Improbable Morning


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It seems more common to measure in mornings than nights.

I realize conspicuous exceptions exist, from Twelfth Night to the highly particularized “Night Before Christmas.”

But nights seem to be viewed more diffusely, and collectively–”One of These Nights,” Arabian Nights, REM’s “Night Swimming,”  Maurice Sendak’s “In the Night Kitchen.” 

Mornings and days, on the other hand, are ticked off in increments.  Sometimes we even “count the time in quarter-tones to ten.”

Mary Oliver parcelled out A Thousand Mornings, as did Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. in chronicling John F. Kennedy’s Presidential tenure.

You can read about one hundred days of countless subjects, from novel weight loss programs to meditations to military engagement in the Falklands and the final fraction of President Kennedy’s term and life.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez catalogued a full century of solitude.

Elie Weisel likely had something more profound in mind when he wrote the astonishing Night, given that in Genesis darkness preceded light: “the Earth was astonishingly empty, and darkness was on the face of the deep,” and only after bottomless darkness did “God separat[e] between the light and” night’s darkness. 

Perhaps it is just because it seems less surprising to reach nightfall once one has, for better or worse, begun to face another day.

To the grieving, each morning seems at least mildly improbable, even unsettling, after night’s non-linear tangle of time.  I awaken, therefore I am still here–even on the frequent mornings when my dreams have been occupied by someone who no longer opens his eyes to dawn.

 

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Each morning is, to me, something like the way W.S. Merwin depicted the beginning of a new year:

With what stillness at last
you appear in the valley
your first sunlight reaching down
to touch the tips of a few
high leaves that do not stir
as though they had not noticed
and did not know you at all
then the voice of a dove calls
from far away in itself
to the hush of the morning

 

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Still here to see the sunrise.  Still here to make my way through the day and toward inherently unsharable night.   And another day.

 

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so this is the sound of you
here and now whether or not
anyone hears it this is
where we have come with our age
our knowledge such as it is
and our hopes such as they are
invisible before us
untouched and still possible

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Improbable Night

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It’s been a series of improbable nights.

Some have been spent in frigid high winds, completely alone in the cold as I snapped photographs of suddenly late sunsets on the nights Campbell McGrath contemplated: nights when the mind occupies a place “always elusive, always a city, and wonderful, and lost. All night I wander alone, searching in vain for the irretrievable.”

For a very long time,  solitude has been the hallmark of my nights.

Gravel paths on hillsides amid moon-drawn vineyards,
click of pearls upon a polished nightstand
soft as rainwater, self-minded stars, oboe music
distant as the grinding of icebergs against the hull
of the self and the soul in the darkness. . . .

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Deep is the water and long is the moonlight
inscribing addresses in quicksilver ink,
building the staircase a lover forever pauses upon.
Deep is the darkness and long is the night,
solid the water and liquid the light. 

 

But last night, and the night before that, I wasn’t alone.  I wandered among crowds on city streets and ventured into places I’ve never set foot before.  I met people with wondrous hearts and stories: writers and stand-up comics, actors, radio gods and goddesses, mothers and fathers, people willing to tell their stories and people willing to listen.

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Threshold

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It is Spring’s threshold.  Green stalks and bright buds peek out from piles of leftover autumn leaves, golden-copper, crisped, sometimes translucent from winter’s wear.

I witnessed another threshold last week.

I should already have been at work, dozens of miles away.

An errand took me to a well-traveled road.  My gray Honda (Slate: surely I’m not the only one who names vehicles?), was third in line when a beautiful gray cat dashed in front of the first car.

I held my breath.

Then the cat ricocheted off the car’s front fender.  I cried out a long “No!”  and pulled to the side of the road, as did the driver of the car between us.  He had the composure to call  the local police.

The cat was still alive, jerking its limbs, trying to rise from the asphalt.  I knelt down with bare knees on the cold cement and a put my hand on her side.  She shook violently at first.  She expelled some blood from her mouth and I noticed I was kneeling in an oddly square pool of bright blood that had already soaked into the road.

Other cars whooshed around us, leaving a wide berth.

As I stroked her she stopped shaking and seemed to calm.  She settled on her side and held out her front paws, crossing one over the other and stretching out as if preparing to nap in the sun, though there was none on that frigid, windy morning.

She had been well-cared for and likely was someone’s pet.

She died after a few minutes, and when the animal control officer arrived he found weeping humans who had no idea whose animal this was.  I didn’t want to stop stroking her fur and talking to her.  The officer spoke to us kindly, lifted her body gently, and told us he would check for a microchip and try to find the owner.

To the owner of that cat: please know that when she died, she was calm.  Strangers took care of her and will not forget her.

When I got back in my car I realized I was holding my right hand palm up towards the gray sky.  My fingers were covered in a patina of red-orange blood, streaked more heavily across the fingertips.

As I was driving away I noticed another car pulled over to the side of the road ahead of me.  An older woman was bent over the steering wheel, sobbing.

I wish I’d stopped to comfort her.

 

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More Than a Thousand Mornings

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Reflected sunrise

Serpentine gold-orange chains, flickering loosely on the water’s surface 

Slip away and twinkle, gently lifting waves, bright fleeting punctuation

Not labyrinthine, like plaited vines, coiled invaders wrapped around trunks of hay-colored winter bark 

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Waves touch down and stir up clouds which burst and disappear as quickly as fireworks, but silently

Like ashes poured into the sea, blurring edges

The way things look through tears

Snow to dirt, rocks to pebbles and shells, sand to water, sea to sky, sun to earth

Receding from shore are Matryoshka boot prints, each a silvery map, oblong and ever-widening where long-gone visitors crashed through crusted snowdrifts

Leaving nesting entry wounds smoothed by thaws, frozen over and over

Next to them are paw prints the size of a toddler’s outstretched hand

(No dogs in sight today, though wind mimics the way they exhale winter air in sharp bursts)

Our children traced their hands on fabric that endures and on construction paper from which bright colors have leached, brilliant red to light brick, Kelly green to weak pea soup

Their newborn footprints were stamped on hospital paper in blue ink, toes smaller than the blush blue and white-pink periwinkles clustered along the rocky shore

Their faces as they looked at their father when he could hold them in one arm, their perfect heads cupped in the hand that bore his wedding ring

My boots stay atop today’s unyielding ice coating, so my footprints are no different than yours

Which are not here

Just like that day, this day

At the beginning of Spring

When you became not here

But everywhere

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