Late afternoon, the fugitive stillness

There’s a moment, not long, sometime after late afternoon but well before twilight. It’s not like the early morning before the signs turn to face you and the feet clap up the stairwells. It’s not like the “dead of night” or the “dead of winter” when stillness is near universal and the “streets are empty.” It’s not like either of these, these rests before generous or strenuous movement. Rather, it’s a fugitive stillness that brings to the most ordinary scene–in my case, the view beyond my window–the slightest touch of sadness.

I

A leaf in flight, doves perch still in the tree. Seagulls… branches… wind…

A coo coo coo. (Caw.) A coo coo coo…

A coo coo coo. (Caw.) A coo coo coo…

II

Chimes tinkle in the garden below. A stove clicks on, then off, then

On. [Pause] Off. [Pause] On. [Pause] Off. Each so slooooowly.

Off now.

Still.

The chime dangles now while the tree arms jangle also. The tree tipping, the evening swooning, roaring.

The early evening sea-swoons.

III

It is now–before New Yorkers come home from work, before the lights flick on, some flickering, now as the day grays over–that life awaits death. It is infinity awakening to itself. It is death childish, embarrassed, a bit cowed.

IV

My belly yens to vibrate like the cello of a body. Please an Om: unembarrassed, a firstling, a first offering, a home howl.

(And is this not the mysterium fascinans? And how can we not rejoice and cry?)

The sadness is light, as light as the faintest word, and then this fugitive stillness, this slightest shiver, is gone.

Of this ineffable

My mother covering me, wholly, from the man with the gun. That was the dream. Being at home in the world. Fuck you, Freud.

I spoke to my friend and former lover after she’d returned from South Sudan. This would have been about a week or so ago. Life was hard there, she said. Her handler was a wreck and left her things in a wreck. Doctors without borders.

She told me a story of loss: of food, weight, routines, sickness, things. In the midst, so much was gone, so much pared back and down, so much taken and taken away, all the everydayness of things laid bare. She likened the experience to the Book of Job, to having very little, then almost nothing. And then? And then there was the turn.

She said, “To have everything taken away and to see what’s left.” What’s left: not nothing, not the darkness of the eternal night, not terror, but union, oneness, communion. (She said, “Oneness and whatnot.” “Just take out the ‘whatnot,'” I quipped, “and then see what’s left.”) Without having experienced this–this all ineffable–she wouldn’t have made it. Worse, she wouldn’t have been able to see how to help.

As I wrote this, I remembered two lines from a lullaby I’d written one early morning about a warm night in April.

In the midst of the mist of the night, my friend, did you feel the warmth of the night?

And was it then that you opened up your heart, was it then that you felt whole?

Addendum on the Ineffable

I’m of the view that conceptuality goes all the way down and all the way up. The ineffable, accordingly, is not that which is unsayable in principle but that which we have poorly said. It is rather like a stutter. I canvass this view in two places: in the final section, “The Dialectical Character of Experience,” of “Unbounded Naturalism,” Cosmos and History; and more generally in “Adorno and the Question of Metaphysics.” If you’re interested in reading the Adorno, feel free to drop me a note in the Contact form, and I’ll send you an offprint copy. Caveat lector: Both essays are written for academic audiences.