Monday, November 23, 2009

the marriage of gold and light



Every so often, here at this latitude in the Upper Midwest, usually in autumn, circumstances converge to create an unusually spectacular sunset. It usually happens in October or November, after a clear, unseasonally warm day, with a clear sky at sunset, sometimes after a rain has scrubbed the air.

For about an hour before actual sunset, the world is turned to liquid gold. The sunlight is pure golden in color—a rare metallic gold, different from the soft amber of summer sunsets, different from the red-pink of winter—and every water-like surface, lake or river or puddle or glass-sided building, takes on a sheen of liquid gold. The light is completely horizontal, and very strong, almost unfiltered by air or cloud or mist. It's a particular strength of illumination coupled with angle-of-light and intensity of color.

I've seen this liquid-gold sunset a few times in my life, when I happened to be out walking or riding at just the right time. It doesn't happen every year; the conditions have to be just so, and they don't converge every autumn to make this happen. So, it's rare. You have to be in the right place at the right time, the atmospheric conditions timed just so.

I'm always aware of the quality of light. My photography is really about light, more than anything else. When this sunset happened here last week, I dropped everything I was doing—out on errands, dropping off library books—and chased the light. I got only a few good photos, as this light is very hard to capture, it's quality of living warmth, its almost velvet texture on the skin. It passes quickly, peaking for less than half an hour.

Twenty-five years ago I was out walking in Ann Arbor, just west of downtown, after a rain, and this same kind of sunset happened. I remember standing at the top of a hill, looking down the still-wet road towards the sun, and the road was literally paved with gold for a few minutes. It stopped me in my tracks, and I ended up standing there watching till the light had completely faded to indigo.

I've seen this kind of liquid gold sunset only a few times in my life; as I said, they're not that common. They seem to happen at this latitude, not much further north or south. I've tried writing about it. The poem below is a revised version of the poem originally written in Ann Arbor, all those years ago; it's not my best poem, there are some problems with it I don't know how to fix. Not being a perpetual tinkerer, I usually abandon a poem and try again fresh, if I can't get it right after a few revisions. So this poem is abandoned; I might try again later, on another day. The poem was brought back to mind—and I had to go hunting for it in my archives—because of seeing the liquid gold sunset once again.



the marriage of gold and light

like a banner of gold
rising behind a curtain of clouds,
lifted into the air like the rolling of thunder;
like a phoenix spreading newborn wings,
to catch the sun
and dry the waters of birth;
like the turning of a butterfly’s wing,
wet with dew in the twilight dawn;
like a procession of clouds, silently gliding, distant, obscure:
a newborn power within you stirs, stretches bloodbright wings,
yearns for the sky.
you watch it unfurl.
something unnamed,
the ghost of an eagle,
some part of you, distant and dark, rises up;
you would shape it, catch it and lift it into the light,
shivering, newborn.
a sigh like an owl ghosting from tree to tree;
a wolf pauses in the midst of a field of golden wheat,
stops and tosses his muzzle at the sky,
seeking a scent from some other place,
lifts and paws at the sky,
and turns to look into your eyes.
gold becomes light, and reflections pass
in his eye, gold upon gold.
you hold yourself in your hand,
shivering, and gently return gold from gold.
you are who you are; a wolf
could teach you that, or an owl.



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2 Comments:

Blogger Jim Murdoch said...

It gets better. The opening is a bit clichéd for my tastes (the word 'phoenix' should be banned from all poetry) but I liked 'bloodbright' - quite evocative and the same goes for 'a sigh like an owl ghosting from tree to tree'. The main problem is that sunrises and sunsets have become a bit clichéd and it's hard to bring something new to the table. Not bad though, some nice imagery despite my fussiness.

1:26 AM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

I think you're right on most counts. It's not my best poem, and I can't really "fix" it.

I added a preface and explanation to the post this morning, following on your comments, to give some background. I had thought about writing that out earlier, but I didn't have the attention to give it till this morning.

There are several near-clichés in the poem, I agree. And I would never use the "like a" formulation anymore. It's clear in retrospect that I was trying to get past the limitations of similes of poetry—I dislike simile, I prefer metaphor—to see if it was possible, and I don't think I succeeded at that attempt. So the poem doesn't really work, despite one or two good images and strange sideways looks at things. That sideways looking is how a lot of my poems work. At this point, 25 years ago, I was still working that out, still figuring it out.

I'll let this poem stand as a partial success, or rather as an example of how one could do better, with more experience. Definitely an early, not very accomplished poem. As I added in my other comments to the post, the poem was brought to mind by the event, rather than the other way round.

7:24 AM  

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