NOTHINGNESS & the NIGHTSKY
As a small child, I used to mistakenly believe that physical deterioration was the most unpleasant aspect of getting older. Premonitions of an achy lower back, sore knees, arthritis, a hip replacement (or two), glaucoma haunted me nightly. After playing a single season of Midget League Baseball (I wasn’t very good), I became resigned to the fact that I would eventually need Tommy John surgery. While in High School, I remember scrutinizing the chapter on disease in health class like a man ordering sushi from an à la carte menu: two Palinopsia rolls, a piece of Sciatica sashimi, and some Kluver-Bucy Syndrome.
Now that I am an adult, I realize I was wrong: physical deterioration is NOT the most unpleasant aspect of aging. Erectile dysfunction is a foolish toy when compared to the canopy of darkness that continually envelopes adult life. Love, loss, betrayal, bereavement, disillusionment, diminishment: the sky gets darker and darker until all is consumed by the darknothingness of night. And the darkest hour of the blacknight comes with the unavoidable realization that death eventually takes away everything, even the most inconsequential of things. It takes away our books. It takes away the unfinished novels that live only in our dreamconsciousness. It takes away the songs we can’t stop singing. And it takes away our favorite poems.
such a little
On January 13th (my birthday, no less!) the poet who wrote these lines, Kay Ryan, almost experienced her own “little/fatal pause” when she was struck by a car while riding her bicycle near her home in Fairfax, California. The 68-year-old former poet laureate suffered a host of non-fatal injuries, including a fractured hip socket, broken ribs, a broken clavicle, and a punctured lung.
A punctured lung?
That phrase never fails to conjure up the scene in Moby Dick where a wounded whale’s heart bursts, causing a stream of blood to erupt from its blowhole.
Live long enough and every whaleheart is assaulted by suffering to its burstingpoint. There ain’t no cure for that. And yet writers enjoy a perverse relationship to suffering: the more profoundly they suffer, the more profoundly they write. A quick glance at my bookshelf supports this theory: Shakespeare (erotomania, or was it genophobia?), Cervantes (penury & loss of a hand), Joyce (penury & exile), Nietzsche (penury & virginity), Dostoevsky (firingsquad fakery), Melville (more penury), Lucretius (possible lovepotion poisoning), Orwell (neckwound), and Beckett (pimpwound).
Of course, nothing lasts forever, not even suffering. There’s a great deal of comfort to be found in De Rerum Natura, especially when the ancient Roman poet consuls:
“Asleep in death; so shall you be for all
that’s left of time, exempt from grief and pain”
The darknothingness of night waits to embrace us all. This explains why the act of writing is so essential; it offers a brief, beautiful burst of illumination against the ever-encroaching all-devouring darkness.