Coney Island Widow

(Friday, Dec. 12)

"It is only appropriate that today dawned bleak and paradoxical, so there is no miscommunication with the gods when the last civilian lighthouse keeper shudders his last breath in a cottage on Coney Island, secure in the knowledge that no other man has saved fifteen sailors - young and clean and wet - from salty death in the Atlantic, so close to the shore but so far away from home."

You turn to me with grey, clouded eyes and claim you have never identified with the sea.

"It's not just the sea, it's not just a rainy tumultuous winter's night. It is light and fog and that radius of knowledge and security, the safe hope lodged in the throat of those men - fifteen of them! - knowing that they will be footnotes in the tome of maritime history but not caring about that at all. The only thoughts they entertain are those of wives and children sitting somber across from a broken radio frequency, as if the cheap plastic holds secrets of geography, as if the midpoint of Rio and Greenland were such a deadly location in their minds."

Don't be ridiculous, you say; death is not so romantic as black skies spitting revenge or vengeful waters barring the way home.

"The lighthouse was eighty feet tall, they say, glorious as any archangel captured in stone, and the man was utterly devoted to three little light signals even though his joints felt waterlogged and rain often leaked through the roof of his cottage. Since 1960, before the Kennedys became a family of martyrs."

You claim your grandmother was widowed in 1960 on Coney Island - by a man who drowned in the sad, dark sea, ironically, only it was daytime and not so romantic. Seagulls did not roam the shores of Coney Island, searching restlessly for his corpse. The reeds did not whistle at his funeral.

"There is nothing trivial about this kind of death. Only the thought of eternal battle with Poseiden, his trident slicing ropes and wood and flesh - that is the only fear, that is the only waking frightful realization."

And your grandmother knew; the last civilian lighthouse keeper knew; and now you know.