For the past year, I have been filling notebook after notebook with letters, photographs, receipts, and certificates from parents, grands, greats, and beyond. Between these clear protector sheets reside The Dead. Over a century ago, poet Edith M. Thomas (1854 - 1925) asked the haunting question:
"Heart throb, heart throb, wonder past knowing,
Where did you come from, where are you going?"
The following poem answers solemnly that the dead have gone nowhere, "They are about us always . . . ":
Nothing is Lost
Nothing is lost.
We are too sad to know that, or too blind;
Only in visited moments do we understand:
It is not that the dead return ---
They are about us always, though unguessed.
This penciled Latin verse
You dying wrote me, ten years past and more,
Brings you as much alive to me as the self you wrote it for,
Dear father, as I read your words
With no word but Alas.
Lines in a letter, lines in a face
Are the faithful currents of life: the boy has written
His parents across his forehead, and as we burn
Our bodies up each seven years,
His own past self has left no plainer trace.
The cells pass on their secrets, we betray them
Unknowingly: in a freckle, in the way
We walk, recall some ancestor,
And Adam in the color of our eyes.
Yes, on the face of the new born,
Before the soul has taken full possession,
There pass, as over a screen, in succession
The images of other beings:
Face after face looks out, and then is gone.
Nothing is lost, for all in love survive.
I lay my cheek against his sleeping limbs
To feel if he is warm, and touch in him
Those children whom no shawl could warm,
No arms, no grief, no longing could revive.
Thus what we see, or know,
Is only a tiny portion, at the best,
Of the life in which we share; an iceberg’s crest
Our sunlit present, our partial sense,
With deep supporting multitudes below.
Anne Barbara Ridler (1912 - 2001)