When nights are longest

Happy/Merry Yule, Solstice, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, New Year, and Epiphany to all our readers from Luisa and me. This videopoem is a joint production of Via Negativa and Moving Poems, my poetry-film site. Via Negativa just celebrated its 11th birthday last Wednesday, and this time of year “when nights are longest” has always seemed full of creative possibilities to me. I also found out yesterday that December 21 (or possibly 22) was the date when, in 1818, John Keats coined the term “negative capability”—”when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason”—which I think is more or less the same as what Zen Buddhists call don’t-know mind or beginner’s mind.

So yesterday I found a mysterious, dark but light-filled home move at the Prelinger Archives, selected and arranged some of the images into a composition that made sense to me, emailed the link to Luisa and asked her if she thought she could find a poem in it. Indeed she could! After a little back-and-forth about the title and opening lines last night, she settled on a final form for the text this morning and sent me a terrific reading that she recorded with her mobile phone. I found a Creative Commons-licensed sound recording on SoundCloud through my usual method of clicking on random links and trusting in serendipity: it’s a field recording by Marc Weidenbaum of Phil Kline’s “Unsilent Night” boombox procession passing a certain point in the streets of San Francisco on December 18, 2010.

Here’s the text of the poem.

When nights are longest

by Luisa A. Igloria

In the dark, it takes the eye
a moment to adjust,

but we won’t even feel
the pull of gravity

that slows us down,
nor the drift of the moon

just slightly more
out of reach.

And there is nothing
to do, really, but trim

the flourishes from the roof,
gather the scraps,

burn them to make
more fire. There is

no point asking
if the garden still

needs weeding, if the flowers
will come back, or if the fish

will flash their dangerous
golden charms again

through ice. Come share
a shard of bread: we’ll set

the pot to boil and skim
the fat off the stew.

We’ll feed each other
with no need to speak,

watching our thoughts ignite
like fireflies into their afterlife.

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