The Children and the Lighthouse Keeper, by Janice Dabney


In memory of the victims of the Great Tsunami of 2004


Children noticed water pulling back,

past where parents let them wade. As if

the Spirit had filled his cheeks by sucking in,

exposing rocks on shore, boats their fathers

used to fish in early morning hours. They saw

for that moment they could walk to earth’s edge.


Just then, a lighthouse keeper at Point Calimere, edge

of India’s face to ocean, turned to look back

towards bare land he had recently observed and saw

a herd of Indian antelope galloping from the seafront, as if

they knew they must escape.  He remembered his father’s

words when he took this job: Learn from them all, in


time understanding he meant the beasts and birds in

this wildlife sanctuary on Nagapattinam’s edge.

He watched and wished he could ask his father

why five hundred black bucks were bounding back

to woodlands from the coast, climbing the hilltop.  If

he told anyone about this strange event he saw,


they would laugh and surely say that what he saw

was the result of living alone so long. He recalled that in

the dead of night, working the late watch, he asked himself if

he had made the right choice. Naming animals near the edge

of extinction in his notebook, he prayed for everyone to put back

nature as it used to be, learn from the animals, listen to his father.


The children did not get the chance to hear their fathers

shout Run at Patanangala beach, before they saw

black water swallow them, felt their small backs

snap against trees, then sensed nothing. In

minutes, sixty people disappeared from the edge

of Sri Lanka’s Yala National Park. What if


just one had recognized why the flamingos flew, if

leopards had led or elephants picked up fathers

with families to ride their backs to higher ground, edging

out disaster.  If only birds had relayed what they saw

beyond the ocean foam, translated water’s pulse in

language humans understood, we would have them back.


The lighthouse keeper, if he learned anything from the animals, saw

how he must tell of graceful figures who ran farther than ever before, in

search of that safe edge, never looking back.


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