This is the light of the mind, cold and planetary.

The trees of the mind are black. The light is blue.

The grasses unload their griefs on my feet as if I were a God.

Prickling my ankles and murmuring of their humility.

Fumy, spiritous mists inhabit this place.

Separated from my house by a row of headstones.

I simply cannot see where there is to get to.


I have fallen a long way. Clouds are flowering

Blue and mystical over the face of the stars.

Inside the church, the saints will be all blue,

Floating on their delicate feet over the cold pews,

Their hands and faces stiff with holiness.

The moon sees nothing of this. She is bald and wild.

And the message of the yew tree is blackness – blackness and silence.

-From “The Moon and the Yew Tree,” Sylvia Plath

This Tuesday, January 10th, the moon will be full, a fact that people in Santa Fe tend to get quite excited about. Cancer moon: moon of new visions, surges of creativity and nurturing and growth. This Tuesday is also the one-year anniversary of Ronan’s diagnosis. 1.10.11. I have fallen a long way.

Typed out like that the date reminds me of the release date for a disaster movie, or the next Mission Impossible movie, or a film involving the latest generation of lovesick, lip-glossed vampires, witches, wizards, whatever. The year has been not so dissimilar to a disaster – epic, all-consuming, disproportionate, unbelievable. I realized this most distinctly during the holidays when, while trying to shave off a final few seconds from my mile time, I found myself running on the treadmill to the slew of holiday movies that are shown on cable television each year, an odd collection: Happy Gilmore (hell, no), Pretty Woman (NO!), and Deep Impact. The last movie is the only one I could watch. Quick synopsis: a few big-ass comets are headed to earth, and if they’re not stopped, the earth and all its life will be destroyed. The movie has everything: an ethical, calm-talking president (Morgan Freeman), epic heroism (Robert Duvall sacrificing his life and the lives of his team to deliver a nuclear bomb into the eye of one of the earth-destroying comets), and other gestures of kindness and compassion and sacrifice. For example: an “Arc” has been designed to preserve the best of the best of American culture: artists, politicians (?), scientists, etc. If you don’t get shoulder tapped as Arc-worthy, if your phone doesn’t literally ring in the middle of the night to let you know that you’ve been selected, you draw straws for the remaining slots. Tea Leoni, who plays a prominent television reporter, gives her spot to a woman and her child who drew the shortest straw. She puts her friend and her child in the Arc-bound helicopter (giving up her life), books it to the coast to see her father, and goes down in a dramatic, lethal, comet-driven wave of water. All this place-taking is kind of dopey, but it also delivers a profound message: life is precious, but it’s also cheap. I would trade anyone for Ronan’s life – Ronan, who got the shortest stick. Anyone. Me. You. A stranger. Anyone I love. Brutally. Mercifully. Without a stitch of regret or remorse. This is the light of the mind – lunar, lonely, true.

What’s so silly and also ridiculously appealing about disaster movies is that some people do live, even though some people die, even though the odds are impossible, stacked, undeniably crappy. There’s a collective sigh of relief, a group redemption. If only life were like the final take of a disaster movie. I’d love it if I turned on my computer to find a video of Morgan Freeman telling me that we will begin again, that we will live, that we will go on, survive. There is a cure for Tay-Sachs, he’ll say, just call this number. Last January – 1.10.11 – a descent into blackness, a plunge. This year, 1.10.12…

One weekend while I was writing and pregnant at Yaddo, a well-known retreat for artists and writers in upstate New York, I rented a car for the single purpose of driving to a local multi-plex to see 2012, the disaster movie based on Mayan predictions about the end of the world. During the scene when Amanda Peet and John Cusack (another reason I saw the movie) attempt to hand their children over to the people who can save them (There’s an Arc in this movie, too), saying please, take them, take them, save them, even though the kids don’t want to go, I cried into my popcorn, which greatly dismayed the artist I had dragged along to the theater with me. This silly movie kept me up that night, thinking would I be able to let my son go? Now, of course, I don’t have a choice, but as I wandered around the Yaddo lakes in the middle of the night, bundled up and sweating and sleepless, I wondered and agonized. Maybe I already knew.

Katrina Trask, one of the developers of Yaddo, lost her husband in an accident, and all four of her children in infancy. She had the flu, thought she had recovered, invited her kids into her bedroom and then they got sick and died. Just like that. She spent the remainder of her life at Yaddo, “an invalid” according to Wikipedia, although that definition seems dubious at best. The lakes around the property – beautiful, peaceful, tree-lined, banked by mud and a mash of fragrant leaves – are named after Katrina’s children. Ghosts abound, and not just of the Trask kids.

It is well-documented in several essays about Plath’s stay at Yaddo in the fall of 1959 that she turned 27, learned that she was pregnant, was finally able to work apart from her husband (during which time she created some of her most powerful poems and would do so again later after the dissolution of her marriage), and was treated to breakfast in bed each morning.

Sylvia’s life: was it a disaster? A “beautiful” disaster if there is such a thing? A weird, cult-inducing story that is attractive because it is tragic and ends with a death by suicide? She was a genius, no doubt, absolutely, hands down, but a difficult genius. Her poems about moons are not about hope and surges of life and gratitude and love and the Tarot, they’re about something else, something unseen, something life-giving and also soul-destroying. They speak to disaster without giving into it. They are triumphant without being uncomplicated. They howl without being hysterical. Now I doubt that any movie about the end of the world is going to have a line from Plath as an epigraph, or a little screen shout out to her, but maybe it should. She was a comet of truth, she was a poet of power. She was not a deranged, hysterical housewife who wrote some interesting and angry feminist poems about “Daddy.” She was not “the poet who put her head in the oven,” she was a poet who, unlike some, actually put her head and heart in the world, fully, and at the greatest emotional cost. She was an almost unbelievable mind; she provided a truthful vision of what you find when you look underneath the stories everybody tells you are true but are always lies. She was a muse to herself when nobody else was, and she is a muse to me. My disaster muse. A poet who won’t look away, who, instead of hiding behind a wall, burns it down; instead of putting her head in the sand, eats the sand and spits it back at you in a shapely, wet ball. She didn’t survive but she is a survivor. In that sense she is the most hopeful poet I’ve ever read.

Today Ronan had several rolling seizures, and when Rick swam with him to the opposite end of the therapy pool, this day before the day of the full moon, I imagined the day when Ronan’s body will not just float away to the other side of the pool, a sight I can barely stand, but will be gone. He loves the pool – perhaps it reminds him of when he was the most safe, swimming in amniotic fluid, being hauled around the dark glass of a lake named after a dead child, his arms free to move before the paralysis and spasticity that come with Tay-Sachs, a disaster illness like no other. Three guys with gray hair, all wearing yellow LIVE STRONG bracelets, massaged their hips on the jets in the pool’s corner, discussing the NFL playoffs. These men, with all their lives to talk about and their sore muscles to massage, and their favorite teams and their language and they can walk and hold their heads up. And my baby, almost 2, floats, helpless, in the arms of his father. I stretched out at the edge of the pool and closed my eyes, waiting for Rick and Ronan to swim back to me.

This year I am still writing in the same back room by the same fire as I was last year, but I am not the same. I can see Sylvia in her tower, the Trask kids standing at their mother’s door, then at her bedside, then the mother at the graves. I see the path around those lakes on my middle-of-the-night walks, see a grave pass from window to street, see gray parallel gray as the sun came up and I wandered back to my cabin. During her fall at Yaddo, Sylvia was firing out poems of such beauty and desperation, such shiny, clean howls into the void, that a moon would have been no contest.

I can see Sylvia writing herself almost out of disaster – almost – poems that are written from the slick edge of it, poems that slide and shine like the snow that’s skittering past my window now, poems that scatter and charm and smash and heal and rip, poems that look out into the moonlit night, into what is supposed to be some romantic, future-knowing, divinely-routed night sky and know that “the moon is no door. It is a face in its own right, White as a knuckle and terribly upset.” Yes.

17 responses to “Anniversary

  1. My prayers continue for you, Ronan, and Rick. May God give you peace and comfort.

  2. Beautiful. xxoo

  3. You are such a beautiful writer. I’m always dumbstruck by your gorgeous, haunting insights. I just wish you writing about somebody else’s life. Or making it all up.

  4. there will be more anniversaries. horrible, haunting ones but the years will soften them. sometimes. somewhat. but u are no sylvia plath and i don’t mean u don’t have her talent or power. u seem like much more of a fighter and lover of life. despite your tragedies u don’t seem like u could ever be a tragic figure. sylvia could not even stay alive for her children or her poetry. so many people love u.

  5. Thank you for this beautiful post. You are giving us all a gift with the beauty of your writing. You are giving us a key to something unfathomable yet as real as anything could be. Thank you for this, you make me learn and grow from your courage.

  6. Beautiful Emily. I remember last year as if it was yesterday. My heart goes out to you, Ronan, and Rick. Love to all of you.
    I love knowing you and you are an inspiration.

  7. Alma Luz Villanueva

    Full moon beauty, amor… your writing, a painful, healing journey.

  8. You are such an amazing writer. I had to read this twice and each line I wanted to savor and share and hold in my palm. I love you terribly, and I love Ronan. Reading this makes me want to hop on a plane and save you but alas, we aren’t in a movie and that is not possible. I am so proud of you though, that despite this thing that no one should ever have to know, you are writing and sharing your gift with the world.
    It may be cathartic to you and that is wonderful, but on a grander scale, I believe that you offer hope to so many people. Not just people who are also sadly losing their children from one disease or accident or another, but anyone who has ever had the thought ” How will I ever go on?” Anyone who has ever experienced grief knows that while you are in it, you are sure that this pain is all you will ever know. And, Emily, even if that is how you feel yourself, we all know, your readers, that your light is far too bright, and has shine way too far to dim and that you have much more work to do here. You have much more beauty to pass on to us and we humbly bow to you. We wait with open arms for your words, especially during this time when they have become more sparse, more powerful.

    You crack my heart straight down the middle with your pain turned into beauty. How is that even possible?

    You are deeply loved.

  9. Thank you for writing, Emily. I think of you every time i utter, “i cant even imagine…” because i can. thank you for sharing yourself with us.

  10. ‘he loves the pool’ my moonlight is this and that you’re the witness to your child’s pleasure and he’s knowing your love. I learn to close out the noise, doubts, pain, and my fear when I could that tried to sucked away those precious moments. When I knew all I could hope for was weeks, together we created what I could with my brave, loving child.
    Joel’s mom

  11. Haunting. A parent’s worst nightmare. Thank you for writing this.

  12. Emily, once again your words are your power. What I like about disaster movies is there is always a hero. Not anyone you expect, but when the need arises someone put in extraordinary circumstances steps up and does what needs to be done! You are that hero to Ronan. Ever in awe, hope you can feel all the support and love that we are all sending to you!

  13. emily,
    i’m still shaking. last night when i read about ronan in the pool i was shaking and nauseous. i know what it is to see your beloved child have rolling seizures and to fear the unknown that comes with them. i am sorry. i thought about calling but i don’t have your number, you don’t know me, and i hesitate injecting myself into your life. so instead, and as a woman stranger wrote to me recently … just know that I’m listening. Sometimes I cry when I read. I have nothing else to offer.

  14. I wish I knew you Emily. Ronan and Rick too. If I did then I could come and cook dinner for you or paint your living room. I’d bring my dog because she’s goofy and likes to give hugs. I wish I could help you cross something off of your to do list so you could just be. Be with Ronan, Rick or your writing, whatever it needed to be…..alas, I’m an interloper who fell in love with Ronan and your writing several months ago. I hope that your life is filled with people who will do those things for you. I can’t speak for anyone else but please know that you have love and support being sent from far away because of the depth and honesty and beauty of your writing, and Ronan too of course! I really appreciate your ability to cut through bullshit (and anything else in your way) with a machete. It’s a good trait to have and it serves you well. I think of you and Ronan every day and try to send good energy your way.


  15. What a wonderful blog!
    I began reading from the very beginning, the two first post put words on my feelings when I were in the same position, it more than 3 1/2 years since I was there but your words made me feel like it was today, in a good way, because today I know so much more about life.

    Our daughter Elsa will be 5 years in March, she is strong now, that’s why I actually think she’ll be 5. I’ll keep on reading this blog, maybe I’ll keep in touch.

  16. Oh the swish and skidding shine of your words ; only the deep thick love of a parent could excavate these vowels from your psyche. May they be a part of your healing, as they are a part of your grief. I almost lost a 10 year old five years back, but thankfully didn’t. The terror and vertiginous grief and joy of being a parent; we open ourselves to it all. So wonderful to read your words wrapping this place that every parent has been brushed by, if only unconsciously. Thankyou , and we wish blessings on you all, Lois

  17. I stop by and read your words often. I never know what to say — so I’ll just say thank you for all you have written and I think of you and Ronan often.

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