Monday, December 27, 2010


Kay Ryan has taught me a new word, again.  Nacreous.  In her poem, “Lacquer Artist”, she writes:

“There is a nacreous gleam
in certain areas of the mind
where something must have been
at some time—
perhaps many somethings,
judging by the pearlescence;”

Abalones secrete nacre, a mucous layer of calcium carbonate that hardens into a protective coating. The layers upon layers built up throughout the lifetime of the mollusk shine with iridescence most attractive to beach combers. As we turn the shell in our hands, the light reflection dazzles us with different colors. We see depth as if the light was emanating from beneath the shell surface.

Nacreous could refer to layers upon layers of varnish like the lacquer artist applies to a serving tray or the fine woodworker to a cherry plank. We own such a wooden box with 30 layers of varnish gently sanded between applications. The result is a surface of deep silk begging to be stroked.

The metaphor of luminescent layers implies life and light, value and desirability.

Grace refused to open her eyes yesterday morning, refused to get out of bed. When she finally sat up, the pushed-back blankets revealed shoes on her feet. She shook a fist, threw her breakfast and glared with dark, open pupils. There was no depth in her eyes. The flat blackness reflected the vacancies in her brain and warned us to give her space and quiet. We respect her fragility.

This morning she giggles and plays with her eyes, looking up to measure our reaction. The nacreous gleam shows acceptance and curiosity from historical depths of participative living. There is still light emanating from deep within her mind. She is a treasure.

Ryan, Kay. The Best of It: New and Selected Poems. Grove Press. 2010. Amazon.

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