Carolyn Forché

Carolyn Forché’s first book of poetry, Gathering the Tribes, won the Yale Series of Younger Poets Prize, and was followed by The Country Between Us, The Angel of History, and Blue Hour. In 2020, Penguin published her fifth collection of poems, In the Lateness of the World. She is also the author of the memoir What You Have Heard Is True (Penguin Press, 2019), a finalist for the National Book Award and winner of the Juan E. Mendez Book Award for Human Rights in Latin America. Her international anthology, Against Forgetting, has been praised by Nelson Mandela as itself a blow against tyranny, against prejudice, against injustice. In 1998 in Stockholm, she received the Edita and Ira Morris Hiroshima Foundation for Peace and Culture Award for her human rights advocacy and the preservation of memory and culture. She is one of the first poets to receive the Wyndham Campbell Prize from the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University, and is a University Professor at Georgetown University in Washington DC.

Carolyn Forché

Photo: Don J. Usner

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Poem

The Light Keeper

A night without ships. Foghorns calling into walled cloud, and you
still alive, drawn to the light as if it were a fire kept by monks,
darkness once crusted with stars, but now death-dark as you sail inward.
Through wild gorse and sea-wrack, through heather and torn wool
you ran, pulling me by the hand, so I might see this for once in my life:
the spin and spin of light, the whirring of it, light in search of the lost,
there since the era of fire, era of candles and hollow wick lamps,
whale oil and solid wick, colza and lard, kerosene and carbide,
the signal fires lighted on this perilous coast in the Tower of Hook.
You say to me stay awake, be like the lens maker who died with his
lungs full of glass, be the yew in blossom when bees swarm, be
their amber cathedral and even the ghosts of Cistercians will be kind to you.
In a certain light as after rain, in pearled clouds or the water beyond,
seen or sensed water, sea or lake, you would stop still and gaze out
for a long time. Also when fireflies opened and closed in the pines,
and a star appeared, our only heaven. You taught me to live like this.
That after death it would be as it was before we were born. Nothing
to be afraid. Nothing but happiness as unbearable as the dread
from which it comes. Go toward the light always, be without ships.

Carolyn Forché

From In the Lateness of the World (Bloodaxe Books, 2020)