"She walks in beauty like the night
of cloudless climes and starry skies
and all that's best of dark and bright
meet in her aspect and her eyes,
thus mellowed to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies."
Most of my life I've asked why is this poem a great poem? It's a sledge hammer, it's a stack of cliches, with a ten year old's rhyme scheme it's as gaudy as its accusation toward day. It ends two lines late.
Heck, it was the product of an all-nighter..
"He wrote that ...coming home from a party."
Tom Stoppard's Arcadia. The first play I ever did. I listened to the poem or at least this piece of it spoken every night for a month.
I kept telling myself, "It's clunky. It thumps. It's awkward. Why this one?" Why this one in a language, a literature, filled to the brim with love poems?
I watched the twin towers fall 14 years ago. I walked in their rubble. The air that week was filled with the atomized spray of some 3000 people - the detonation of two of mankind's most gigantic gestures. Our folly.
Last night I watched The Walk, a Hollywood take on Phillipe Petit's high wire crossing between the North and the South tower in 1974.
It's a thumpy movie. It's a stack of cliches. It's gaudy and it plays with your heart strings like a ten year old would.
But when I saw them again, when I saw them standing there, full, finished, shining and perfect in that awful way that they did double perfection, I nearly wept.
I don't know if we freeze the time, the part of our life we remember before trauma, that we choose to privilege, we freeze it and we leave it there forever, before the event. So it someday can be returned to or so that some part of us remains untainted, unhurt by what happened next. But watching, I knew myself back then. I could feel myself out over the void that was coming, that's still there, still waiting, alive and young and reckless in New York at the turn of the Millennium.
When I saw the towers standing again, the actors touching the stainless metal, I was breathless - unhooked into an emotional vertigo- happily shocked and in love again with something that no longer existed, that had turned to dust, and that maybe never was more than an awkward couple of buildings you had to cast your hopes across to make better.
But so many things exist simply in experience. They can be spoken of but not evoked. Not made true. Like a song, or a film, or a poem.
This man walked across two buildings and made them one beautiful enough thing. Him and the New Yorkers who didn't arrest him, and the few hundred on the ground who bore witness to something far rarer than even a man walking on the moon. They made those two giant silver boxes into something graceful. Some thing worth all that work.
My brother's been dead for 4 years. I ask for the simplest of things. That he haunt me. That he wake me from my sleep, or track me down, or scream at me when I'm foolish. From somewhere.
I believe in the simplest of ideas, of the cliche of a ghost, of wisdom from beyond the grave, something a young boy would want from an absent parent. Some impossible crossing between the world of the living and the wordless dead.
"Of cloudless climes and starry skies.."
He wrote that coming home from a party.
About a young woman, his cousin I think she was who he'd seen dressed in mourning. "And all that's best of dark and bright." She's been dead and buried in an English courtyard for a hundred and forty years. The raven tresses, the liquid eyes, her walk, her clouded face, what her voice must have been to the ear. All, dust in the earth for a century and a half.
"All that's best and bright meet in her aspect and her eyes" and every time I hear that poem, bussed by it, I can feel that night's cold air, the kind of chill the dark can have in the country when there's an empty sky and the stars seem to suck the heat out of the ground. In six lines. Six lines laid down with a hammer.
The real. A poem. Two towering staring metal ghosts. The space my brother left. It's all so astonishing. Incredible we go on daily living the lockstep lives we lead. The endless feeding, the lists, the half felt duty, the pallid day after pallid days.
There's a light outside my window.
It's a 70 foot flame spit out by the steel mill across the street. A building that probably contains the combustive force of an atomic bomb. The flame. I can read by it in a pitch black room. Just the mill blowing off steam.
Byron dashing off immortality before daybreak.
A million and a half tons of metal there and then not there and then there again.
My brother in the corner of my eye chasing me, chasing me until I'll stop.