A Writing Showcase essay submission by Meridian Johnson
But the dark embraces everything:
shapes and shadows, creatures and me,
people, nations—just as they are.
It lets me imagine
a great presence stirring beside me.
I believe in the night.
—Rainer Maria Rilke
At night the cows crowd the road, my two-mile-long driveway in rural northern New Mexico. Black Angus so dark that I often only catch sight of the green-yellow glow of their eyes in the headlights. And sometimes also, the yellow Department of Agriculture tag found on their ears.
If it weren’t for the gravel road and the slow speed required to drive here, we might meet with a much different form of contact. Possible collision with cows. Go slowly. Watch for the shimmer of their eyes, the tapetum lucidum, that light-reflecting surface that helps many animals see better in the dark.
Things in the dark that are also the color of night can sneak up on you. And that is how it felt to receive news from my husband that he is complete in his intimate relationship with me. Am I just being polite?
Or I could say: dumped. Broken up. Separated. Cheated on? Though none of these qualifiers feels quite right. There is a “night-ness” to the feeling. A dark quiet stillness, a handlessness, as though I cannot properly grasp a thing. As though the spoon is not stirring the soup. As though water is not pouring into the glass. As though a bowl dropped to the floor doesn’t make a sound.
I am clearly not alone in this separation predicament, as something like just less than half of American marriages end in divorce. So now I feel welcomed into the club of women who have gone before me. Initiated into a new experience of being human. Having one image of relationship shattered.
I remember recently thinking how strange it would be that I would never again have to experience the brokenhearted sensations of my youth, as though marriages like mine were supposed to last forever. As though, despite difficulty and deep discontent, people like my husband and me just don’t give up.
To be sure, I feel the new place I am in, the “somewhere” that I cannot quite name or define. It feels like an aftershock tremor from an earthquake. It feels like the wet ceiling of moisture left over in the sky after a blast of storm has just branded the land.
But this earth-shuttering sensation isn’t a “place” per se, except in the sense of cycle that it signifies. A new cycle in life. As mother. As poet. As teacher. As woman. I flinch at the thought of being a “single woman” again.
Was I ever that?
But shuddering and shock aside, I am Woman, and as Joseph Campbell once said, “A woman’s what it’s all about.”
This feels like ground I can stand on. I know that my role as Woman, as Human, is still essentially a creative vocation, a fiesta of creative energies coalescing, calling to be played with, contained, and expressed. Celebrated. There is more birth to be the instrument of.
And so, I have work to do.
We humans have the great capacity to reinvent ourselves. To shed layers of real or imagined perceptual understanding of Selfhood. We are the stars. And if we are the stars, or the light that’s emanated from them, then what great bounding cycles might leap forth from the darkness of unknowns that lie before me?
I sit in my simplicity tonight. A smile I wear alone in my room, a knowing that moments like these make the story of one’s life. We remember that we can see in the dark. We can see during the hard turns around curves, the speeding up and slowing down of understanding, the rigidity of logic that always gives way to organic flow of meaning making. On this road. Somewhere. A new place. A new way of seeing. The dark gives rise to “somewhere-ness.” Black. Sleek unforeseeable fissures in the present that reach out for us, jump into our awareness like the shimmer of animal eyes in the night. Something within knows the darkness of all this.
This is an invitation to embrace pain, discomfort, adjustment, transition, tenderness. A bigger love. A longing to grow. Expansion balanced with contraction. These words. Just trying to name the place. My heart. The man I have loved for many years. The love still there that won’t stop growing even if. Even if. When. If. At the time when. When some other form stirs and invites me forward.
But. It’s not about finding someone else to love or call husband. It’s about what is available in darkness. The Lover who is in all things. Who comes forward to hold and comfort and inspire. Dwelling somewhere. Everywhere. Here, now.
Picture a woman walking in the desert at night, speaking or even singing to cows. Oh, cows. Your great presence stirring beside me. Oh, night. I believe in you.
Meridian Johnson lives in northern New Mexico with her two acrobatic daughters. She is the author of Kinesthesia, a full-length poetry collection published in 2010 by New Rivers Press. Her poems and essays have appeared in AGNI, Borderlands, Beloit Poetry Journal, Dislocate, Gettysburg Review, Massachusetts’s Review, NPR’s On Being and elsewhere. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Minnesota, and a BA in English from the University of Alaska-Fairbanks. Her website is www.meridianjohnson.com