WAITING FOR NIGHT.

Let’s go for a walk at sunset.
We’ll watch the snow blaze,
burn into night.
I’ve been waiting for night
to erase the meadow.
When the pictures are lost,
I can close my eyes,
I can vanish far
into sleep—where shattered
friends are waiting.
Their shaking hands reach
across the snow.
I run after one and cry—
leave me alone. He turns,
stares, opens his mouth
and can’t speak.
The day my father died
I went for a walk.
The cold leaves crashed
onto the lawn and flared.
His eyes flared. Look—
the sky is flaring. That’s it:
we’re finished with day.
At last I can curl
into myself
—as the snow keeps glowing,
those hands are reaching . . .
I heard the whispers: he’s gone,
leave him alone.
I stroked his hand for hours.
I don’t know how to stop.
  —Kathryn Levy


“Waiting for Night” reprinted by permission from Losing the Moon, by Kathryn Levy (Canio’s Editions, 2006)

Comments

  1. I just can’t staaaaand people who are so well-connected they actually know how to get permission, and so polite they bother to ask for it.

  2. When I was learning German, I liked the word Polier because it sounded like someone who is always polite. This association faded when I found out it means “foreman”.

  3. Grumbly: what about polisson?

  4. Heh. That’s a naughtycal term.

  5. Siganus Sutor says:

    Can we ever stop ourselves from thinking of our dead father every so often, each time with a pinch of regret?

  6. Why would anyone want to stop doing that ?

  7. Maybe some of us are more patient with their perplexities than others are.

  8. That’s a perfect poem for me, because of the season here. Thank you, Language; i love it.

  9. From an NYRB piece by Dan Chiasson on Wallace Stevens:

    Randall Jarrell, who had loved Harmonium, was particularly nasty about Stevens’s later work. Since Stevens refused “contact with lives,” he suggested, we “poor, dishonest people” became, to him, “no more than data to be manipulated”: “He often treats things or lives so that they seem no more than generalizations of an unprecedentedly low order.” How could Jarrell, the subtlest critic of his age, have made so catastrophic a mistake? Stevens does no such thing as treat “things or lives” as “generalizations.” Rather, he laments the fact that “things and lives” settle in so few, and such brittle, forms—forms that will not withstand the buffetings of time and change. I know of no passage in modern poetry more heartbreaking than the canto in “The Auroras of Autumn” about Stevens’s mother:

    Farewell to an idea… The mother’s face,
    The purpose of the poem, fills the room.
    They are together, here, and it is warm,
    With none of the prescience of oncoming dreams.
    It is evening. The house is evening, half dissolved.
    Only the half that they can never possess remains,
    Still-starred. It is the mother they possess,
    Who gives transparence to their present peace.
    She makes that gentler that can gentle be.
    And yet she too is dissolved, she is destroyed.
    She gives transparence. But she has grown old.
    The necklace is a carving not a kiss.
    The soft hands are a motion not a touch.
    The house will crumble and the books will burn.
    They are at ease in a shelter of the mind
    And the house is of the mind and they and time,
    Together, all together. Boreal night
    Will look like frost as it approaches them
    And to the mother as she falls asleep
    And as they say good-night, good-night. Upstairs
    The windows will be lighted, not the rooms.
    A wind will spread its windy grandeurs round
    And knock like a rifle-butt against the door.
    The wind will command them with invincible sound.

    What Jarrell mistook for general-ization—”the mother” instead of “my mother,” “the house,” and so on—is Stevens’s way of representing one fact, his mother’s presence (“the purpose of the poem”) with respect to a second fact, elapsed time. Stevens was sixty-eight: these memories are at the very bottom of a pile of time. Another poet might assign presence to frame one and absence to frame two, when in fact “the mother” is presence entangled with absence, inextricably so.
    Stevens wants to represent those haunting memories of his mother (memories he first recalled in a letter soon after her death) but he must also represent the encroachment of time, first upon the mother herself (“dissolved” along with all the contents of her house by night, then “destroyed” by age), then upon his memory of her. To say “my mother” would be to expose her to the ravages of time in frame one (a frame that compiles multiple views of her across the arc of her life) but also to protect her image, and thereby to protect Stevens himself, from those same forces in the subsequent frame.

    There should be no extra space in that first stanza, but for the life of me I can’t get rid of it without running the second line into the first. I’d challenge Hat to do it, but I’m done challenging around here for a few days at least.

  10. Farewell to an idea… The mother’s face,
    The purpose of the poem, fills the room.
    They are together, here, and it is warm, …

    Close the two lines tightly together, then insert {br} (but with angle brackets instead) between them. I always do that within blockquotes, or whenever else the layout is skittish.
    [Slips back to his easy chair.]

  11. Siganus Sutor says:

    Bougon, it’s not so much a matter of wanting or not wanting. However, one would imagine that over the years these things (say the souvenirs, or the feeling of absence if you will) would slowly fade away. You think they do, until they suddenly flash back. And it doesn’t matter, it seems, whether you were close to each other or not.

  12. Farewell to an idea… Mother’s face
    would have been better.

  13. From a poet’s point of view, I believe “the mother” in the context of that glorious poem of Stevens makes the language more alive and, paradoxically, more particular. One searches for honesty and life in the words. And every good poem creates its own world with its distinctive requirements. “Enter the kingdom of words as if you were deaf.”–Carlos Drummond de Andrade, from “Looking for Poetry,” tr. Mark Strand

  14. I defer to you. On the other hand, I’ve always liked John Lennon’s “Mother you had me, but I didn’t have you”.

  15. Never had you.

  16. This is like the Marshal McLuhan scene in Annie Hall.

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