Saturday, March 5, 2011

the end of the artist as widow

I woke full of the thought of it. I dressed and took the urn out of the locker and left the hostel. Walked down to the port, quiet still at 8 in the morning, and scaled over the low stone wall, dropping down to the the thick crunch of sea shells and pebbles. On the other side of the port the beach stretches away to the Atlantic and you can walk for miles with the camels and the girls who jog in their headscarves, down to the very end of Africa, perhaps, but this side is quiet, littered along the wall with broken wine bottles (shamed Muslims drinking in secret), no beach but slick stones leading out to the crash of the waves. I slowly, carefully picked my way to the edge. No one there but farther along the wall a fishermen with his line cast. I dug my hand into the urn and tossed a handful of ashes, then another, the dust spreading over my hennaed hand and dissolving in the air, stirring into the waves like milk. Then I upended the urn and let it all go. That was it. I turned and picked my way back over the rocks, over the seashells and litter.

I didn't cry. I had no psalm, no song, no prayer to recite. I've loved him since I was 14. I have grieved. I have carried his urn over my back across three continents. And I'll carry the pain back with me-- I'll declare it at customs. When the henna has faded and the only thing staining my fingers is the usual fountain pen India ink, I'll keep writing all this down, keep explaining. I'll take it to my grave with me. What song is there to sing, what prayer to offer? What god do you thank for a life that's given you so much so quickly? And what god do you blaspheme and curse when it's all taken away? To what god do you beseech for mercy, for the strength to endure your losses? Allah, sung from the minarets? The god of the tormented Krakow synagogues? The god of Spanish cathedrals or the god of Baptist churches in Flint's burned-out, boarded-up neighborhoods?

Does it matter? God of Moroccan strangers watching over hungry cats and lost Americans. God of widows turning sleeplessly in shabby hotel rooms and hostel bunks. God of grandfathers who fill your head with lovely places, like Spain, like Morocco. God of the beautiful friends and family you ache with love to go home to. God of uncertain futures. God of Marrakech henna artists. God of Vernors cravings. Hamdullah. Amen.

I neared the wall to climb back over and heard someone call, "Bonjour, madame!" I turned. A young man was standing there smiling. "Ca va?" Ca va bien, I smiled. After the constant lure of the Marrakech merchants, it's good to be back in this town and be able to smile and exchange pleasantries again.

"Are you a painter?" the man asked. No, I said, puzzled. "An artist of some kind, then?" he insisted. A writer, I told him. "Ah," he smiled triumphantly. "Have a nice day."

I couldn't stop myself. "Why do you ask?" I called after him.

He turned. "Because only an artist would be here, on this part of the beach, so early in the morning."

I threw the urn away. On the port, a trash can near the grills where men throw olive oil and spices on freshly-caught fish and sell you dinner for a few dirhams. That thick black plastic box tossed in with the orange peels and fish bones, with the empty crates and cigarette ends. We all die, the man in Marrakech told me. We must think of it everyday.

And thinking of it, I sat down in a familiar cafe and ordered coffee, wondering what to do with the day.


  1. I admit I had tears in my eyes after reading this note.

    I'm sure that Bryan is as proud of you as we all are.

  2. I've been hoping that you'd have a sign from B while you were in Morocco--hear his voice or feel his presence. Maybe the frenchman was his messanger, reminding you that you are a talented artist and you can keep B alive through your words. And to have a nice day--a nice life, go on and be happy. Yeah, B would want that.
    I thank my God for all the kindness people have shown to you along the way of your journey and all those wonderful people here who are praying for you and sending love and encouragement.