Two poems – “To Rule the Night” and “By Art or By Physics”

TO RULE THE NIGHT

The ground below is a black sea full of stars,
little constellations that signify nothing
but mapped isolation. I blink back.
I understand. I, too, am a dying star,

caught in the vast permanence of blackness
that endlessly receives our offerings of light.
The night sky is a shrine. Its ancient relics
foreshadow what fossils we might also become.

From my vantage point, I could be a priest
for all those little helpless ones gathered below.
But I know no incantation,
no rite, except my own
ritual of longing. I imagine I chant holy words
that I could never know, but by some dark mystery.
The little lights pour out their responsorial halos
onto the concrete below them.

They look like Christmas tree lights,
glistening and ornamental, magical,
and dim. Clustered together, they must think they are
lighting the sky.

BY ART OR BY PHYSICS

By its artificial and mysterious motion
the clock beside my bed spins the world around, and flings
another day into oblivion.

And I, by every power I can summon,
gape at the white space projected on the ceiling
from the empty diary beside my bed.

This is no canvas I could paint my dreams on.
This is a nothingness I know too well: the cold, white sum
of my disordered colors, my spoiled palette,
Memories and passions absorbed and lost
deep in my blood –

Deep,

Where by automatic and mysterious tic, the clock
inside my chest pulls up another sun.

 


Both of these are from my third book, To Kiss the Sun and Mean It. (I’ve discussed before where that title comes from.)
 
“To Rule the Night” was, as should be obvious, written on a plane. I was returning from a friend’s wedding in Atlanta, but that’s not relevant at all. It was night. I’m not sure what else I can say that the poem doesn’t say better. It’s not about anything in particular. It’s typical of my writing process, though – taking in an image and letting it resonate with a store of other images and moods and seeing what comes from the juxtaposition.
 
“By Art or By Physics” revisits the theme of white space… and if you’ve ever felt like your life is overfilled with a whole lot of nothing, you probably understand. White, of course, is—when speaking of pigments—the absence of color; when speaking of light, it’s the presence of all colors. I combined those facts, as a palette wouldn’t contain light (unless you’re on the computer, I suppose). That double meaning of white means that 1+1+1+1+1+1 (ad infinitum) can still equal zero. “The cold white sum of my disordered palette” can be a blank page. Good thing I paid attention to my color theory in school.
 
As Betty White said on the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson (8:15-8:40 on that clip for context), “I didn’t do anything to get to be 91, it just happened!” The clock ticks, the heart tics, and time accrues. 
 
The title refers to those two central images, one being art and the other, physics.
 
Sylvia Plath got me hooked on the word “gape.” I’m pretty sure it was among her favorite words, she uses it so much. It’s a good one, isn’t it? Mouths can gape, caverns and canyons can gape, the abyss can gape, empty spaces can gape, and so can wounds. It’s a useful word.
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