“Little scars like buttons sealed my retinas in place.”


Earlier in the week, John printed the text for the keepsakes I’ll be offering to people who buy my forthcoming book, Blue Portugal & Other Essays, due out in early April. For years we’ve always created tokens to celebrate the publication of our books, mostly to hand out at the launches themselves. But so much has shifted to online platforms now and who knows if I’ll be able to gather a group of friends together in a nice location to release this book out into the world. There’s a lot of blue in the book: blue fabric, blue hours, blue rivers, and a kind of seeing that I was gifted with when I had emergency eye treatment in 2018 after falling on ice in Edmonton.

Looking at the piece of paper later, after the drops to dilate my pupils, after the laser surgery, after the long drive home, my husband quiet and me reclined, my eyes closed, I parse the word “entoptic”: from the Greek, εντός οπτικός or “within vision”, i.e.,vision within the eye itself. I read about blue field entoptic phenomenon or Scheerer’s phenomenon, in which moving white dots are actually white blood cells flowing in the capillaries in front of the retina. Some people think that the experience is like seeing heaven, an aspect of consciousness, an apprehension of angels. I saw billowing clouds in the deepest blue sky, and the clouds were moving across the sky just as clouds move when one looks up for a sustained period at a summer sky. But my experience of that blue and its white clouds was brief. Brief, and as beautiful as anything I’ve ever seen. And it was within my eye, apprehended in the light of an ophthalmologist’s instrument. When she removed the instrument, I was in an examining room in a high tower while snow whirled around the windows and the river froze under the bridge we would have to cross on our way home.

Luckily we have a printing press and happily John was willing to typeset and print these bookmarks or keepsakes. I have scraps of fabric hand-dyed with indigo, remnants of quilting projects, and hoarded away because they were too beautiful to discard. I have akoya buttons, echoing the buttons in one of the essays in my book, which in turn echo my eyes and the damage to my retinas.

A technician took photographs of my inner eyes and when I was sent on to the optometrist’s office, she had those images on her screen. After routine procedures, she showed me my eyes. Here, and here, and here, she pointed. Those are where your retinas were repaired. Little scars like buttons sealed my retinas in place.

On International Women’s Day, I made a prototype of the keepsake, arranging a fragment of indigo cotton and sewing on a button with red silk thread, leaving a tail at the back of the card. (There’s lots of thread in this book!) And then I was busy for a few days but this morning I took some time to paste cotton onto most of the keepsakes, leaving them to dry on the dining table. After lunch I’ll begin to sew.

If you buy my book, either by ordering from the publisher or by visiting your local bookseller and asking that they bring copies in, I will gladly send you a keepsake. The world has changed in some ways over the past two years but there are some things we can still do. We can write books and we can celebrate them in the old ways we’ve always cherished, commemorating the occasion of their appearance in the world with a little gift.



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