In the Dark

In The Dark



“They make the backs of my arms cold and my feet numb and then my head feel like a planet.”

John Kennick

I wrote over a hundred pages of poems during September 2016, poem after poem, day by day, an amazing, exhausting, grief-fueled journey. The other two of those collections (Harvest Moon and Li Po-ems) are also available here and in paperback form on Amazon. On the morning of September 24, I woke up after a fitful sleep with the first two poems in this series fully composed in my head, waiting there in the dark, thus the title. I have no idea how they got there like that. I just went downstairs and typed them up. The rest of the series came to me just like that, out of the dark, though mostly while I was awake, inviting me to type them up. As I thought about this later, I could see it was the classic “descent into the underworld” that is conventional to epic poems, even its duration, three days, standard for a trip down to the dark. I love “dark” poems, both reading and writing them. I hope you will find something to love here, too.


Here is a printable PDF of the whole series if you prefer to read from hard copy:

In the Dark Full Word Print Version

 Here is my reading of all the poems in this collection:

Here is the full text of In the Dark:

 9/24: In the Dark



This morning I wrote a poem

so dark I knew I could not

allow you to read it.


So I erased every word,

starting with the last,

the end, where everything

always starts, not letter

by letter, delete, delete,

delete, until nothing is there

but white space, no, I feared

each delete might leave

a shadow deep enough

to decipher in the right

kind of light until, yes,

there is that word again,

and that one, and that one,

drawn back into the open,

so I changed every single

one into another, not opposite,

or one a parlor game clue

might open a track back to,

the enigma machine of my head

spinning in a code even I

could not calculate until

one by one by one, each word

was another that it could not

in its wildest dreams believe

it could become, “tomorrow,”

say, made into “clouds,” “fear”

into “into,” just examples, those,

so you will not think that “fear

tomorrow,” is now “into clouds.”



Then I gathered up every copy

of every word I had typed,

burned them, and it worked.


Except for these traces

left on my fingertips

that will not wash off

no matter how hard

I try and all they can do

is wait until tomorrow

when I might type

a whole different poem

that deletes everything

of me except

these fingertips,

now forever mine

because they cannot forget

what I asked them

to do today, for you, so you

would never have to read

the poem I wrote this morning.



9/24: The Hard Part of Being Alone


I am alone now, I say,

to myself mostly, because

alone is one word no one

else can hear, silent

in every sentence that says it.


And the more I say it

to myself the more

it sounds like the only word

I no longer need to know.



In the middle of the night,

say, while I dream, of her, you,

everyone never again here,

when I eat, you with me even,

my food turning only into me, never you,

when I talk, say, the sounds

of my words echoing in the places

they came from until they make

no sense even to me, take up

all the space between us,

and then when I listen, ear so clear,

so near to your lips, only one

or two of your words turning,

quickly as they can, into mine.



Alone, the word

we are born with,

the language of I am;

the language of “you,”

of “together” of “share,”

the one we work

so hard to learn,



and today that foreign

tongue of mine, tied

in knots, no matter

how hard I try to say

I am not.

I am not.



9/25: A Hole, A Hill




Today on my way to work

I notice that big boulder

built into the bottom of the hill

has been pried out and rolled


about five feet off to the side.

Behind it is a dark hole

receding into the hill,

a crowd gathered around it.


Someone says that last night

they saw a blinding light,

just for a while, then nothing

but a winding sheet in a pile.


Someone says they saw

something moving around

but by the time they got there

it was too dark to tell what.


Someone says that while they slept

they heard a beautiful music

in their dreams and thought

they were making it themselves.


Someone says he lost his voice.

Someone says she found hers.

Someone says they smelled roses.

Someone else felt their soft petals.


Someone says they saw the sky

opening its eyes, the moon,

just glued up there before,

dancing in circles with clouds.


Someone saw a shaft of light

coming down like a long pipe

from a single star. Someone saw

a dark ladder heading only up.


Everything, they say, is about to change.






A little girl, three or four,

short black hair, peddles

her trike down the hill

on the other side of the road.


She has fierce, wise eyes

and says she is not lost.

She watches us as if

she has seen all of this before.


No one seems to notice her

so I go that way instead of this,

walk back up the hill with her

to her grandmother’s house.


She will not let me

push or pull her little

bike, peddles hard

the whole way.


I smile, exchange pleasantries,

“It’s a nice day, isn’t it?”

“You are very strong

for such a young girl.”


I laugh because she does not,

not at anything I say,

just fierce eyes, strong legs,

determined to do it herself.


She says the crowd

around that hole in the hill

was there yesterday,

is there every day.


She says the same people

come out of their houses

and look wide-eyed

as if they never saw it before.


She says they always say

exactly the same things,

and by the end of the day

the boulder is back in place.


She says she will ride down

the little hill tomorrow

to see it all again. No matter

how often it happens,


she says, nothing ever changes.



9/25: This Dark Is Mine



Every night in the woods

these trees reach out,

caress one another,

leaf to leaf in summer,

shadow into shadow

twining on the ground

all winter, multiplying

moonlight, starlight,

what care is, not giving,

taking, just there, always

in the air, a way of prayer.


The light we reach into

day after day, not

destination, wisdom,

I hear them say, simply

where we find what

we need to survive.

Down below, in that dark,

we are rooted, share

everything, care

for each other, rear

our young, prepare

for storms, wind, cold,

there the trillion tiny

highways from here

to everywhere,

how we live as one,

out of your sight,

not out of ours.

Look now to what

holds you deep down.

There the dark is yours.


At the top of the first hill

where I always first feel

what today I decided to call

a holiness in this place,

the tall, lean poplar

on my right, speaking

for all the trees,

their collaborative voice,

said: Take care now,

Paul, this dark is yours.

Show no fear.

It was always there

waiting for you, the way

from where you are

to where you go.


Take heart from us.

We will meet you here

every morning, cheer you,

the September daylight

so bright, so clear,

this light we love and use.

But we are specialists

of the dark, know all

its ways. Remember,

so do you, so do you.



9/26: Just Between You and Me


A little vortex of wind

in the corner of the stone wall

swirls up a few barely-there

petals fallen from the fading

planter-box impatiens.


They twirl around in circles,

wild with desire, chase

one another, fast forward:

“Be with me! Be with me!”


Then it all settles, as it always does

after a few seconds, separate petals

lying stone-still, nowhere near each

other, nothing moving, not even me.




9/26: Too Little, Too Late



Just when I walked into the woods today

it started to rain, light, a few drops,

smatterings. Then it got real dark real

fast, the rain coming hard, heavy,

big, black sheets of it, like when you walk out

waist deep into a settled sea and all of a sudden

dark waves are breaking way over your head

and you need to decide right then

what you’re going to do about it.


I took a few more steps, but soon as

I heard the first rumble of thunder

I turned around. I don’t think I’d mind

getting struck by lightning, all over

in a flash, but when you’ve been

in the woods in storms, trees thrashing

around like crazy, wishing they could go

anywhere but this, branches crashing

down all around you, you can’t help

but think you might end up under one,

for a day, two, maybe, until someone

came by, all that misery of waiting,

thinking, so I turned back, headed home,

cars throwing up wakes like motorboats

through the water pooled up on the road,

wondering how wet the back room

would be, all those windows left open.


By the time I got home it had stopped,

as it always does, everything you do

to avoid it too little, too late.



9/26: This is not even a half-book yet, but I want so bad to be done with it, because I’m already where I needed to get, and I really think I wrote enough so you can get there, too, if you want to . . .




There is a dark only poems can get to.

I wrote as many of those for you

as I had in me, today, this month

my whole life, all there for you to find.


Then there’s that dark another layer down,

the one I was so hoping to find again,

willing to write a hundred pages of poems

in a month to get to it, and I’m there now,

finally, there, a dark like the most perfect

late September night of your whole life,

10 PM and you’ve been out in the yard

for two hours already, shirtsleeve warm,

a dark your eyes are acclimated to,

watching the stars flicker on one by one

then tons of them, overwhelming

the sky, swathed now in layers of dark,

a tiny slice of moon off to the left,

just enough to overfill you with

the dark that all that light makes

visible, and I could try to tell you

what it is like, a dark that makes

no sound at all, a dark that absorbs

and quiets all thinking, a mile-deep pile

of soft, black velvet, say, that you just

lay back into and you’re settling

deeper and deeper down in its warm

embrace, or a lake no one else knows about,

looking-glass still and you’re 50 feet

deep into it looking up and you can still

breathe and see every bit of dark

in the whole universe beginning to end.


Then you are happy. Then you are there.

Then you are done with the poems

you needed to write to get you there,

for today, this month, next year, forever,

having used them so beautifully, just

what they are good for, portals toward

a dark so gentle, so sensuous, you can spend

this night, every night, the rest of your life

cradled, tenderly, in one another’s arms.



Today’s Coda: Dream a Little Dream With Me


So now I know for sure I’m in the deeper

dark, because I had this funny dream

with “good” “bad” and “I” in it,

and “good” was in jail because “bad”

tricked her and then “bad” tried to trick me

so that “good” wouldn’t get out of jail,

and “I” got so mad “I” tried to kill “bad,”

but “good” fixed it so she wasn’t tricked,

she is so smart, and “I” ended up in jail

for trying to kill “bad,” meaning “I” got to be

with “good” and we made love right there

like let-me-never-tell-you, and I (no quotes)

knew yes, now, finally I’m out of danger-dark . . .


And then I had another dream, just now,

where “good” wanted to know why

“I” was in jail with her, because she

didn’t know that “bad” had tried to

trick her, didn’t even know “bad” existed,

and when I told “good” “I” was there

because “I” tried to kill “bad” she wanted

to the know who “bad” was and why

she tricked her and “I” told her

“I” would explain it all to her tomorrow,

if she was still in jail with me, which

“I” hope she is because when she hears

who “bad” is and how “I” tried to kill her,

she’ll be so happy . . .  and we’ll make love

again like twice-let-me-never-tell-you . . .


And if we do, and “you” really want to know

what making love like twice-let-me-never-tell-you

feels like, just come to my next dream

and I’ll tell “you,” because I really do want

everyone involved in this to know everything,

and “you” are involved because (unquote

everyone) you had to read this whole book

to get here, so you have every right to know

who good and bad are and how good

it feels for me to be with good again for good.