The lights come on and stay on under the trees. Visibly a whole neighborhood inhabits the dusk, so punctual and in place it seems to deny dark its dominion. Nothing will go astray, the porch lamps promise. Sudden, as though a match failed to ignite at the foot of the garden, the first squibs trouble the eye. Impossible not to share that sportive, abortive, clumsy, where-are-we-now dalliance with night, such soothing relentlessness. What should we make of fireflies, their quick flare of promise and disappointment, their throwaway style? Our heads turn this way and that. We are loath to miss such jauntiness in nature. Those fugitive selves, winged and at random! Our flickery might-have-beens come up form the woods to haunt us! Our yet-to-be as tentative frolic! What do fireflies say? That loneliness made of light becomes at last convivial singleness? That any antic spark cruising the void might titillate creation? And whether they spend themselves, or go to ground, or drift with their lights out, they have left the gloom, for as long as our eyes take to absorb such absence, less than it seemed, as childless and deprived as Chaos and Old Night. But ruffled, too, as though it unearthed some memory of light from its long blackout, a hospitable core fit home for fireflies, brushed by fireflies’ wings.
Your great mistake is to act the drama as if you were alone. As if life were a progressive and cunning crime with no witness to the tiny hidden transgressions. To feel abandoned is to deny the intimacy of your surroundings. Surely, even you, at times, have felt the grand array; the swelling presence, and the chorus, crowding out your solo voice. You must note the way the soap dish enables you, or the window latch grants you freedom. Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity. The stairs are your mentor of things to come, the doors have always been there to frighten you and invite you, and the tiny speaker in the phone is your dream-ladder to divinity.
Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into the conversation. The kettle is singing even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots have left their arrogant aloofness and seen the good in you at last. All the birds and creatures of the world are unutterably themselves. Everything is waiting for you.
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Step aside, please, while our officer inspects your bad attitude. You have no rights we are bound to respect. Please remain calm, or we can’t be held responsible for what happens to you.
Beat! beat! drums!—blow! bugles! blow! Through the windows—through doors—burst like a ruthless force, Into the solemn church, and scatter the congregation, Into the school where the scholar is studying, Leave not the bridegroom quiet—no happiness must he have now with his bride, Nor the peaceful farmer any peace, ploughing his field or gathering his grain, So fierce you whirr and pound you drums—so shrill you bugles blow.
Beat! beat! drums!—blow! bugles! blow! Over the traffic of cities—over the rumble of wheels in the streets; Are beds prepared for sleepers at night in the houses? no sleepers must sleep in those beds, No bargainers’ bargains by day—no brokers or speculators—would they continue? Would the talkers be talking? would the singer attempt to sing? Would the lawyer rise in the court to state his case before the judge? Then rattle quicker, heavier drums—you bugles wilder blow.
Beat! beat! drums!—blow! bugles! blow! Make no parley—stop for no expostulation, Mind not the timid—mind not the weeper or prayer, Mind not the old man beseeching the young man, Let not the child’s voice be heard, nor the mother’s entreaties, Make even the trestles to shake the dead where they lie awaiting the hearses, So strong you thump O terrible drums—so loud you bugles blow.
For example, what the trees do not only in lightning storms or the watery dark of a summer’s night or under the white nets of winter but now, and now, and now – whenever we’re not looking. Surely you can’t imagine they don’t dance, from the root up, wishing to travel a little, not cramped so much as wanting a better view, or more sun, or just as avidly more shade – surely you can’t imagine they just stand there loving every minute of it, the birds or the emptiness, the dark rings of the years slowly and without a sound thickening, and nothing different unless the wind, and then only in its own mood, comes to visit, surely you can’t imagine patience, and happiness, like that.