Full Face to the Light by Marye Gail Harrison

Author photo: John Benford  

The poems and watercolor sketches in Marye Gail Harrison’s first book, Full Face to the Light, show the author to be a painterly poet and a poetic artist. Ranging from her youth in Maryland to her joys and suffering as a wife and mother, her love of the natural world, and her search for self-fulfillment, this is a spiritual guidebook that will enrich the lives of all who experience it. It is as forthright and courageous as it is vivid in the pictures in paints. Above all, it celebrates life with a passion.

Aunt Marye, for whom Marye Gail Harrison is named, said she didn’t know where in their family’s Tennessee history Marye Gail got her story-telling ability. Perhaps it was from holding forth as an only child with her loving mother and father in Maryland, where she was raised. She was a good student, particularly influenced in the arts by Mrs. Rose in grade four and in writing by Mrs. Gira in high school. She won a scholarship to Pembroke College in 1959, majored in American literature, earned room and board by helping care for four children, and married the day after she graduated.

Cover painting by the Author



In the late 1970s when her two sons were still young, changes in women’s culture and stirrings in herself she didn’t understand contributed to a divorce and agreement that her children would live with their school teacher father. Afterwards, as she began her corporate career, she married an older man who mentored her and shared her love of the arts. She gained two very special step-daughters and their families as well. In 2003, she and her husband moved to a retirement community where they still reside. She has been a social worker in the North End of Hartford, a wife and mom, a local Unitarian church leader, and after receiving her M.S. in Organizational Behavior in 1981, a corporate officer in financial services. She retired early and completed a two-year study to become a Spiritual Director.

Besides writing and painting, she likes surprises, slips into a southern accent on occasion, and tells fortunes as “Madam Super Nova.” Her future is said to include more cosmic poems and paintings.

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ISBN 978-1-936482-17-7

Copyright © 2012 by Marye Gail Harrison

6" x 9" paperback, 110 pages





Light winks at me from the leaves
by the small wooden bridge.
My little brown sandals make a funny sound
as I run over it.
Below me, water talks
but I don’t know what it says
and I keep running.

I am surprised when Mommy comes up behind me
and asks breathlessly, “Where are you going?”
“Meet Daddy,” I say.

I know this is the way we go
to meet him at the bus after work.
He will say, “How’s my redhead?”
and scoop me into his arms.
Maybe he will let me play with his black lunchbox
if I am careful to take out the empty thermos bottle.

I know it’s time to go find him.
(What inner clock tells a three-year-old?)
Knowing, I run to him, alone not fearing,
sure of the path as well as the time.

I would run to the bridge now
if only I could find the way.


Three hundred fifty is the number on the step
at the top of the cliff, the steps
curving down to the restored lighthouse,
a little over ten for each of your thirty years,
almost six for each of my sixty,
plunging down to the Pacific
with only rails, wire fencing and better judgment
to contain us. In the late afternoon sun
bright reflection turns the water dark, impenetrable.
Behind us, grasshopper-colored meadows
roll away treeless to isolated farms.
To the south, like a tropical mirage, translucent aqua
unites the amber cliffs and cerulean sky.

We go down together after our long ride,
when I listened truly to your long-pent feelings.
Knowing how precious every moment is with you,
I keep my worries to myself.
I have this one day with you, my firstborn son.
Yet in the lighthouse something pulls me away
from the guide’s stories. I say I need to start back
and for you to come when you are ready.

After the first hundered steps I rest on a bench.
I breathe hard, thinking how you told me today
how angry you are with me —
how I failed you when I left you at ten with your father
and too much responsibility.
I climb on to where the sun’s brilliance blinds me
and stop at step two hundred.
Directly below, waves crash on rocks,
constant churning my gut recognizes.
I hear you say you felt at twelve
you had no real mother, that after my new marriage
my home no longer felt like safe harbor to you.

Climbing again, I know at step three hundred
I will make it, but I stop, in no hurry now,
surrounded by the rusty rock faces of the cliff,
marveling at the little gardens clinging in the cracks
but recalling the grimace that scarred your face
as you said I was oblivious to your daily humiliation
in high school, an honor student in AP classes
anguished behind the mask of your long blond hair.

I slow my pace and take the last fifty steps more easily.
Looking back, I see you have not started up yet.
At the top I lean on the rail to the south,
feeling the nurturing hot sun and cool breeze
as I search my own horizon for understanding, for peace.
I hold your story as I once held you in my womb,
a living part of me
ready, I trust, to birth itself in its own time.

Alone here, I first see her far below me,
a long dark oval just under the surface,
living gem in aqua setting,
her powerful body guarding her calf from the open sea.
As they slowly glide past
joy sprays me like mist from their blow holes,
and then they are gone.
The cold sad shadow of your missing them passes over.
Then great love widens me as I embrace both joy and grief.

When you join me on the edge, I describe the whales
and we watch seven seals undulate past.
I so wish I had shielded you longer from life’s open waters
so you could play more like the seals.
Immersed now in deeper waters, we are at last ready
to move on.


He rarely talks now
and when he does he repeats himself.
Sometimes I ask him
“What are you thinking about?”
“I think about death a lot.”

Sometimes he shouts, stammering
“You don’t understand!
I don’t have the intelligent...mind...
I’m not what I was!”

But yesterday after my poetry class
while he waited for me to make his lunch
he asked me for the first time
if I would read him some of my poems.

For almost an hour I read him poems
about my mother and father.
He took his handkerchief from his pocket,
still folded in quarters, to wipe his eyes.

“What are you feeling now?” I ask.
“All the losses.
All the losses.”


This is the time of darkness when the nights lengthen
and drive us into the dark voids inside ourselves.
We falter in face of bare trees and icy winds.
Thick blankets of gray clouds offer no warmth.
I am aware of the thinness of my defenses
and vulnerable, I shiver in the cold outside
and the vast darkness within.

Where does the courage come from to light candles
and decorate, to celebrate and feast?
I know, of course, that spring comes again.
Still I pause a moment on this edge, unsure,
not of the nature outside me but of the nature within.

Where is the peace in my darkness?
Where is the restoration that precedes the surge
of new growth? I am not sure.
I busy myself outwardly and avoid looking within,
yet I am never fooled.
My doubts are always there like the void behind me
into which I resist moving.

Move back.
Move back into that void.
Step into the darkness.
Gently move through the resistance. Back. Back.
My spine straightens as I am filled with quiet strength —
dark strength from the enormous black void
where all life begins.

Now I light my candles to intensify the darkness.
Not to defy the dark but in acceptance of it.
I do not have to resolve the tension
between the dark and light.
I contain them both.

And as I open the doors to the advent,
it is myself I open to the dark peace within.


I was having trouble breathing,
trudging up the wet, stony mountain path,
post-menopausal, out of shape, everything harder now.
I remembered how my one-breasted, one-lunged friend
taught me to breathe like mountain climbers at high altitudes.
Focus on the exhale, force the air out,
blow noisily through your lips,
Tie it to your steps — the rhythm makes it easy.

Wounded many ways,
we find ourselves seeking higher altitudes.
The air is thin, the way is steep,
our bodies not in shape for it,
yet here we are, drawn irresistibly upward.
Walking alone now or with old friends
who won’t think our noisy breathing
and our strange pacing are embarrassing,
we celebrate just being on the path.
Wounded, set aside, we find our own reasons
to go up the trail.
Wounded ones, we teach each other to keep on climbing.

As we hike up the days of our lives,
release... exhale... expel... let go,
what we need to take in
will come on its own with little effort.
Left step, wheww, right step...
Left step, wheww, right step...
climbing to the top for the view,
hoping to see at least seven shades of blue.

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