Departments

Darkness

Darkness is shadow. The golden shadow of the incandescent bulb; the stainless shadow of the fluorescent; the quivering shadow of the gaslight (seek it where it lives yet; deep down in the oven, the pilot flame is the last gaslight). The footlight, the searchlight, live to dazzle, are stingy with shadows; but most generous of all is firelight, flicker and blaze, casting long shadows that strut and stride, the shadow players whose performance has never been commanded.

You will read that, for our ancestors, the succession of the long, dark nights of winter, solaced only by the wavering fire, relieved only by brief treks through a twilight world stifled with snow, gave on to a kind of trance, and that it is to the visions of the long winter that all superstitions may be traced. Now, the tropics have their own superstitions, but certainly the mind abhors a vacuum, and where there is nothing to be perceived, something will be imagined. So, night by night, they overlaid the everburning stars with bold constellations.

Darkness is night. Morning and evening circle, glooming and gloaming, matutinal rise intersecting crepuscular fall at the liminal coordinate where the spectrum unfolds. Twilight that never ends while the night lights burn: mercurial moonlight over the fields, mercury vapor skyglow over the cities, and the noctilucent auroboros rattling the northern sky, over forests quiet and umbrageous as the shadow lands. The stones under your feet strike triboluminescent sparks. Fireflies constellate with the stars. Far ahead a porchlight shines, generous intent as harborless as a lighthouse.

Darkness is night, darkness is shadow; the one thing darkness is not is the absence of light. The retina is stretched like a drumhead, strung with tense nerves that toll every photon, an inchoate kaleidoscope so sensitive that it need only be pressed behind closed eyes to coruscate with phosphenes like the scintillas of cold light that kindle the eddies of the troubled sea. What light conceals from us, what we see in caves and face-down on the pillow is not darkness but eigengrau, the eyes’ gray, lightened by the twitches of our dreaming nerves. Seeing eyes have never seen full dark. Darkness is not even the opposite of light; it is only a mood of light.