should be heeded. Zememesh Berhe, the quick, red fox, soon passed from this life to the next.

The days are long but the years are short, some say, about the early years of child rearing

He was probably dead before he hit the ground, the emergency room doctor and the coroner and a cardiologist I later speak with tell me. That is why there was no blood on the floor, despite his head wound and the scalp?s vascularity. He might have felt strange, the doctors told me, before what they call ?the cardiac event,? but not for more than a flash. One tells me he is certain Ficre saw my face as he died. We are meant to take comfort in this knowledge, if knowledge it is.

Now I know for sure the soul is an evanescent thing and the body is its temporary container, because I saw it. I saw the body with the soul in it, I saw the body with the soul leaving, and I saw the body with the soul gone.

The earth that looks solid is, in fact, a sinkhole, or could be. Half of things are as they seem. The other half, who knows.

Henry Ford believed the soul of a person is located in their last breath and so captured the last breath of his best friend Thomas Edison in a test tube and kept it evermore. It is on display at the Henry Ford Museum outside Detroit, like Galileo?s finger in the church of Santa Croce, but Edison?s last breath is an invisible relic.

Now I know my capacity for awe is infinite: this thirst is permanent, the well bottomless, my good fortune vast.

The story seems to begin with catastrophe but in fact began earlier and is not a tragedy but rather a love story. Perhaps tragedies are only tragedies in the presence of love, which confers meaning to loss. Loss is not felt in the absence of love.

And so I write to fix him in place, to pass time in his company, to make sure I remember, even though I know I will never forget.

I been in sorrow?s kitchen and done licked out all the pots. Nobody knows the trouble I seen. Steal away to Jesus. I ain?t got long to stay here.

On suffering, which is real. On the mouth that never closes, the air that dries the mouth. On the miraculous dying body, its greens and purples. On the beauty of hair itself. On the dazzling toddler: ?Like eggplant,? he says, when you say ?Vegetable,? ?Chrysanthemum? to ?Flower.? On his grandmother?s suffering, larger than vanished skyscrapers, September zucchini, other things too big. For her glory that goes along with it, glory of grown children?s vigil, communal fealty, glory of the body that operates even as it falls apart, the body that can no longer even make fever but nonetheless burns florid and bright and magnificent as it dims, as it shrinks, as it turns to something else.

There will always be children and there will always be old people. We spend most of our lives somewhere in between. When we produce the children, we get to be royalty for a short while--the world pulls out its chair for the pregnant woman--but soon we are once again worker bees, tending the little ones.

Art replaces the light that is lost when the day fades, the moment passes, the evanescent extraordinary makes its? quicksilver. Art tries to capture that which we know leaves us, as we move in and out of each other?s lives, as we all must eventually leave this earth. Great artists know that shadow, work always against the dying light, but always knowing that the day brings new light and that the ocean which washes away all traces on the sand leaves us a new canvas with each wave.

I have heard from so many different kinds of people who have experienced loss?yes, some widows, but mostly people who have lived to tell the stories of many kinds of loss and want to share them. We need to tell our stories. I never imagine a reader because I think you can?t; it interferes with the writing process. And then, you get the beautiful surprise of all the people out there who connect with your words and share themselves.

One night at bedtime, Simon asks if I want to come with him to visit Ficre in heaven. Yes, I say, and lie down on his bed. ?First you close your eyes,? he says, ?and ride the clear glass elevator. Up we go.? What do you see? I ask. God is sitting at the gate, he answers. What does God look like? I ask. Like God, he says. Now, we go to where Daddy is. He has two rooms, Simon says, one room with a single bed and his books and another where he paints. The painting room is vast. He can look out any window he wants and paint. That room has four views: our backyard, the dock he painted in Maine, Asmara, and New Mexico. New Mexico? I ask. Yes, Simon says, the volcano crater with the magic grass. Ah yes, I say, the caldera, where we saw the gophers and the jackrabbits and the elk running across and Daddy called it the veldt. Yes. Do you see it? And I do. The light is perfect for painting. His bed in heaven is a single bed. Okay, it?s time to go now, Simon says. So down we go. You can come with me anytime, he says. Thank you, my darling. I don?t think you can find it by yourself yet, he says, but one day you will.

They shared an unshakeable belief in beauty, in overflow, in everythingness, the bursting, indelible beauty in a world where there is so much suffering and wounding and pain.

Art that speaks to any of us always comes from a very particular place, and then we find ourselves in it in some kind of way.

I have not yet learned to use our television DVR. One of the points of marriage is that you split labor. In the olden days that meant one hunted and one gathered; now it means one knows where the tea-towels are kept and the other knows how to program the DVR, for why should we both have to know?

Perhaps tragedies are only tragedies in the presence of love, which confers meaning to loss.

This year, the peonies are magenta and white, and they blow open as big as toddlers? heads, and soon they are spent and rotten, their petals brown and withered in the ground. Over and done until next year? Flowers live, they are perfect and they affect us; they are God?s glory, they make us know why we are alive and human, that we behold. They are beautiful, and then they die and rot and go back to the earth that gave birth to them? What is left of Ficre has a different form now. It is less sharp, more permeating, more essence, more distilled. It is less his body here, his body there, and more, he is the ground beneath us and the air we breathe.

Author Picture
First Name
Elizabeth
Last Name
Alexander
Birth Date
1962
Bio

American Poet, Essayist and Playwright. Poetry Professor and Chair of the African American Studies Department at Yale University, Professor at Columbia University