A River Poem in Memory of My Son

Danielle (Hersey) da Silva, “Church Point, St. Mary’s River”


Poet Jeanne Vote, whose children grew up with ours, several years ago penned this gorgeous poem about my son Justin. Justin died 19 years ago today in the St. Mary’s River.

Jeanne says she had a vision of Justin while looking out at a sailboat one evening.

I have received several poems about Justin over the years but never one as beautiful as this. Justin was a joyous soul, always singing and smiling, and many reported that their hearts lifted and their souls opened when they met him. Jeanne’s nature imagery captures this.

The art work too calls for explanation. Danielle (Hersey) da Silva was one of Justin’s closest friends. A first-year art major at the time of his death, she would go on to execute a remarkable series of four water colors three years later. The first showed a dark tangle of trees, to which Danielle appended Dante’s Inferno passage describing himself lost in a “dark wood.” In each subsequent painting, the woods begin to open up.

In the final painting (above), the trees part to show a view of the river, and a light shimmers in the place where Justin went under. The sequence captures Danielle’s spiritual journey from despair to hope. The final painting won the “Senior Purchase Award”–the college purchases an outstanding student work each year–and it now sits in my office. The college and Danielle are allowing me to take it with me when I retire.

Although Danielle’s painting depicts the river during the day, like Jeanne’s nighttime poem it captures the “sparkling light path [that] cuts across dark water.” “He is made one with nature” reads the tombstone that we placed in the cemetery that looks down upon the the scene in Danielle’s painting. Herons and egrets throng the shore.

Oh my beloved Justin, my luminous sailor, may you be embraced by the long arms of the moon.

river night

By Jeanne Vote

a small red boat
sits offshore, alone

one full moon
a sparkling light path cuts
across dark water

iridescent sails lift
music of a million wings
warm, golden unfamiliar sounds
random as fireflies

oysters slowly open
hidden crabs surface
great blues and snowy white egrets
line the beach

the sailor appears
skin luminous, moving
with perfect precision
the heart visible

soft scent breathing
winter jasmine, spring honeysuckle
summer lavender
autumn forget-me-nots

calm winds and following seas
my love, embrace
the long arms of the moon

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  • Literature is as vital to our lives as food and shelter. Stories and poems help us work through the challenges we face, from everyday irritations to loneliness, heartache, and death. Literature is meant to mix it up with life. This website explores how it does so.

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