In a shaft of morning light, my daughter discovers an eddy of dust motes. Those she says, pointing to what without the sun would be unseen. She runs through them with eyes closed as if through the spray of water. The sun stirs the dust and the dust illuminates the sun. The child has no word for it, cannot feel it on her body. And yet we have both seen it, this apparition.
In the sky, two small clouds form like fingerprints on cold glass. They capture the sun in their droplets, the sun shimmers through them.
A tree blocks the light of the noon sun. Yet, in places, the breeze allows light to break through the layers of leaves in illumined clusters. And on the irregular edges of shadow, it lists like water against a shoreline. Beyond the tree, the sun illuminates the yellowing grass, which becomes a quality of the light. I squint my eyes to take it in, but the world, saturated in sun, blinds me. All the while, the sound of beating wings.
It seems transparent enough, the body brushing against the world, the world entering the body, the truth of perception laid out before me. Still, something remains abeyant.
In the moment that light “offers up visual images of the world,” David Grandy writes, “there is a re-veiling, a drawing away, that keeps light from being fully overtaken by sight or reason.” Language draws on light to figure discovery, enlighten, alight, elucidate, but light hides within itself, and it is this concealment, this erasure, that allows for the clarity of everything else.
It is a warm day in September. Imperceptible sticky fibers fall on our faces and wrap themselves over our arms. And then we notice the glint of spider’s silk threaded across the blue sky, gently billowing in the unfelt breeze, attached, it seems, to nothing.
The absolute presence of light and its deference rolls in waves of generosity and withholding. My daughter and her father lie in the grass and identify the pale mound of moon in the blue expanse of day.
Or light is like my mind’s capaciousness, which must open itself to the world or else I am caught in its dark weave.
Cottonwood seeds have woven themselves into the mesh of the screen door. Some sun catches in this thatch, some passes into the house. The light snared in debris appears solid and obscures my view of the sky. In this way, the light becomes a surface, gauzy muslin, a net. A text the world has spun to entangle me.
I stick my finger into the loom: beyond the screen float clouds, almost transparent, like sheared wool pulled with fingers, picked for twigs and stones. The wool appears thoroughly pure when held to the light, bleached, ready for the spinning wheel. But it is spoiled by cotton seeds, the sight of it at least, through the filter of the screen.
In his discussion of Chinese written characters, Ernest Fenollosa concludes, “Thus in all poetry a word is like a sun, with its corona and chromospheres; words crowd upon words, and enwrap each other in their luminous light envelopes until sentences become clear, continuous light bands.” With sun-like energy and brilliance, language floods the world with meaning. And like the sun, language hides within its light, cannot be gazed at directly, is intelligible only through that which it gives life.
We wake one morning to a dense fog. The backyard is hidden in a film the child has never seen and does not understand. Hiding in the film, there are these other meanings slipping against one another.
The doctor shows my daughter the light she will shine in her ear by first shining it through her finger. The membrane glows raspberry red.
In the sun, light hairs enfold the baby’s soft shoulder blades like a hide.
And the petal-colored dusk is the thread I follow to find my way out of my way.
She reaches for the raspberry deepest in the thorny tangle. Her arms scored by pink welts. She says, raspberry hiding, but what she means is, I identified the raspberry that before I had not seen.
A raspberry is not a raspberry unless it hides from the first comer, from the first glance, the red of its ripeness, the erectness of its form.
In my daughter’s version of hide-and-seek, the hider is jettisoned off into some dark corner of the house while the seeker covers her eyes and counts, one, two, three, six. She then uncovers them, like pulling the sheet off a ghost, and announces I found you, which is to say: I was absent in my blindness, and I am present in my sight.
It’s common for children to believe that when they can’t see the world it disappears or that their blindness hides them from the gaze of others. The error indicates that our sense of existence, not just our own but also that of other beings and other things, is related to sight.
I think this as I admire the corona of her tangled hair after she wakes from a nap or as I trace with my eyes the slope of the baby’s cheek as he sleeps. I am so often uncertain about how to be with them. But to gaze at the flame of their beauty gives me the sense of their being folded back into me as they were before I could see them.
We see through the instruments of light and mind and come into being. Through the scope of the children, I can almost achieve the impossible—to look back upon myself looking, can almost comprehend the fullness of the instruments of this existence. The origin remains undisclosed, so does the world, and yet it opens before them, submits to the touch of their curiosity. In them, the world has found its kind masters.
David Grandy, “The Otherness of Light”
Ernest Fenollosa, The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry.
The line beginning, “A raspberry is not raspberry,” follows Jacques Derrida’s syntax in Dissemination, “A text is not a text unless it hides from the first comer, from the first glance, the law of its composition and the rule of its game.”
J’Lyn Chapman grew up and currently lives in Colorado. She is the author of Beastlife, published by Calamari Press in 2016. The digital chapbook, “A Thing of Shreds and Patches,” was a winner of the 2015 Essay Press Digital Chapbook Contest. Essay Press also published the interview chapbook, “The Form Our Curiosity Takes.” Additional work can be found in Conjunctions, Zone 3, DIAGRAM, Fence Magazine, Denver Quarterly, Two Serious Ladies, and Caketrain. She teaches at Naropa University