697: When Light Leaves Her Eyes

697: When Light Leaves Her Eyes

697: When Light Leaves Her Eyes


I’m Ada Limón and this is The Slowdown.

Just to live, in some ways, is to live in a constant conversation with grief. Recently author Saeed Jones said during a conversation with booksellers, we are learning what it is like to “live in tandem with catastrophe.” And that is what it feels like. We are living in tandem with catastrophe. And perhaps we always were. It’s just more obvious now.

I remember sometime after September 11th, sitting on a park bench in Union Square and just…sitting there. Not being on my phone or reading anything, not even pretending to look busy, but…just sitting there. Overwhelmed, exhausted. And two friends I had known since my youth walked by and tapped me on the shoulder, and it was such a relief. We all hugged and talked about how good it was to know they were okay, and I was okay, whatever okay meant. I’ll never forget that moment. It felt so important to be reminded of life.

I wonder what my face looked like when they saw me. I’m sure I was wan and worried. When I walk around in public, I am always wondering what my face, my eyes are telling someone else about me. What clues am I giving away about my own inner world, my suffering, or my contentment? Most times, I have a face of stone when I am walking. It is the face of a woman walking alone, unsmiling, univiting, a face of protection, of safekeeping.

But every once in a while, I see a glimpse of recognition in someone I pass. In the lobby of the Breast Care Center when everyone is there for something that is potentially scary, the lobby of a fertility clinic, the office of the OB-GYN where everyone is filled with their own ache of concern. Our eyes tell us so much. Our eyes connecting with each other, even over masks.

There is a look of loss that cannot be painted over with lipstick or foundation or hidden behind a smile. Whether it’s a miscarriage or a lost loved one or a loss you know is coming and something in us, if we are paying attention, can see this loss in others. How many of us are feeling that now? Walking around with our surrendering smiles, shifting into our Spring selves, and still carrying those losses around inside of us like a too-heavy organ.

Today’s poem is not so much about experiencing that loss, but about recognizing it in someone else. How even through grief, someone can shine, and how even through the shine, someone can recognize the pain.

When Light Leaves Her Eyes
by Kwame Dawes

Who owns you?
There is in the eyes
of those who have
lost the bodies
of their impossible
loves, the young
unformed perfection
of youth, dead
before the inevitable
corruption of time,
there is in the eyes
of those who have
lost this love to
the vagaries of war,
the drugged look 
of those whose 
light has faded.
What has been
taken from you,
it is this that
owns you, and
you, shell of all
joy, must walk
through this city
as beautiful as
the last summer

"When Light Leaves Her Eyes" by Kwame Dawes. Used by permission of the poet.