Wednesday, April 8, 2009

& Sleepless Spring

I am in one of those odd moods tonight, a mood that has grown into an odd compulsion, really--the compulsion not to go to sleep. Perhaps it's only because I spent most of the day (after an important meeting this morning), lounging around the apartment reading and watching the snow fall.

Yes, you read correctly: here in Pittsburgh, it's been snowing all day.

This morning was suffused with a kind of strange quiet joy. As I walked to my appointment, there seemed to be so much light, all things seemed touched with and emanating brightness, and stillness. And yet, the clouds overheard were thick and gray, rolling in layers, and I could not find that place in the sky where the sun's presence carves out a hard blindness into which you can't ever look. I could look anywhere, everywhere, and yet...

O, I'm not articulating myself very well. It's late. But the blossoms on the trees, flush and swollen with recent rains, each petal soft and opened as if lapping at the snow, and the snow like heavy pieces of light broken off from the gray, billowing skyline and scattered, drifting, settling in the nooks and curves of every limb, still mostly bare and so dark and thin. The pear tears, tiny bursting bouquets of white flowers, and the magnolias--goddess of the magnolia!, she bewilders and overwhelms me every April--and the tight little fists of the dogwood blossoms and pursed lips of the crabapple trees, not yet open, pinched shut against the cold and snow. The trees seemed to exude the crystalline white dusting like sap running warm up from warm earth, touching every tip and seeping as though from a thousand eager wounds, while the frigid petals of winter's last precipitation bloomed midair, everywhere, amongst a brightness that brought tears shivering on the edges of my eyes, running one, then another, loose along my cheek, protesting against the wind.

There are too many exuberant words in this description--it was simple, and quiet, god so very quiet. It was not a lapse back into deadening, claustrophobic winter--it was the opposite! As if everything that was not Spring had ceased or shut itself away beneath the brightness shimmering, every blooming thing etched and framed with the perfect emptiness and void of snow, as if to say: this, this here is the season, these green and growing bits, here, the yellows, lavenders and rose, the pussy willow buds holding their breaths until they explode with tufts of pollen... I'm not saying it right. You had to have been there, to be walking in it.

It's not that I feel as though I can't go to sleep--it's more like I have the strong impression that I shouldn't. That I should stay awake, that I should... remain awake. Perhaps forever. Perhaps only for tonight.

I might be in love.

As I was walking, through the piercing brightness of day, I thought about gods, and why we believe in gods who cannot save us, who cannot stoop to tilt the earth back into healthy cycles of warming and revolving, or intervene in war and famine, or perform even the most ordinary of miracles. I thought about gods, and why we bother. But there are mornings--and the nights that follow them--when you can't ask those kinds of questions. They don't make sense. The words are in the right order, the sounds move and you recognize the inflection and the tone--but it is all only so much noise and rhythm in the still. These are the gods that come and go, this is the world as it has always been, holy, infused, en-chanted, wide open like a wound or a dead thing or a cupped palm filling with water and then draining again. Why--the pale curl of the fingers, the white blood cells gathering, the white worms working their way to the surface of the flesh--we work and work at the why, but there's no way of taming a god.

At night, either you believe, or you go to sleep alone. I have slept that way for years, alone with my body, with my whys and cupped hands and busying blood. What will I say next? How will I get from there to here, to where I am tonight? Two months ago, it occurred to me to change, to shift, and I found that I could do it. This is all nonsense. It's late, and I'm not really saying anything. There was a moment I thought I made a movement, a course correction, but now I think that was just a trick of the light. Still, before where there was only myself, not even that, less than even that, now there are hands, dark and solid and warm and not my own, there are magnolia blossoms, deer moving in the hollow, an undoing, a belief in something, a compulsion or longing or wakefulness, and breath, and sleepless spring.


  1. Maybe I'm just lacking in a certain education but I don't find it at all unusual for words to be entirely insufficient when it comes to describing most things that touch me deeply. So many of them pale from overuse or just not quite accurate. Despite that, you've done a beautiful job but you usually do.

  2. In your paragraph on gods, you managed to perfectly capture my conversion to theism that happened upon reading C. S. Lewis's Till We Have Faces but could never quite articulate. The Divine is there, despite all of our certainties and pain... no matter what we do or think, when we turn around it turns out that the divine was there anyway, perpetually dancing the line between the inscrutible and the merely incomprehensible, and every now and then coming into contact with us and opening our eyes to a far greater reality.

    We want answers like "why?" and "how could you?" and "where have you been," and the only answer--a shockingly sufficient answer putting our questions utterly to rest, at least for the moment--is the hurricane intensity of divine presence. Despite everything, it is there.

  3. Pom,

    I hear a lot of people say that, but I don't think that's exactly the sensation in my case (or at least in this case). It's not that I have experiences that completely transcend the usefulness of words--I do, but those are usually the experiences I do not bother to try to articulate anyway, it does not even occur to me to try to articulate them (the same way it wouldn't occur to someone to sculpt stone with a piano).

    Instead, the struggle to grasp at words for me is usually like picking up an instrument slightly out of tune and that my body is too tired to play. Words are an instrument, with their own particular resonance and power, and you can learn to play that instrument well, to make a kind of music that will evoke and speak to experience (without presuming to replace it). I think that's something you learn when you have a lot of practice exploring the limits and needs of the instrument, rather than trying to bend the instrument to the will of your pre-established understanding of what you want to say. Then, when you have an experience, the instrument or art or words are not ways to talk about it, but almost like friends who have their own things to say and, given the freedom, will speak of it in their own ways.

    But then, sometimes your fingers are clumsy or your breathing unsteady, your sense of rhythm off, and you feel as though you're fighting with the instrument instead of working with it. That's how I felt last night. Not that there was no way to say it, but that I was just getting it wrong. Like playing a scale and being able to hear the notes that are off key, but being too exhausted and impatient to tune or correct your fingering. Does that make any sense?

  4. Ali,
    Yes it makes sense. You're an artist and paint with your words. I can understand the frustration because it's something I struggle with daily. Fortunately yours is a temporary issue and you'll pick up the instrument and it will again be as much a part of you as your own arm.

  5. Actually, Ali, I think you said much that was profound and you said it perfectly. I well remember those moments of interminable expectation and anticipation.

    You write beautifully and express yourself with great articulation and insight. Thank you for the gift of admission into your explorations and discoveries.

    Faerie blessings,


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