The Girl in this Photograph
Me by the Sea, 1985
When you were a child, did you lose yourself at the seashore and forget life aches? Did you run to the waters laughing?
I go back to the ocean of my childhood, where I was the girl in this photograph. My mother, on the other side of the camera, has eyes that sparkle blue and deep and a face that smiles my name. I cannot separate my own love for the ocean from my mother’s love for me and her love of the sea. In my memory, she is there, bare feet in the sand, hair as bright as sunshine that moves in slow-motion to the sound of unaccompanied cello. She has a body and a voice I can hear. She has not yet flown to some distant shore, familiar but unreachable, like the song you knew as a child but forgot how to sing.
I want the waves to whisper something, but they are still. Suspended in time, they do not roar, they do not call me. They are sketched with silver upon paper and will never swell or break again. These are the facts of the photograph. They are held by laws of light that only memory and imagination may transcend.
Hope is the whole motion of the ocean, but grief comes in waves and lasts till it passes. It sharpens photographs and softens memory, etching the image of a future where lives do not end but go on eternal—as far as the eye can see and beyond the horizon of calm sea.
I think of all the things I should say to the child in this photograph to prepare her for the moment when she will be a woman writing a poem about the death of her mother.
I search her face. I smile her name. And all I can say is this: Enjoy your day at the beach.
But she is laughing and singing and running to the shore, and she does not hear.
Cover image by Storiès.