Short, Attentive Spans

When we lived in Hawaii I enjoyed what seemed like a relatively short commute: only twenty minutes from Leeward to Windward sides of Oahu, traffic permitting. I could have the sunrise over the sea going in and up the Pali, and the sunset over the sea driving back away from the harbor.

In the morning I would usually time my drive to coincide with the local broadcast of the local news in Hawaiian, tacked-onto the end of All Things Considered and just before a program I had not heard since our move: Garrison Keillor's The Writer's Almanac. The presence of some single poem each morning was a regular reminder that life and spirit could contain more than just another predictable workday.

In these days of home-office and even shorter commute (three minutes from my driveway to NVIDIA building D, traffic permitting), I don't get much opportunity for radio. Happily I've recently found that the program is podcasted, so now I collect episodes in clusters, waiting for the right moment every week or two for me to consume them while in some waiting room or chilling in an airplane seat.

To me a sign of great art is my own desire to have been the person who made it — not for the accolades or the persisting prestige but merely the desire to have had the experience of having Those Thoughts, unbidden — the ones that led to This Thing.

There have been a handful of poems in the recent weeks' archives that I've felt that way about, by Bukowski and by Sexton and this one, "Light, At Thirty-Two" by Michael Blumenthal from Days We Would Rather Know:

Light, At Thirty-Two

It is the first thing God speaks of
when we meet Him, in the good book
of Genesis. And now, I think
I see it all in terms of light:

How, the other day at dusk
on Ossabaw Island, the marsh grass
was the color of the most beautiful hair
I had ever seen, or how — years ago
in the early-dawn light of Montrose Park —
I saw the most ravishing woman
in the world, only to find, hours later
over drinks in a dark bar, that it
wasn't she who was ravishing,
but the light: how it filtered
through the leaves of the magnolia
onto her cheeks, how it turned
her cotton dress to silk, her walk
to a tour-jeté.

And I understood, finally,
what my friend John meant,
twenty years ago, when he said: Love
is keeping the lights on.
And I understood
why Matisse and Bonnard and Gauguin
and Cézanne all followed the light:
Because they knew all lovers are equal
in the dark, that light defines beauty
the way longing defines desire, that
everything depends on how light falls
on a seashell, a mouth ... a broken bottle.

And now, I'd like to learn
to follow light wherever it leads me,
never again to say to a woman, YOU
are beautiful,
but rather to whisper:
Darling, the way light fell on your hair
this morning when we woke — God,
it was beautiful.
Because, if the light is right,
then the day and the body and the faint pleasures
waiting at the window ... they too are right.
All things lovely there. As that first poet wrote,
in his first book of poems: Let there be light.

Comments on "Short, Attentive Spans"

johndan
August 22, 2006 10:04 PM

I listen to The Writer's Almanac every morning on our local NPR stationā€”but you can too:

http://writersalmanac.publicradio.org/

 

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