by Katherine Gotthardt
for my mother-in-law

It came to me how beloved our lighthouses are,
not just those pillars of hope for those lost at sea,
but those seeking footing amid any pressing darkness.

One morning I lost balance in the family room,
having ignored the lamps and overheads,
thinking I was still young enough to make my way
in these familiar places. And then it happened—
toe stubbed against the errant laundry basket,
cruel in its broken-handled plasticness.  

I was sure I was bleeding, and when I reached 
to find out, that headrush and tumble….I barely
remember what happened next. What opened my eyes
hours (or minutes?) later had to have been a miracle:
shard of early morning sun parkouring off the edge 
of the picture frame, into my realization 
that this was the lighthouse painting gifted 
after your passing. How that cool, white cylinder 

surrounded by stormy waters had beamed its way 
into my brain fog, I cannot say. But I do know
memories came in like the tide: the tiny, sculpted lighthouses
you kept on the fireplace mantle, how they stood like guardians,
and that time I took a cheap wooden cutting board 
and painted a lighthouse for my father, putting to good use 
every tactic you’d shown me to bring my brush strokes alive.

Color and texture felt so real then, like nothing else even existed.
And when I gave it to my father, several layers later, he was awed 
I had any talent at all. He’d always said I couldn’t draw a straight line.
That art was not my gift. Last time I visited, 

I saw it on his wall, that almost apparition 
of ephemeral inspiration, beam cutting fog in two, 
separating out those who survive and those doomed 
to be tossed in the water’s agitation. I remind myself 
which of those I am, how blessed I have been with lighthouses,
and how the hurts we garner stumbling around 
in the abject messiness of life heal only when we allow them to. 

Thank you, Mother, for every lighthouse you ever gave me,
for every little thing illuminate. You taught me the mystery of pigment
and safety. How we all can create the indelible. 

Katherine Gotthardt

Katherine Mercurio Gotthardt, M.Ed., writing concentration, hails from the Northern Virginia/D.C. metro area. She considers herself a writer by nature and by trade, having begun writing for fun as soon as her mother helped teach her to read. An active part of the literary community, Katherine was a past-president and a founding member of Write by the Rails (WbtR), the Prince William Chapter of the Virginia Writers Club. Katherine has been a Prince William County Poet Laureate nominee and was the winner of Inside Nova’s 2019 and 2020 Best of Prince William award in the category of author. Her poetry and prose book Get Happy, Dammit: Staying Inspired and Motivated in an Often-Unhappy World received a Silver Award from the Nonfiction Authors Association. Katherine's children’s book, A Crane Named Steve, hit number one in its category on Amazon in 2019. Katherine then took first place in the free verse category of Loudoun County Library Foundation’s 2020 Rhyme On poetry contest for her piece "Discussion Topic." The Prince William Arts Council and Poet Laureate Circle awarded her the 2020 Outstanding Poetry Project Award for her leadership in Write by the Rails' Poems Around Town poetry installation. In 2021 Katherine earned second place for "Aftermath" in a Poetry Society of Virginia national contest and the regional Seefeldt Award for Arts Excellence in the category of Individual Artist. She won first place in the Virginia Writers Club statewide Golden Nib contest in the poetry category for her poem "Kayak." Katherine was recognized as a PW Perspective 2021 DMV Best Business award winner in the category of author. In April 2023, Katherine’s poem “Now Entering Manassas” was the winner of Manassas, Virginia's adult “time capsule” poetry contest. Katherine read her poem at the 150th anniversary celebration, the translated version by Jorge de Villasante was read in Spanish by Bianca Menendez, her poem was published in Neighbors of Historic Manassas magazine, and it was included in the city’s time capsule. While Katherine is well-known for her poetry, she also has established a solid reputation for writing articles, columns and short fiction. She is published in dozens of journals and anthologies and has authored 12 books: Poems from the Battlefield, Furbily-Furld Takes on the World, Approaching Felonias Park, Weaker Than Water, Bury Me Under a Lilac, Late April, A Crane Named Steve, Get Happy, Dammit, D.C. Ekphrastic: Crisis of Faith, Thirty Years of Cardinals Calling, Get Happier, Dammit and We All Might Be Witches. She uses proceeds from her books to support giving back initiatives.
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