Nocturne

Morning sluggishness is a given, especially after hours spent hovering over a paper. Being a procrastinator and an owl can get me in tight corners and lose me sleep, but if there’s anything I love about this unfortunate tendency, it’s the comfort of the night when I produce the most work.

Except it’s an odd comfort. The comfort of isolation, of solitude, of overthinking (although with this one it’s a love-and-hate). Of all things one might tuck away during the day to be a more sociable and cheery self. As of two years ago I can only read for myself during the night, or it doesn’t feel the same.

Yesterday’s was a revisit to Rilke.


People at Night
Rainer Maria Rilke

THE NIGHTS were not made for crowds, and they sever
You from your neighbour, and you shall never
Seek him, defiantly, at night.
But if you make your dark house light,
To look on strangers in your room,
You must reflect—on whom.

False lights that on men’s faces play
Distort them gruesomely.
You look upon a disarray,
A world that seems to reel and sway,
A waving, glittering sea.

On foreheads gleams a yellow shine,
Where thoughts are chased away,
Their glances flicker mad from wine,
And to the words they say
Strange heavy gestures make reply
That struggle in the buzzing room;
And they say always “I” and “I,”
And mean—they know not whom.

Phil Cousineau, “For My Father Who Never Made it to Paris”

It was given to me on a bookmark, each word of the poem spilling onto the next on both densely writ-in cardboard sides. I’d got it from the old barber around the corner of the street I used to live on, who’d been keeping it for a friend and had told me he no longer had need of it. The gravity of that statement, I have only recently come to grasp.

I lost the bookmark on a rainy day a year ago today, but the poem has stuck with me. It’s a treasure, reposed in the author’s lifelong collection of poetry titled The Blue Museum.

The following belongs, in my traced memory, to the friend of the old barber who perhaps never made it to Paris.



For My Father Who Never Made it to Paris

Phil Cousineau, for Richard Beban

For my father who never made it to Paris
I meet friends late at night in smokey cafes
To drink frothy cappuccino and listen
To Coltrane sax solos on old jukeboxes
And talk of the wounds
Of fathers and sons

For fathers and sons
Who never returned home,
I reach down for words to express my grief,
Like an emergency ward surgeon groping
For stray sharpnel in the flesh
Of bleeding loved ones.

For all the words never found between men,
The buried burning words slowly infecting us,
I drop quarters in no-name bar telephones.
To call suicidal friends, distraught fathers,
Lone wolf sons who howl at the indifference of the moon,
And offer the round table of brotherhood.

For all the tumors caused by sorrow,
And all the ulcers formed by anger,
For all the nightmares wrought by rage,
And all the emptiness carved by despair,
I probe friends and family
For healing stories.

For my father and all fathers
Who never saw Paris,
One friend listens, reveals,
Reaches in an open wound,
Finds a piece of gold shrapnel,
Cashes it in for airfare,
Takes his father to the Left Bank.

So the healing
Can begin.

Paris, 1986


Photography: Alex J. | SOUTH KOREA. Seoul. 2013.