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Poet Elizabeth Alexander’s grief memoir a study in love and loss

Published 06/12/2015
The News & Observer in Raleigh, NC
The Charlotte Observer in Charlotte, NC

Accomplished poet Elizabeth Alexander paints the lush details of a life well-lived in her memoir, “The Light of the World” (Grand Central Publishing, 224 pages).

Her slim volume is a portrait of a sweet love story filled with papaya, art and the children she shared with her beloved husband, Ficre Ghebreyesus, a chef and painter.

In “The Light of the World,” Yale poetry professor Elizabeth Alexander paints the lush details of her life with Ficre Ghebreyesus, a chef and painter, and the grief that followed his sudden death.

Alexander grieves the loss of 50-year-old Ghebreyesus, who died from a heart attack in 2012.

He and his brothers ran Caffé Adulis in New Haven, Conn.. They move through the world, showcasing their strengths. He was a political refugee who escaped in his youth from his native Eritrea, an East African country. He worked as a humanitarian activist on behalf of Eritrean independence and ongoing relief issues.

Alexander comes from an affluent African-American family. She attended private school and graduated from Yale University where she now is a professor of poetry. In 2009, she composed and delivered “Praise Song for the Day,” for the inauguration of President Barack Obama.

The couple’s six-week courtship was an exchange of exquisite haikus and afternoons listening to jazz. They lived a charmed married life for 15 years. They sipped wine, ate pasta, entertained and enjoyed friends and family at the kitchen table.

So we witness Alexander’s soul cry out when Ghebreyesus dies. “Now I know for sure the soul is an evanescent thing and the body is its temporary container, because I saw it. I saw the body with the soul in it, I saw the body with the soul leaving, and I saw the body with the soul gone.”

At times, Alexander’s recollection seems too idyllic. I wondered if there may have been lessons in her revealing the fragility of their lives together as well as the beauty.