a dark path

How a quilt begins. You are sorting fabric and you see a path of dark blue in the scraps and small squares. There is a length, perhaps 4 feet by 16 inches, of deep indigo silk with a beautiful pattern woven in, at random. Could you run that down a piece of light muslin and then cobble a path alongside it with the pieces, fitting them together as you might fit stones together, as you did once for a path to the outhouse when you were young, with just one baby, and all the time in the world?


It would be a dark path, it would be the path you have walked for the past two years. Not an unhappy one but you needed to think about (or hope for) the light at the end of it. There was a double pneumonia, a pulmonary embolism, some chest xrays that revealed possible metastases. There were scans of several sorts, including one where you were injected with radioactive tracers, covered with warm blankets, in a dark room listening to Bach, and then you were asked to lie on a table which entered a PET scanner and where you kept your eyes closed because if you’d opened them, who knows what you would have seen?

The dark path would be the one you fell on in late November and fractured your tailbone and, without knowing for several days, tore a hole in your right retina. It was a path that also led to your family so you have no regrets.

And look, some of the scraps are greyblue silk, embroidered with flowers, a few sequins scattered across the surface. So the darkness is never without beauty.


What if you make the cobbled path and then border it on the other side with a length of ikat, deep blue with silvery streaks running down it? It would be the moment when you first knew that something was wrong with your eye because you realized the light falling past your face was not reflected light from your silver earrings but something inside your vision.

Looking at my piece of paper, I parse the word “entoptic”: from the Greek, meaning inside light or vision. I read about blue field entoptic phenomenon or Scheerer’s phenomenon, 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.

I learn that the silver light that fell to the periphery of my vision was caused by little waves in the vitreous jelly hitting the retina. The fall on ice had caused these coruscations and sitting in the dark, at the Grindstone Theatre watching an abbreviated version of the Nutcracker, and lying in my dark room at the Airbnb, trying to ease the pain in my tailbone, I mused that it was like seeing the summer meteor showers, the shimmer of light as the meteors entered the earth’s upper atmosphere and burned up in a display of brilliance in the night.

—from “The Blue Etymologies”, a work-in-progress