Seeing my mother in darkness and in light.

click to enlarge Kaleidoscope - H. Pellikka/Wikimedia Commons
H. Pellikka/Wikimedia Commons

I don’t know if I believe in a black Jesus, a white Jesus, if I believed in Santa, or if I understand how an amoeba became anything erect. I don’t quite understand Darwin’s mind or body. I almost never spell transfiguration right on the first try.

But I do believe in light.

Not some kind of spiritual enlightenment or higher power. I mean the bright bulbs lining the deck on the night-docked Carnival cruise ship. Or the high-watt red and green confetti flashing on top of the SunTrust building. Or the holiday lights on Boulevard, at Swann, moving toward Bayshore like lit-up ganglia.

When I was in New York after Thanksgiving with my mom, the Rockefeller tree wasn’t up yet. But store windows had already sucked in the holidays in tiny scenes: commonplace hearth and father; high-fashion sugarplum fairies and Black Swan wannabes. The actual definition of black is the absence of light, the part of spectrum absorbing light without reflecting it.

I swear, in New York, the lights refracted off my mother. She jokes that she’s the only real black member of a light-skinned family: blue-black, she says. And she’s so much shorter than me, my dad, and brother, she says she’s in the shadows whenever we take a rare picture.

Now, the light from this summer’s radiation treatments in a neighborhood called Shady Grove left her burned. The burns swallowed moles, darkened her breast to the color of its areola. And she, after surgery and everything else, jokes that she now has one black tittie and one blacker, one long tittie and one shorter.

She asked me to look.

To see your mother naked is to see her as a body, the body you came from — your darkness before light. The width of hips barely bigger than a pelvis too small for birthing you. The skin they flayed to get you out. Now the skin reshaping what was lost.

This is beginning and exposure. This is cathexis, not catharsis. When she showed me her chest, I invested in seeing her like I could stare her into after-images, like I could print her on my left eye’s floater.

This is her new year and holiday. And new is lately come, and sometimes unfamiliar and strange, but the dropped ball and its countdown are nothing but recovery. We’ve seen it, done it. The lights come down and we’ll put them up again in 12 months.

But I didn’t put up a Christmas tree this year. I blamed it on my small apartment and a Shih-Tzu who hunts all things shiny. For real, I just wanted to look at the nearby rig that looks far enough away to be in Ybor. And in Maryland, where my mom, in her Rockville home, also didn’t put up a tree, I looked at her neighbor’s trees through the windows and imagined them broken so all the lights kaleidoscoped. Yes, kaleidoscope can be a verb: I can make two mirrors out of anything, and, by reflection, change shapes.

This is the heavens and the earth. This is evolving. Because what’s birth if not an extraction. And what’s light but pulling off an expectation and surprise.

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