Monday, December 08, 2008


Against the Dark: Some Poems with Light for the Winter Solstice

"On Light"
(for Barry Martin)

The voyager that
Travels the furthest:
Light, ambassador
Of all that we find
Most remote from us
(Slowly pulsing, the
Brightness of a star).

It is the nearest
We get to knowing
How the world moves, what
Grips it, what forces
Impel it towards
The last boundary
At the end of light.

--Edward Lucie-Smith

* * *

"The light within"

and the light without:  the shade
of a rainy April morning:
subtle shadows
cast backwards by lamplight
upon daylight,
soft unforceful daylight,
the essence 
of cloud cover
descending mistily into the street:
and the unwhitely
white surround of a curling photograph
models itself
as north light
modeled the face in the photograph:

and against a window
a tree shows
each lightly tinted leaf
another shadowy shade, some
transparently, some
not:  and, in the corner
the dark bisected
by the light that falls
from without (created
by its absence)
lies luminous within itself:
the luminous dark within.

-- James Schuyler

* * *

"Again we come"

Again we come
to the resurrection
of bloodroot from the dark,

a hand that reaches up
out of the ground,
holding a lamp.

--Wendell Berry

* * *


a single cell
found that it was full of light
and for the first time there was seeing

I was a bird
I could see where the stars had turned
and I set out on my journey

in the head of a mountain goat
I could see across a valley
under the shining trees something moving

in the green sea
I saw two sides of the water
and I swam between them

I look at you
in the first light of the morning
for as long as I can

-- W. S. Merwin

* * *

"Principalities of June"

Original light broke apart,
the Gnostics say,
when time began,

singular radiance
fractioned into form
-- an easy theory

to believe,
in early summer,
when that first performance

seems repeatedly daily.
Though wouldn't it mean
each fracturing took us

that much further
from heaven?
Not in this town,

not in June:  harbor
and cloudbank, white houses'
endlessly broken planes,

a long argument
of lilac shadows and whites
as blue as noon:

phrasebooks of day,
articulated most of all
in these roses,

which mount and swell
in dynasties of bloom,
their easy idiom

a soundless compaction
of lip on lip.  Their work,
these thick flowerheads?

Built to contain
sunlight, they interrupt
that movement just enough

to transfix in air, at eye level,
now:  held still, and shattering,
which is the way with light:

the more you break it
the nearer it comes to whole.

-- Mark Doty

* * *

"The Barn-Owl"

They say that the barn-owl
drinks the oil of the sanctuary lamps
in the village churches;
she comes in through a broken pane
during the night hours
when the good and the violent are sleeping
when pride and love are worn out
when the foliage dreams.
The beast warms her blood
with the virgin light-giving oil.

-- Jean Follain
translated from the French by W. S. Merwin

* * *

"It is within that the mouth is luminous"

It is within that the mouth is luminous.
Light pours onto the tongue and sings.
Almost vegetal, of an innocent blue,
almost animal, crawling slowly along.

-- Eugenio de Andrade
translated from the Portuguese  by Alexis Levitin

* * *


We stretched our hands into the air and thought we touched the light, the sun
departing on our hands, a ceremony that displaced us for
the moment from the earth, and we alone were bearing up the sun,
the cries of dying generations nowhere in our ears, nor was
there any there for us to see, the light that fell upon our hands
the one fall, the things of its illumination unremembered,
nothing standing up inside our minds and taking shape  without

a thought.  We are eclipsed, a moon of absolute cessation, no
opacity between us and the sun.  It was not possible
to think that this was primal or an ending --: it was light
in all that it could be as light, and we were light, the touch of its
descent the touch that makes of us the sun.  In us the world wakes,
no element that is not in the fire, nothing, stone or tree,
the thing they are another sun we thought was shade within the light.

-- E. D. Blodgett

* * *

"Scales are evenly"

Scales are evenly
weighed, inside
outside.  Light is
evenly poised
-- blur to the gold
glare to the blue --
it's twilight.
In two minds.

Who can read by
a lamp, focus
land's outline?
But blue soon
sinks and gold
rises.  Who 
can stay the balance
if light can't?

-- Mimi Khalvati

* * *


The waxing crescent moon with furred nimbus
Of a cold milky mouse grave October
Blurring into blue dark Mare Nectaris
Endymion ringed with pearly fog
Mare Crisium and Mare Undarum
Old moon yearning in the new ;moon's arms
Every loose thread left dangling
At dusk  Saturn rises out of the ocean
Heavenly waters so tired of waiting
Aquatic constellations swim into view
Aquarius Capricornus Pisces
Venus ascends four a. m. with the tide
White day opening not that far behind it
Swallows tossed wide around a calm sky

--Tom Clark

* * *

"Above Dawson"

Dusk, in autumn woods --
hoarding Arctic cranberries,
capsules of setting sunlight.

-- Steven Heighton

* * *

"Washing the Pitcher"

The long day after she died,
before the unmerciful
questions returned,
I found on a low shelf
tucked into the dark
the small Delft pitcher,
around and inside it
sleek black flecks
not unlike coarsely milled
black pepper, the tell-tale
evidence of mice.
On every vase or pitcher
in that cupboard, on every plate
a thick blur of dust.
I might have washed
all, or any one of them,
but it was this one, blue
and white, I wanted
and with a certainty that felt
unreasonable and right.
And so I stood at the sink
where each evening she'd stood
washing the supper potatoes
rinsing lettuce or fruit
ignoring her tiredness,
making her lists, perhaps
repeating a prayer, her gaze
on the rain gauge outside
in the grass or on the garden's
broken gate
festooned with late summer 
sweet peas, pink and white.
Rinsed to a shine, the pitcher,
set down on the window sill,
brimmed with light --
so that when I turned back
to the room, it was not
to the chaos of sorting and boxing,
setting to rest her things,
each one a mute testament
to a life that once
had silence and value and voice.
No.  When I turned, I was
like a woman in a painting
by Vermeer, my cap starched
white, sunlight spilling
from the open casement
into the room, into the next room,
and the next.  When I turned,
the table was set for breakfast,
east light on the round oak table,
light on the aluminum toaster,
on the glasses of juice.  there were
cloth napkins in their wooden rings,
blue mats, yellow plates and cups,
a single jonquil in the bud vase
on the lazy Susan, and a hand --
Jean's hand -- reaching
to turn nearer
the small blue and white pitcher,
rinsed and revealed, just as it is
in the moment full of light.

-- Margaret Gibson

* * *

"Early in the Morning"

With light, with the whitewash
of summer spilling over the houses,
with this music,
so beloved and barbarous,
with purple flowing
from hill to hill,
to make a crown --
and with a tear-filled goblet
consecrate you prince of life.

--Eugenio de Andrade
translated from the Portuguese by Alexis Levitin

* * *

"In the Grip of the Solstice"

Feels like a train roaring into night,
the journey into fierce cold just beginning.
The ground is newly frozen, the crust
brittle and fancy with striations,
steeples and nipples we break
under our feet.

Every day we are shortchanged a bit more,
night pressing down on the afternoon
throttling it.  Wan sunrise later
and later, every day trimmed
like an old candle you beg to give
an hour's more light.

Feels like hurtling into vast darkness,
the sky itself whistling of space
the black matter between stars
the red shift as the light dies,
warmth a temporary aberration,
entropy as a season.

Our ancestors understood the brute
fear that grips us as the cold
settles around us, closing in
Light the logs in the fireplace tonight,
light the candles, first one, then two,
the full chanukiya.

Light the fire in the belly.
Eat hot soup, cabbage and beef
borscht, chicken soup, lamb
and barley, stoke the marrow.
Put down the white wine and pour
whiskey instead.

We reach for each other in our bed,
the night vaulted above us
like a cave.  Night in the afternoon,
cold frosting the glass so it hurts
to touch it, only flesh still
welcoming to flesh.

-- Marge Piercy

* * *
* * *

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