“Northern Lights” by Mark Jarman

Mark Jarman


They were all white, passing through their stages
In sheets and ladders, rivulets and falls,
White—a dream of color or an aftermath
Of color stripped to gauze and gossamer,
A white electric squall in half the sky,
Epiphany for the blind, and veils of tears.
Magdalene’s tears. The tears that Jesus wept.
What draws them forth? Mortality and laughter,
The sad and funny fact that you will die
And that you’ve made your children, they will die.
Do they hold that against you? My parents made me.
They went ahead and made me, child of love,
Child of a loving union, which would end,
But which I grew up thinking would not end.
The northern lights remind me of their love,
The drama of my growing up was love
As they performed it, everyone noticing,
The scintillating cosmic imagery
Of two who seemed to be made for each other,
As light is made for sheets of summer darkness,
As darkness in high summer accepts light.
Why did I ever think that they were gods?
But I didn’t. I thought that they were people,
And people love each other for a lifetime—
Gods are as fickle as the northern lights.
Don’t ever think of human beings you love
And need as like those shifting shimmerings,
No matter how liquescent memorable enduring
Against the immortal darkness of the sky.
The northern lights will break a heart and heal it
In the same motion, raveling and unraveling.
They are the background music of creation,
The song God sang while sinking into rest,
The song descended into, words and music,
Oblivious and yet ready to break hearts,
Heartbreaking and yet in the end oblivious.
So I have thought about a years-ago night,
The northern lights above a northern mountain,
And how the tears came down and why, forgetting
That there is nothing oblivion won’t forgive.

from Rattle #25, Summer 2005


Mark Jarman: “It took me years to figure out that one of the biggest influences on me as a writer had been the fact that I lived in a house with someone who had to write something every week, get up in front of bunch of people, and basically perform it. It was my father writing sermons.” (web)

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