I’m on intimate terms with so many parts of the night
daylight seems duller and far more prosaically formed.
At first feebly I learned night’s calisthenics
then how to apply them in the arena of day;
that blood-bespattered sand-coloured circle.
Once or twice reprieved by a favourable hand-signal
on whose part I shall never know,
only to begin new confrontations
before taking up the old ministrations of night.
I had companions there, men, women, children
who knew me as their friend and uneasy guide
about the unilluminated beauty
of towering columns and marble moon-webbed pavings.
Some I knew better than others and openly loved
yet one it was I turned to above all
for something like the night’s refreshing favours,
an intermittent gift of sweet renewal
all of her own inimitable giving.
The taste of day was grit and unleavened bread,
while bread of life the lord of night bestowed on us.
Only the upturned chasm of the blue
was looked to as the promise of a god.
We exercised on sand, resting and sleeping
in stony cellules like the veriest prisoners,
escaping only at night within ourselves
to an inward and an outward realm of beauty.
A reality more tangible than day’s
despite the terrible exercise of power
it was in each of us to take advantage of.
Of course — I see it now — we all were truly
prisoners, not merely alike but actually
imprisoned in the day’s parching arena
for the duration of our savage lives.
Nothing but death would ever set us free;
nothing but night renewed our will to live.
For I was not alone; like some half-hearted
faith, unsure and doubtful of its sources,
of us learned to trust each other, telling
tales of the templed avenues of night
and families of their own that sojourned there:
beauty of the children and the deep
radiance of the women, the quiet strength
and wisdom of the men, brothers, fathers.
In all their company that which we ever lacked
reflected on our own terrible lineage
of kill and ultimately to be killed.
Then on a morning like the rest, a body
found in its cubicle without a mark
and we all knew its owner had escaped
into the lasting night and was at home.
Then another and another went to join him.
I know for they met me in my share of night.
I begged them to release me from the day
but each one said the same: not before time.
No falling on one’s sword would bring cessation
from the cruel day’s long exercise of power,
merely return in another shape and form
to the arena and the stony cell.
So each night as I move among the growing
company of the old and ever new
I know that as they wend continually westward,
their star-centred ways forever with them,
that on a morning I will wake no longer
to sand-blasting sun and blue like a madman’s eye
but to the darkening hills beyond the luminous
city, and slowly descend them to my heritage.
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