Tender Light Softens
When the Deep Places Speak
by Sarah Carlson
LOVE—a wonderful word, intricate idea, beautiful belief, that when freely shared spreads warmth, tenderness, and light throughout. I have learned so much in the 20 years since the man I loved passed away very suddenly one beautiful spring day.
This includes understanding that Love is unique to those who share it and can be wide, palpable, and sustaining even when one’s physical presence is no longer.
I’m not here to say that it is an easy process to explore the sorrows that loss contains. I am here to say that tensions harbored within, whatever their origin, can transform into wellness and movement toward wholeness.
The poems in this book reflect exploring those sorrows with healthy doses of hope, which has lead to experiencing the comfort of Love more and more deeply. Along the way, tender light does soften over and over again.
“Sarah Carlson’s third book emerged from an explorative dive into an ocean of solitude and grief during the pandemic—her poems and photographs, the sparkling treasures she resurfaced with. Marveling at the intersections between chaos and calm, Sarah allows herself to ‘…rest, renew, and mend’ through gentle dialogues with the moon, the sun, the sea, the sky, the trees. At times, this collection reads almost like a diary, as we travel with Sarah into her roles as daughter, mother, sister, widow and new grandmother, while bidding farewell to a 30–year career, her beloved husband, and her family home. Through a lyrical and visual journey, Sarah discovers that in directly facing sorrow, she becomes more ‘adept at riding the steady waters of healing,’ reminding us that ‘just like the moon, we are whole,’ even while we feel ourselves waning. This collection reveals the ubiquitous nature of love and the Divine: a testament to the beauty and resilience that emerges from courageously facing our storms.”
“Sarah Carlson’s poetry reveals a deeply personal yet universal journey; a path of healing that leads to union with the Divine. Her words are medicine.”
— DANIEL GIBBONS, D.O.
“With her gently uplifting poetry and photographs, set in the sylvan foothills of western Maine, Sarah Carlson invites the reader to be present, to become aware of grandeur and beauty, to come to terms with pain and loss, and to know the experience of health.”
— JONATHAN M. BORKUM, Ph.D.
“With these poems and photographs, Sarah welcomes the fullness of her life and shows us how to embrace our own life journeys. Sarah’s capacity to enter fully into the present moment, noticing and embracing what is enlarges our capacity to do the same. Healing, wisdom, joy, and peace are the fruits of that process. Thank you, Sarah, for sharing yourself with all of us in these generous and personal poems.”
— THE REVEREND ANN KIDDER
SARAH CARLSON developed her unique poetic voice as she began to process the sudden death of her husband, Barry, both therapeutically and out in the natural world. She combines her writing with photography of scenes from her outdoor adventures in her home state of Maine and other wild places.
Her third book, Tender Light Softens, contains work that has been written through the pandemic. Sarah received her B.S. in Education in 1990 and her M.Ed. in 2009. Her books beautifully combine her love of nature, journey toward wellness, and over 30 years of experience in the field of education.
Read an Excerpt
Love—a wonderful word, intricate idea, beautiful belief, that when freely shared spreads warmth, tenderness, and light throughout.
I have learned so much in the 20 years since the man I loved passed away very suddenly one beautiful spring day. This includes understanding that Love is unique to those who share it and can be wide, palpable, and sustaining even when one’s physical presence is no longer. I’m not here to say that it is an easy process to explore the sorrows that loss contains. I am here to say that tensions harbored within, whatever their origin, can transform into wellness and movement toward wholeness. The poems in this book reflect exploring those sorrows with healthy doses of hope, which has lead to experiencing the comfort of Love more and more deeply. Along the way, tender light does soften over and over again.
My husband, Barry, died while doing something he absolutely loved—playing tennis with good friends. Just a few days earlier, we had spent some family time along the river that flows near our home. We had walked to our special spot under the light of a full moon, which shimmered from one bank to the other. Two Canada geese landed in that reflected light. We talked later about how spiritual those moments had been and how we considered nature to be our temple. To this day, I remain grateful for that conversation. And for the light that glittered in the darkness.
I was not a stranger to grief, having lost my only sibling in a bicycling accident in 1987 when he was 33, just days before my 30th birthday. Fifteen years later, as I began to attend to the heartache of losing my soulmate, I somehow knew that I needed to go into the sorrow, that there was much to learn and opportunity to grow. Those moments with the geese opened my mind and my heart to noticing how I felt as I walked, paddled, pedaled, and skied— alone or with family and friends. I would find myself pausing and settling while watching clouds, spotting birds, examining the play of light on water, finding heart rocks at the most opportune times. I often took photos of those serendipitous scenes.
Though I have always enjoyed writing, often wrote poetry as a child, and had a literature minor as I pursued a teaching degree, I did not formally study the writing of poetry. Yet, a poetic voice emerged and needed to be recognized as part of my healing process. Before long, I realized that my writings and photographs were linked, and so I began pairing them together. I published my first book, The Radiance of Change, independently in early 2018. The second, In the Currents of Quiet, made its way into my hands just as COVID-19 began to take hold. The poems in this collection range in time from just before the pandemic (December 2019) through August 2022. Sometimes it has felt odd to be accessing so much healing through a time that has been fraught with unease and confusion all around the world. At the same time, though, it actually does make sense.
We humans have dealt with a great deal as we navigate COVID-19. All while experiencing everyday life as it unfolds. For me, that has included walking out of my fourth-grade classroom on March 13, 2020, not realizing I would never return to teaching as I knew it. Along with that came learning that my first grandchild was on the way, the decline and death of my intrepid 96-year-old mother just a few weeks later, cleaning out my childhood home as the only member of my nuclear family still here—a home that my parents had owned for over 60 years. The contents of the house included my father’s ashes. Though we had a memorial service for him after he died in 2011, my mother chose to keep him close to her. So, I planned an outdoor COVID-safe interment of both their ashes in the summer of 2020. Somewhere in there, I took a hard fall mountain biking that resulted in a concussion. I also made the difficult decision to retire from a profession I truly loved so I could be in my grandchild’s COVID baby bubble when he arrived in October 2020. Shortly after I retired, I was asked if I would consider teaching in a newly-formed remote academy that my district developed in response to the pandemic. I did so willingly and proceeded to work harder than ever to make sure, with my co-teacher, that the 40 or so students in our care received the best fourth-grade education we could provide. And, I was still able to be in that wonderful bubble as Oma for my adorable grandson, Otto.
One of the most profound experiences of publishing my first book happened in my fourth-grade classroom. I had shared the process with my class and they were so excited when I finally had the book in my hands. I put one in our classroom library in case they wanted to explore it. Not long after that, several families purchased a copy at our local bookstore. One morning, to my surprise, I looked up and saw that six students had MY book open for quiet reading time. That led to a conversation later in the day with a young man who quietly confided in me that he, his mom, and his brother were reading some poems each night. His dad had died a few years earlier and he told me it was helping them talk about that loss as a family. That’s just one example of how my story and sharing it through poetry and photography opens the way for others to explore and share their own.
And it is the sharing of our stories, I believe, that is the path to a more authentically linked community—especially these days when so much hovers on the surface in our social media oriented world. Poetry is a beautifully effective way to capture the moments in life when a deep connection happens. It is also an opportunity to play with words and the rhythm of language, to set listeners, readers, and writers free to explore inner tempos and let their unique hearts sing. And that’s when the magic of connection reveals, unfolds, and paves the way anew.
I write these pieces, take these photos, as I meander my way through all that life contains for an open-hearted human. Though they deal with loss, they are full of growth, promise, healing, and light. I share them with love and the hope that they may touch readers’ lives in such a way as to be of comfort or inspiration or even a chance to let whatever emotions that may arise freely flow.
I remain grateful to the people with whom I continue to process and share, discover and heal:
Daniel Gibbons, D.O. , Jonathan M. Borkum, Ph.D., The Reverend Ann Kidder M. Div., S.T.M.
I’d like to thank Angela Werner of Höhne-Werner Design, from whom I learned so much during the publishing of the first two books and who again has been a gentle guide with putting this one together by helping me with the editing. I am grateful to Alice Maldonado of Golden Dragonfly Press for the opportunity to publish through her press.
I am extremely appreciative of the readers of my work, both the ones I’ve heard from or shared with and those who have held books in their hands without my knowing.
I also feel honored to have spent a great deal of time over the years with natural poets—children, both my own, and 31 years worth of students. They helped nurture the voice that simply had to be heard and has made its way onto the pages of my books.
I’m grateful to my parents for bringing my brother and me into this world and for fostering a love of the outdoors in both of us. And, of course, I’m so happy that I had 27 years with a man who saw me for me, for the two wonderful children we had together, for their spouses who fill their lives with even more love, and for my little grandson, Otto—who helps us all remember to look closely, listen intently, and love deeply.