In Light of Darkness
Whenever I pass the Restaurant Sarajevo in the 2700 block of West Lawrence in Chicago I think of two things. First, I recall the summer evening several years ago when I observed a wedding party standing on the sidewalk outside the restaurant. The beautiful bride was young, blonde, and lithe. She wore a strapless white gown. Her wedding veil, tossed back from her face, fell gracefully over her shoulders. The others in the group stood around her as if she were the center of some loose bouquet of summer flowers. The lights of the restaurant glowed in the evening’s late dusk, and the image continues to shimmer in my mind with loveliness.
I thought the beauty of the moment was similar to paintings by the German artist Gerhard Richter, but when I view these thinking about the bridal party they fail miserably to equal that vision. There was, despite the romance of the moment, a brightness to it—the white dress, the arrival of evening and the pleasant lamplight within, everyone smiling. Richter’s paintings, in contrast, often contain a certain blurriness.
In his poem “I Know A Man,” Robert Creeley says;
As I sd to my
friend, because I am
always talking, John, I
sd, which was not his
name, the darkness sur-
rounds us, what
can we do against
it, … . .
It is the word against, well actually it is the word surrounds, that first interests me in those lines, the joke of breaking the word in two to get at the idea of surrounding. I think Creeley breaks that word up so that we understand not only that the darkness is some sort of border but that it can enclose us within itself, which is frightening. We could be encircled, imprisoned.
But really it is the word against. Because I would have written “what can we do about it,” meaning the darkness. But Creeley says “against it”—what can we do in opposition to the darkness? His query and desire are more active, aggressive. When I think about this in the context of the wedding party, I understand that the wedding party stands against the darkness. This is its power for me.
I suppose the question that arises naturally from this is, what is meant by darkness? In the context of Creeley’s poem I note that it is not dark but darkness that, while potentially awful, seems also like something that might still be dealt with. It’s out there, but if we have a plan, well then maybe we’ll be all right.