In the Dark

Only on stage is moonlight blue
Silver also just poetic fancy

In the woods at night
All is many shades of darkness
Light may catch the crowns of trees
Or tops of scrub along the trail

But shadows fall most deeply
Where the outlines of fir
And vine maple
And fallen log
Or a stump
And salal

Always in the lowest place
The spot you most want to see
Where your next footfall lies
The line your path must take

But darkness is the hardest thing to see
So to stay on the trail you look aside
Find your way in the periphery

There is no roadmap
There is no guide
There is no lamp
No shining beacon to bring you home

Just you and the path
And the next six steps

About Greg Wright

I have worn many hats as a writer and editor over the years. Unlike my scholarly and journalistic work from the "old days" at Hollywood Jesus, Past the Popcorn, or SeaTac Blog, the writing here is of a more overtly personal and spiritual nature. I hope it provokes you as much as it provokes me.
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3 Responses to In the Dark

  1. Greg Wright says:

    I wrote this in response to a guided meditation this last weekend at a Spiritual Formation retreat. This was the visualization of the path that I am on. Worth noting is that when I was asked to visualize Jesus with me on the path, the landscape acquired a glow that illuminated the path, even though the circumstances of the path had not changed. Still just six steps at a time, but with joy and peace in my heart.

  2. Josie says:

    This reminds me of Milorad Pavic, writing that “one of the sure paths to the real future (because there is also a false future) is to proceed in the direction of your fear.”

    I am endlessly fascinated by the symmetry of opposition. Here, the way Pavic’s sentence folds into the charted land of the “sure” and the “real” on the one hand and the nebulous turf of fear on the other. Even when we can make out its source and contours, fear is an emotion of anticipation, rooted in the dark of the as-yet unimaginable.
    For me, the same contradiction is inherent in your poem.

    I like this line “But the darkness is the hardest thing to see”
    I like that turning back is never an option.
    But most of all, I like how the form of your poem mirrors and amplifies the story it tells.
    I especially like this because I believe it to be accidental.

    The effect of the 1st stanzas is slightly choppy, as if the engine of the poem were almost – but not quite – catching or like the teeth of a saw slipping in their groove and then finding new traction. (Read it aloud to yourself and I think you will hear it too.)
    These are the places in which, narratively, your poem samples but then discards illusive, fanciful sources of light. They are also the places in which structurally, it samples and then discards different rhythms and moods.

    In the final 6 lines, your poem comes into its own. They are the starkest, most emphatic, least ‘poetic’ or stylized, and they are sheer, strong poetry.
    The confidence of their diction is beautifully set off by the conclusion they draw: that we are alone in the dark.

    I think that could be the most terrifying proposition of all: being buried alive, lingering post-Apocalypse, the secular vision of a Godless world. And anyone who’s ever suffered through survivor’s guilt/grief *knows* how that loss is compounded by loneliness.
    And then, returning to your poem, it’s also a central paradox of Christianity: the you-are-on-your-own lunarscape of freewill. The God who *was* flesh, whose resurrection we must take on trust. That a Christ armed with foreknowledge of the Crucifixion, his whole life on earth a path to that one destination, could still plunge into the abyss of “God, why hast thou forsaken me”

    The supreme truism of courage is that it cannot exist without fear. Faith doesn’t confer night vision. It’s not a lamp that dissolves all our nightmares. It’s whatever it is that lets us proceed through their darkness. The path and the next six steps. Maybe that is faith, living in the knowledge that they are all we have, and that they are enough.

  3. Greg Wright says:

    “Even when we can make out its source and contours, fear is an emotion of anticipation, rooted in the dark of the as-yet unimaginable.” Yes. That’s at the heart of where this poem came from.

    A couple of weeks ago during a sermon, the notion of the “leap of faith” came up, like being willing to jump out into the void on a zip line. And I thought, yeah… but what if the zip line then dipped and zagged, and took you in all sorts of unexpected directions? Now, THAT would really be more like the life of faith… and explain part of the appeal. The life of faith is truly adventurous… and simultaneously tedious at times because those dips and zags don’t happen as quickly as we’d like… or drag us through places we don’t like to be. But at the core: excitement, and unpredictability.

    The choppiness of the opening rhythm is intentional — and it was written to be read aloud. I wanted there to be a feel of hesitancy and uncertainty resolving into confidence in the next six steps. I’m glad you noticed those things.

    This vision presented itself because of real experience in the woods — it is true, of a night in 1983 or so while finding my way back to camp in the dark. So I like the “accidental” beauty you find there… because it is “found,” but also true and designed.

    Thanks for reading, and for the comments!

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