Monday, October 10, 2011

Night Comes Down: Night Falls

Some nights you'd sit there tracking moonlight across the floor, or studying the garage roof next door as if it were a radar screen. Your mind on a very low flame, a few tired words alternately see-sawing in the silence or surfacing through the waves of static. You'd sit there barely conscious, but the moment you'd try to climb into bed and close your eyes the whole chorus would convene again with a vengeance. The woozy carnival of hypnagogia. Channel surfing long before the advent of cable television and remote control. So random, stuttering, and relentless was your consciousness in those hours that you would make an exercise of trying to isolate a particular fragment, and then attempt to concentrate your mind on the fragment's origin, trying to trace it back, if possible, to its original source. Sometimes it would be a line from a book or a television commercial, other times it might be something you'd overheard in school, or a snippet from a song or a random conversation. You would find yourself obsessing about an outrageous pair of shoes you had seen weeks earlier on a complete stranger in a grocery store.

Ultimately, towards dawn, you were always left with nothing but the barely-beating heart of the sleeping world. The ceaseless surf of even the smallest quiet town. The furnace. The pining of the clock. The world on the back burner, as close as the modern world comes to stasis: You were left with only you and what remained of the night, the retreating darkness, shadows receding on the walls, the cruel pinch of exhaustion, the terrible reality that you were going to have to sleepwalk through another lost day. What was that they were saying about what?

Eventually, every night you would reach a point where you could not fall asleep but you could nonetheless not be truly awake. You were reduced to fumbling around, grasping, in a dense and hazy subterranean no man's land, lost in the gauzy, impressionistic foothills of sleep. You would take a walk to try to resuscitate your sanity, to get clear thoughts moving again in your head. You moved in slow motion through a woozy, muslin-filtered border country, imagination and hallucination bleeding into reality. You heard what sounded like chanting. You heard the clanking of dog tags. You heard the distant tolling of a clock, and a burst of faint music sucked from a car window somewhere out in the town. You heard a baby crying, then someone laughing, retching, congested laughter. You heard a radio playing in a junkyard. You heard what sounded like a piano. You heard wind chimes twisting in a backyard somewhere. You heard the barking of a dog, answered by another, in the next block. You thought of the men across town, in the slaughterhouse, exhausted on their feet in the slippery dead mess, blood bubbled everywhere, the tangy reek of animals being broken down into meat. Some teacher would send you there from time to time to stand at the mouth of the tunnel that took the tired men to and from the slaughterhouse and out to their cars and trucks in the parking lot. You would stand there in the last of the darkness with a little collection can for UNICEF, and you would shake your can at the blood-soaked, broken-knuckled zombies as they plodded past, blank-faced and clutching their empty lunch pails, moving almost unconscious into the bruised light that was just then creeping into the eastern sky.

Somehow, though, you escaped and you got saved, and now Albert Ayler takes you across catwalks in your imagination, down fire escapes, and right out into a landscape that is both hallucination and reality, into a city that feels utterly paralyzed yet purrs the whole night through; through empty streets, past other half-dreaming houses where there are still signs of the half-life of the sleepless, glum lamplight and the blue wobble of TV screens in dark windows. You wander along a river humming with idling industry and the great under-throb of the city at three a.m., the sprawl of shadows, the litter and moonlight and longing and the great hold-out behind and beneath every heartbreak; the silence violated in myriad and mysterious ways and the compromised darkness; the way light launches little sneak attacks and cameo appearances even while a city sleeps, all the creeping, sleepless things, and still that doomed saxophone rising like a prayer somewhere in the night you can never entirely banish from your muddled brain, a wish at least, a promise, an apology, a stirring monologue, a beautiful loose thing traveling like a breathing kite from a small puddle of light cradling a park bench or an abandoned mattress.