My throat ached, I had been holding back so many tears as I read Elizabeth Alexander’s memoir, The Light of the World.
Her beloved husband Ficre died. He died! The Eritrean activist, the taste-tempting chef, the talented painter, the loving father of Solomon and Simon was dead. How could he be dead, just as I was learning he existed, that he lived, that he loved?
How, indeed. I fell in love with Ficre, too, and cried gigantic tears about his death because his wife dared to write the story. And I’m so glad she did.
You may have heard of Elizabeth Alexander. She is the poet who composed and recited “Praise Song for the Day” at President Barack Obama’s 2009 inauguration. In fact, that she was a poet initially had me shying away from her book. Poetry? I wasn’t sure I wanted to read a book of poetry.
But The Light of the World is not poetry. It is poetic, to be sure, with sort of the phrases and metaphors and descriptions that invite one to read and reread passages, they are so beautiful. Like this powerful and evocative description of Ficre’s last moments:
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.
Or these lines about the step of acceptance in the grief process:
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. This has always been true. But now I must know it.
Or this description of the circle of life:
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.
If possible, attend one of Alexander’s book appearances, as I had the opportunity to do when she appeared at Printers Row Lit Fest last month in Chicago. After hearing her speak, you can actually hear her quiet but firm voice in her writing.
This is the book I would want to write after my husband passes away; it brings Ficre to life, and he will live forever in these pages. Alexander dedicates the book to their sons, and I can imagine no better gift to a person’s children.
The Light of the World is one of those books I will never give away. I will keep it forever and reread it, it is truly so beautiful.