Winged Spirits and Hope

17Last week, a breakthrough research in spinal cord injury sent waves of hope and admiration across the airwaves. It highlighted another piece in the puzzle toward helping people walk again after such injuries. The study, published in the journal Brain, was funded in part by the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation.

I never met Christopher Reeve, but this research study brought back memories of an outpouring of feeling in verse which Bayeux published in 1995. “Winged Spirits,” one of our treasured volumes of poetry, was edited by the poet Franklin Reeve, Christopher’s father. The book was blessed with some priceless collage paintings by New York artist, Jean Zalesky, each one of the images uniquely complementing the verses by twenty four contemporary poets –

Thoughts

small bodies

lighter than air

rising

dreaming their wings

rushing toward love…

Franklin dedicated the book, among others, to Christopher and Dana, even as his son lay in a hospital bed in Mount Kisco, New York. The lines quoted above were by Franklin himself, the poem named “Snow Angels.”

Actually, angels are everywhere. From “The Guardian Angel in New York,” –

You stood in the doorway in the snow:

Times Square, a late hour.

The sill was black with chicken blood:

your black boots open: your glass like O’s:

you touched your finger to your lips, you said:

Here: Wisdom. Wisdom and power.

That was Jean Valentine. And from Henry Taylor’s “At South York Cemetary,” –

It had no voice, or anything like that,

as it came across a field to where we worked

at restoring an abandoned burial ground –

a silent whirlwind we could see was there

by leaves it spiraled higher than the trees.

It slapped a leaf or two against our bodies,

Then wandered on across the empty road.

As if the thoughtless world were generous,

we took that quirk of air as something given

and turned to cutting brush and righting stones.

Many summers later, while my family and I were in Machias, Maine, a few days before the August Annual Blueberry Festival, Franklin called us to meet him in Cutler Harbor, a few miles up the coast. One by one, we dinghied to his sailboat; it was looking white and splendid against the blue ocean.   It was during the hours that we spent sailing the waters of the Grand Manan Channel off the coast of Maine, the brilliant sun flashing on the waves, the sail bloated by a light breeze, that I felt possessed, totally engulfed in silence. It lasted perhaps no more than a minute, put that was space enough for me. I felt possessed by – and saw for the first time – the angel of the ocean.

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