This is the book of the night. Night goes down on the hill, into the body of the world; my eyes close. The light of consciousness dims and glows, held in the body of the soul. Returned, sunk down in the heart, sunk and rested in the heart, sink down to nest there. Inner chambers are lit.
Turn around. The oval mirror, that black-backed glass, holds a doorway made small. Objects are reversed and reduced—yet the image is real to us. Go through the door behind you by gazing ahead into the glass. Yes. Gazing forward, I travel back. If space is time. Here space I enter is condensed to a miniature narrative: how does the mountain range fit into my eye? Distance is also mystery, how if you move toward the image in the mirror behind you, it recedes…
These are introductory remarks. I do not know what this book of the night will tell me. It is taking shape in liquid, the pen leaving marks on the page.
It is motion leaving a trace. Guide my hand. I know I am writing this on Samhain, on the brink of midnight, the night of the dead. Bless them, the ancestors and forebears. The lost and forgotten. In the eye of night we are one. Bless us. Today the sky was bright, and colors on the hills flared and subsided. And there was green in the fields still, this last October day.
In dream I fled the burning hotel; the fire was fast and high, I felt it on me, the heat coming ahead of the flames, and I fled in a boat with several others, all strangers. We floated upstream, I think for days, and I was troubled in mind, wondering that we had no food, that we rowed on and did not stop to sleep, though it seemed many days had passed. I wanted to make a call to tell my family I had escaped, but when we stopped at last, at some way station that must have been a house, with many rooms, and food set out on a table, I had no coins for the phone. We did not eat. All was delay, the murky delay of dream, but there was waiting for me a packet of air letters on pink and blue and yellow tissue. I opened the letters and saw your handwriting but could not recognize any words. That is when I realized I was dead, that I had died in the fire and could no longer call or send a message or read a letter. That I would not anymore know hunger or need to sleep, that I existed in a permanent now, and the boat was not taking me away, I had only invented the boat so as not to see myself perish in the awful fire.
And still, where did the fire begin? What lit that old hotel in the mountains, that quiet home in memory, what made it blaze? And destroy all that came before…
God exploded into souls, or, as the Zohar says, a lamp was shattered, and broken shards of light flew outward sharp as razor points, slicing up the dark. Light bled. Perhaps a black hole turned itself inside out and scattered all the energies of the universe abroad.
In any of these renderings creation does not begin with building—it isn’t a construction, not a matter of piling up bricks ,or fitting pieces together. Neither is it vegetal. Something breaks. And that something is all that is, so it has to break or all being would be confined in one light or object, or a mass of atoms self-held like a fist, all the energy locked up and nothing moving.
First something moves. God-force at play, then the beautiful loneliness of being may begin.
Detail subsides to pattern. Which opens to the possibility of metaphor, or magick.
Because new understanding changes reality; this is proven. Before the heart was known it did not beat, it was as a tide slowly rising and falling, and gave out rays to feed the blood.
Strange things are becoming clear.
“We have the body.” This is how Edgar Cayce would begin his trance readings for the sick, who came to him most often after all other help tried and failed. First the initiatory illness. The person is broken and remade. I may be cooked to soup, pupa dissolved digested and made again in dark. Quick notes on a guitar light the journey, an unseen person playing.
The organism is fragmented, here on the cusp of dark, looking first to day, then night. To emerge, come forward, or be absorbed? A parlous voyage. The illness decided for me, a disease that was, in itself, all daimon, that could not be predicted, called up or banned, never gainsaid. After thirty years I realize at last the gift of that initiation, always liminal, striking and going away. Leaving shards of broken light.
I am told to repeat that the organism is fragmented, here at the twilight hour. Quick notes on a guitar upstairs. I would lie at the feet of the singer and be healed.
Aristotle believed that the unconscious mind dwelt on the moon. I read that and can’t promise it is true.
Dust, and the broken bone heals, stronger at the break. The scars’ adhesions ache, bone thickens there while words shine, glancing off. Done. A man sighs, stepping through a doorway as if giving up were the cost of going forward. An ending is a door, a way of disappearing—to go away is to go on—we disappear into something––another room, a gap in stone leading to a world reversed, a space of dream light. An empty place, a wasteland of sorts: we sift through evidence, objects, shoes scuff on tile, rhyme our passing. The world has passed away, what remains is incidental, a handful of dust tells the story of the past. The break disappears into the healing. In my dream a priest, a kind of sacred butcher, is slicing between each joint, so clean my body falls apart in discrete units. There goes an arm; it is piled neatly with other arms. I must give myself up to this; it is understood. This defeat pictured as a rending. I am all skeleton and flesh clump, still he keeps on carving. I feel no pain but a sharp sense of loss, an unbearable sadness as my body is dissected, rent. Now all is lost. How will I go forward with no body? This must not be how it ends. The dream is a dismembering—breaking down and de-creating world. What follows? We are ghosts, we are fish and birds. We are old children believing our bogeymen. The law that what is taken must return. So moon-dance shadow up from the ground wakes the sleeping daimon and we rise.
Then it is morning, and down the road from my house a great hole has opened in the earth. Yellow machines at rest. It is the hole in the earth that interests me. As if I could see in, but of course you don’t see in, it’s earth all the way down. Remove surface to reveal new surface. What, finally, is not surface?
Some things hide, others are hidden, but some things are by nature invisible. The hole in the earth covers the past as quick as it is revealed.
Things that hide or are hidden. My cat (not Schroedinger’s cat.) A secret. The mountain at night.
Hidden but not invisible. Here is the realm of mystery. The organs of our bodies are not invisible but they are not meant to be seen under normal circumstance. Blood may cause a strong man to faint. Blood is secret, personal, familiar. The primitive fear of a menstruating woman–a woman who bleeds without being wounded, who bleeds from the place where life comes, a terrible power that must be shunned. Put her away lest she curse you. I don’t mean primitive in time but in our deepest selves, that power in the blood.
There is power, power wonder-working power, in the glorious Blood of the Lamb. The Hebrews smeared the blood of the Egyptian’s god Khnum, their ram god, on their lintels to warn off the Angel of Death who was God himself in his purifying wrath, gone out to kill the first-born of the unsaved.
Blood is secret and must be kept in the body for it to live. Blood can poison.
Lady Macbeth convicting herself in her madness, unable to stop seeing the blood.
If you put a needle in your vein the currents are joined, the substance, the distilled essence of the flower, becomes you and you are changed. It’s in your blood as we say. Its molecules are part of you, a new signature.
I was speaking of things that are hidden by their nature, internal processes and entities. Other things are invisible by nature. Air. Mind. The fear of dying.
The words appear in the night. I click on the message and it opens, blue light in the dark room. He is speaking to me over thousands of miles, out of darkness, my secret friend with no address, somewhere in the west, where the sun goes when it leaves me. Is it any wonder the words go deep, toward my hidden dream self? The dark deep confidences of the soul. I can tell him anything. I cannot see him; I don’t know where he goes when he is not writing to me and I wait. I wait and words appear. He clicks off and I wait.
He must be a monster who can’t show himself, will not be seen. He must be a spirit or daimon. He must live in thrall to whatever goddess he serves, who will not release him willingly.
The words appear in the night: where is their source? Not content to be visited at will, only to wait and receive, I want to know. Nothing could speak to me in the night out of nothing, with sure aim at the mysteries that hold me, unless it is part of me. I go looking for my hidden self who speaks in promise and doubt. Uncovering shame: he is/ I am a monster, maimed, misborn. The heart begins its howling here; the voice comes from the wound, the blood jet. Uncanny. Beyond ken. What is its secret? The prisoner in every tower, we are all the prisoner in the tower.
A message from a prisoner to a prisoner, tapped on the wall in code. I am hungry for touch. I said I would stop this night-flying to whisper in your sleeping ear. You twitch and turn. I leave a white stone on your pillow, you swallow it and waking remember nothing, but a heaviness lies in your gut. The white stone glows like a moon in the dark, why don’t you keep it? Inside you it is a weight: you swallowed all that light.
You will not be commanded. They have left you no way out and so you stand.
“You are not obligated to complete the work
but neither are you free to abandon it.”
The baby was taken at the hospital, the mother sent to detox then rehab. When God exploded into souls, some of us fell on hard ground. The moon’s mirror gazes back, yesterday in its face. What we remember is changed, aftershade of light. No pity for what cannot change.
How the day was torn, bloodied in the low sky, out of the resting body of the hills, the winter trees reaching and then the light was blue, a veil benign, gentling a face, outlines of a face, deep eyes, the Virgin’s head-bent gaze.
When God exploded into souls the primordial essense was too hot, a burning that was not fire such as the sun endures today (our sun a third generation star, reincarnated from two galaxies that died before). The sun does not shrink; it is not fire. It consumes and radiates, creating particles out of energy.
All night facing the dark of space. We are always facing space however we turn, but when the sun, our sponsoring star, heaves into view, things become local again. It makes the atmosphere of dust and water glow, enfolding us in our own reflections.
The infant, the firstborn, cursed. The mark on the lintel. When a child is born addicted, or “exposed” to heroin (it’s always heroin here these last few years) the baby goes into state care, to a foster family. The “state” is officially as well as practically, the baby’s parent until custody is returned or the child adopted out. The sacred terror of this, an infant sent out to strangers. Born to the state.
The women fought, I don’t know over what, they fought like junkies, it is possible they don’t even remember. Their baby, J’s baby has been in foster care six months, straight from the hospital. J’s visitation had been cut back and tensions were high. J ended up in the emergency room and immediately started walking back her story. WE didn’t fight; K didn’t do it. I fell, I tripped, I hit my head.
K already had a warrant, and now a No Contact order, and after J bailed her out she took the pills and ended up in the state hospital. Meanwhile the baby begins life elsewhere, placed with strangers. That the beginning of life offered so little safety these means must be found. The loneliness of the infant then, forever. Yet it must be done. Things have gone this far. What are we doing, how can things have gone so far, and so often, so regularly, that there are routines and offices set up to respond, there are forms already printed to be filled out, and protocols, and court hearings. Imagine that we have to keep carrying infants out of hospitals into new, temporary homes.
Bodies too are carried away. We are so used to knowing this we do not realize how little we grasp it, the dire, heartbroken, violent, repeating of disaster and protocol.The infant knows. He does not understand, but in every fiber he knows. There is a vacancy and a severing of safety. Already a sole voyager.
When the dream says weep, I weep. Because we are spun from star matter, debris, and in everything a hidden, immeasurable fire. The alchemists were right: fire is an event, verb not noun, by which matter changes itself. It is an action. It is impermanence, the mortality of matter, that transforms. What we have made with our hands – and our machines are extensions of our hands – is the same stuff of rock and tree. Objects are made of what made us… the table, the lamp, the metal rooster by the fireplace, painted red and yellow… all star stuff. Not of us, not us of them, but all of same… This is philosophizing, making meaning before events have fully appeared, but what will appear? The objects’ motion too slow for the eye to discern, the night blanketed and deep, my restless mind turning change in its gears.
The dog regards the old cat with sorrowful distrust. His woeful countenance. The cat a small blot on his contentment here.
“What about my peace of mind?” S said plaintively to his wife, arguing a minor point, a tedium.
“Dad, no one cares about your goddamn peace of mind!” his daughter, from another room, exasperated and annoyed with hearing him.
It’s true: who cares about your goddamn peace of mind? How deeply I love my shifting consciousness, follow it, trace details, subtlety of mood. The hell with yours.
We are, often, hilarious. Needing that audience from the next room to burst out and correct our self-importance.
Catch the shimmer. Maybe shimmer back at it.
Cynthia Huntington’s fifth book of poetry, Terra Nova, was published in January 2017 by the Crab Orchard Poetry Series, Southern Illinois University Press. Huntington’s book Heavenly Bodies was a finalist for the 2012 National Book Award in Poetry. Currently a Guggenheim Fellow in Poetry, she teaches in the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA in Writing Program and at Dartmouth College, where she holds the Frederick Sessions Beebe Chair in Writing.