Paint Sunlight on Memory’s Houses

Paint Sunlight on Memory's Houses

Edward Hopper, Marshall’s House, 1932.


This sun-filled painting serves to illustrate a line

in my poem, and it illuminates this quotation:

What I wanted to do was to paint sunlight on the side of a house.
Edward Hopper 


The inspiration for this poem grew partly out of

details I have learned from researching family history and partly out of

my own philosophical reaction to the word forever.

Future posts will paint some sunlight on the people named.



Dreams of the Dead


James Hart


“When you look forward, you shall see a long forever,

a boundless duration before you . . .

and you will absolutely despair of ever having

any deliverance, any end, any mitigation, any rest at all.”

Jonathan Edwards, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” – July 8, 1741


Sometimes at night when we suddenly wake up lost

from dreaming of the dead we’ve known in former life,

I wonder if they too dream us back to their lost world,

push us back into this earthly life we wake up to

with audible gasps of heavy and hesitant breath?


This morning at McDonald’s among the early breakfast

customers, some of the elder people seated near me

spoke of dreaming of their dead loves.  One man

said he sometimes wakes in fear, dreaming again

his first wife is alive, coming back to him mad


as hell he’d married another woman after her.

Then he told his friends the sweet story of how

he met his second wife, or rather how she walked into

his life unassumingly, asking where he would like the box

she’d carried from his U-haul van into the apartment


he’d taken next to hers.  A meeting as simple as that

led them each into second marriage as firm as friendship—

to hear him finish his story.  But I began by speaking

of the dead and their eternal dreaming, speculating if our

dreams may bridge their afterlives before we enter


what Edwards called “a long forever.”  Though he spoke

of Puritan hell and damnation, I usually view living forever

with uncommon dread: What in heaven’s name am I to do for

all of that time?  Sometimes I believe eternity will be

one long trek backwards in time, as each of us


passes through long receiving lines of ancestors,

shaking hands and how-do-you-doing our progenitors

in direct lines of descent, until each of us, male and female,

meets his first father or mother, his primum mobile,

shrouded in imaginary vapors of being.  Along the way


I’d invite Edward Hopper to help me paint sunlight

on the walls of the house holding my mother’s muted

secret she took along with her to death.  And I’d wish

to grill my great great grandfather, Alfred the Wanderer,

learning why he abandoned Benjamin and his siblings


after Nicey died in 1843, and married Lucy in Tennessee,

fathering ten more children in Arkansas before dying

in 1879.  I’d celebrate Caleb and clarify his role

in the Revolution, and ask him his grandfather’s name,

since my genealogy backwards stops with his father John.


We humans, all of us, like to dream we’re descended

from mystic kings and demi-gods, but the truth is I would

find myself sailing back to England for a few more Harts

by name, my line emerging from sons of man in Europe’s

primeval forests: cave painters, hunters, gatherers, gone.


I’d be lost in dreams of darkness I can’t decipher, crazed

like the day I could not hear my father’s dying whispers

and carry now that memory among my daily failures.

Sometimes I dream I’m Lear betrayed, carting my corpse

of time with me, wandering mad on the plains of Mars.


September 23, 2012


5 comments on “Paint Sunlight on Memory’s Houses

  1. I am dead tired.
    I will read it tomorrow morning.

  2. Pierre Lagacé says:


  3. Pierre Lagacé says:

    A reblogué ceci sur Our Ancestors and commented:

  4. Pierre Lagacé says:


    This is an awesome post James.

    I never thought I would stumble on someone who has such a clear vision of where we come from and where we are heading.

    About being descendants of kings and queens…?
    My feelings exactly.
    This is why I write only about ordinary extraordinary ancestors like Dennis Lagasse aka Stanislas Lagacé 1842-1927.

    Call this epiphany time for both of us!

    Have a nice Saturday morning.


    • James Hart says:

      Thank you for this very kind remark. Yes, I like to think I write poetry that “real people” will want to read–and that has been shown true with poetry posted on my Facebook page. People who know me here where I live have read and commented favorably on many things–and some I know they have politely read and moved on to another poem as well. Thank you also for the kind remarks you posted with the items of mine that you have re-blogged. That’s a very nice compliment over all. Thanks again. jh

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