Mary Oliver wrote in her poem, “When Death Comes”:
When it’s over, I want to say all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
Or, taking the world into my skin, onto my cheeks. Letting the world kiss and mar me with its beauty and power. How threatening, everything we love!
When I was a child, my parents would deposit me at the lip of an ocean, on a shoreline they trusted—off the coast of Caracas, or Boston, or Cape Cod. I know they had a commitment to keep me from drowning, and yet, in these memories, I am completely alone. Held in the bright eye of summer under a vaulting blue sky. Steeped in the brine of the sea. Waves lapping at me. Me lapping back. The sun chewing slowly on the pigment of my face.
When I look them up, they have many names: age spots, liver spots, solar lentigines. The list is musical and metaphorical, but I know them as sun spots. Which is ironic, since they appear more as half moons, or as quartered oranges ornamenting each cheek. Flat and brown, speckled and insistent. A map of the skies that have known me.
It was a different ozone then. Or the same ozone, but intact. A time before UV-blocking swimwear, before the broad-brimmed bucket hats, when parents gave their children over to the sea for an afternoon, to grow fluent in her wet language. The sun was their childcare plan. The sun vouched for me. Now the ozone is pocked with holes. Stratosphere and mesosphere leaking in. Solar blotches heeding harder days to come.
In Hebrew, my language of prayer, face is פנים, which, strictly speaking, is a plural noun meaning faces. Contained within my one face: a plurality of faces, surfaces of stars. The root is פני, which means to turn. We are each a small planet orbiting the source of our aliveness. I turn my face up to the light, let it burn a code onto me. The pattern of living. Vulnerability etched across flesh. Praise and lament. Coastline and earth. Scrawled out, one spot at a time.
More from our “In Praise Of” Series:
ASMR, Corrie Lynn White
These Worthless Objects, CJ Evans
Wild Abundance, Laura Villareal
The Shadow Everything Casts, Brian Tierney
My VIDA T-shirt in Bright Blue, Julie Halebsky
Mixtapes, Dilruba Ahmed